Our Yogi in the Community this week is an educator, dancer, and world traveler. Malika Omawale’s story illustrates the diversity that exists within and the beauty that is illuminated by the practice of yoga. Whether she is teaching yoga to her 2nd graders, or practicing by the ocean in a different country, Malika is the perfect example for how yoga truly cultivates the brilliance within.
Location:Oakland, California Hometown: Kingston, Jamaica
How long have you been practicing yoga? I started practicing yoga 7 years ago, at the beginning of my career as a school teacher. At the time I was living in San Francisco, finishing my Masters while dealing with the heavy demands of being a first year teacher. I began to take yoga classes as a means of stress reduction and as a compliment to vipassana meditationa technique I had also recently learned.
I fell in love instantly with the deep feeling of peace that came as a result of the practice. The high that I felt after yoga classes supported me in leaving behind pharmaceuticals that I had relied on up to that point for anxiety and depression. Yoga ignited a passion for holistic healing and healthy living. It became a part of my life from that point on.
How does yoga inspire your path in life? Yoga is a key component of my spiritual life and has been instrumental in my journey towards integrating the seemingly separate parts of my life. As a child of a UN staff member, I was fortunate to have grown up living in many different countries around the world. However, as an adult, with the many places that I call home, I often feel a pull towards traveling to see family, friends or new lands. There can be a bit of confusion as well around where to lay roots. Yoga grounds me in a way that I find so necessary after and during all these life transitions. When I get on my yoga mat, bring intention to my breath and begin to move, I feel that I have returned home. Regardless of where I am geographically, yoga brings me home. For this reason, when I travel, the yoga mat is always with me.
I recently spent a year working in Panama City (Central America) and found myself overworked and without the support systems (community) I have here in California. The fast paced, high stress lifestyle I found myself living, coupled with a painful break up, had me yearning for the peace and stress relief that I feel after a great yoga class. Without the breadth of quality instructors that I was accustomed to having access to, I began to feel a void. Since I was experiencing some intense but normal post break-up emotions such as anger, grief, anxiety and depression, I started to spend more time meditating and practicing yoga at home and with a dear expat friend who taught a power yoga class. The result was that I renewed my commitment to follow my long time dream to teach yoga. I enjoyed teaching weekly private and public classes in Spanish and English during my time abroad. The pain of the heartbreak began to ease as I shared my love for this ancient system of healing. I formed some new friendships and felt connected to a source of positivity amidst a challenging situation. A strong desire to continue my studies of yoga led me back to the San Francisco Bay Area where there is a large network of yogis and a wealth of resources to pull from. Since my return I have been soaking up the teachings of my favorite instructors and learning about the business component of yoga by working at a local studio. Currently, I substitute for yoga teachers and teach yoga to 2nd graders in PE class. I also teach Transformative Life Skills and Mindfulness to my students as a part of a social-emotional skills curriculum and as a positive behavior management tool. I even taught yoga as a warm up in rehearsals for a Haitian dance performance group I am a part of.
How do you see yoga influencing your purpose in life? As a lifelong dancer and school teacher, yoga has served me in so many ways. Initially, I was drawn to yoga as a tool to support my own personal transition into holistic mental and physical health and healing. After some years of practicing and enjoying the benefits that flow out of deep self study and sadhana, I felt so empowered and grateful for these tools that I wanted to share them with others. I also wanted to immerse myself more into the teachings. At that point, I was gifted with an Anusara Yoga Immmersion course by my sister who is a film maker. She inspired me to follow (what she observed as a calling) the path to become a yoga instructor through her commitment to her art and by paying for the course. After a very fruitful and deep process with that system of yoga, I was sure that teaching yoga was part of my life path. I received a scholarship to participate in Niroga Institute Integral Health Fellows teacher training. I was among the first of several black yogis to participate in an initiative to train people of color to become yoga teachers. The organization’s intention is to provide culturally sensitive and relevant instructors to teach in communities that are largely in need of, yet under exposed to yoga.
I continue to integrate the teachings of yoga philosophy, the asanas (postures), and pranayama (breathwork) into the work I do daily with my second graders.
Yoga is an extremely supportive tool for me and my students as we are faced with some of the challenges within urban public schools. My purpose is to continue to fuse my passions and interests for health/wellness and fitness through teaching yoga, dance and healthy living skills.
What is a lesson you have learned about yourself through the practice of yoga?
Yoga has taught me to become increasingly aware of my body and emotions as I move around in everyday life. Thanks to my yoga practice, specifically the alignment instructions I have received through my study of Anusara Yoga, I find I am aware of what my body can do. I know when to slow down or stop, and this has enhanced my enjoyment and capacity to dance, bike, run etc. All the physical asanas provide a container for me to explore what’s going on at a cellular level in my body and prepare me to sit in silent meditation. The meditation (a vital part of yoga) helps me check my anger and reactivity, so much that some friends who knew me before I did yoga tell me that I seem so much more mellow now. :)Yoga has given me a means to become aware of the different layers of my being. It gives me access to a higher level of consciousness and reminds me to feel grateful for this dynamic experience of life.