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Indy wellness instructor integrates yoga into diversity, equity, inclusion workshops

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Posted at 8:40 AM, Feb 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-21 21:43:49-05

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INDIANAPOLIS — In an integrated approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion training, an Indianapolis wellness instructor blends yoga with her workshops.

"Talking about race is uncomfortable," Kristina Johnson of Kristina Johnson Wellness said. "If I say something like 'white privilege' for example, does your jaw get tight? Do your shoulders get tense? How can you decide to listen to your body in a way that you allow yourself to relax?"

As America continues to face a racial reckoning, there has been a rapid growth in whole industries, businesses, political groups, and several other professions that have taken part in diversity, equity, and inclusion training.

Diversity and inclusion training is meant to be an instructive workshop that helps people better understand identity, bias, privilege, power, and microaggressions. Perhaps going further than that, such training can be thought-provoking to the point of helping people better understand themselves, others, and how to mesh that understanding into their daily lives.

Everyone deserves to be seen. — That's the slogan that pops out when you click on Johnson's website. She says her workshops are here to call you in — not out.

"That's really the ultimate goal: Can I help you really see the value of other people around you?" Johnson said of her workshops.

Johnson is a social work professor by trade, yoga trainer by night, and an equity instructor and consultant somewhere in the middle — saying she loves teaching would be an understatement.

"I help people just innately, and it's what I was trained to do," Johnson said.

Johnson started her wellness work three years ago because she didn't really see anyone else doing it in the Indianapolis-area. In combining her various roles, Johnson says her work is about seeing if we can marriage the concept of "can we feel good and also do good for others?"

"I was working in spaces that didn't really center around inclusion, and I just started speaking up. And then people started listening. That kind of culminated into what it is now where I provide consultation to agencies, to businesses, to schools, to anything you can probably think of," Johnson explained. "People have called me in to say things like, 'can you look at our business model? Can you look at our policies and see how we can do better?'"

Johnson mixes both yoga and meditation with diversity and inclusion training. She says it's been an interesting journey of seeing what works well for people and oftentimes it's groundbreaking.

"Sometimes ... I'll just call it 'Breathing' because meditation scares people," Johnson said, laughing. "So just kind of finding ways to plug (yoga and meditation) in has been groundbreaking during most of my work."

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Kristina Johnson during her interview with WRTV inside the Practice Indie Yoga studio, at 914 N. Capitol Ave., in downtown Indianapolis.

In her sessions, Johnson follows a theory-proven format of assessment, knowledge, and skill.

"So, assessment being, I go to an agency and say, 'How do you think you're doing?' or 'How are you doing today?'" Johnson said of her diversity and inclusion workshops. "Knowledge is me saying here's the history of what we're facing. Here's why we're here. Here's why you're calling me in. Skill is that part where we say let's actually practice this."

From there, yoga and breathing training helps make those uncomfortable skill-building techniques a little easier.

"There are breathing techniques where ... you inhale to a count of four and you hold to a count of four and exhale to hold at the bottom. It's a really good way to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system by just saying, 'hey, it's time for me to chill,'" Johnson said.

KJW saw an uptick in business during the COVID-19 pandemic. More pointedly, during the months of June and July. Naturally, this followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Dreajson Reed, which sparked protests across the country all summer 2020.

It was a spark that Johnson said she was happy to see wasn't a fad.

"It felt enlightening," Johnson said. "I attended some of the protests and ... understanding that it wasn't just Black and Brown people who were in attendance. It really was a community of people coming together to say, 'enough is enough.' And so that was really beautiful to see."

That beautiful path is something Johnson believes was set up by those who walk beside her and have come before her.

Johnson says her work in wellness wouldn't be what it is today without the help of "pushy friends," but especially those in the Black community who have already set the framework for younger generations.

"I think representation is really important. Haven Yoga Studio, for example, is a Black-owned yoga studio here in Indianapolis that kind of sets the framework for what this could look like. And just following the path of people who have done it before me," Johnson said. "I think A playbook has been set, we just sort get to walk into that space, and that's really beautiful."

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Kristina Johnson of Kristina Johnson Wellness strikes the warrior pose.

Yoga saved Johnson's life.

According to her, yoga allows her to stop, be present with herself, and feel. In the promise to herself to continue practicing, she also promises to give back and show people what yoga can do for their lives.

"I have a personal daily practice. That's something I do for myself," Johnson explained. "When I found yoga — it was seven years ago — I was on a path to just heal ... So giving that to other people is kind of my contribution back to say you can also feel and lean into these feelings for yourself. And so I think yoga really matches well with equity and inclusion work because it can be a good way to find comfort in these difficult times."

Kristina Johnson Wellness
Yoga and diversity, equity, & inclusion workshops/consultation.