Purfume, Power and the Politics of Place #MondayMusing

I love the Scent of Africa, not like, the smell of Africa (although it does make me feel “at home”) I mean the super expensive bottle of perfume create by Ghandour. I almost bought it until I asked the attendant where the company was made.

This clerk looked at me with a deadpan face and said – You know, perfume comes from Paris, yeah?


Now I really hope I heard her wrong. But my cousin was there and heard the same thing so maybe what she meant was the perfume is MADE in Paris, which indeed it is. But Ghandour IS a Ghanaian company.

I called on my lovely friend for a ethical consult – SHOULD I buy this perfume. Is this neocolonialism? Am I thinking to much about this?!

Thirty minutes later I didn’t buy the perfume because I ran out of credits and couldn’t figure out who made it.

Yeah I regret it a little bit, because this company is awesome and totally based in Accra!

Anyway, I did buy this amazing massage oil from the yoga studio, Bliss Yoga Accra, and I love it – it is proudly made in Ghana by a local entrepreneur and used/sold in the studio.


So while I wish I was rocking the Scent of Africa, I feel, on the whole happy with the struggle. It reminds me of the importance of wrestling with the complexities of a globalized market, resisting stereotypes about where beautiful and precious things can be made. It was a little bit like the global yoga project. While the profiles of black and plus size yogis are being lifted up more, it’s shocking to hear people’s reaction to my work.

When people ask me why I am traveling and I say, I’m doing research on the African/Black and yoga community I get one of three general responses, “Oh I don’t associate yoga with Africa” to “oh wow I didn’t know that was a thing that so many …people did” or “why would you study that?”.

I study resilience and the ways people create beauty in the face of evil for two reasons:

  1. There are enough people studying pain and evil and doing a brilliant job at it.
  2. The vibe around joy is so powerful and not magnifying it seems to be a loss because academia shapes policy.

If all we know about people of color is struggle or excellence and don’t allow for the complexities between then we support what Dr. Emilie Townes calls the Cultural Production of Evil or what Dr. Victor Anderson rejects in Beyond Ontological Blackness as the cult of Black genius.

So cheers to the messiness of being human and to the beauty of living a life of integrity and authenticity anyway.

And if anyone wants to send me a bottle of Scent of Africa I would be most grateful, my birthday is in September so there is plenty of time.


Laundry on the Line #FreedomFriday


“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”
― Ian McEwan, Atonement

As I sat on the porch with my grandmother, watching the slowly drying results of a morning spent hunched over giant pans of sun-warmed soap water, I realized that the largest difference between my life in the US and my life in Ghana is its exposure to the sunlight. That is – in the US, I spend a lot of time in manicured interactions, on my own terms and much of my life is private. I’m socially anxious about the manufactured conversations and small talk that, like a lukewarm microwaved lean cuisine in an empty apartment the day after a family reunion, seem grossly inappropriate. IMG_0934

In Ghana, my laundry flaps in the wind, gets an extra rain cycle rinse and finally is sun-bleached dry. If you don’t pay attention to the wind or wait to late, you are S.O.L. Washing is not a private, routinized process of hiding dirty things and stuffing them into a machine only to think about them 45 minutes later – it’s a physical and public process that is open to the elements.

I’m turning 28 soon, entering my fourth cycle of 7 years, the one that Carolina Shola Arewa, all around guru about confluence of African and Eastern spirituality, calls the time of creativity and life purpose/childbirth. Now, I’m not planning to have a physical child, but I have talked for hours with friends, family and the amazing life doula, Ashiya Swan about using these next few years to start sewing seeds and fertilizing new projects and visions.

I started the work with McEwan’s quote about the fragility of being human and the further fragility of being a human surrounded by the common comforts of the global North with no need to be aware of how the earth moves. One of the beauties of this yoga project is that I realize that my own practice, like so many others helps me draw closer to an awareness of the earth and reality, even as I move in a manufactured world.

Unlike just “exercise” which might get the same cardio results, or “prayer” which is a one directional conversation the beauty of yoga is the process, the intentional connection and waiting on the sacred Word. I notice the weather, how it impacts my body, it influences my practice not only where I chose to practice but how my body actually flows through postures. While I move my way into postures and wait for my body and mind to calm down and my breath to flow perhaps I am washing, washing, and squeezing, washing and squeezing and scrubbing my soul clean. The life I live is me flapping and waving in the wind, proudly exposed to the elements without fear of being seen because I am a work in process, but as clean as I can be because I did the work myself. I also become more resilient and proud of my patches for they are signs that I have, indeed been mended.


