This is the fifth individual spotlight in series 3 of the “This Is What a Yogi Looks Like” (#whatayogilookslike) media series, a collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign that launched in 2014 and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices, as well as their staunch commitment to diversifying yoga media.
About Arjuna: Arjuna Paris O’Neal is a motivational speaker and the founder and executive director of Share Necessities Inc, a non-profit organization that offers mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and leadership training to inner city youth. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Arjuna grew up in an environment of poverty, gangs, violence, and drugs. After a near-fatal shooting that left him paralyzed, he was told he would never walk again. Determined to improve his life, however, Arjuna began to research the benefits of mindful living through meditation, yoga, and education, and now holds yoga instructor certifications, a master’s degree in business administration, a bachelor’s degree in international business, and a passion to help youth understand the importance of a mindful and healthy lifestyle.
Arjuna, please tell us about yourself before you started practicing and teaching yoga?
I was totally miserable and disconnected from my mind, body, and the true essence of my being and purpose.
So, how would you say that yoga has changed you?
Through yoga, I have gained complete access to my spiritual, mental, and emotional body. I am now present in my daily moods, thoughts, and actions.
That is amazing. I’m imagining that you now have access to so much more potential. How do you utilize yoga now to empower yourself and others?
I use yoga to tap into the limitlessness of my inner being. My practice allows me to review, embrace, and acknowledge my day-to-day life in a way that gives me access to myself—beyond my external and physical appearance. And because of this awareness and understanding, I can share it with others in a way that’s relatable for others.
Can you talk a little bit about the uniqueness of your model at Share Necessities?
Our holistic approach makes our model unique. We use the foundation of yoga and meditation to teach participants how to tap into their limitless potential and creative abilities. The yoga allows us to help students create experiences they instantly feel and identify within their bodies, minds, and present awareness. The yoga also allows us to compassionately free students from uncertainties, emotional discomfort, and insecurities they may be experiencing in that moment.
That sounds wonderful. I will mention that I’ve recently heard some discussion about the need for yoga service organizations to do more than just share yoga and meditation. People feel that we need to get resources, jobs, and skills into the communities we serve. What is your perspective on this?
I totally agree. But I also feel it’s important to share how yoga and meditation help build a person mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically—to become even better everyday working people. It serves no long-term purpose to create opportunities for people who are not emotionally or physically well enough to handle the requirements of such opportunities. At the end of the day, the yoga and meditation practices make better versions of ourselves to carry out our highest potential. These holistic practices help to create that balance in our day-to-day lives.
It serves no long-term purpose to create opportunities for people who are not emotionally or physically well enough to handle the requirements of such opportunities. At the end of the day, the yoga and meditation practices make better versions of ourselves to carry out our highest potential.
So true. So how does Share Necessities address or change systemic issues of injustice and oppression, such as those based on class/race/gender/sexuality discrimination?
We've been successful at addressing these daily issues and concerns by first bringing internal awareness to participants who have been exposed to such issues, or who have been exploited. We work with participants on an individual level, teaching that we all have the ability and the power to rewrite our story around such circumstances. We've found that mindful yoga practices are a great tool to open the hearts, minds, and dialogue in creating safe and productive conversations about one's feelings and opinions. Once this level of awareness is addressed, we empower participants to create a personal practice that rises above external situations—and creates a lifestyle that supports the Self and inspires others they come in contact with. Share Necessities believes that the only thing separating human beings from each other is the level of consciousness.
How has yoga helped you or your students overcome obstacles?
As the founder [of Share Necessities], I've found yoga to be one of the most effective tools and practices to internally scan and lovingly address the uncomfortable areas of my life. I also use the practice as a reference point to see how struggles and obstacles can be removed or embraced with my personal language (self-talk). I share my experiences and triumphs with students, and they are eager to come out on the other side of their own challenges—to experience the light I rave about with excitement and glee. It's also essential to understand that pain and suffering are inevitable and part of growing and transforming to become a better person, partner, and colleague, etc. That is something I remind myself and all of Share Necessities participants.
So, I know that one of your most inspiring teachers is Govindas, the founder of Bhakti Yoga Shala. Is there anything he’s shared that’s resonated and stayed with you? Please tell us, if you can, how it impacted your life.
Govindas is adamant about sharing with his students that he uses his yoga practice as a way to implement extreme amounts of self-love and self-care. He shares throughout his classes that the “practice” is exactly that—a practice where the individual develops the mindset, attitude, and behavior to keep reminding him or herself to always come back to love, and to bring the mind into the heart, both on and off the mat. Govindas’ wisdom has allowed me to get out of my own monkey mind, stop, breathe, and let go of whatever I've created that no longer serves me on my journey. Since the beginning of my relationship with him, I've become a beacon of love and light—not only for myself, but for all those I encounter. I've also taken all that I've learned on the mat, and I implement the experiences and wisdom into Share Necessities. The results have been phenomenal.
What do you love most about what you are doing with yoga?
I love that I'm sharing the limitless power and personal benefits of yoga in environments and communities that would never otherwise know that such a profound and free self-help practice exists.
Do you have any aspirations for the future of yoga, or for your organization—what you would like to see happen?
I would like to see yoga marketed and classes offered throughout distressed communities. My intention is that Share Necessities becomes a portal that exposes millions of underserved citizens to the opportunities and benefits of yoga as a personal health care practice—and that segues to a healthy and abundant life beyond material possessions.