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6 Ways To Beat The Holiday Blues

Tis the season to be jolly! Or Nah? While many enjoy the glitz and glamour of the holiday season, the holiday season can be a painful reminder of lifes pangs: poor social relationships, poor financial health, the loss of loved ones and the inevitability of another year.

Some, have to wrestle with if what they are experiencing is brought on by the holidays or something more serious.

African Americans, who are more likely to have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness than are adult whites, it is important to take a moment to pause to consider what lies beyond the lights and the parties.

holidayWhile the thought of reading yet another list of self-care tips may seem discouraging, consider the alternative. Do you trudge through another holiday season with empty smiles or reclaim this season for your personal growth and betterment? I vote reclamation!

Here are a few helpful action steps you can take to not only surviving but thriving this holiday season:

Get Moving

The mind and body are amazing, they have all these conversations about what works and what doesnt work without us always being conscious.

Physical activity is one of the best ways to elevate your mood and reduce anxiety. For example, you may want to look into considering tennis lessons. Physical activity releases endorphins elevating your mood, while also helping to calm the brains fight or flight response system. Get a jump on all those new year new body goals by getting active now.


If possible, consider a brisk 45 minute walk each day. Better yet, dance that pain away, sweat it out with a YouTube workout or grab a friend and take a class.

Play, while relegated to the 12 and under population, is actually for everybody. Play has the potential to bring about immense pleasure while also strengthening poise and understanding.

No matter your physical capabilities, we can all engage in play of some sort.


Give A Little Get a Little

While it may seem counterintuitive to consider giving to someone else when you are feeling low, it may be just what you need.


Seeding into others can produce feelings of satisfaction and purpose. While volunteering at your local food bank or shelter is a great way to give back, there are likely people in your life and immediate vicinity who would benefit from some extra support.

Giving with your money is great, but giving of your time can produce the long-term fulfillment we are all seeking. Consider checking in on someone, offering a warm meal or helping someone around the house.


This is a great time to cultivate or re-cultivate your relationships with the elders in your life who are often forgotten about.

Be Grateful

Everything we dont have, arent doing and should have done can be heavy load to bare. But what about your flowers? What about the things in your life that are going well, the relationships that have lasted, and the skills you do possess?

Being intentional about gratitude offer us a moment to recognize the small but mighty beauty that surrounds us daily. Consider starting a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, reflect on something you are grateful for.

Even if it’s just the basic recognition that there is breath in your body and you are alive, lean into that which you are grateful for.

Double Down On You

Date yourself, treat yourself and love on you in only the ways you can. Instead of externalizing your feelings, go inward. Shower yourself with praise until you actually start to believe it.

Escort yourself to that concert, holiday gathering or vacation getaway. Buy your own flowers and go all out on a meal for one. Even if you have someone to enjoy these things with, there is nothing like remembering your first relationship, to self.

While it may be easier to highlight all the ways you have failed yourself, it takes more work to love on you. The results of this type of hard work has the potential to change your life well beyond the holidays.

Get Creative

Creativity is a divine genius we sometimes forget to tap into, especially if you dont consider yourself an artist. The truth is, we are all creative beings, and there are millions of ways to engage our creative sides without trying to be the next Basquiat. There is coloring, painting, collaging, cooking, writing, and drawing.

But there is also repurposing, organizing for space optimization, decorating, and indulging the possibility of ideas that you ruled out. Like any muscle, the creative muscle will atrophy if we dont exercise it and grows with regular attention.

Strengthening your creative muscle can open you up to seeing things in a new way, recognizing possibility where there was once a wall. Like with exercise, creating something brings about feelings of fulfillment which often last longer than feelings of happiness.

Go Inward With Therapy

If your holiday blues has extended into your spring and summer it may be time to reexamine the root of your blues. If depression symptoms like sadness; lethargy; loss of appetite; anxiety; lack of interest in pleasurable activities; and mood swings persist for multiple days for more than two weeks, there may be case for a deeper dive.


It should be noted, clinical depression can make many of the above considerations almost impossible. If this is your reality, consider therapy.

Therapy offers clients a safe space to make that deep dive, find meaning, and learn techniques for long term self care. Maybe this year instead of going it alone, you seek out a qualified therapist to help you put down your burden.

Whatever you choose to do, choose you by being intentional.

None of the advice provided in this article is a substitute for a relationship with a trained clinician. If you or someone you know me be experiencing depression, please seek out help.

Shesheena A. Bray is Boston native who has taken up roots in the City of Brotherly Love. She earned her M.S.Ed in mental health counseling from The University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education in 2016. In 2017, Shesheena started Going Inward Wellness, LLC where she offers individual counseling, psychotherapy and wellness support.

For those in the Philadelphia area, consider Going Inward Wellness as your first stop in therapy.


Racism Tied to Worse Asthma Symptoms for Black youth

African-American children and young adults with a hard-to-treat type of asthma may have a more difficult time keeping symptoms in check when they have experienced racial discrimination, a recent study suggests.

Photo Credit: NPR

Researchers asked 576 black youth in the U.S. with asthma whether they had been hassled, made to feel inferior or prevented from doing something because of their race, ethnicity, color or language in situations at school, in medical settings or at restaurants and stores. Roughly half of them reported experiencing some form of discrimination at some point in their lives.

When they had not experienced these forms of discrimination, the children and young adults were almost twice as likely to have well-controlled asthma than when they had, researchers report in the journal PLoS One.

“Discrimination is a form of stress, and thus, its effect on asthma may be all or mostly due to stress,” said study co-author Dr. Luisa Borrell, a public health and health policy researcher at the City University of New York.

