Black icons are often revered as strong, resilient and steadfast and no one fits the profile like civil rights icon Rosa Parks. On what would’ve been her 107th birthday, those words are still fitting, but others come to mind thanks to Parks’ little-known relationship with mindfulness.
Recently, an exhibit at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., showcased the civil rights icon in a new light. Presented in Dec. 2019, “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words” featured Parks’ poetic and touching writing and her love for healthy practices like yoga and meditation. The photos circulated on social media showed Parks breaking out a few yoga moves while preparing for a speaking engagement in March 1973.
One photo showed Parks in Dhanurasana, better known as the Bow Pose. As a backend stretch, the move helps the entire body and revive the Throat Chakra (Vishuddha), Heart Chakra (Anahata/chest), Solar Plexus (Manipura/upper abdomen area), Sacral Chakra (Swadisthana/lower abdomen) and Root Chakra (Muladhara/base of the spine).
Another photo seems to be her starter pose which resembles Virasana, better known as the Hero Pose.
How fitting is that?
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The Hero Pose helps ignite the Sacral and Root Chakras. It isn’t known if Parks participated in modern yoga, but she was health-conscious due to issues with her heart. Because Parks was such an avid writer, she had notes on her yoga poses which look like reminders on how to relax her spine.
Penned on a sheet from the Ohio Black Women’s Leadership Caucus, the notes were taken on January 8, 1981, proving how dedicated she was on her wellness journey. The exhibition also notes how she added Buddhist mediation to her prayers (she was a lifelong member of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) and became a vegetarian in her senior years.
In the 2015 book Auntie Rosa by Parks’ niece Sheila McCauley Keys and writer Eddie B. Allen Jr., it was mentioned that she was a big fan of reusing plastic bags, foil, paper bags, and glass jars in order avoid waste and coins. This was also connected to her love for writing. If you haven’t noticed, Parks would write on anything, including a pharmacy bag. She penned manuscript notes on it that would eventually appear in her 1994 book, Quiet Strength.
“We need to continue the struggle to realize our goal of equality,” her notes read. “The dream of which Dr. King spoke—one that should be held by all—has yet to be realized. So the movement continues.”
Wellness has made its way to the forefront as of late with increasing conversations around black mental health. Recent studies have shown how Black Americans have now endured a new kind of trauma by way of police killings. Sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, it was discovered that police killings of unarmed Black Americans have increased paranoia, anxiety and for some, depression in Black Americans. In 2018, there were over 6.8 million Black Americans with a diagnosable mental illness. As we continue to break stigmas around black mental health, it’s sweet to know that one of America’s most important trailblazers was doing the same in her own special way.
Check out the photos and notes from the “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words” exhibit here.