Interview by Chelcee Johns. Photography by Micole Guevara.
This weekend presents a powerful divine energy. From Good Friday, the full blue moon Saturday, to Passover and Resurrection Sunday, no matter your language of spirituality, the past few days have ushered in a clear opportunity to dwell with the divine. A time to reflect, to honor, to worship, to heal. We’ve taken this time to commune with an old soul, tender heart, wise mind, giving spirit, knowing hands and healing aura Liana Naima. Liana is a reiki healer, voice alchemist, spiritual guide and no stranger to the BGIO family. A woman who I trust with my own healing, who I’ve traveled across a snowy Brooklyn night before entering into 2018 for a session.
As we partake in another transition from a month focused on our agency to be both soft and strong and how radical living in this integration can be, we talk with Liana about living with a soft strength, the work of processing trauma, self-care in activism, spiritual healing through eastern practices and so much more. As you step into a new quarter allow this conversation to give you permission, as Liana would say, to show as your most vulnerable, powerful self.
Chelcee: Liana, it’s so great to commune with you again. I think your work embodies the ideas of soft and strong on so many levels. Being able to walk in both softness & strength also feels like a newer concept for women of color because for so long the “strong black woman” narrative ruled. How are you unhinging this and living in the duality of being both soft and strong?
Liana Naima: For me, it's more of an integration and balance between the two. I really view softness as the feminine and the water element within my identity and strength being the masculine, fiery energy within my identity. I play on the two, always needing to be in harmony and balanced within myself and even within the people that I work with.
For many years, I didn't value softness and compassion. But, softness nowadays is my strength. In being soft with myself, I'm able to recognize the source of tension and triggers in my mind and body. We are all dealing with growing pains in one way or the other, growing into an expanded version of ourselves.
Life is constant growth and the process is easier if you act from a space of compassion and unconditional love of self.
Chelcee: You said something in there, that your softness helped you recognize your triggers. I think that sometimes we callous over because we are not tender enough with ourselves.What was that process like for you? And once you saw those triggers, what did the work look like to process them?
Liana Naima: Once I’m aware of triggers, tension, discomfort in mind and body I really go into mindful presence with what’s going on. I acknowledge the feeling and I value it, so there’s never a part of myself that I'm running from. Even if we're thinking of traumatic experiences that may have happened when we were younger that we may not be aware of being a trigger intellectually, you can still notice that trigger in the body. You can notice when you're clenching up, when you're feeling uncomfortable in certain spaces or around certain people.
Really getting into the body, as this intelligent vessel that is speaking to us through sensations has been really big for me lately. I'm all about body awareness. You have to heal trauma through mind and body. That is something to keep in mind with this work. Are you feeling safe in your body? Are you honoring everything that is arising within you internally?
Chelcee: What advice would you give women who are having trouble being tender with themselves? Who struggle with giving into the softness and vulnerability?
Liana Naima: I think the biggest thing is finding a safe community of other women who are grappling with this. The strong black woman narrative has, in a lot of ways, done more harm than it has been beneficial for our community.
I think the most harmful part of this narrative is devaluing our emotional well-being. For so long, we've had to play the savior and hold it together for our community. But the impact was that internally we were denying our own need to be nourished and cared for. If no one can hold us, we have to hold each other up.
As black women we have to support our sisters by allowing each other to be soft and vulnerable. We’ve played the strong game long enough, it’s really time for us to value our softness and self-heal and uplift one another. A lot of it is reprogramming how we value these emotions and femininity.
Chelcee: You’re making me think of a conversation I had with a friend about the work in activism and the identity of an activist. Essentially, what are we when we are not fighting? Do we know how to exist without the persistent push? Do you think it’s fear-based in a sense when we aren’t soft with ourselves?
Liana Naima: I think it’s just that we don’t value it. We’re taught not to value our softness. I think of Erica Garner, just because of the strength that she was holding inside of her - continuing the fight for her father and her father's legacy. But I also, on the other side of that coin, am thinking who was holding her? Who was giving her space to grieve and to go into her full emotional process?
I'm all about activism work, but activists, like all of us, need to be held. We can’t run from our inner landscape.The Erica Garner situation is important to bring up with this narrative. What are we going to take away from her legacy? How can we honor her by valuing our strength and softness?
Chelcee: Certainly. The week she passed away was a really rough week; still is. I remember the days we were hoping she would pull through in the hospital. The very eerie and unfortunate fact she would also pass due to a lack of oxygen while suffering from cardiac arrest when her father’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” It’s the trauma we carry, the trauma the body remembers. It’s so much we cycle through when we don’t get healing. That’s a hard one.
But I'm glad you brought her up because we see it often. The toll the fight takes, whether it’s depression or suicide or heart attacks. And we’re here again with the murder of Stephon Clark. What do you think is necessary in this time to uphold the fight and the inner work? What’s missing from the work from a wellness standpoint?
Liana Naima: I think practical self-care methods for people that do activism work are important. There are many different things that you can do that are absolutely free in regards to taking care of your mind, body and spiritual alignment. That may look like learning simple breathwork patterns to use throughout the day or taking sacred pauses to center yourself.
The body is constantly self-healing, and there are many ways to tap into the body’s self-healing abilities through learning simple Qi Gong and Yoga movements. For me, it’s about tapping into the wisdom of the body to release tension through stillness, movement, breathwork, or sound healing. It’s all about finding a practice that helps you slow down and tap into the abundant healing subtle energy around us. There’s a lot of Eastern practices you can adopt into your everyday life to self-heal.