Today, sitting beside my 70-somthing year old grand mother, speaking our made up language that is a hybrid of random sign language,some Dangme and some English and lots of hand holding to make sure the other is really there, I am proud to watch my size 22 panties flapping in the wind.

This week my mat meditation is about the process of cleaning and shining light on things that are dirty or that need mending. How do you deal with those aspects of your life that are dirty or torn? How much energy do you put into hiding those parts of yourself vs. letting them see the sun?

#TuesdayTruth with Aunt Ruth

If you obsess over whether you are making the right decision, you are basically assuming that the universe will reward you for one thing and punish you for another.

The universe has no fixed agenda. Once you make any decision, it works around that decision. There is no right or wrong, only a series of possibilities that shift with each thought, feeling, and action that you experience.

If this sounds too mystical, refer again to the body. Every significant vital sign- body temperature, heart rate, oxygen consumption, hormone level, brain activity, and so on- alters the moment you decide to do anything… decisions are signals telling your body, mind, and environment to move in a certain direction.

-Deepak Chopra, The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life

The entire Global Yoga Project has been completely intuition based. Which is 85% against my nature. Flowing with the universe is definitely a newly discovered ability, but one that is so powerful.

My trauma-rooted insecurity with the universe’s ability to protect me is real and like the bad knee that is helpful at predicting the physical weather, my condition flares up with social clouds – seriously- social anxiety is a truly unfortunate product of McDonaldization of society.

Anyway I got stuck in the loop my first week here. Wringing my hands trying to find the balance between being rude and saying what I needed to say around being vegan. When you are fat, EVERYONE becomes an expert on your body and assumes you have no discipline or self-control. It is a fascinating and frustrating thing to experience.

I kept saying I only eat fruits and veggies and the response was ‘fish won’t make you fat’ or ‘just eat like me, I eat everything but only twice a day’ or ‘just don’t eat snacks’ or ‘eggs are fine they pull fat away’. Basically, everything but, ‘okay you can chose what you would like.

As I watched the contents of an entire meal cooked with fish and oysters leave the way it entered I remembered the wisdom my aunt shared with me on the first day I got to Ghana.

“-Know when to stop;
-Know when to say no;
-Know when to get ready;
-Know when it is time to go.”

Intuition and self trust are two of the most important tools I have learned on the mat, but there is difference between knowing and doing. Even good old Paul from the New Testament struggled with this!

This week I’m taking this affirmation with me, meditating on the root and throat chakra energy.

I trust my need to say no, I listen to my body when it says “go”. God/the universe/the divine acknowledges my intentions and integrity and I can trust my intuition and discernment process.

How do you deal with doubt, social anxiety or issues with people pleasing?

#MidweekMatMoment: Knowing yourself, to Fullness


If you care about what people think about you, you will end up being their slave. Reject and pull your own rope.
-Auliq Ice

This week I am meditating on what it means to know myself and the power that has to both protect me and push me to the next level of growth.

I was melting into a tree pose sequence and thinking about being in the land of my people’s pain and prosperity and like a little butterfly kiss I realized I was exactly where and who I was supposed to be no qualifications for my size, missed opportunities, detours. I was present.

This was one of those tiny/huge moments of release that meant so much because it was happening at home, a place that can be full of the ego. The desire to impress. The feeling of shame or pride. Hurt feelings. Miscommunication in the midst of deep love.

If you have been away from a place you call ‘home’ you might have had that feeling where you look around and everything is different and the yet the same.

Coming home is hard.

Especially after six years.

Especially as a grown woman in a culture that considers you your dad’s responsibility until you are your husband’s.

Le Sigh.

I study human and organizational (community development and psychology) and social ethics through the lens of the Womanism, that is, viewing the way society Treats black women globally and their responses as a source of deep wisdom and knowledge because in many ways they are the canary in the coal mine of society.

I am a known stranger visiting un/(family)-iar lands.

I have so much to say because of my training and yet feel so humbled because that is what the academy does – makes me assume I know best. Instead I have committed to the project of listening, which I think is more difficult, but also easy because I’m trying to remember/learn the language.

Now I will rescue this post from theoretical land and say, it has been so hard for me to inhabit my self since being here. I am a true bowl of GRITS – A Girl Raise In The South. I came out the womb dancing and basking in the light of stardom and by the time I hit 8 I was aware that to be a happy black girl offended the sensibilities of some people and I acquiesced.

So here I am. 20 years later. Knowing myself, my ancestors, my guides and my God, to fullness. That means fully inhabiting every inch of these size 22 polka dot shorts, speaking truth to power in love and with patience because I believe not only in authenticity but integrity and transformation.