“Racial or ethnic discrimination experiences could affect our response to medications by changing our airway tissues and mucous production,” Borrell said by email.

The link between symptom control and discrimination was even more pronounced for a subset of participants who had high levels of an immune-system signaling molecule known as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) in their blood. It is a protein that’s involved in inflammation and elevated in asthma patients who don’t respond well to standard medications.

Still, even among the participants with high TNF-alpha levels, the youth who didn’t experience discrimination were almost three times more likely to have well-controlled asthma symptoms than their peers who did experience racism.

To assess symptom control, researchers tested how participants responded to albuterol, an inhaled bronchodilator that is used as a rescue therapy to open inflamed airways when people have an asthma attack. People who have frequent attacks may also be prescribed corticosteroids to control their symptoms.

“In asthma that is well controlled, you would expect a low response to albuterol since the patient is not having a lot of symptoms and their airways are not inflamed,” said co-senior study author Dr. Neeta Thakur of the University of California, San Francisco.

“But in people who are not prescribed control medications, or are under-dosed, you might see a higher response,” Thakur said in a statement.

When researchers did lung function tests before and after giving participants albuterol, they found people who experienced discrimination had a bigger response to albuterol than those who didn’t.

The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove that discrimination directly worsens asthma symptoms.

Another limitation is the possibility that factors such as segregated neighborhoods, exposure to indoor or outdoor air pollution, violence in the community or other social and economic disadvantages might at least partially explain the connection between discrimination and asthma symptoms found in the study, the authors note.

“Race, ethnicity and social class are important proxies for unmeasured factors that influence health outcomes,” said Dr. Avni Joshi of the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota.

Selected characteristics of participants with asthma according to self-reported racial/ethnic discrimination in SAGE II (2006–2014).

“A child who is in a poor housing situation, is more likely to come from a less educated family, which in turn are likely to be low income with incomplete or poor health coverage and access to care,” Joshi, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “It is in these families that the stress levels are likely high due to insecurities for food, money and perceived or actual discrimination in all spheres of life.”

Controlling stress, however, might help keep asthma symptoms in check, said Dr. Elizabeth Matsui of Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore.

“The details of how stress leads to inflammation are not clear, but links between stress and inflammation have been shown repeatedly, and asthma is a disease characterized by inflammation in the lungs,” Matsui, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email. “We know that stress is broadly a risk factor for worse asthma, so stress management to reduce stress is appropriate.”



SOURCE:(Reuters Health) and PLoS One, online June 13, 2017.


Meet the Black Bodybuilding Crew Crushing #BodyGoals

One of my favorite classes in college was weight training. All we did was workout and crack jokes. This class taught me how much hard work and dedication actual bodybuilding requires.

Now, whenever I need workout advice or tips, I hit up my man, Mo. He stays in the gym and knows his stuff when it comes to bodybuilding, nutrition etc.

I asked him and his workout crew some questions about their lifestyle. This is what they had to say.

Mo Williams (NPC National Qualified Physique)

SB: What inspired you to start bodybuilding?

Mo: I have always been an athlete and played sports all through out my youth. I also didn’t have the greatest home environment as a kid. So I not only trained for the sports I was playing, I trained to finally be able to stand up and protect myself. What I didn’t know is that I would fall in love with seeing my body transform. I used to read articles on websites like Skinny2Fit to find recipes and tips to help me get the most out of my workout.

I continued working out just for fun and to build my stature. Last year a couple of friends suggested that I step on stage and compete, so I spent about five months preparing for my first show and won overall.

SB: What’s your profession outside of bodybuilding?

M0: I work for the federal government. I am a Country Development Officer at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

SB: Do you have a nutrition plan? What do you eat and how often?

Mo: I an currently on a 1900-2000k cal diet as I get ready for my show in June. I am on a high protein and vegetable diet with limited carbs.


SB: How many days do you train? Describe your workout plan.

Mo: I train six days a week twice a day. I do cardio in the morning, with some abdominal work and lift weights in the evening

SB: What you do to relax when you are not working out?

Mo: I love watching movies, spending time with my family and I am also taking acting classes

SB: How does contest prep and bodybuilding affect your personal life?

Mo: Bodybuilding is a very selfish sport. In order to get stage ready you end up standing on the shoulders of a lot of people, from the coach that trains you, to the nutritionist that does your meal plans. Life during prep is very isolating and a lot of times your friends and family do not understand why you can’t go out to eat, drink or party with them.

SB: What are your keys to success in bodybuilding?

Mo: Your success depends on two things. How determined you are and your work ethic. My mentality in this game is to win and I always say that if you want to beat me, “you will have to die on the stairmaster”. Also, do not let anyone out work you. More than anything else in the sport of bodybuilding, you have to be distraction free and keep all negativity afar.

SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their bodybuilding journey tomorrow?

Mo: Bodybuilding is not for everyone, think long and hard before getting into this sport. Make sure you have a good support system and also know your body.

Cassandra Murphy (NPC Bikini Competitor)

SB: What motivated you to start bodybuilding?

Cassandra: Growing up I have always been active, from doing ballet, gymnastics, and running a half marathon. However bodybuilding did not come along until about a year ago. I worked with a young lady who was preparing for a bodybuilding show and I became curious about the process. I noticed she ate almost every two to three hours, and went to the gym daily.

I had questions, lots of questions. That’s when I decided to have a talk with my coworker to find out how this whole bodybuilding thing works. I remember thinking to myself “I want to do a show, but I don’t want to look like a man with too many muscles”. So I decided to do bikini and it was history from there. I set a goal, found a show date, and my life would never be the same.

SB: What’s your profession outside of bodybuilding?

Cassandra: I am a surgical assistant and a pharmacy student.

