Photo by Chris Silvestri
Nedra Snipes is a 2nd year M.F.A. actor in the Juilliard Drama Division and founder of J-Tribe Flow Yoga, a new wellness-based yoga collective for black women, women of color, and their allies. Fiona Robberson, co-editor in chief of the Citizen-Penguin, sat down with Nedra on Tuesday to discuss the origins of J-Tribe Flow Yoga in advance of their first official yoga session, which begins Wednesday morning, February 6th.
What is the origin story of J-Tribe Flow Yoga?
It’s really new! We’re starting officially in the first week of February. The collective started in the fall of last semester, when Rosie Yates, a 2nd year drama student, was asked to do an event as an RA for the Juilliard Residence Hall. Melissa Golliday, a 3rd year drama student and fellow RA, decided to collaborate with Rosie – together they created a wellness event that became the first iteration of J-Tribe Flow Yoga. It’s specifically for black women, women of color, and OUR allies, which includes and extends to persons who identify with the male pronoun.
What was your journey to yoga?
After 1st year of my drama training, I was feeling outside of my body and outside of my yoga practice. I went to Core Power Yoga, saw a posting for teacher training and went before I knew what it was going to be about. I wanted to go deeper into my own personal practice. I studied Power Vinyasa Yoga, which in a nutshell, is about constantly activating your core. You’re building strength and breath, both of which increase throughout the flow. We start slowly, move through the series again, and move into one breath, one movement, which at that intensity, elevates your heart rate, your breath, your focus, and your strength. It’s a transformative experience when I get to share that transformation with other people.
Why do you feel yoga practice is necessary for black women and women of color at Juilliard?
For me, coming to Juilliard and trying to find some semblance of self-care in the midst of this training schedule, especially as a person of color, creates a lot of weighty forces that cause you to take big pauses, and could impede your training overall. J-Tribe Flow Yoga is specifically for black women, women of color, and our allies – the motivation behind that is for us to see others like ourselves in a room, striving for the same level of greatness that we all desire in this building. I want others to take ownership of their own bodies, even if only for an hour. And there is something different that happens when you share the same breath with other people.
What happens when you share that breath?
I truly think we breathe for the first time when we’re together. I’m currently working on bringing my full self into a room and feel that when I’m in a room with women of color, with black women, and with our allies who I know are supporting us, there’s a release that happens. And that’s important.
For someone who has never done yoga before, what should they expect from J-Tribe Flow Yoga?
They should expect peace and tranquility. They should not feel like they need to be a flexible person, or someone who has done sports all their lives, or anything like that. They just need to be someone who wants to commit an hour to themselves. In my teacher training, they said that if you want to stay in a single pose for a whole hour, maybe a resting position like child’s pose, that is your practice. That is yoga. It’s not a flexibility contest, or a social contest. For me, it’s more of a deeper, spiritual experience. I say come with your heart open and breath flowing. And bring a yoga mat, towel, and water!
How many times do you plan to meet?
We hope to meet 9-10 times over the course of this semester, starting this Friday. We anticipate having two sessions per month, depending on holiday and break schedules. I want for us to bond, not just by doing physical activity together, but to also have us grow mentally and spiritually together. It’s my goal that we can have conversations about what it means to be a person of color, or an ally.
Is it going to open up to elements of self care and wellness beyond yoga?
Yes! I’m excited about our upcoming BE Series in March – BE Powerful, BE Grounded, and BE Restored. The BE Powerful series will involve more of the core element of yoga through power vinyasa flow, to teach us about inner will and how to tap into our core strength at any point. BE Grounded will focus on sustaining fundamental poses for 4-6 minutes at a time. In this series, the yogi principle of Dhristi breath will lead us through each pose as heat is built within the body. BE Restored will finish out the year with a restorative yoga flow to our favorite records.