Transformation is relational and burning bridges don’t make for great meeting points.

Coming home, when home isn’t paradise, tells you who you are because there is a subtle difference between ‘code switching’ and being ‘two-faced’ between ‘Speaking truth with integrity’ and ‘self/instantly gratifyihg authenticity’.

I think the difference is a bit of wisdom and grace and compassionate connection based on disconnection from the ego.

This week I am taking to the mat this acknowledgement and trust of my body, mind and soul. I’m committing to a flow practice where I don’t script my poses or try to ‘work’ on anything.

What are you taking to the mat this week?

#FreedomFriday Dublin Edition


Yesterday I went on a free walking tour of Dublin and it was gloriously radical. I highly recommend their tours – check them out at http://www.dublinfreewalkingtour.ie/ After giving us a brief overview of the day, of the city the tour guide asked us to turn to someone we did not know, shake their hand, tell them our story and welcome them to Dublin. He said he begins his tours this way because

  1. Dublin is friendly and as tourists, we should be too
  2. You get more our of a tour when you feel comfortable talking and asking questions.
  3. Once you shake hands, it means you have a drinking buddy

While I did not come for a drinking buddy, I found this to be one of the most beautiful moments of the day – I met a fellow North American dude from Montreal who was there with a bunch of his friends. It was not just this conversation that was so beautiful, it was the shift in the group dynamic from being a consumption of Dublin to became an opportunity to engage in the core practice of being human – that is connection.


I think that it is so important to make a conscious switch to that alternate moral universe, some call it mindfulness, some call it the womanist mind, others talk about activating the parasympathetic nervous system. What I know is that as a person who studies social ethics and community psychology who happily inhabits a body that is often perceived as problematic, I was particularly pleased to be able to be “seen” for who I am beyond the normative gaze.

Our tour guide was also fiercely protective of Dublin culture, aware of the power of gentrification on community ties and was deeply aware of the history of Dublin from the perspective of those who did not write the history books. The tour was also free (they only take tips) because they are committed to making Dublin’s alternative history available to everyone regardless of their budget.

Since I am trained as a what some might call a community psychologist and I care deeply about the relationship between those who believe they “produce knowledge” in the academy and the larger community (be it policymakers, practitioners or community members) I was absolutely ecstatic to see how this guide wove in historical and social analysis to provide people with a more holistic perspective of Dublin.

So, shout out to David, Peter and the other  space-makers who know the power of a handshake and a smile to shift our thinking and see the world and people around us anew!

Interview Preview: Ashiya Swan


It was great to start this project with the fabulous entrepreneur and life doula, Ashiya Swan! This photo was snapped accidentally while setting up, and it perfectly captured her energy and approach to freedom!

Stay tuned for the interview!


If you are interested in being interviewed about your yoga practice either as a student or teacher, please head over to http://liftyogame.com to complete the survey and get signed up. In-person interviews will be conducted in Accra, Atlanta, Columbus, Detroit, Dublin, Kingston, London, Montego Bay, New York and Paris this summer. If you would like to be included and you live outside those areas, please still sign up and we can try to make it happen!

Much appreciation to Vanderbilt University’s Imagination Grant Program for sponsoring this project!

Love & Light

Leah Lomoki

Monday Musing: Balancing Research Requirements and Cultural Humility

As I begin this new research journey I have been reflecting on the goals of my work. My first commitment to Cultural Humility was to conduct this project outside the bounds of the academy and IRB because I don’t believe this work belongs to the academy. Even though it is graciously funded by an Imagination Grant from Vanderbilt’s Divinity School, I consider this project a journey about wisdom collection rather than knowledge production because the work is designed as a self and community reflection tool.

In my search to wrestle with the decision about housing my work int the academy, I ran across this video about cultural humility which talks about ways to integrate humility into the work of the academy. From their own words:

The film describes a set of principles that guide the thinking, behavior and actions of individuals and institutions influencing interpersonal relationships as well as systems change. These principles are:
• Lifelong learning and critical self-reflection
• Recognize and change power imbalances
• Institutional accountability
More than a concept, Cultural Humility is a communal reflection to analyze the root causes of suffering and create a broader, more inclusive view of the world. Originally developed by Doctors Melanie Tervalon and Jann Murray-Garcia (1998) to address health disparities and institutional inequities in medicine, Cultural Humility is now used in public health, social work, education, and non-profit management.

  1. What do you think about the connection between the community and the academy and your role?
  2. If you are also in grad school or a professor, how do decide what “belongs” to the academy and what “belongs” to the community?
  3. How do we balance research constraints with our commitments to community-based work?