SB: Do you have a nutrition plan? What do you eat and how often?

Cassandra: When I am on prep I follow a strict nutrition plan that enables me to build muscle and retain it for my show. During my off season I still incorporate a clean diet however, I indulge in pizza and sweets every so often. I typically eat around six or seven meals a day when I am on prep.

I am pescartarian so fish is my main source of protein aside from protein shakes. The meals I eat during prep are pretty basic. The usual suspects are 4-6oz of fish, brown rice, sweet potato, green vegetables, eggs(lots of eggs), and peanut butter. During off season I cut my meals down to 4-5 meals a day and allow myself to have a cheat meal twice a week.

SB: How many days do you train? Describe your workout plan.

Cassandra: I actually enjoy working out so I am in the gym six days a week sometimes seven if I am getting ready for a show. I have found that it’s best to split up your workouts by body parts. For example when I train on legs (which by the way I train three days a week) one day I would focus on glutes and hamstrings, while another day I would focus on quads, inner thighs, and hamstrings.

I always have a day dedicated to working on my glutes, as that is my problem area. When I work on my upper body I will dedicate a day for just biceps and triceps, and another for back and shoulders. I also do core every night before bed and 30 minutes of cardio 3-5 days a week depending if I am on prep or not..

SB: What you do to relax when you are not working out?

Cassandra: When I am not working out I listen to music and dance. I find music to be very calming. I also go for walks to enjoy some fresh air.

SB: How does contest prep and bodybuilding affect your personal life?

Cassandra: Contest prep takes a lot of time and dedication. I remember when I did my first contest prep I hardly ever made time for my personal life as I was always in the gym or at work or school. It can be tough at times because all you think about is how well you want to do at your show, so the gym becomes your second home and can easily consume you. I hardly had time for my friends, but I made new friends in the gym (other competitors) as they understood the sacrifice I was making to be the best.

SB: What are your keys to success in bodybuilding?

Cassandra: To be successful in bodybuilding the first thing is to have a strong mindset, and a can do attitude. Without the will to tackle any obstacle it could become difficult to reach your full potential. I think it is important to be consistent, positive and surround yourself with likeminded individuals. You have to be willing to go the extra mile which means really pushing yourself in the gym and sticking to your meal plan.

Cassandra (center)

SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their bodybuilding journey tomorrow?

Cassandra: My advice would be to trust the process and just go for it. For me to even say that is kind of crazy because that is all my coach used to tell me during my first prep ,and all I did was stress out. Starting off can be frustrating at times and trust me I was frustrated in the beginning, but I had support from my coach and other team members which helped tremendously.

The next piece of advice would be to find a show date (pick a date that gives you enough time for contest prep, and stick to it) get a coach, and leave the rest up to all the hard work you put in at the gym and your diet. Bodybuilding is as fun and exciting if you want it to be! Once you put your mind to it your body will make the connection and the results will speak for themselves.

Koko Korang (NPC National Qualified Figure Competitor)

SB: What motivated you to start bodybuilding?

Koko: I’ve always been athletic growing up from dance since I was eight years old, to playing AAU Basketball, running track in high school, college and on the US Army competitive track team. Bodybuilding was another competitive outlet for me especially after my last knee surgery. I just needed to find an outlet that would keep me healthy and fit mentally as well as physically.

SB: What’s your profession outside of bodybuilding?

Koko: I am a contracted Staff Accountant for private sectors and a full time personal trainer and nutrition lifestyle coach.

SB: Do you have a nutrition plan? What do you eat and how often?

Koko: Currently I am in competition season, so I do have a strict nutrition plan. Every bodybuilder will tell you that, once competition season comes around, bodybuilding meals are essential to improving performance. I eat 6-8 times a day depending on my workday. My meals consist of lean protein (fish, chicken, turkey) a lot of dark leafy greens and complex carbs (sweet potato, brown rice, oatmeal) and my water intake is at least a gallon a day.

SB: How many days do you train? Describe your workout plan.

Koko: I train twice a day, 6 days a week. I normally start out with either Fasted Cardio or HIIT Training in the morning usually lasting about 30-45 minutes. Steady state cardiovascular exercise, i.e Stepmill, Cycling Bike, or Treadmill on an incline or HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) with plyometric exercises, which is jump training with repetition exercises done in a short interval time period.

In the evening i do strength training mainly utilizing compound sets(working the same muscle group with different exercises back to back in circuits) or supersets (working 2 different muscle groups back to back in circuits), it varies per day.

SB: What you do to relax when you are not working out?

Koko: I love being a homebody for the day, my idea of a relaxed day is a Sunday after church in my pajamas watching movies eating popcorn. I know sounds boring. However if i’m traveling, a nice relaxed sound day at the beach with a nice book or writing in my journal is ideal as well. It’s the simple things.

SB: How does contest prep and bodybuilding affect your personal life?

Koko: This lifestyle has definitely affected my personal life but for the good I believe. Focusing on my health and making the necessary changes in my lifestyle has made me embrace my growth in self. Discipline to be better not just physically but mentally has really made me re-evaluate past relationships and bad auras; I made the choice to finally get rid of negative vibes in my life.

I’ve lost some friendships and gained new ones for the better in my opinion. There’s a stigma that all competitors in this lifestyle date or communicate with only other competitors; I don’t believe this is all the way true. Prep season can only be isolating if you surround yourself with folks who don’t support or not willing to understand your reasoning for this lifestyle.

Koko (bottom)

SB: What are your keys to success in bodybuilding?

Koko: Keys to success in bodybuilding in my opinion is drive and dedication to yourself and to the sport, the willingness to get up every morning to workout or sacrifice that extra hour in your long workday to workout no matter what. Trust in the process, changes come in variations so patience is a virtue; even the smallest change counts.

