Yogi, Dancer, and Activist Leslie Salmon Jones went on a journey of healing to West Africa to find her roots. She not only came back with a newfound love for herself but with the foundations of new practice: Afro Flow Yoga®. Created in 2007 with her husband Jeff, Afro Flo blends yoga and meditation with dance movements from across the African Diaspora and creates an inclusive and diverse environment, free of any judgment for the Black community, and celebrates the beauty in diversity. (Additional original music by Jeff Jones)
A Toronto native, Leslie received her B.A. in Dance and Health Studies at the State University of New York, and her Fitness Instructors Certification at New York University. She was a scholarship recipient at the esteemed Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre in New York City as well as the London Contemporary Dance School. As a professional dancer, Leslie worked with known greats such as Judith Jameson, Bill T. Jones and Wynton Marsalis. She is a certified wellness coach, through the Wellcoaches Corporation.
Leslie has been practicing and teaching yoga since 1991 and is the founder of Afro Flow Yoga™ which infuses electrifying dance movements of the African Diaspora flowing with a meditative yoga sequence of gentle yet powerful stretches. Deeply connect with the soulful rhythmic drums, energize your chakras, gain strength and flexibility and rejoice in the bliss of feeling renewed, grounded and peaceful! Afro Flow Yoga weekly classes, monthly workshops, retreats and teacher trainings are currently offered in Boston and New York.
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“A tree without roots will fall.” – African proverb
TOPICS DISCUSSED IN THIS EPISODE:
- What is Afro Flow Yoga® and its mission?
- Leslie’s background in dance at the Alvin Ailey dance theatre and how it set the foundation for her work today.
- The lack of positive images representing Black women while Leslie was growing up and the self-esteem issues she had as a response.
- How Leslie rebuilt her self-image and never turned back.
- Leslie’s experience in Canada versus the United States.
- Leslie’s mission is to bring together our roots and to celebrate the beauty and richness and brilliance genius of people from all walks of life.
- Leslie’s viral Reebok ad and how she became a positive body image.
- How Leslie met her husband Jeff and how their journey to West Africa was the catalyst to finding her roots, healing deep trauma, and eventually the creation of Afro Flow Yoga®.
- There is an invisibility of Black people in yoga, in leadership positions, and in teaching.
- In the patriarchal system and colonized system, there’s having power over. And in the divine feminine system, there’s doing power with collectively thinking about the circle.
- What Afro Flow Yoga® has done for the Black community.
- Many of the transformative movements happening to uproot the system that is very broken have been started by Black women.
- Feminine leadership really is about care, how we care and how we systemize care.
- Divine feminine wisdom will help us find harmony and balance with nature.
- The 4 V’s of the Omega Women’s Leadership Intensive.
- Leslie’s work in women’s leadership and her advice for facing your fears.
- Beauty comes in many forms.
- When you come into self-love you are a light for others as you just reveal the fullness of your nature.
(7:50-8:59) When I first moved to New York, one of the things that struck me the most was the segregation. And even though New York is such an integrated city, when I was living in Brooklyn, it was like he could cut the segregation like a knife. It was very clear. This is a Black neighborhood. This is a white neighborhood. And of course, as you know, my mom who has been into anti-racism and just an incredible leader in human rights and growing up in a multicultural family, even though there’s racism and the isms exist in Canada, I think the difference is that Canada is more like a cultural mosaic cause. It’s like a beautiful bouquet. And so there’s an unfolding and openness, even though there are challenges at the root. And so there’s a contraction there. And that was so clear to me that I realized there’s so much work to do. And so that has been part of my mission is to bring us together roots and to celebrate the beauty and richness and brilliance genius of people from all walks of life.