I’m also planning on an Abundant Gratitude Brunch at the end of the year to celebrate, break bread, and be together outside of this building. We’ll have guest instructors as well – friends from the area, local yoga teachers who are women of color within New York, teachers from the Harlem area and Brooklyn, where there’s another organization specifically for women of color, and more. It’s important that we’re showing leaders of wellness who are outside of the societal norm.
When I attended your first yoga/wellness session last semester, there were a lot of instances where in the midst of poses, you were encouraging students with affirmations and power phrases. Where does that come from?
Part of my teacher training includes setting an intention from the class that is close to you, that you can share with your students and those who are working with you. It has to be specific to you, and something that you can all work on universally. I have this thing about light – my first song in church was “This Little Light of Mine!” – and I believe light is something we all have within us. A quote from Marianne Williamson that has always resonated with me, goes: “We are all meant to shine as children do. It’s not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
I just want to hone and cultivate a world like that, where everyone is shining their own individual lights, that you can shine yours in whatever way you can. It should shine big, which is why I reiterate it – at a certain point in the poses of the flow, at the challenging points, you can shift your focus to a higher power or a higher light which will help to lead you forward. This is also an important part of your life flow – when you take focus away from the negativity and stresses of your life and instead focus on what you’re learning in this moment, even if you’re feeling uncomfortable, you can share that sentiment with someone else in your space. We’re all so talented here – we’re inspired by others, but don’t compare yourself to others. You have your own light.
What do you anticipate being the future of J-Tribe Flow Yoga?
Right now, we’re scheduled up until the end of 2019. I’m looking for us to have a wellness retreat that will happen before the start of the new school year which will help us to become grounded and centered before we start back up at school. I love that J-Tribe is starting here at Juilliard, but I do want it to extend beyond these walls. This is our first way that we’re connecting and communicating with one another, but it should spread like a spider web in how many women we reach through this. I’m hoping that after this summer, the women of this school will know that they have a support system – they will feel like they belong and that they have people to reach for in their times of need. I’m hoping that this tribe will continue beyond Juilliard to performances on Broadway, movie sets, composing endeavors, musical performances, dancers in their first company overseas, and that even in high-stress situations, these women will know they can call on these people to love and support them.
Finally, where does the name “J-Tribe Flow Yoga” come from?
Of course, the J comes from Juilliard. Tribe is ancestral for me and my cultural history. A tribe is something that cannot be broken, it is made up of a vast majority of people who have their own individual role in the tribe, whose job or role cannot be compromised or taken. We’re all doing that here at Juilliard, right now – if we were to switch or fulfill another purpose in this world, it wouldn’t work. In order for us to work as a tribe, we need to work together. Yoga speaks for itself – I wanted to start with that. In J-Tribe Flow Yoga, we’ll always start with a physicalizing of release to let go of the armor we all carry every day to protect ourselves from the world. Even the act of getting on the subway to come to school requires a bit of armor. By letting go of our basic survival instincts, we become aware of our thoughts and breath, which connects us to our mindful wellness practice and develop a sense of flow. I’d like for our collective to flow through this wellness program, flow through our lives, flow through this world.
And flow through this program at Juilliard! I feel sometimes through this training that I’m driving a stick shift car, and I’d like it to be more of a seamless flow. Things are coming at me. I’m learning new things, letting go of habitual patterns, gaining a stronger sense of consciousness of my craft, and all of that can happen with a flow. It doesn’t have to be a violent undoing. If I had flow while going through this program, I think I would feel like I’m on my first day of kindergarten. I would be curious, knowing no difference between learning and failing, having no physical or mental response that would make me want to hide. I would let my light shine. All the time.
J-Tribe Flow Yoga will have their first official session on the morning of Wednesday, February 6th. Time and location TBD. Please RSVP to reserve a spot.
If you’d like to sign-up to attend J-Tribe Flow Yoga’s first official yoga session, have questions, or would like to send in song requests, please email Nedra Snipes at firstname.lastname@example.org.