Support from your loved ones, sometimes that extra push is necessary, i’ve realized you can’t do everything on your own. Commitment to the journey, if you cheat skipping meals, skipping workouts you’re only cheating yourself. Last but not least confidence in self, if you don’t believe in yourself no one will so it starts within.

SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their bodybuilding journey tomorrow?

Koko: Do this for you and no one else!!! Remember your reasoning for starting your journey and let that be your constant drive. Opinions will be made, criticisms will always be given but don’t let that sway you to give up. Be true to self and be your own motivation. If you are struggling to start out then look into ways to feed up your bodybuilding process. Things like the right diet and sarms is a great base to start at. There are lots of main benefits of using sarms.

Jessica Marie Poole (NPC National Qualified Figure Competitor)

SB: What motivated you to start bodybuilding?

Jessica: After being a former track and field athlete, I was looking for another challenge and another way to stay in shape. I saw pictures and videos of athletes like IFBB Figure Pro Alicia Harris and Candice Carter and thought it was something I could achieve.

SB: What’s your profession outside of bodybuilding?

Jessica: Budget Analyst for the Government

SB: Do you have a nutrition plan? What do you eat and how often?

Jessica: Yes, I eat about 5-7 meals a day depending on my goals

SB: How many days do you train? Describe your workout plan.

Jessica: I train 5-6 days a week, twice a day. I incorporate split training and work each muscle group at least twice a week.

SB: What you do to relax when you are not working out?

Jessica: I like to read, drink wine, hang out with my girlfriends and spend time with family.

SB: How does contest prep and bodybuilding affect your personal life?

Jessica: Prepping for a show takes a lot of dedication, focus, and sacrifice. My goal is win, so I take my time and pride in building a package that I am proud of.

SB: What are your keys to success in bodybuilding?

Jessica: Be patient with yourself, don’t half-step, eliminate any distractions, and always remember your why.

SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their bodybuilding journey tomorrow?

Jessica: Find a good/knowledgeable coach. Don’t be in a rush to do a show but actually do one when you’re ready. Learn your body. Be the best you can be. Enjoy the journey.

Marques Speights (NPC National Qualified Bodybuilding Competitor)

SB: What motivated you to start bodybuilding?

Marques: I have always been impressed by the physiques I saw while growing up amd I wanted to create my version of that.

SB: What’s your profession outside of bodybuilding?

Marques: I am a Master Personal Trainer and also run my own personal training business under the moniker of SP8FITNESS in Maryland

SB: Do you have a nutrition plan? What do you eat and how often?

Marques: I’m currently in off-season and in the bulking so I eat 7-8 times a day. But, during the season and in prep I eat 5-6 times a day.

SB: How many days do you train? Describe your workout plan.

Marques: I train 3 days a week in the offseason and workout for about 2 hours

SB: What you do to relax when you are not working out?

Marques:I love going to the movies, bowling, and spending time with my daughter and family.

Marques (center)

SB: How does contest prep and bodybuilding affect your personal life?

Marques: It takes a lot of time away from your family and friends but it’s the lofe I have chosen to lean and the life for me

SB: What are your keys to success in bodybuilding?

Marques: Believing in yourself and being surrounded around only positive people period!

SB: What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin their bodybuilding journey tomorrow?

Marques: Just give it your all and give it 100% and have fun with it and learn as much as possible throughout your journey!

Photo Credit: Fareed Stephens

-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson


Magnolia Yoga Studio: The First Black Owned Yogo Studio in New Orleans

I took my first yoga class a couple years ago. I was initially reluctant because I didn’t consider yoga to be a real workout. I was sadly mistaken.

That class kicked my ass and forced me to put some “respek” on yoga’s name. I now understand how important the art form of yoga is, and was eager to speak with Ajax Jaxon, owner of Magnolia Yoga Studio.

This is what she had to say:

SB: How did you become interested in yoga?

AJ: In 2003, I met a very sweet older man from Iceland named Frosty. He invited me to my first yoga class and I agreed.

I was completely clueless that this decision would catapult me to my greatest passion and life’s work! I loved my first yoga class and wanted more once it was over.

I started practicing and made it a big part of my everyday life. It took another four years, turning 30 and getting laid off for me to take another leap of faith and become an internationally certified yoga teacher.

SB: How can yoga be used for different types of healing?  

AJ: Yoga is a healing art form, a discipline and an ancient technology still very relevant for our modern day illnesses. The Yoga approach is comprehensive, working with the multiple facets of who we are as people. All dimensions are touched on as you get deeper and deeper into the practice. However, the most fundamental level of healing that yoga addresses is the physical body.

We then move to the mind and, once the mind-body connection is in sync, one starts to explore the emotional body and energetic body. This tends to be the order but it’s not set in stone, as yoga reaches each person in different ways. I always say a yoga practice is one of the most intimate things a person can experience.

Yet, people often don’t initially know why they like yoga or return for classes. It can be elusive and hard to put into words. It’s ancestral, natural and mythical, as yoga is said to be a gift from Mother Nature to humanity. It’s ours to use and benefit from.

However, let’s briefly break down the physical healing that occurs with yoga, especially hot yoga. Two systems are being intentionally used to bring forth health, energy, vitality, healing and well-being. First, you address the respiratory system with the huge amounts of deep breathing done from the very beginning of class to the very end. The respiratory system is assisted by the circulatory system, which increases due to all the movement and the heat, which speeds up the blood flow 2-3 times faster than normal.