Chelcee: Speaking of Eastern practices, I’ve had a very powerful reiki and voice alchemy session with you. I think that breathwork and voice is not always viewed as really influential practices to healing. How could we better honor and use the breath as a healing tool?
Liana Naima: Well, breathwork is an immediate connection with spirit and the present moment. The etymology of the word "spirit" is breath. As soon as you're conscious of the breath, you are in the present moment and connected with spirit in you and around you - the energy that animates all of life. Through breathwork, you are guiding your energetic experience. If you’re breathing shallowly, you are holding in tension. If you’re breathing deeply, you are relaxed and it signals to your body that you’re safe. Breathwork is an ancient healing technique for tapping into different levels of consciousness and self-healing the mind and body awareness regarding what's going on with you internally. It's been used since the beginning of time to connect with spirit. I am most familiar with Pranayama, Qi Gong breathwork patterns, and holotropic breathwork.
The deeper, slower and quieter you breathe the better. Aim to inhale and exhale from your nose, allowing the stomach to expand with the inhale and shrink with the exhale. Visualize your whole body breathing.
It's important to recognize that through movement, through sound, through breathwork - that these are really simple ways of healing yourself and coming back to your true Self separate from this reality.
Chelcee: If someone is interested in this work where do they start? Is it a book they should pick up? Reach out to you for a session?
Liana Naima: It really depends on why you’re coming to this work. Follow what you’re fascinated by and what’s most important right now for you to be at ease. If you want to learn how to self-heal the body, I recommend Eastern Body, Western Mind by Anodea Judith. If you're starting a meditative practice, I recommend Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.
Chelcee: How do you manage clients’ fears, if they have them when embarking on a session. Or, what is the general sense from people when they are interested in reiki and spiritual guidance?
Liana Naima: It’s all really different as I’ve attracted people at different stages of their spiritual development. People that are more experienced were able to go in way deeper, so those experiences are more transcendent and they're able to connect to the different frequencies a lot faster. For people just being introduced to this work, it starts with a conversation about what they're hoping to get out of this experience and the different techniques they can do on their own.
With anything in spirituality, I think it's important to realize that this is a lifestyle. This isn't something that you do once a month and think that you're done. You are always connected to spirit. It’s really through practicing mindfulness that you're able to have a deeper connection with life, with the unseen and the bigger picture.
Chelcee: You talked a bit about having to unlearn some things in order to create space for the softness to reside. What was that process like? What were somethings you were working to undo that you see other women also processing?
Liana laughs as she says, ‘this could be a whole story in and of itself.’
Liana Naima: We come to this work to unlearn. I came to this work to discover who I am outside of my persona, identifications, and attachments. I had to let go of any attachment I had to my identity, that was massive for me because I was always thinking about the future. It was always me, me, me. Instead of being conscious of oneness, wholeness, and who I am beyond a narrative. I want women to see beyond the illusions of this reality to tap into their own expansiveness. It is a whole different awareness of reality once you realize the full capabilities of your senses and energetic body
Chelcee: So, we use the words “spirit," "energy," and “universe” - and, for some folk, that feels very far away from what their practice might be, especially if brought up traditionally in the church or Islam. What’s the entry way? I know in visiting your place, there’s the cross, there are crystals. Same with mines, there’s the Buddha, the Bible, crystals. What would you recommend to others on finding different walks of spirituality that work for them?
Liana Naima: It's the idea of bringing heaven to earth, but more so recognizing that you can choose to dwell in heaven on earth - that's really what this work is about. Through our awareness, we influence our mind and matter in us and in the subtle energetic field around us. Find a spiritual practice that liberates you and helps you to recognize that you are sacred and impacting this reality on a profound level by directing your awareness.
Chelcee: Definitely, my spiritual walk began to feel more freeing once I took off the barriers. Speaking of freedom, let's talk about different things that make you feel free in softness and strength. I'm going to ask a quick-fire round and I'd love for you to share what comes to mind first. What would you say is your soft-strong anthem?
Liana Naima: Right now, it’s “Infinite Universe” by Beautiful Chorus.
Chelcee: What’s the go-to book?
Liana Naima: I would say the Bhagavad Gita.
Chelcee: Who’s your go-to soft-strong inspiration?
Liana Naima: I would say my soul sister, Siedeh Foxie, she is one of my role models.
Chelcee: What is your go-to self-care practice?
Liana Naima: My go-to self-care practice right now is Qi Gong and Acupuncture.
Chelcee: And lastly, what has vulnerability and strength taught you?
Liana Naima: Vulnerability has taught me that I have a right to express the totality of who I am at any given moment in time. It is not my job to be likable, but instead, vulnerably be present with myself and trust that present expression completely. It takes strength to trust yourself and it takes strength to share yourself with the world.
How are you cultivating ways to heal trauma, find your unique spiritual walk and show up in the world as your most vulnerable true self? We'd love for you to join the conversation below.
Chelcee Johns is a digital nomad, publishing professional, Detroit native, editor/content strategist and word & world-loving soul. She is based in Harlem and recently called Bali home for a year. Her passion for the power of the written word & highlighting often policed narratives has led her to work in publishing for the past 7 years with organizations such as Moguldom Media Group, Serendipity Literary Agency, the New York Times and writing for the likes of Ebony. In a rupturing political climate and blooming social change, BGIO is the place Chelc is able to create a community of safe space in our collective stories as Publication Editor. She is empowered by the (inner)work! With that said, her self-care go to is journaling, prayer and meditation.