(9:54-11:55) The love that you were seeing and feeling was actually the love for myself that I, it was a newfound love for myself. And it wasn’t about the external, it was the internal, I healed a lot of those negative thoughts. I’m not good enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not, I’m not enough enough enough. I was doing a program by Queen Afua. If you don’t know about Queen Afua look her up. About two months prior to that ad, I was in LA doing a musical and then I went back to New York because I was invited to shoot the cover of Black Elegance Magazine and a five-page spread. And I remember showing up that morning to the shoot saying, “I’m not good enough. I’m not, I’m fat”. Like all of these stories to the editor. That’s what I was saying to the editor. And she looked at me and she said, “you need to heal yourself. Read this book by Queen Afua. So I did all this deep, deep work and cleanse. And I fasted, I prayed, I meditated. I looked at the internal world, except as opposed to the external, that wasn’t important. It was the work that inner it’s like being the inner architect.
(13:16- 10:10) In terms of the work, I feel like that journey to West Africa was part of a continuum of the healing journey of the identity of finding my light, my truth. So layers later and years later, after we got married, one of the things I had prayed for in mate was someone who had strong ancestry. So I often say someone who is rich and ancestry. There’s a proverb in Africa. And that says “a tree without roots will fall.” After three of our parents passed away, we really wanted to discover more of our ancestry. And that journey to West Africa was really the catalyst to going a little deeper into the layers of ancestral trauma, particularly the female lineage. And then two years after that trip, continuing two years of doing deep, deep work healing, my wounds, healing that trauma and out of that birth Afro flow Yoga®.
(18:45-11:04) And I saw a quote from Tony Morrison that said, “racism is a distraction. They use the racism as a means to keep you from your great work, to keep you from following your calling.”
(22:39- 23:27) We carry the divine, masculine, and feminine within the water. Water is nourishing and we are 80% water or more. And as the waters are dying, we’re being called to bring this feminine wisdom in and too much water can create floods. So we’re working with the elements and we’ve come so far disconnected through colonization from that process of being in a sacred relationship and harmony with nature that we’re finding ourselves lost and bringing ourselves hopefully back to center and through the divine feminine, I believe that is how we come back into harmony and balance.
(24:20-25:30) I have been honored to be in circle with some amazing women since I think we started back in 2012 and the question was, how do we do power differently? In the patriarchal system and colonized system, colonial system, there’s having power over. And in the divine feminine system, there’s doing power with collectively thinking about the circle. It’s been such an honor to have that as a workshop and to be in circle with so many women leaders from around the world and coming in, we’ve been looking at our curriculum. It started with four vs. Our values, our voice, our vision, and our voyage. The last few years I was feeling deeply that we needed to add another V and that’s our vessel because we’ve been cut from the vessel through patriarchy in colonization.
(26:06-27:25) In the women’s lib movement, historically women had been approaching leadership through the masculine. Through patriarchy, rising to the top, becoming the CEO of a large corporation. You have power over other people and having to prove that they could be as strong as men and lead in a way that the culture dictates. And now what we’re seeing is it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to bring in our emotions. It’s okay to nurture as that divine feminine as the qualities have been often suppressed. So now it’s an invitation to actually claim those qualities, to empower those qualities, to ignite those qualities because that is what is needed I believe to midwife this new paradigm. Without those qualities, our baby, isn’t going to be born, that we’re going through, I feel like we’re going through the birth canal and we’re also mourning. So we’re birthing and losing the old, shedding the old.
(29:24-30:01) Taking that leap of faith can be one of the most powerful things blocking you from your liberation, from your voice, from your truth. And so I would say, do things that scare you, like take a leap and you’ll be amazed what you find. And maybe it’s not jumping off of a trapeze, but maybe it’s doing something a little steps, little baby steps. And your voice is so essential. So I encourage, whoever’s listening to this, who has that fear to take that leap.
(30:16-30:45) We’ve been oppressed number one for centuries, and there’s so much wisdom to be heard so much beauty to come out into the world so much genius to be birthed, and we need to hear our voices. We have been so oppressed, and this is why I believe we’re in this situation now. And perhaps this is part of the evolution and the revolution is to come into our voices, into our power.