Dr. Gail Parker is an author, psychologist, yoga therapist educator, and a lifelong practitioner of yoga. She is the current president of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) board of directors. Dr. Parker is well known for her pioneering efforts to blend psychology, yoga, and meditation as effective self-care strategies that can enhance emotional balance, and contribute to overall health and well-being. She is a faculty member in the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. She has appeared numerous times as a psychologist expert on nationally syndicated talk shows including the Oprah Winfrey Show.
Her bestselling book, Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, offers self-care strategies and invites everyone, not just those directly impacted, to explore the intersection of yoga, race and ethnicity, and to consider the psychological impact of race-based stress and trauma on all of us. The companion book, Transforming Ethnic and Race-Based Traumatic Stress With Yoga invites us to reimagine and engage in healing strategies for ethnic and racial stress and trauma that lead to post traumatic growth.
How did your yoga journey begin (did anyone inspire you)?
When I began practicing yoga in 1968, the landscape was so different. There were no yoga studios, no yoga mats, no yoga videos, no yoga clothing. (I practiced in jeans and a tee-shirt). You were lucky to find a yoga teacher, or even a book about yoga. Fortunately, I found both. I was fortunate enough to stumble upon a class being offered at the Detroit Institute of Arts, in the US, taught by a man named Mr. Black. He wore a black suit and tie to teach yoga. Our required reading was Autobiography of a Yogi. The classes met once a week and consisted of very gentle postures, infused with yoga philosophy. My first exposure to yoga was a profound introduction to the ancient science of yoga and its time-honored tradition of meditation. I found out many years later that Acharya Oliver Black was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda whose teaching centers around Self-Realization. I’m convinced that my introduction to yoga by a master is what inspired me to continue the practice, which has become a lifestyle.
As a lifelong practitioner, what advice would you give for enabling people to maintain their practice (either as a beginner or over time)?
I’ll share what has inspired me to maintain my practice:
1. An inner commitment to living an aware life.
2. A desire to understand myself on the deepest level possible, an ongoing and a never ending process.
3. A profound curiosity about how consciousness is shaped.
4. An understanding of inner-connectedness, there is no separation between body, mind, emotion, and spirit.
5. An understanding of our inter-connectedness, there is no separation between us. Yoga means connection to ourselves, to others, to our environment, to the universe.
What has been the greatest benefit that yoga has offered you and your wellbeing?
One of the greatest benefits for me has been the sense of community I experience as a yogini. Community for me is more than a place or a location. There is a Sanskrit word kula, which can be interpreted as a community of the heart. Yoga offers me that, a heartfelt sense of community and belonging which is critical to one’s health and well-being.
What observations and changes have you seen within the yoga and healthcare space within the last decade?
As interest in yoga has increased, it has attracted a diverse population of people who engage in the practice. This interest has inspired research that has studied the positive effects of yoga on overall health and well-being. While not a standalone intervention, yoga has been found to be a supportive adjunct to mitigate various psychological, cognitive, emotional, physiological and physical health conditions. Psychologically it has been shown to reduce stress, decrease anxiety, diminish the effects of trauma, and to elevate depressed moods. Cognitively the contemplative aspects of yoga have been shown to improve attention span, sharpen focus, and strengthen concentration. Emotionally yoga improves quality of life by aiding in emotional control and regulation. Physiologically it has been shown to improve lung function, cardiovascular endurance, and lower blood pressure. Physically it supports flexibility, fitness, and endurance.
What are your hopes for the future on how yoga, yoga therapy and healthcare can come together to deliver healing and recovery?
My primary interest is yoga’s potential for alleviating the suffering associated with ethnic and race-based stress and trauma. I was the first to introduced the topic in 2017 at the International Association of Yoga Therapists and was invited back as a plenary speaker and workshop leader on the topic in 2018. I was approached by a publisher at Singing Dragon Publications, based in the UK, and asked to write a book on the topic. In 2020 the first of its kind. book, Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma was published, and the follow up to that book, Transforming Ethnic and Race-Based Traumatic Stress with Yoga was published in 2021. My work now consists of educating yoga teachers, yoga therapists, yoga practitioners, healthcare practitioners, and others interested in learning about yoga’s ability to mitigate the psychological and emotional pain and suffering caused by ethnic and racial stress and trauma.
Where to find Dr Gail Parker:
Website : https://www.drgailparker.com/