Interview by Lauren Ash. Photography by Deun Ivory.
Vulnerability. Truth-telling. Wholeness. Maternal, ancestral connection. Resiliency. Womb healing. These concepts that we too often learn to actively avoid are the ones that Danielle Lyles Barton dives into headfirst. But it’s been a practice. As a student of forgiveness, non-attachment and Love, Danielle has learned and cultivated tools like yoga and womb work to support women of color in their journeys toward self-acceptance. During a time where yoga is popular in the West, it’s refreshing to encounter a yogi who, through their personal practice and while guiding others through the practice, so clearly embodies the fullness of what yoga philosophy offers. Through her platform Healing for Her, as well as through her guidance during select BGIO Self-Care Sundays, Danielle is a light worker affirming the possibilities of the radical work that wellness can be for black women.
Lauren Ash: Who are you?
Danielle Lyles Barton: I am Danielle Lyles Barton; I am my mother and my grandmothers, their grandmothers, too. My existence is the culmination of resilience and tenderness passed down from generation to generation. I bring with me their grace, their wisdom, their devotion, their love, and best of all, their stories. I am a storyteller who incorporates the narratives of the women around me in her work. I am healing for Her.
Lauren Ash: Your affirmation of your existence as intrinsically connected to your maternal lineage is so beautiful. You emphasize this divine feminine energy in all of the healing work that you do. I'm so happy you're now a part of the Black Girl In Om tribe in joining our team recently, which means that our community gets to feel the energy of your work and ethos! What does Black Girl In Om mean to you?
Danielle Lyles Barton: Black Girl in Om is revolutionary. Black Girl in Om is radical. Black Girl in Om is a political statement. In speaking about modern civil rights activism, Angela Davis beautifully said, "Self-care and healing and attention to the body and the spiritual dimension—all of this is now a part of radical social justice struggles." If the intentional gathering of black and brown female bodies in one space isn’t a radical restorative practice, I don’t know what is. Our recent theme of Revolutionizing Our Wellness perfectly lends itself to the sentiment that we are no longer quietly accepting the attack of the health and wellbeing of our mind-bodies. We are intentionally healing and, in line with Warsan Shire’s words, “let it be glorious.”
Lauren Ash: Absolutely. Another message that we hold dear from another forerunner of the work that we're cultivating was shared from Audre Lorde: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." Your emphasis of the interconnected nature between activism and healing, especially as black women, is so central to BGIO. On a more personal level, how do you identify with Black Girl In Om’s mission?
Danielle Lyles Barton: I am a black girl in om.
I am a black girl who found her om after devastating heartache and a traumatic family experience resulted in depression, anxiety and chronic pain dis-ease. I was in a dark space searching desperately for healing. My core was devastated. My foundation, rocked. My identity, shattered. I wasn’t the only one directly affected, though, so I “had” to be strong… because, well, that’s what us black women have always been taught to do. This time, though, my misguided “resiliency” may have been the beginning of my spiral. Let’s be honest, it was the beginning of my spiral. I was being an anchor for those around me who were just as broken, if not more; meanwhile, I was beginning to drown.
Essentially, I was a lifeguard who couldn’t swim.
Living in om saved my life. Doctors wanted to give me medicine for my body and my brain, but the only medicine that could really help me was Love. Connecting with myself re-connected me to Her. Connecting with Her re-connected me to myself. For me, it was yoga that did both. Yoga taught me how to reassociate into my body and how to process all the trauma that was living inside me. Yoga taught me how to breathe again. Literally. So when you talk about creating space for women of color to breathe easy, you are profoundly echoing my life’s journey. How could I not identify with Black Girl in Om’s mission? I am Her.
It may seem ironic, but after pulling myself out of my darkest days, I now intentionally go right back into the depths of my own darkness. The practices of vulnerability and non-attachment have given me courage. I go back into those spaces because critical information about radical self-healing and my divine dharma live there. I’m no longer afraid of the darkness or the person I had become in the dark; in fact, I’m immensely in love with her, too. It’s in the darkness that I found this Light of mine that now unapologetically shines brightly.
Joining the Black Girl in Om team in creating space for women of color to breathe easy is the perfect and most authentic next step for me. It’s an honor to be serving the Black Girl in Om community in so many different capacities this year. As a monthly BGIO Self-Care Sunday yoga instructor, I safely guide black women on a journey back into their dark spaces, where their unapologetic Light also lives. I like to tell people who plan to take my class, I’m in the business of leaning into the discomfort…and I will hold your hand every step of the way.
Lauren Ash: "Safely guide black women on a journey back into their dark spaces, where their unapologetic Light also lives." Wow, Danielle. I have witnessed this, as well, during the BGIO Self-Care Sundays that you have led. What have you seen arise when women are led this way?
Danielle Lyles Barton: An awakening of what's possible: within Her and within the world. Ultimately, it is Truth and purpose that arise. I tend to see inspiration and curiosity arise in the women I guide, and sometimes there’s fear, too; but you can always see that something has been jolted inside of them. The true magic is when these brave women go back and apply their Light to their everyday lives. I’ve seen women shake up their lives and decide to move across continents. I’ve seen women explore their wombs and reconcile troubled relationships with their partners. Women have manifested people who had been literally missing for years back into their lives. I’ve watched and supported women as they spoke life to the wounded girl from their childhood and decide not to “throw in the towel on [her] own life”. Women are blooming all around from this shadow work.