The heat also thins the blood, allowing blood to flow into places inside the body that don’t receive sufficient blood flow throughout the day due to a sedentary lifestyle. This blood become so rich with oxygen from all the deep breathing, and the postures then deliver all this rich oxygenated blood throughout the entire body to every organ, gland, muscle, joint and bone. It’s a simple yet significant science. Most illnesses and diseases, if you trace them back far enough, start due to poor circulation.

So, we increase the blood flow and oxygen levels by practicing in the heat the series of 26 posture and 2 breathing exercises at Magnolia Yoga. This combo takes each student through every system of the body, nourishing the body with the basics it needs to naturally heal.

The postures also create space in the body so that the spine can naturally shift back into its proper alignment. The same shift is happening with the internal organs and glands. In addition practicing yoga reduces stress when you reduce stress one supports the immune system protecting the body from illness & disease.

With a regular and consistent practice, I have personally experienced these benefits and as a full time teacher I have been able to help countless others reduce, reverse and completely eliminate a wide range of issues including asthma, stress, insomnia, depression, anxiety, diabetes, blood pressure, thyroid issues, reduced range of motion, a wide range of serious spinal injuries and pain, joint pain, migraines, bronchitis, heart conditions, tendonitis, arthritis, weight management and low self-esteem. I have also seen Yoga Increase self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-love within my students.

SB: Do you feel more Black people should take an interest in yoga. And why? 

 AJ: I would absolutely love to inspire, encourage and ultimately support Black folks and their yoga journey.  I became certified to teach everyone with a personal aspiration to reach out to people of color and men.

These two demographics would benefit tremendously from a regular yoga practice. African-Americans, in particular, suffer from the highest numbers of physical and mental health conditions, as well as societal concerns.

Photo credit: Peter Koloff

Yoga can help us tremendously take our health and power back. In a yoga class, one gets this golden opportunity to reflect, reorganize and remember what is really important, who we really are and what we really aspire for ourselves as a collective and as individuals.

Life can be busy and hectic and it’s so easy to get bogged down and clogged up with negative thoughts and mental debris. Within a yoga class one gets a chance to clear out so new, creative and positive thoughts have a chance to percolate.


Yoga is usually last on everyone’s list. Once they tried everything else, then they try yoga. As a race, I profoundly feel we are at the end our list. We have tried so many things and have seen some progress, but it’s time to go deeper.

It’s imperative to find time to go within. I think yoga and meditation is one of the most revolutionary acts one can do, because, for up to 1 or 2 hours a day, you tell the world you are unavailable.

Whether it is your kids, boss, students or clients, you model for them that you come first and in order for you to serve them or anyone, you first have to serve yourself.

So, yes, we need yoga for physical and mental health,  but also to help us to continue to self-realize and to help follow through with our next steps as minorities in this country where our positions, rights and health are not guaranteed.

Photo Credit: Kee’s Little Feet Photography

SB: What challenges did you encounter while trying to get the business set up?  

AJ: Aside from raising capital and staying on budget for a brand new build out, I had to dig deep in my private moments to resurrect enough belief in myself.

I had to pray and meditate on whether or not I would have the passion, stamina, expertise and grace to run a yoga studio committed to helping people through the challenges we go through in life.

I quickly noticed how the Universe was making many things easy for me, which gave me a lot of confidence that my destiny was manifesting and not even I could stop it.

In addition to this, right before I signed my lease, my Godson was diagnosed with leukemia. He lives in California and I had to rush out there and tend to him through this life threatened diagnosis, while the building of the studio commenced.

For a good period of time, I was very unsure about moving forward with opening a studio in New Orleans. After consulting with him, the rest of my family and our team of doctors I went ahead and took another huge leap of faith and signed a 5-year lease agreement to open Magnolia Yoga.

Since then, he has been doing well, with some setbacks. Through an amazing family support system and me flying back and forth, we are doing our best to support him through his cancer treatment.

The beauty through this particular challenge and other tough ones is that I now know what it takes to support a family member through cancer, and I can teach and support others from my experience. A true leader leads from experience.


SB: What is the most gratifying part about what you are doing?

AJ: There are a few things that give me gratification and one is when the yoga room is filled with people of color, men in particular! When that happens? I know my message is reaching and penetrating my target audience. But, the most gratifying part of my work is when people tell me how much better they are feeling.

How well they are sleeping through the night and how they can bend and move in ways they haven’t been able to in years. How their doctors are reducing and removing medications because their blood pressure has improved or their energy and metabolism has boosted and they don’t need as much or any thyroid meds.

Basically, when students share with me how the yoga is working for them. And these results often happens right away! Those stories and testimonies of stress relief and having more harmonious relationships with their kids and coworkers keeps me super motivated.

SB:What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?

AJ: I think unrelenting belief in yourself is a priority. Having the commitment to your business and service is paramount, which means doing all that you can to help it grow.

This includes taking care of yourself and eating and sleeping well, as much as one might be out networking and building community connections.  To look at building your business as a person-by-person endeavor that requires an authentic connection and passion is essential!


-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson


Food Heaven Made Easy: Serving Healthy Food & Nutrition Advice

If you’re like me, a large part of living a healthier lifestyle includes liking pics of healthy food on social media as opposed to actually cooking said healthy food.

I’m trying to do better though, as most of us are. That’s why I reached out to the founders of Food Heaven Made Easy, the go-to source for healthy recipes and info about nutritious living.

We chatted with Jessica, one half of the dynamic duo. This is what she had to say:

SB: Tell us a little bit about Jess and Wendy.

Wendy & Jess

Jess: We are both Registered Dietitians. Wendy is from NYC (the Bronx to be exact) and Jess used to live in Brooklyn but has since moved back to her home state of California.


SB: How did you both meet and how did that lead to the creation of Food heaven Made Easy?

