Reflections on Mindfulness With Kajuan Douglas
How to stay sane (and thrive) through difficulty.
Posted Jan 25, 2021
As the global pandemic rages on, many of us may be finding our mental health frayed and searching for ways to better manage our stress. I have found mindfulness to be a critical feature of managing my own mental health during this time, particularly as I continue the process of grieving. While it is challenging to maintain our communities of support while we are socially distancing for the safety of ourselves and others, it is still essential to learn from one another in ways that can be helpful.
A critical thought leader in my community is Kajuan Douglas, a prominent yoga instructor and mindfulness practitioner in the greater New York area. In addition to leading regular yoga practices remotely every week, Douglas recently launched Wake Up Well Monday, a monthly mindfulness and lifestyle blog offering thoughtful essays, inviting readers to engage in introspection and to consider a different perspective as they navigate through these challenging times. Douglas was also the host of the Dark Side of Yoga podcast I contributed to, using his experience as a former yoga studio head to shed light on some of the lesser spoken about—and often ugly—aspects of the wellness industry.
Below is an edited excerpt from a recent—remote—conversation that we had regarding the launch of his website.
What was the most immediate impetus for your developing this website?
After observing our country/the world cope with COVID-19, there is a pervading feeling of hopelessness and despair. Many people are facing mental and emotional distress because of our most basic need, survival. If we are unable to survive or live in the way we have grown accustomed to, then we feel purposeless, and the existential crisis begins.
Whether you are a person of privilege or one of the many marginalized people, we are all equally living in a society filled with disaster. Life, as we knew before, has changed, and we now have access to realize our humanity and commonality. We all want to be happy and healthy. Whether we show it to each other or not, there is uncertainty in what the next day brings.
The goal of Wake Up Well Monday is to teach gratitude, appreciation and spark insight through mindfulness by reading a narrative essay. Hopefully, people can deepen their self-awareness and self-understanding and instinctually want to spread the generosity upon realizing we are all the same.
In what ways do you think your profession as a yoga instructor has impacted your essays on the website or, more generally, the professional path you have taken since you closed your yoga studio?
Yoga and its philosophy have taught me to understand and apply the key principle of mindfulness, which is objectivity. Teaching it has forced me to constantly sharpen the concepts of mindfulness and gratitude. Every day is an ever-changing balancing act. It is one thing to understand a concept, and it is another thing to enact, apply or execute said concept.
The pandemic has compelled each and every one of us to face the changes and make choices. Do we choose to be happy? Do we choose to participate? Do we choose to hear and see the universal truth and not just our individual truth?
Yoga grants us the opportunity to make the abstract thoughts in our heads or our feelings in our “heart” into an experience we feel inside and outside of our bodies. Through yoga, we can embody ideologies through movement in a studio or our home and do the “real work" of taking that rich, insightful experience off the mat into our lives.
What is a simple practice that readers can start implementing to help them manage their stress during this pandemic?
The essay “Laziness can bring peace too” talks exactly about this. Sometimes we simply need to sit and think. We need to do more internal work as opposed to external work. Learning more about how we think and why we think the way we do allows us to.
Developing this sense of self will allow us to understand how we feel about the state of affairs within politics, race inequality, gender bias, and the many struggles we face as Americans and, better yet, humans on the Earth. The quarantine allots us time for reflecting. Am I the problem or contributing to the problem through what I do or what I do not do?
Reflection will help us gain understanding. Meditation or simply pausing and immersing ourselves into our Self fully will relieve stress. To put it simply, we must learn to be present and remain established in the ever-changing present moment.
Was there a particular topic from our podcast that resonated with you that you are exploring on your site?
The podcast Dark Side of Yoga taught me the power of speaking the truth unapologetically. When words come from a place of sincerity and are rooted in creating positive change for the benefit of others, there should not be any shame attached to that. There are many lies or mistruths spread as a means of upholding false ideals. At the of the day, we not only want to live a “good life” but a life that champions those we love. Love cannot be built on a lie.
What advice would you give those readers with more traditional work schedules that have those “Monday blues” that you discuss in one of your essays?
Make the time for what makes you happy and find ways to stay happy. Small treats for yourself daily that ignite gratefulness for being alive and able are paramount to joyousness and the continuing of working. Time is relative to what we are doing and the hope we feel about doing it. Make time matter. As the quarantine has shown, time is precious.
I have always been impressed with your ability to derive important life lessons from aspects of popular culture that others may dismiss beyond entertainment. Is there a particular book or television show or film or other pop-culture staple that you have drawn inspiration from that you could share with readers?
Pop culture and history offer the best insights into mindfulness. Watching our life as shows on television teaches us the objectivity needed to be mindful. Looking at the patterns of people on the TV shows we watch can help us see part of ourselves and those we know. My essay “Binge-watching is the new meditation” explains the insight we can gain by observing the world of entertainment as a teaching tool for mindfulness.
It feels like it has been a time of transformation for us collectively as a culture. What advice would you give to readers regarding how to navigate their own transformations during this time?
Fear of change and attachment to the past will inhibit our growth. If we prevent our potential from flourishing, then we are not living. Living is not all the things we can do, such as dining out, working, traveling, or spending money, as the pandemic has taught us. We are living every day, whether it is virtual or with public limitations. As we individually navigate the reinvention or innovation of life, potentiate. Either we accept the ever-changing world by working with it, or we will be trampled by the world’s forward momentum.
I found myself reflecting on many of the themes Douglas and I discussed even after our conversation ended. As I get ready to embark on the challenge and busyness that comes with the next academic semester beginning, I started to think about small ways I could allow for gratitude on my Mondays, which will be a hectic day of remote teaching. Taking time to start the day in a way that feels energizing and intentional will be one of my goals to maintain my own sense of purpose as I work through my semester with my students. I have also found that introducing mindfulness concepts to my students as they navigate their own stress during this period has a positive impact on our class dynamic as a whole.
I encourage all of my readers to visit Douglas’s website to gain insights of their own.
Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2021
Check out Douglas' website: https://www.wakeupwellmonday.com/.