PHOTO COURTESY OF SARA CABRAL

I’m Naya Jones, a holistic practitioner, community organizer and graduate student based in Austin, Texas.

Sometimes people ask me how such different areas of my life connect. As a holistic business owner, I am committed to carrying on the legacy of Black women soulpreneurs  who grow not just clientele–but healing community. As co-founder of a food justice organization (Food for Black Thought), my partner Kevin and I facilitate workshops with youth and adult groups to foster a more just food system. As a PhD student I explore Black Diaspora healing ways and food traditions. My passion for listening to people’s stories, and my passion for social justice, connect these “branches” of my life. I love to read, hike, journal, meditate, have potlucks with friends, and travel. When I really veg out, I can indulge in British TV mysteries or sci-fi.

Rootwork

Rootwork helps folks “get rooted”, in touch with inner peace, connected with each other, and in tune with ancestors. We offer retreats, one-on-one sessions, group workshops, and outdoor excursions infused with Black Diaspora music, history, and healing ways. Our broader mission: to promote socially just holistic wellness. In that spirit, we specialize in programs for Black women and communities of color who face serious health disparities and possess rich traditions of healing.

PHOTO COURTESY OF VANITY FIRE

Afrobeat Meditation™ is the heart of Rootwork. A monthly tradition, this class is guided meditation + intuitive movement to Black Diaspora music. It’s a homegrown offering unique to Rootwork, born out of my personal meditation practice of 10+ years. After sitting or lying down in meditation for a decade, I started to move, sway, and stretch. My body wanted to move with inner peace! Then I heard Afrobeat music for the first time while visiting Brooklyn in 2012. I came back to Austin, Texas with the beginnings of Afrobeat Meditation™. This year I’ve watched Afrobeat Meditation™ classes grow in size and across age groups. Our youngest co-healer (aka participant) was 12, and our eldest so far has been an 84 year old grandmother. She joined us with her daughter and granddaughter. We had three generations in one room, and I knew that this was the power of this work. Our classes are more like ceremony. We bring people together, move in circle, open with sage, and welcome ancestors.

The beginning of my mission

In 2000, I began a simple meditation practice. I breathed in three counts (1-2-3 breathe in) and breathed out to three counts (1-2-3 exhale). This practice helped me cope as an incredibly stressed out, overachieving college student undergoing culture shock. I was one of few students of color on my college campus, and I came from a working class background. I attended a predominantly white, wealthy school. While I was deepening my meditation practice, I was also expanding my social awareness.

I learned more about Black history.

I read Gloria Anzaldua’s La Frontera/The Borderlands for the first time. I began to protest social injustice on campus. I was on fire! From college onward, I began practicing other meditation and spiritual practices with teachers in Texas. These practices expanded my desire to know my ancestors' stories; the sense of connection I felt during meditation made me more aware of social injustice and imbalance. I felt even more passionate about addressing it. I took longer and longer hikes at local parks. I connected intensely with ancestors. One morning I woke up and just knew: it was time to facilitate meditation with the broader community. My first class was in 2008, and I’ve facilitated meditation (sitting, guided, and movement) with youth and adults ever since.

What Inspires Me

Music inspires me. I bring my love for cumbia, downtempo, Afrobeat, Afro-pop, blues violin, trance blues and other genres into Rootwork. I’ve also met inspiring holistic practitioners on my path. They support me daily as Black, Brown, Chicana, and indigenous/Native American healers who do spiritual work wherever they are – at home, in the university setting, in the corporate world, or on the road. From them I’ve learned how to connect across distance in simple yet powerful ways – and still feel like part of a community.

Books inspire me, too. I like to begin the day by reading or with a quote. Sister of the Yam by bell hooks is one of my favorite books that continues to inspire me and Rootwork. Right now I’m also exploring two books gifted by dear friends, The Wild Feminine and Woman Who Glows In the Dark. And, our dog Josh inspires me when I need it most. Sometimes the challenges facing the planet can feel incredibly heavy. Feeding, walking, and spending time with him keeps me grounded. Playful. Present!

My goodness, what a journey it’s been.

Since I was a little girl people would ask where I was from and where I was born. My father is African-American and my mother is Chicana (Mexican-American) and White. At home I was taught “Love sees no color”, but the world seemed very preoccupied with my racial/cultural background. From an early age, I realized the world does see color. From an early age, I noticed how my father and I were treated differently when we were together, compared to the glowing service my mom and I received. Then there were the compliments. People we didn’t know would stop us on the street to express how gorgeous I was. I remember strangers asking to touch my hair, to touch my curls.

As a child I basked in the attention. I felt special. Looking back, the compliments gave me a sense of false superiority. While I was complimented on my "good hair," I was learning that being "too" Black was a bad or unattractive thing.

PHOTO COURTESY OF L. ZAJAC

What I learned in school confirmed this message. In grades K-12, I did not learn positive, inspiring history about my Black ancestors. I learned little about Mexican-Americans/Chican@s in Texas. And women were near absent. None of my identities were nourished or affirmed.

