Shawandra Ford is a Memphis-based yoga instructor and the owner of Brwnskn Yoga. She’s on a mission to share what yoga and meditation have given her: mental and physical strength, flexibility, and fearlessness.
In this interview, Shawandra shares how she became a yoga teacher and entrepreneur, how yoga helped grieve the loss of her mom, the power of intuition, and how she’s seen yoga transform the lives of kids and teenagers she’s worked with in the past year.
Read on to learn more about this inspirational visionary of a woman moving forward: Shawandra of Brwnskn Yoga.
How did you get started as a yoga teacher?
“I started practicing yoga in 2013 at Lifetime Fitness. My mom had passed away in 2010 and I went through a process where I did grief counseling, but I really didn’t think it was working for me. So I started to do yoga and it was very enlightening. You’re reintroducing yourself to your body, you’re finding out things about yourself that you did not know. When you sit quietly for a period of time, you find out a lot about yourself.”
“When you lose someone that you love, it changes you mentally and physically. You’re a completely different person. For me, through yoga, I was able to embrace who I was starting to become.”
“I worked for the school system for 22 years and in May 2019, I decided to resign. It was a hard decision to make, but I felt there was something else that I was meant to do. I’d worked there since I was 18 years old and I’d turned 40 and I thought: ‘I’m sure that there’s something else out there for me’ and I decided that I would do my yoga teacher training. Once I told my husband I was thinking about resigning, he asked: ‘Well what do you want to do?‘ and I said: ‘I want to teach yoga‘ and he was like: ‘Okay, let’s try it and see what happens!‘”
“And so here I am! I’m a 200-hour yoga instructor, a certified kid yoga instructor, and I’m quite happy. It’s a great feeling waking up every morning and doing something you were already going to do anyway, and you love it. It’s a completely different feeling.”
What do you enjoy most about teaching yoga?
“I started out with my 200-hour yoga teacher training, then since I loved working for the school system, I asked myself: ‘How can I still be in that environment and not be in my previous role?‘ and I thought: ‘Oh, I should teach kid yoga!‘ In most public school systems, kids don’t get yoga classes.”
“I remember being the secretary in the office and I was the one administering kids their medication. I thought: ‘Our kids could benefit from yoga”. I know that social and emotional learning is a big thing, so I thought yoga could be a way to help them with their concentration, their self-awareness, and I wanted to be that person to introduce them to it.”
“There’s so many ways that I can give back to my community. I love having a connection with the kids. I taught two classes of kindergartners and two classes of third-grade students. And they LOVED it. They sat in their criss-cross applesauce, they did their warriors. They giggled, which I expect for them to do, but they enjoyed it.”
I also have a group of girls that I work with that’s a track team and those girls have impressed me so much. They make me feel like: ‘Okay, this is worth it.‘ As an entrepreneur, you have those dark days sometimes when you think: ‘Did I make the right decision?‘ But when I see them practicing and teaching yoga back to each other and I watch them, it’s a great feeling!”
What is Brwnskn Yoga?
“Brwnskn yoga is a reflection of me, of how I see myself. I am a brown girl and I love yoga. It’s something I wanted to introduce to other African American young girls.”
“As an adult, we already have our practice; maybe we go to a studio and do vinyasa or Ashtanga. But for the smaller girls that are just learning their bodies and finding out about themselves, I think this a great opportunity for them to say: ‘Hey, I’m a brown girl and I can do this too.‘”
“But it’s not even just about being a brown girl. Brwnskyoga applies to all girls… African American, Caucasian, Latina, and Asian. In my opinion we are all beautiful, we all have pigmentation in our skin. But for me, it’s something a little bit deeper that I wanted to dive into and I wanted to express, and I wanted to show. I wanted to bring awareness to my community and say: ‘Hey, let me teach you how to meditate!‘”
Who or what inspires you to keep practicing and teaching?
“Because of my mom, I’m resilient and strong. She raised me to be sweet and sassy. I’ll never back down from a fight when I know I’m right. I’m not afraid to work hard. I’m not afraid to get dirty. I’ll make a dime last until I get my next! Because of my mom, I learned to trust my intuition and never allow a person to fool me twice. Because of my mom, I know a little something about everything! I am my mother’s little brown-skinned girl.”
“My husband is very supportive. Was I in a position to resign from my job and say: ‘Hey, I’m going to go teach yoga and become an entrepreneur’? No, but we made modifications to our lifestyle in order for it to work and I greatly appreciate him for that. It makes me feel good as a parent to hear my sons say: ‘Wow mom, I love what you are doing, I’m so impressed!‘ And it is an honor for my dad, close family, and friends to tell me how proud they are of me. I am fulfilling the purpose and gift that I was given.”
“My first yoga teacher, Amy Morse, she is phenomenal. She’s very passionate about teaching. She has inspired me a lot. She takes great pride in her practice and that’s something that I value a lot. She and Michele Mallory, those two make an insanely beautiful team. I can’t wait to bond with someone so I can recreate what they have, I think it’s something beautiful.”
“I continue to practice because I want to make a significant impact on my community! I want BRWNSKN Yoga to be a success! I want it to be AWESOME!”
What’s Kidding Around Yoga?
“I am very excited to teach Kidding Around Yoga! It’s a program based out of Tampa, Florida and they put together a curriculum to teach kid yoga to babies, prenatal yoga, and mommy and me yoga. They teach yoga through play and storytime. They teach pranayama (breathwork), the significance of ‘om’ chanting, and there’s a section on meditation and why it’s important. What I really like about it is that we teach asanas through dancing and song – it’s play! It’s a great program and I’ve completed my KAY certification and I have completed my 95 hours required by Yoga Alliance to be an RCYT – a Registered Children’s Yoga Teacher.”
What do you envision yourself doing with yoga five years from now?
“I want yoga to be in the K-12 school curriculum. It should be in the day-to-day school curriculum. Kids should experience that. It should be offered, like music and PE, just a few minutes of meditation every day. I’ve worked in the school system for so many years and sometimes kids are labeled as being ‘the troubled kid’. But maybe they’re not – maybe they feel some type of stress and they don’t know how to express it. We need to teach them a way to learn how to deal with what we know as anxiety and stress. They’re so young that they haven’t connected those dots; they don’t know what it means. All they know is that they’re having a hectic day. But if we can teach them some pranayama and some asanas, it will help them understand more about themselves and about their bodies. Help them be more self-aware.”
“I would love to have a team where I have teachers out at each school and they’re teaching yoga as a part of the day-to-day curriculum. Yoga camps and retreats are another idea I’d love to do.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I’d like to share a song by Tasha called Lullaby. I heard this song first on a show called Queen Sugar. They played this song in a scene where these two sisters had bumped heads and it was a very emotional scene and it was basically saying: ‘You don’t have to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders / Black girl it’s okay, you can rest today / You can rest and you can let someone else carry the weight of the world.‘ It’s a beautiful and powerful song. When I first heard that song, I was like: ‘Oh, I’m putting that in my classes’. It’s a very empowering song.”
Where do you teach Brwnskn Yoga?
“Most of my time is spent at schools and doing private yoga sessions for adults and children. I don’t think a lot of people feel comfortable actually going to a yoga studio. One day I would like to have a studio, but right now I think that personal connection and helping people to become comfortable with their practice – it could help them venture out to another studio when they have that comfort level within themselves.”
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Website: Brwnskn Yoga