Lade Akande is an educator who has been serving as a college counselor for the last six years and has worked in education for over a decade. She was a college athlete, then found her way to the yoga mat after managing the physical ailments that came from pushing her body to the limits for so long. She has now been a yoga teacher for the last six years. Lade spends the majority of her time merging her love for education and working with youth, with her passion for sharing yoga and wellness practices in her community. To listen to the full interview, head over to Home Practice with Halle: Yoga Tools for Every Body. To read more about Lade, check out theyogacounselor.com or follow @theyogacounselor and @namastelade.
Halle: Thanks for joining me, Lade! We met through your work as a Manduka ambassador, and your wellness and yoga programs for teenagers. Can you talk a little more about those Yoga for Teens programs specifically?
Lade: Sure. The yoga program started about five years ago at the high school where I still work, with a project called Year of Service. Groups of students got to choose an organization or a mission that resonated with them. This particular Year of Service focused on learning more about the practice of yoga, the benefits of yoga for students in schools particularly, and allowed students to travel to their peer institutions and share yoga with other teens. From there, it evolved into a three-week alternative course between semesters called January Term. This January Term was called “Yoga: Mind-Body Connection.” We spent two weeks diving deeper into the history of yoga, reading books like the Four Agreements, building connections with each other, and then traveling to Costa Rica. There was so much positive feedback from those two opportunities that it eventually led to a Yoga PE class. I just finished teaching my 6th semester of Advanced Physical Education: Yoga and Mindfulness, where teens begin every morning with 50-minutes of yoga and explore a variety of yoga and mindfulness topics.
Halle: Amazing. Do you think there are particular benefits to teens starting and having a yoga practice when they are in their formative years?
Lade: Absolutely. One of the most common things that I hear from people when they learn about my work and the mission of sharing yoga with teens is, ‘Man, I wish I would have had yoga when I was younger, it would have been so helpful. Maybe it would have changed the game, changed the trajectory of my life.’ Really, it’s about providing empowerment tools to students so they can become the masters of their own emotional regulation. We see stress is at an all-time high especially with teens. As a college counselor, I see that the stakes are higher with standardized tests, the cost of tuition for higher education, the advanced placement classes, etc. There’s so much that students are piling on, and the expectations continue to grow for this population. Yet, no one is really talking to them about how to effectively manage their health and wellness. To many of them, this is a completely foreign topic. I have seen a huge growing interest in teens wanting to explore this further, and the buy-in is totally there. It’s been really amazing to see these ideas of wellness, education, and social-emotional learning now starting to permeate the field of education.
Halle: You are also a researcher with Butler University. Can you tell us more about this? Is there other existing research that examines the benefits of yoga on teens specifically?
Lade: Sure. I graduated with my bachelor and master’s degrees from Butler University, and recently have partnered with one of my former professors in the College of Education in developing some survey tools to measure the impact of yoga on students in schools. When I started to look at what was out there, what I found was that there are many smaller independent assessments of the impact of yoga on teens and in schools, but to my knowledge there has yet to be a wide-scale, validated research tool to measure the effects of yoga in schools. This is my hope and goal in starting this journey, and I’m grateful to have the guidance of my former professor to create these validated survey tools so that this information can be publishable at some point.
Halle: What is the implication of having publishable research? Is it more of a justification to include mindfulness curriculum in schools?
Lade: Yes. Data is really the key to being able to convince and move the needle from the top down when it comes to implementing these types of programs and curriculums in schools, even as far as effecting legislature to mandate this type of initiative. If you ask educators, or really anybody, it’s pretty straight-forward. People know that yoga is helpful. You don’t really have to convince them. But there hasn’t been a study yet with validated survey tools that has been reviewed through the Institutional Review Board—therefore the results could be replicated.
Halle: In addition to serving students, you’ve also created mindfulness opportunities for educators. Can you share a little more about this?
Lade: Well, we had planned a retreat for educators that was supposed to be in June, so they could explore these topics for themselves, and that they might be able to take it back and share it with their communities. It focused on trauma informed facilitation, educational neuroscience, and brain-based practices. When we’re talking about wellness in schools, we wanted to make sure we weren’t leaving out the educators and the adults in these environments, who are giving so much of themselves to their students, and also taking in so much of the trauma that their students are experiencing, perhaps taking that home with them, and not having the proper tools themselves to regulate and come to grounding. The retreat was unfortunately postponed due to COVID. We have all had to adapt, adjust, and evolve. The online opportunities are still there, and we are just thinking about more ways we can disseminate this type of development and information and share it with our communities.
Halle: What do you think as a facilitator are some of the most important things needed to empower the students who are in the yoga space with you?
Lade: I think providing a setting that is safe and accepting, and modeling behaviors like vulnerability, are important. Just giving students an example of how letting your guard down and connecting with yourself and others can be a powerful and healing practice. Especially for teens… well, really for anybody, that can be really scary. So, I want to be a mentor and a model for that type of conscious communication and show students that there is power in vulnerability, empower them to show up as their whole self, and to know that their whole self is welcomed, and loved, and accepted.
Halle: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced through your work as a teacher or a counselor in the yoga world?
Lade: Well, I think for me personally, being a woman of color, being a black woman, a lot of times I find myself as “the only” in these spaces. I am trying to connect with other yoga teachers of color, and be representative for people of color who are interested in exploring yoga but have felt like there isn’t a place for them. One of the ways I am doing that is that I am enrolled in a yoga teacher training called Communities Rizing. The facilitators are Nikki Meyers and Rolf Gates, who are obviously are both yoga legends. I’m in a cohort of about 24 Black yoga teachers in training. Unfortunately, because of COVID, although we were able to physically be together, now the format has gone to virtual. But just having a space where you can look around and be in a room full of people of color, is something I had never experienced before this training. It is affirming, and so difficult to find spaces like that. I think the next focus for me is to weave in themes of yoga with social justice. Especially with the times that we are collectively experiencing, this is when we need the practice the most.
Halle: The yoga community is having a long-overdue reckoning with itself right now. Having representation at leadership levels and at teaching levels is important. If you could snap your fingers and change one component of the industry that would make it more accessible, what would you pick?
Lade: I would say continue to give a platform. It’s not like there aren’t people out there doing the work- it’s a matter of giving people a platform and an opportunity to be seen. That would be my “snap the finger:” put more people of color at the forefront. Give people of color more seats at every table. Let their work be seen and celebrated collectively. If we are able to give more opportunities to more voices, we all get to benefit.
Halle: Can you share some of the successes you’ve gotten to experience through doing your work?
Lade: Any day I get to wake up and share yoga, especially with young people, I feel like it’s a success. I feel grateful that every day I get to do something that I am passionate about, and to experience the fruits of that labor of love. I am grateful that there are young people out there who are so interested in their own personal wellness and development. Even in these times of such intensity and uncertainty, I can still wake up and be hopeful and be joyful because I get to be with the youth, who I know are going to grow up and be the change.
Written by: Halle Miroglotta