Dr. Stacy CC Graham on her brand OYA, new book release and more

In our new monthly profile series, Fitbit is looking to expand diversity in the world of wellness and fitness by featuring the voices of POC trail-blazers leading these industries—industries that have long disrespected voices like theirs.

For our July profile, we’re highlighting the incredible work of Dr. Stacy CC Graham and her new book Yoga as resistance: Matters on and off equity and inclusion. We’re excited to share the conversation we had with Dr. Graham about how she got started in wellness; His brand, OYA; and his book.

Originally from Miami, FL and currently based in London, UK, Dr. Stacy CC Graham has a diverse professional background. However, one constant has been his work as a management and strategy consultant. She is also a certified instructor, mindfulness instructor, and E-RYT 500 (a yoga instructor who has taught at least 2,000 hours—500 of those hours after completing a 500-hour certification, and has a minimum of four years of teaching experience).

Dr. Graham shared that his vision is a world where there is a collective agreement and awareness that every human (or even sentient) being has the right to be well. “The understanding of well-being must be generative, non-linear and inclusive of people of different abilities,” she says.

On how she got started with fitness, she told us that as a young athlete she suffered repeated injuries and was eventually advised to take up yoga. “Beyond the physical practice, I also developed a mindfulness practice in parallel,” she says. “It wasn’t until many years later that I learned more about the origins of both yoga and mindfulness and found my own way to align these practices.”

Now with a successful brand and a new book, Yoga as Resistance: Equity and Inclusion on and Off the Mat, Under her belt, Dr. Graham continues to make waves in the industry for Black and POC women. Keep reading to dive deeper into his impressive work.

FITBIT: Can you tell us about your brand, OYA?

Dr. Graham: I founded OYA: Body-Mind-Spirit Retreats in 2016. It is a holistic wellness brand that offers weeklong, weekend and day retreats for Black women and women of color. After hosting a digital Circle of Sisterhood to provide support and shelter during the pandemic lockdown, we recently launched a permanent virtual space for movement, mindfulness and breathing.

I work with a faculty made up of women who are representative of those whose needs we strive to serve. Our faculty is comprised of people from diverse backgrounds across our intersectional social identity categories. We recognize that our target audience constitutes the largest group of caregivers in the world. They are often so busy taking care of everyone else that they don’t have time to take care of themselves. OYA Retreats is committed to creating experiences and spaces where black women and women of color can simply be.

We can discuss our challenges more easily and with understanding. We can feel, see and hear. OYA faculty offer tools and practices that our community members can integrate into their daily lives. We love a spa day! But OYA Retreats is focused on the integration piece. It is not a day away. It’s a form of self-care that we can practice every day if we’re willing to prioritize our well-being.

FITBIT: OYA is dedicated to underserved communities largely underserved by the mainstream fitness industry. What drew you to this work?

Dr. Graham: It wasn’t something I spent a lot of time thinking about and planning. I did a lot of my own work in different communities, and I was always “the one” – no matter what spiritual retreat or yoga space I was attending. If I’m anywhere in Europe or North America, I always think of myself as the only black woman or black person or person of color. It is really challenging when trying to participate in deep spiritual and healing practices. Finally enough was enough.

At that time, my desire was to make space for these people, as I see them. I want to respect them. I want to celebrate them. I want to hold onto them any way I can. It was only later that I made the connection with my own experience (yes, it may seem very obvious, but it wasn’t for me initially!).

FITBIT: Why, in your view, is it so important to have communities like yours that are made for black women and women of color?

Dr. Graham: If we’re the majority of caregivers, and we’re not taking care of ourselves, what does that mean for our caregivers? Collectively, we have a lot of work to do. If we look at what is happening around the world, and especially in the United States, we can see that people and the planet are not well. The climate crisis is real, and the people disproportionately affected are black people and people of color. Populist politics in the United States and Europe have put black people and people of color in dire straits. Systemic oppression affects our bodies in ways that modern science is only catching up to in recent years.

For example, black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy or childbirth-related complications in the United States than white women and five times more likely to die in the United Kingdom. A significant number of these deaths are preventable. Studies clearly indicate that these outcomes are related to race and gender specific adversities. That’s why we emphasize holistic, integrated wellness. It’s not just about a workout, and it’s definitely not about losing weight. It’s about finding calm in the chaos. It’s about expressing grief. It’s about releasing shame. It’s about knowing and finding joy in the body.

FITBIT: How do you hope to inspire and motivate others in your community through OYA and your other work?

Dr. Graham: I’m not really motivated by inspiring others. More than anything, I hope that my work inspires and empowers people to believe in themselves more, to love themselves unconditionally, to find, build and nurture community.

FITBIT: What are some key themes and takeaways you’d like to share from your book, Yoga as Resistance: Equity and Inclusion On and Off the Mat?

Dr. Graham: I don’t want to give too much away. An entire chapter is devoted to TL;DR people. The biggest way is that we all contribute to oppressive systems and – intentionally or unintentionally – replicate them in our actions. So, we all have a role to play in undoing them. It is possible to participate in the yoga “art” and, at the same time, minimize the harm we do to people of South Asian heritage who have grown up in this tradition of knowledge and belief. It is possible to create spaces where everyone—no matter how they look—can fully participate. No one person can do it alone, yet no one is too insignificant for their actions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.