Growing up I excelled in school but felt alienated from my peers. I coped creatively. I wrote, drew, and played the piano. I competed in writing competitions that allowed me to express my feelings or debate social issues. My room at home became an artistic sanctuary. On one hand, I learned how to treasure healing solitude. On the other, I lacked understanding of my personal and collective history.

Rootwork comes from my journey as a Black woman with a mother of White/Mexican descent. I didn’t always, but now I do understand my on-going racialized/cultural journey as a gift. What a gift to understand Blackness as expansive. Diverse. Global. My journey with identity has taken me to Veracruz, Mexico and led me to teachers of diverse spiritual traditions. I am grateful.

I am a creative spirit who loves to laugh and likes to ask, "What are you waiting for?"  

PHOTO COURTESY OF VANITY FIRE

Social issues

I’m concerned about how stress is impacting women/of color – and specifically Black women - in our daily lives. Stress from taking care of everyone but ourselves. Stress over that promotion in the workplace or over those racial/sexual jokes at work. Stress from worrying about our family members when they leave the house because of police violence against people of color. Stress because our neighborhoods are tragically underfunded. Financial stress from losing employment, or from employment being uncertain. What concerns me further is how the stress of being a woman, let alone a Black woman, is little acknowledged by health institutions. Therefore we’re not getting at the “root” of dis-eases that disproportionately impact us.

For example, when discussing dis-eases that rank high among Black women, the focus tends to be diet or lifestyle alone. I witness this focus as a graduate student, holistic practitioner, and community organizer. But stress has also been linked to the very same dis-eases impacting this group (high rates of diabetes, heart disease, obesity, death from breast cancer). I’m concerned that interventions are focusing on one aspect of health, without considering the full picture. Without the full picture, what exactly is being treated? What social or economic issues are addressed--or not?

Furthermore, advice for managing stress tends to focus on personal life incidents alone, or on changes that can be made on the individual level. Being Black and/or Brown and/or woman and/or queer in the United States can be incredibly stressful – if not traumatic – because of persistent injustice in this country. For those of us who know stress in this way, we know it is more than individual. We experience tragedies and hardship collectively on a regular basis.  We’ve seen lately how a traumatic incident that impacts one Black person or family, for example, can deeply concern the broader Black community. The deaths of Trayvon Martin, Renisha McBride, Michael Brown come to mind.

Other systems of healing, such as curanderismo from Mexican/Mexican-American traditions, understand that wellness is multi-dimensional. Wellness involves historical, physical, social, spiritual, and environmental factors. Stress can come from any of these sources, and stress can affect the mind, body, and/or spirit. I’m passionate about folks who have long experienced health disparities really, truly being well – from this holistic perspective. I’m inspired by feminists of color who consider wellness in this way, Patricia Hill Collins, bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Gloria Anzaldúa, AnaLouise Keating, and Jacqui Alexander among them. Scholars such as Dr. Naa Oyo Kwate (Rutgers University) inspire me, as they explore the impacts of racism on Black immune function and psychological wellbeing. Grassroots circles among comadres, Sister Circles, and Sacred Women circles inspire me.

Through Rootwork, I share self-care practices like meditation because they are one way to sustain wellness for ourselves.

PHOTO COURTESY OF VANITY FIRE

I’ve been meditating on the quote, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for”, and I believe it. When we practice meditation ourselves and with our families and communities. We can cultivate our wellness from inside out, using practices that are always available to us. Meditation just requires breath. And practices like meditation can help sustain us when we take personal action or collectively address social injustice. This is what mediation gives me: clarity and self-care for inner and outer work.

You deserve time for yourSelf, without apology.  

With myself and with other women I meet, our greatest challenge can be saying “no”, “not right now”, or making time for ourselves – without apology. Too many of us feel guilty. Obligated. Exhausted. Overworked. Women of the Root! Please take time to stop and listen to your body. If the answer is “No” or “Not right now” or “Maybe”, notice the relief you feel when you say so. I’ve found that by saying “No” and taking regular retreat time for myself, more aligned people and more aligned opportunities come into my life. Energy starts to flow!

PHOTO COURTESY OF SARA CABRAL

In five years...

I see myself drinking a cup of tea as I prepare for a healing circle and book signing. I’ve traveled to another part of the United States (or another part of the world) to share Afrobeat Meditation with a growing community. I have a newly published book I’ll be sharing, too, about how to live a more liberated, passionate, authentic life. As I review the schedule for the day, I feel calm.

I know that I am exactly where I need to be, and that the women who were called to this gathering are meant to be there. Spiritually I feel centered, inspired, and full. Physically, I feel well rested. I’m supported by friends, my partner, my family, and the Rootwork community. Mentally, I feel aware of my ancestors and spiritual guides. I’ve completed my doctoral degree, and I am completely immersed in Rootwork. Rootwork sustains me abundantly. I’m sole manager of my time. I’m living an inspired life!

Stay in touch!

Visit our website at www.root-work.com. Follow us on Twitter @rootworkaustin Find our growing Black Women Get Rooted™ Meetup community on-line. For exclusive monthly inspiration, offers, rituals, and recipes/recetas, join our e-mail list at connect@root-work.com. You can also bring Rootwork to you. Explore our guest workshops on radical self-care and more, here.