Jess: We actually met at a dinner and game night sponsored by a community organization. At the time, I had already started graduate school to get my Master’s in nutrition, and a few months later, Wendy decided that this would be a great career path for her too.

food heaven made easy

Though we went to different schools, we kept each other motivated throughout the process. Throughout this time, we ended up working together for the NYC Department of Health doing cooking demos and nutrition workshops in Harlem and the Bronx.


SB: How long have you been vegetarians and what influenced that decision?

Jess: I have been vegetarian since the age of 12. I never liked meat growing up and realized that being ‘vegetarian’ was a thing (around that age). I told my family that I wanted to be a vegetarian in the car one day and never ate meat since. Wendy on the other hand, grew up eating meat and loving every bite.


She became vegetarian due to gastrointestinal health concerns. After she gave up meat, her symptoms practically disappeared within months.


SB: Many people focus on what they put in their hair to keep it healthy. However what we put in our bodies also affects our hair. What is the best way to eat for healthy hair?

Jess: This is absolutely true! The most important thing for healthy hair, skin and nails is to eat a well balanced healthy diet and to drink plenty of water. We encourage people to focus on vegetables (try to get at least 5 colors of veggies everyday), fruits, whole grains, nuts, seeds, beans.


Also, Yogurt is rich in B-vitamins, which are needed for protein synthesis. B-vitamins also promote the circulation of nutrients to our hair follicles, by making new blood cells. This ensures healthy hair follicles and scalps. Salmon is also a hair super-food, since it’s packed with protein, fish oil and selenium to strengthen and encourage hair growth.


SB: There are so many types of diets being marketed as THE solution to weight loss. Are there any specific one that you can say are definitely a waste of time?

Jess: Yes, all of them! Kidding. But truth be told, diets don’t work. The trick is making small sustainable changes that add up to yield big results over time. No quick fixes when it comes to weight loss, just hard work and determination

food heaven made easy


SB: There are many diseases that disproportionately affect Black communities. Which do you tackle the most in your practice.

Jess: We see a lot of diabetes, pre-diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol and increasingly more Gastrointestinal problems like acid reflux and irritable bowel syndrome.

7055_887575971269707_802776223293095115_nSB: What is the best advice you would give to someone who is just starting their journey to living a healthier lifestyle?

Jess: Start small. It’s always best to do small and attainable goals that add up and lead to big results over time. For folks who want a little more guidance, we will be publishing 28 Day Plant Powered Health Reboot Cookbook, which helps you create a more structured healthy eating plan for a month. With this book, you can fully dive in to a healthy diet with structure.


Visit Wendy & Jess at for tips and tricks for delicious living and their monthly nutrition podcast. For those interested in personalized nutrition counseling, contact Jess via her website.


-Tony O. Lawson (@thebusyafrican)


The Funky Diabetic – Why Phife Dawg’s Death should Spark a Conversation about Diabetes

Like many of you, I was greeted by sad news this morning. Phife Dawg of the legendary group, A Tribe Called Quest, had passed away from medical complications caused by diabetes. He was only 45 years old. Phife had been battling diabetes mellitus type 1 since he was first diagnosed in 1990, the year that Tribe’s first album dropped.

56f2c71bac874.image Phife’s condition was hereditary (his mother had diabetes) and it was exacerbated by his hectic touring schedule which caused him to eat large amounts of fast food. In a 2010 interview , he said, “I was still waking up to a glass of Quik, you know what I’m saying? Oreo cookies for breakfast, just stupid shit. It didn’t make it any better that we were on the road performing, eating KFC, McDonalds, shit like that and I was going hard when we was younger”. At some point, his kidneys began to fail and in 2004 he started dialysis. Eventually, his wife became his donor and gifted him with one of her kidneys. He drastically improved his eating habits and seemingly regained control over his diabetes before A Tribe Called Quest’s reunion in 2008. Sadly, that wasn’t enough to prolong his life into old age.


His passing reminded me of the death of Patrice O’Neal, one of my favorite comedians. Patrice was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in his early twenties and died at 41.


I’m 37-years old now, and thankfully, in good health. So as far as I’m concerned, these guys were way too young to die. Unfortunately, diabetes is one of the most life-threatening health problems plaguing the Black community today. Over ninety percent of people who have the disease suffer from type 2 diabetes. This is largely the result of excess body weight and lack of physical exercise. According to the American Diabetes Association, Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed in children and young adults, and was previously known as juvenile diabetes. Only five percent of people with diabetes have this form of the disease.

Word cloud concept illustration of diabetes condition

Compared to the general U.S. population, African Americans are disproportionately affected by diabetes. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health (OMH) website, “African Americans are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In addition, they are more likely to suffer complications from diabetes, such as end-stage renal disease (ESRD) and lower extremity amputations. Although African Americans have the same or lower rate of high cholesterol as their non-Hispanic white counterparts, they are more likely to have high blood pressure.”

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End-stage renal disease (ESRD) signifies that the kidneys are barely or no longer functioning after about 10-20 years of chronic kidney disease. Without dialysis or a kidney transplant, ESRD leads to death. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ESRD related to diabetes is about 170% higher in black men than in White men and about 131% higher in black women than in White women.

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Diabetes isn’t exclusive to the Western world though. This health condition is also becoming more prevalent in African countries. A report by the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) states that the African continent counts approximately 13.6 million people with diabetes. Nigeria has the highest number of people with diabetes(with approximately 1.2 million people affected).

