Dr. Chelsea Jackson is actively working to make Western yoga more inclusive and reach marginalized communities. Parvati Magazine’s Yoga Editor, Ella Isakov, speaks to Chelsea about yoga as a tool for social change.
Parvati Magazine: You have been a yoga teacher for over ten years and also trained to teach children and teens. What impact has yoga had on your life?
Chelsea Jackson: One of my favourite teachers is bell hooks. She says, “When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.” This is what yoga does for me and how it impacts my life daily. It supports me in dropping the fear that keeps me disconnected from myself and others. My yoga practice teaches me how to be present, centered, compassionate, patient, fierce, and explorative. My yoga practice shows up in the ways I engage and introduce youth to the practice and how I treat myself as an advocate for youth and silenced communities.
PMAG: You created Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for black teens. What makes it unique?
CJ: Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp (YLA) is a tuition-free camp for teen girls ages 13-17. I was inspired to create this space for young women based on my lived experiences of seldom seeing our reflections growing up, whether in the literature we read in school, or the images we saw in art and media. Yoga is a key component to the camp because it supports self-reflection, recognition and ownership of our bodies. YLA Camp creates space for embodied knowing of our experiences and what it means to be the authors of our own stories as Black and Brown women.
PMAG: You are passionate about social justice. How can the practice of yoga help marginalized teens feel like they belong and have something vital to say and contribute?
CJ: One of the best things about yoga and the work we do through Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp is that we focus on the aspects of our practice that remind us we are already whole, enough, and that our presence matters. As students cultivate this understanding, they on the one hand are able to develop critical consciousness and identify systems and experiences that are in place to keep them living at the margins, and on the other hand use their yoga practice to stay centered, breathe, and become acutely aware of the ways in which they can change systems through citizenship and participation.
PMAG: You are a creator and continuously offering projects that promote health, wellbeing and going for one’s dreams. What keeps you in this expansive creativity?
CJ: My ideas become reality because I am rooted in a knowing that I am a continuation of work that started way before I arrived. It becomes reality because I am constantly searching for the places where things connect. Right now, my movements go towards Red Clay Yoga, the non-profit I founded with my husband Shane Roberts. Through our organization, we sustain Yoga Literature and Art Camp, and conduct workshops and trainings for yoga teacher, practitioners, and educators who are interested in yoga, education, and ways of living in community with others grounded in equity and love.
PMAG: What advice do you have for others that have ideas but lack confidence to take steps to make them a reality?
CJ: Through this practice and through the work of Red Clay Yoga, I am learning that my work is my work. In other words, the ways in which I share and trust the work I am doing in the world is intimately connected to how much I trust myself. A way I strengthen that trust is through my yoga practice, meditation, and how I apply those teachings to the world. My advice is to start there as a way to uncover the root of the doubt, the anxiety, and even fear around starting a project. I also offer that all of experiences matter and count. It is important to value and acknowledge all of the events, lessons, jobs, degrees, experiences, yoga classes, teachers, etc. that have impacted where you stand today.
Chelsea Jackson Roberts, Ph.D., E-RYT is the founder of Yoga, Literature, and Art Camp for Teen Girls. Her work is grounded in yoga, literacy, culture, and liberation. Chelsea Loves Yoga, her online yoga, has flourished into a platform that elevates the voices of Black and Brown yoga practitioners across the world. Chelsea resides in Atlanta, GA with her husband Shane.