Making the Sister Connection
by Maya Breuer
I returned from India in 1994, fully entranced by yoga. I embraced the yogic lifestyle. I had a solid daily yoga practice and I became a successful yoga teacher, one of the first black yoga teachers in New England and one of a small but growing number of black women practicing yoga. My practice of yoga and meditation fed me physically and spiritually; I was conscious of my health, habits, speech, and even the company I kept. My relationship to my body, mind, and spirit grew deeper; yet I was becoming aware of a growing need for meaningful exploration of my life, my work, and my truth.
One afternoon while browsing in my favorite bookstore, I happened upon a book with a curious title, Sisters of the Yam. It was the red cover I noticed first. It featured a photograph of a black woman seen from behind. She is walking away, her strong back sashaying in a loosely fitted white dress, her hair blowing wild and free. I felt an instant primal connection to this woman. She was solidly grounded, yet floating, bearing a silver water pitcher in one hand and a plastic water bottle in the other. And I was moved. She was me and every woman of color attempting to balance her life. I sat in the bookstore and read half of the book before I actually paid for it.
In Sisters of the Yam, author Bell Hooks examines a black woman’s need for healing and self-examination. She invites her black female university students suffering from depression, disconnection, and other social problems into what I call a healing circle—place where black women come together to support each other’s growth, challenges, and healing. In reading the book, I discovered that even with my years of intensive yoga study and practice, and the healthful living choices and changes I had made, I was missing the connection I needed to nurture, sustain, and support my personal growth.
I decided then and there to create a sacred sister connection for myself and other women of color. This connection would provide an opportunity for us to unite as we shared our emotions and feelings openly and honestly, a place where we could explore yoga and other holistic approaches for our health and well-being, a politically safe arena where we could deal with and dialogue about racism and its impact, and a sacred space where we could rest and renew. The Yoga Retreat for Women of Color was born.
Now in its sixth year, the retreat always includes women who are coming for the first time and women who are returning. There are women who come alone and women who come with friends or family. Each retreat is different, though all share the same essence. Last year, Lydia Douglas’ shared her documentary film Nappy with us, and then we talked and laughed about our hair; once, Jill Nelson, author of the best-selling Volunteer Slavery, talked with us about how women of color, and particularly black women, could change the paradigm we had bought into of not loving one another, not accepting one another, and said, "when you see a sister who looks good, tell her!"
Women with cancer and overworked physicians come to seek ways to cope and survive. Women living with AIDS, drug addiction, or alcoholism breathe and do yoga, then peel away the husks of merely surviving and live free for one more day . . . one more hour. We share our feelings about racism, sexism, and societal inequality. A soldier seeks peace and a gay woman looks to accept and be accepted. Mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, and mothers-in-law deal with obesity and anorexia. A college professor explains how racism works in academia and shares her struggle with depression. Siblings from Rwanda share their pain and bear witness to horrors. We share the connection to talk about jobs, school, marriage, divorce, and life in general.
The sister connection happens when women of color come together for healing. There we are able to connect with one another, see one another, and find ourselves reflected in one another’s eyes. We can explore self-love, connect to our spirits, and freely express our hopes, fears, and dreams. We are reminded that there is no separation, that we are connected to each other no matter what our unique life circumstances. The acts of listening to, seeing, laughing and crying with one another connects us each to our innermost, divine self. Like yoga, making the sister connection is a practice, one that nurtures, honors, heals, and teaches.
I offer the retreat at Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health because it provides just the right amenities to promote healing and renewal: beautiful yet simple surroundings, healthy food, and a nurturing holistic environment. It is an environment conducive to healing and self-exploration where I can introduce women of color to the many benefits of the yoga and they can let go, relax, and simply be.
Making my sister connection has taken me full circle. I have not only taught, but I have learned. I’ve honed my skills in the art of listening with an open heart to situations similar and dissimilar to mine. Like my sisters, I have embraced and released, and more importantly I have learned to share my stories. I have made the sister connection and I cannot imagine any woman living without this privilege.
Maya Breuer is founder and director of the Santosha School of Yoga and serves on the Board of Trustees of Kripalu Center. Visit www.mayabreuer.com for more information about Maya’s programs, yoga teacher training, international retreats, articles, and more.
© Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. All rights reserved. Originally published in April 2006 issue of Kripalu Online. To request permission to reprint, please e-mail email@example.com.