MCC-treating diabetes in Kenya

In Ghana, a large percentage of the population suffers from type 2 diabetes. According to Elizabeth Denyoh, president of Ghana’s National Diabetes Association, the country has no national diabetes program. Denyou said, “In Ghana, most people diagnosed with diabetes are the poorest of the poor. There is a lot of Type 1 diabetes in rural areas. ” Type 1 diabetes, although still rare in many areas, is becoming increasingly more prevalent. IGT (Impaired Glucose Tolerance) is also becoming problematic in many African countries. This counters the prevailing myth that diabetes is solely a disease of the wealthy west.


In numerous interviews (3 min mark), Phife mentioned how he used his celebrity as a platform to raise diabetes awareness. He said that he would love it if he could inspire others with the condition and let them know that they can still achieve their dreams and desires despite the hardships that come with diabetes. Like Phife, there are many other well known individuals who have been affected by diabetes directly or indirectly. Many are using their popularity as a platform to raise awareness.

For example, Lil Jon raised money the American Diabetes Association during his stint on The Apprentice. His now deceased mother had type 2 diabetes and suffered a stroke while they were the taping a season of the show. He went on to raise $195,000 for the cause. A lot of women also struggle with diabetes. There are many problems that are associated with this. It is always best to look into finding help. For example, you may struggle with having an over active bladder due to diabetes. If you are looking for help, you might want to look into a site like

1361555530_lil-jon-now-560Dennis Coles aka Tony Starks aka Ghostface Killah of the Wu Tang Clan, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 1996. In a 2005 interview about his condition, he said “I didn’t know what that shit was.” He went to two doctors before it was detected. “My sugar was mad high, but it was a little relief to know what it was.” His doctor prescribed insulin along with a healthier regiment. “That meant putting down the blunts and cutting back on the alcohol and sweets.” It’s about discipline”, said Ghost. “You can quit the cigarettes and all that other shit but as a diabetic you fiend for sweets. When you sitting at the crib staring at them Oreos, you gonna fuck around and go in. You want those Fruity Pebbles and all that shit. I had to learn how to just chill, exercise, drink protein shakes and monitor my sugar.”


Let me be clear: this isn’t some pathological problem that’s simply impacting our community. Black people are dying and developing poor health, largely because of racism and oppressive systems. There are virtual food deserts in many Black communities across the U.S. Young people consume high amounts of soda and candy and other crap. There are rarely any healthy food options, let alone affordable options in many of our communities.


Most of us know someone or have someone close to us who are diabetic, if we’re not diabetic ourselves. If you are not sure whether you are diabetic, there are plenty of diabetic supplies on the market you can test yourself with. Eating habits are hard to break, especially considering the fact that sugar is literally in everything we consume. The impact of everyday racism and classism have a way of negatively impacting our immune systems and the physiological functions of our bodies. But to know better is to do better. Let’s all do what we can to prevent another loss like this. If you want to know about some Black owned businesses that are committed to health and wellness, check out our previous post.


To address this growing epidemic, the American Diabetes Association has created programs and materials to increase awareness of the seriousness of diabetes and its complications among African Americans. Learn more here.

Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that Phife had type 2 diabetes instead of type 1.


22 Businesses in the $3.4 Trillion Health and Wellness Industry

Our list of Black owned businesses in the health and wellness industry is here right on time. Why? Because each new year is typically accompanied by resolutions related to improving health. My goals have generally stayed the same – to increase my income, improve my diet and to exercise more.

This past year, kudos to me, I’ve made quite a bit of progress. I’ve lost almost 30lbs in the past 7 months. Now, in the right lighting and depending on how much I’ve had to eat, I can actually see something that resembles a six pack. I owe much of this progress to whomever created the meme below.

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With so many factors negatively affecting our health, whether it is genetically modified food or the unpronounceable chemicals in our household products, it is even more important that we pay much closer attention to our health.

There are at least five chronic health conditions that disproportionately affect Black Americans more than any other group. Also, the health issues that were once unique to the West are now becoming prevalent on the Continent. Don’t be fooled by the late night infomercials featuring starving children.

Today, increasingly more people in developing countries go to bed having consumed too many calories rather than going to bed hungry. Being overweight is rapidly becoming a more common problem than being underweight. This is due in large part to the popularity of fast food chains spreading across Africa.



The good news is that these days, whether you live in the Western hemisphere or on the Continent, it is likely that you are taking some steps toward living a healthier life.

Africans in Africa are rapidly becoming much more health conscious and the big bellies that once represented wealth and good living are not the status symbol they once were.

In the U.S., more Black people are also interested in fitness and health, as is evident by the large following that fitness-related sites like Black Men RunBlack Women Do Workout, and Black Fitness Today have amassed.

hbcu_5k1According to a report by the Global Wellness Institute, the $3.4 trillion Global Wellness Market is now three times larger than the worldwide Pharmaceutical industryThe report states that the sectors seeing the most significant growth since 2010 are the Fitness and Mind-Body industry as well as Healthy Eating, Nutrition, and Weight Loss industry.

What does this mean? Simply put, people are relying less on drugs to prevent and solve their health issues.
The Fitness and Mind-body industry ($446.4billion) includes gyms and health clubs; personal training and yoga. The Healthy Eating, Nutrition, and Weight Loss industry ($574 billion) include: health foods, natural and organic foods; weight-loss and diet services; diet and weight-loss foods and meal services; and anti-obesity prescription drugs.

Black Owned Businesses in the Health and Wellness industry

There are abundant opportunities available for Black owned businesses and entrepreneurs who are interested in in this industry. Here are several businesses and services that encourage health and wellness and will help you get in shape for the new year and beyond!

Healthy Eating, Nutrition, & Weight Loss

Food and Beverage

Black Owned Businesses

Jus Blend is a Jamaican-rooted; New York City-based family business that produces fresh, cold pressed juices to the city and surrounding areas. Their produce is “fresh and sourced within 24-hours of your order.”

