This week’s Yogi in the Community is a true inspiration! Dr. Gail Parker is a Detroit based psychologist who utilizes principles found in yoga within her practice. This week Dr. Parker talks with us about the progression of her yoga practice over 45 years, experiences during the Civil Rights Movement, and the importance of providing safe environments of healing for groups of people who have been historically marginalized. Please take a moment to read and be inspired!
Name: Dr. Gail Parker
Location: Detroit, Michigan
What inspired you to give yoga a try? I took my first yoga class out of curiosity when I was 21 years old. A man named Mr. Black, who was dressed in a dark suit and tie, taught it in a conference room at the Detroit Institute of Arts. After my first class I was hooked and I have been practicing yoga ever since. That was 45 years ago.
When I first started practicing yoga there were no yoga studios available and very few people teaching it.
You had to learn the practices from reading books on the subject or, if you were lucky enough to have taken a class from someone, by remembering the postures you had learned in class.
This was in the late 1960’s. Later, in the 1970’s, Lillias Folan was featured in her own television show on PBS so you could follow along with her. Eventually, more teachers began to create audiotapes that you could listen to as you developed your own practice. Yoga had not yet gone mainstream and there was really no easy access to the practices, but for some reason I persevered. I always loved it and that has never changed.
Twelve years ago I found a yoga studio very close to my office. I dropped in for a class and have been attending classes ever since. After one year I decided to take teacher training for the purpose of learning more about what I was doing. I’m very clear that just because you’ve learned something doesn’t mean you can teach it, but as it turns out my teacher thought I could. She invited me to teach a restorative yoga class.
In addition to the physical practice, the philosophy of yoga has always appealed to me. When I first began the practice of asana, it was at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. I went to high school in Virginia when segregation was the law. We were trained to use Dr. King’s methods of non-violent protest to challenge legal segregation. One of the important practices of yoga is Ahimsa, or non-harming. The practice of change through non-harming has always been a philosophical fit for me.
I formalized my philosophical education by studying with various scholars and meditation teachers. I am currently studying with Tantric scholar Professor Douglas Brooks.
I traveled with him and a group of others to Tamil Nadu, India in 2011 on a pilgrimage to the temples of South India. The trip was transformative.
As a licensed psychologist and yogi, how do you integrate the healing power of yoga and meditation into your work as a psychologist? One of the principles of yoga that is compatible with my approach to life and my work is the principle of Self-Study, Svadyaya. I offer a workshop called “Love – the Heart of the Matter”. It teaches how to integrate the Yamas and Niyamas into one’s life by first, applying these principles to understanding and caring for one’s self, and then to understanding and caring for one’s relationships.
In addition to talk therapy, I offer meditation, pranayama, and restorative yoga postures, as methods for heightening awareness, reducing stress, easing depression, and enhancing relationships. I also write a blog and offer workshops called Taking Yoga Off Your Mat™ .
The blog and workshops are for any one interested in learning more about themselves. You don’t have to seek psychological counseling or practice yoga to learn about yourself. But to reap the rewards of a more fulfilling life you do have to be willing to apply the lessons you learn about yourself to your daily life by taking therapy off the couch, or taking yoga off your mat. The blog and workshops offers practices for how to do just that.
I have had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Breuer, founder of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color and notice that you were recently a co-facilitator for the retreat. Can you talk a little bit about the retreat? Why is this space and community important for Women of Color? One of the well-known benefits of yoga is its ability to decrease stress by evoking the relaxation response, which has a healing effect. But this can only occur in a physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe environment. That is exactly what Maya Breuer intended when she created the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color™. The retreat is an experience that invites women of color of all nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures to come into deeper connection with themselves and in community with each other.
Maya understands that women of color learn how to survive, how to make it professionally and socially in America, but what’s been lost in the shuffle of acculturation is a focus on self-love and self-care. She gets that we know how to fit in, how to work hard to get ahead, but in the process we leave ourselves out of the equation.
The Retreat teaches women about self-love and self-care through the lens of yoga. It teaches women that making your self a priority is not being selfish, it’s being self-aware. The segments I facilitate are designed to reinforce ways you can practice self-love and self-care and continue to make your self a priority when you go home and re-enter the busyness of daily life.
To wrap up, what I love most about yoga is that it helps you integrate your life…to weave together the threads of your life…to be your values…to be authentic.
It does not turn you into someone else; it just helps you became more of who already are. This is, in my experience, is yoga’s greatest gift.
Like you Chelsea, I love yoga. Thank you for the opportunity to share my love of this practice with others.
If you are interested in keeping up with Dr. Parker, you can follow her blog at http://drgailparker.wordpress.com