Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher, educational researcher and founder of Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teen Girls at Spelman College Museum of Fine Art. We asked her about how she views wellness and how yoga can help cultivate community.

Catch Chelsea at the following event at the Wellness Your Way Festival:

October 11, 12:30-1:30 p.m.: Breathe It All In: A Yoga Class for All Bodies, Fitness Session @ Fitness Arena

What does the term “wellness” mean to you?

For me, the term wellness can only be uniquely defined by an individual who feels aligned within their body, mind and actions in the world. In my life, practicing wellness looks like being mindful of what make me feel at peace. Wellness means getting clear on what my body, mind and spirit need to move through my life, work and relationships. Wellness is not static; it is an evolving relationship that I have with myself—a relationship that centers self-acceptance and mindful practices like yoga that honor and offer space for reflections on what I need to be well. 

How did you get started in yoga? What was the inspiration?  

I initially approached yoga as a physical practice because I wanted to reconnect to my body after gaining a bit of weight during college and developing a number of health challenges. I grabbed a book by Rodney Yee to learn how to teach myself when I was living in New Mexico for a college internship. It wasn’t until I graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta that I entered my first yoga class.

I was inspired to try yoga because I knew it focused on the body and I heard that it was also relaxing. I wanted to feel free and unrestricted by shortness of breath and painful joints in my early 20s. I was inspired to try yoga because I thought it was an accessible way to move my body. I am now approaching 20 years of practicing and I am inspired daily by the new things I learn about myself in the stillness of my practice. 

Please share a few ways how yoga can be used as a tool to cultivate community.

By definition, yoga means to unite, join or yoke. I can’t think of a better framework for connecting humans who come from different cultures, paths and ways of seeing the world than yoga. When I founded my blog Chelsea Loves Yoga in 2011, my tagline was and continues to be “cultivating community through yoga.” I chose this because whenever I would ask yoga practitioners about what drew them to the practice, it always illuminated the unique stories that all of our bodies hold.

I observe the ways in which race, politics, inequity and so many other factors separate us. In order for us to move beyond the barriers that stifle connection, it is essential for us to learn how to be in conversation with and learn from one another. For me, I use tools I have learned through yoga like breathing, movement and reflection as a way to have touch conversations.

In 2014, I co-founded Red Clay Yoga with my husband Shane Roberts. Together, we work with community members, yoga teachers, and anyone interested in building bridges across communities. We offer space to have community conversations while integrating yoga throughout the process. The tools I have learned through my yoga practice are invaluable and can be practiced in simple ways. For example, the next time you want to have a difficult conversation with someone, take a deep breath, close your eyes. Try doing a body scan and notice how you are feeling in the physical body while breathing in slowly through the nose and release the breath with a sigh. 

Please share a few tips on how someone completely new to yoga should get started.

  1. Do your research. Yoga is a growing practice and industry. There are tons of approaches teachers and studios are taking when it comes to yoga. Keep an eye out for yoga teachers who specialize in beginners. Another great type of yoga to look for is restorative yoga. If you are drawn to yoga because you want let go of stress and calm the nervous system, check out yoga nidra and deep relaxation classes. 
  2. Take it one day at a time. The best thing about yoga is that it is a practice. Enjoy the journey and remember to be patient with yourself in the process. 
  3. Try staying present and leave the watch and cell phones outside of the yoga room. You want to give yourself the gift of presence and also respect those around you too. 
  4. Try journaling about your experience after each yoga class. This is a great way to use yoga as a tool for reflection.