Women are tapping into liberation and truth and healing as a result of journeying back into their dark spaces and rediscovering their Light. The beauty is the collective healing that is possible; the generational healing that is ignited. Women often come back and tell me how they share what they’ve learned with their daughters. One woman, in particular, sent me videos of her and her two daughters sitting in a circle repeating a ritual I taught her. Another student brought her daughter to class to learn breath work techniques for her depression and anxiety. The next week, her daughter brought her friend! Women have brought their mothers with the intention of healing their mother-daughter relationship. This work reaches far and wide.
This is why I prioritize women: because we are the mothers of the earth. The next generation is within us, physically and energetically. When a woman undergoes some sort of transformation, she shares that healing with her entire household, which influences how the household shows up and interacts with people in their neighborhood. Neighborhoods inform communities and communities impact the world. What will eventually arise is a completely healed reality where we can all live in harmony with ourselves, the divine, each other, and the earth.
Lauren Ash: What are your self-care & self-love practices?
Danielle Lyles Barton: My self-care practice is both as simple and as deep as taking a full, nourishing breath and asking myself what I need and what best honors my Soul in each moment. This is a practice I cultivated when I found myself in some of the darkest of days. Anything other than that felt like too much at the time. All I had the strength for in those moments was to ask myself what I needed next, moment by moment, day by day. I was reminded of the words my mother had always asked me as a child when I felt overwhelmed: “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer was always: “One bite at a time.”
I have since rewritten why I tune in to what I need moment by moment. It’s no longer because taking life one bite at a time is “all I have the strength to do”; it’s now because I have all of the strength to do so. I realize that every time I check in with myself, I am honoring myself; I am choosing me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was cultivating a practice of living in the flow.
A recent self-love practice I’ve adopted was changing my name. In connecting with my divine feminine, I’ve found myself leaning into my womanhood more. Doing so has connected me even deeper to the matriarchs in my family because they lend such insight into who I am and what I carry with me on this journey. Adopting my mother’s name and keeping my father’s felt like a more complete representation of my identity. Every time I say my new name or see my new name written somewhere, there’s an inner smile that is reignited, a gentle nudge to show up wholeheartedly and play full out.
Lauren Ash: Danielle, I found so much healing in bathing this past year and, for me, its so connected to my maternal Grandmother, Lillian, after her transition. She was always taking a bath, it was her ritual. I remember helping her draw her bath when I was young. Through this powerful ritual of cleansing, she found her peace again and again during her life and quite literally as it's where she died.
Your re-naming is such an act of agency, wow. I'm grateful I've witnessed this transition of yours and have seen just how much joy doing so has given you. What’s one powerful ritual you recommend more women of color adopt to cultivate inner beauty and wellness?
Danielle Lyles Barton: I recommend every woman of color spend time with her womb: getting to know her, listening to her, feeling her, healing her. As women, much of our pain and suffering is a result of a wounded womb space: unwelcome penetration, unholy lovers, un-wholly lovers, miscarriages, abortions, traumatic births, hormonal imbalances, to name a few. And yet, our power as women come from the same space: our wombs.
There’s a quote from a book called Womb Wisdom by Padma and Anaiya Aon Prakasha that I love to share. Can I share it with you?
Lauren Ash: Of course. I think I know the one you're going to share, too!
Danielle Lyles Barton: “The womb is a woman’s feminine core, the generator of tremendous creative potential, vitality, boundless well-being, sensual power, and manifestation. It not only births children but also the fullness of feminine spiritual potential, personal healing, and the depths of relating for which we all yearn. It births and unifies the divine masculine and feminine, bringing balance and loving power to our deepest relationships. The heart does not do this alone: it does it in alliance with the womb.”
Lauren Ash: Powerful. I really need to read this powerful book in full. I remember a BGIO Self-Care Sunday session where you invited us to get in touch with our wombs through asana and mindfulness and all that we shared toward the end of our session really revealed the layers to womb work. From considerations of our creativity, to healing from abuse, womb work seems to invite us to consider the forgotten, neglected or directly ignored aspects of our womb that desire our closer attention.
Danielle Lyles Barton: I recommend that every woman ask herself: “How is my womb?”
Lauren Ash: What’s one wellness product you cannot live without?
Danielle Lyles Barton: Though not a prepackaged product, this combination of wellness in a glass is certainly one I cannot live without. In the morning, I blend kale, the juice of a freshly-squeezed lemon, sea salt, cilantro, and water. This tonic was introduced to me by my teacher, Aadil Palkhivala, and has unequivocally changed my mornings. After drinking this tonic for the first time, I thought to myself, “NOW I’m alive. I don’t know what I was doing before this!” Everything is enhanced: my mind is sharper, colors are brighter, the world is so much more pleasant. If I absolutely had to pick an actual product, it’d be my Vitamix because it’s lended itself to so many of my wellness recipes and practices; this kale tonic, included!
Lauren Ash: Thank you so much, I'm eager to try that. You know I'm a huge fan of vitalizing morning rituals! I appreciate all that you shared with us. Thank you, Danielle.