Yoga Beyond the Human Body: Interview with Yogini Anacostia

We caught up with International Contact Yoga Instructor Sarian Lee aka Yogi Anacostia to discuss her perspective on yoga, self-acceptance, the role of asanas, breathing techniques and meditation in the healing and transformation process. Sarian is one of the health leaders in Washington DC, east of the Anacostia River, where she teaches affordable vinyasa yoga classes.

How did Sarian Lee become Yogini Anacostia? Tell us about your path? Why did you dedicate your life to this practice, and how has it changed you?

I started yoga after a tragic event – the loss of a loved one. At that time I lived in a small town in Belize, in Central America, and traditional medical care was not developed there. Luckily, a close friend of mine attended an Art of Living group that used breathing techniques to get rid of emotional pain. There I learned what meditations and asanas are, and my life changed forever. Now I have a tool that will help me get through the worst of times and I no longer feel helpless. I don’t need outside help now. I overcame mental trauma with yoga and came out with a whole new way of looking at the world.

What is your mission as a yoga instructor? What is your goal and why?

My mission is to teach people to heal themselves. Many people live without the knowledge that there are powerful tools, such as yoga, that quickly relieve everyday stress. I still face opposition and challenge in my life. I don’t always manage to calmly resolve the conflict, but I use a system of breathing, postures and movements to restore balance.

What do you understand by healing? And what makes this process easier?

Healing is a daily path to inner and outer balance. One fine day, we will all be healed, because we will die, and the soul will return to the Beginning. This is not sad, but rather the realization that we are heading towards a destination in our lives. Each person can be healed, being happy from the fact of his existence, and realize even his most daring dreams. The path to healing must be through joy, fun, love, light, and this is an exciting process.

You claim that in talking about yoga and about the body, there is no comparison of “fat and skinny.” Can you explain in more detail?

The debate about body structure is one-sided. People are not divided into blacks and whites. We all have our own shades of the palette. There are thousands of yogis of all colors, different abilities, different sexes and weights. You can watch on Instagram how people of different body types demonstrate yoga poses with confidence and skill, though I can’t say anything about their character. Many, despite being overweight, are healthy and completely happy. The most important thing is to control your emotions and develop your consciousness.

What is your relationship with your own body? How has it changed over time?

I have always been physically active, but never fit into the stereotype of an athletic person. I have thick thighs from my West African grandmother and muscular arms from my South Carolina grandfather. It is not my intention to change my heritage. I love my body.

Yoga has taught me to look deeper into the person and not listen to the changing opinions of the media about beauty, fitness and health. Some of my friends are body shy and do everything to lose weight. Others treat their appearance with complete disdain. My self-esteem focuses on “feeling good” instead of “looking good.”

I think people should find their own middle ground. An increasing number of people are reconsidering their views on health and beauty, regardless of stereotypes and marketing preferences. Then yoga does its job and gives impetus to the spiritual evolution of the mind and body.

What advice would you give to someone who feels they can’t do yoga due to being overweight, for example?

I will suggest that they start with the most important thing in the body – breathing. If you can breathe, then you have a constitution suitable for yoga. Close your eyes and enjoy your yoga practice. Let its deep principles flow through you.

In my blog, everyone can find photos of people from all over the world with different figures doing beautiful asanas. More importantly, people change their character to improve the world.

What other misconceptions about yoga are there?

Some may think that yoga is a panacea for any emotional ups and downs. This is unrealistic and unnatural. Yoga provides tools such as mantras, meditations, asanas and the Ayurvedic diet to help break the mold and patterns in our lifestyle. All this makes it possible to consciously make adjustments and turn towards balance.

And finally, what is the purpose of yoga, as you see it?

The purpose of yoga is to achieve peace, tranquility and contentment in earthly life. Being human is a great blessing. The ancient yogis were not ordinary people. They recognized the unique opportunity to be born as a human and not as one of eight billion organisms. The goal is to live in peace with yourself and others, becoming an organic part of the cosmos.


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