Black Owned Businesses

Jimmy’s Vegan Cookies  Jimmy Prude is the founder of this wholesale Vegan Cookie company based in Chicago. His products are now available on select Whole Foods shelves.

Khepra’s Raw Food Juice Bar: Khepra Anu founded this Washington DC-based raw food juice bar that was featured in the Washington Post’s Best Eats in 2012.

The WaterHole is owned by Lisa Harris. This Maryland based juice bar also provides coffee, wifi cable, and good vibes.

Local Farms


Five Seeds Farm is a family-owned and operated city and country farm in Baltimore, MD. This city-based farm was developed in the spring of 2008 in the backyard of a Belair-Edison neighborhood and quickly expanded to other vacant lots and private yards across the city.


Renaissance Community Co-op has a mission to create a democratically-owned and controlled grocery store in Northeast Greensboro, NC, that provides all of Greensboro with healthy foods at affordable prices.

Black Owned Businesses

Patchwork City Farms is a family owned urban farm located in the South West Atlanta historic West End neighborhood. Patchwork City Farm’s mission is to “work with local landholders – public and private – to create a sustainable, naturally grown local food system.”

Fitness and Mind-body industry


Black Owned Businesses

NY based Afro Flow Yoga infuses electrifying dance movements of the African Diaspora with a meditative yoga sequence of gentle yet powerful stretches. Founder, Leslie Salmon Jones is a former Alvin Ailey dancer, certified holistic personal trainer, yoga instructor, certified wellness coach, and public speaker.

Michael Hayes, the owner of NY based “Buddha Body Yoga,” has over 20 years experience teaching and has has traveled regularly to Thailand to study with master teachers. His class will benefit anyone regardless of their individual anatomy, flexibility, age, or yoga background.

Black Owned Businesses

Chelsea Loves Yoga is founded by Chelsea Roberts, PhD. She is an Atlanta based yoga instructor and educator. The purpose of Chelsea Loves Yoga is to illuminate the voices and images of yogis who have been traditionally eliminated or (under)represented in Yoga in the United States and abroad.


Dade2Shelby  Derrick “DJ” Townsel, a former NFL athlete, has become an inspiration to thousands who didn’t think a passion for fitness or yoga could be a possibility for them— mainly men and people of color. Derrick is now a sought-after Certified Personal Trainer and Calisthenics Instructor based in Orlando.

12208487_1160592893969453_8166857437012076124_nSelamta Yoga is an eco-friendly yoga mat company based in San Diego and founded by Aregache Demelew, or “Mimi’. The company is dedicated to spreading the practice of yoga, eastern philosophy & culture to the world. Selamta means “Peace Be With You” in Amharic (a native language of Ethiopia)

Black Owned Businesses

Spa & Resorts

Black Owned Businesses

Virginia-based, Salamander Resort & Spa, features 168 luxurious rooms and suites, a luxury spa, full-service equestrian center, a dedicated cooking studio, wine bar, billiards room and a unique array of conference and banquet facilities.

Chatto Salon is a full service, eco-friendly salon located in the Gold Coast area of Downtown Chicago, IL, that offers its own natural and organic products.

Atlanta-based, IWI Fresh Garden Day Spa, partners with local farms and gardens and handpicks fresh vegetables, fruits and herbs to create fresh skin care products. They offer spa services such as Manicures, Veggie Pedicures, Veggie Facials, Herbal Massages, Waxing, Threading and Natural Hair Care.

Black Owned BusinessesFrancine’s Salon and Day Spa, the first Black owned Salon & Day Spa in Hartford County has been located in Bloomfield, Connecticut, for over a decade. The founder, Francine Austin, is a 20-year plus veteran of the cosmetology industry.

Fitness Centers


Shaun Chambers, BodyRoc founder, is a former boxer and song writer. His BodyRoc Fit Lab is CT’s first dynamic, boutique boxing studio. A high-intensity workout that fuses fitness with entertainment, the signature circuit-style workout combines treadmills, heavy bag boxing, and weight training, all in a dance club environment.

Black Owned Businesses

KTX Fitness founder, Keith Thompson, has created an Atlanta-based cycle class that is guaranteed to have you sweating. KTX’s “Rock the Bike™” Cycle, Step, and Zumba are uniquely different and literally an exercise party as it provides a fun and challenging workout that is sure to have you working every muscle.

Black Owned Businesses

Rahman “Ray” Grayson, Mr. Shut Up and Train, is the founder of this Atlanta-based personal training company. His signature “In Motion” style of training focuses on keeping the heart rate elevated and the body in motion. Whether you are aiming to lose weight, build muscle, or gain endurance, Ray has the plan for you.

Knight’s Personal Fitness is a Philadelphia-based personal training facility founded by Tommi Knight. His first location was in a basement. A few months later he moved to a 1,100 square foot studio space. Now, Tommie trains clients in a 5,000-square-foot facility. I guess you can say, business is booming.


Black Owned Businesses

BRUKWINE is a Caribbean inspired dance workout created by professional dancers and choreographers, Tavia and Tamara. Brukwine, “Break out and Wine,” is a NY-based workout class featuring dancehall moves turned choreography, complete with waste winding and hot sounds straight from Jamaica.

The Dwana Smallwood Performing Arts Center is based in NY. Founded former principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater turned Director of Student Affairs (and founder of the OWLAG’s Dance Company) at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, DSPAC aims to mold the world’s next generation of elite dancers and artists.  No worries, they also offers a variety of classes for adults ranging from Orisa dance workshops to Afro-Caribbean technique classes.

Black Owned Businesses


-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson

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