Home Yoga Exercises How Dr. Gail Parker Embraces Life at Every Stage

How Dr. Gail Parker Embraces Life at Every Stage

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In the spring of 2017, the climate was simply warming in Rhinebeck, New York. I had come to holistic retreat heart the Omega Institute with a colleague to present at the Yoga Service Council (YSC) Conference. We had been a pair of unknown lecturers in a firmament of yoga stars. At the speaker-orientation session that first night, the setting solar filtered into an ethereal room filled with name-checkable notables on the earth of yoga: researcher Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD; medical psychologist Melody Moore, PhD; cofounder of the Yoga Service Council Leslie Booker; non secular activist Teo Drake; and yoga and Buddhism trainer Jacoby Ballard.

And then a girl floated into the room and made everybody else fade into the background. Everything about her gave the impression to be made of sunshine: She was wrapped in gentle layers the colours of clouds, her garments coordinated together with her clipped silver curls. Her pores and skin appeared to glow from inside. I don’t keep in mind her talking, however she carried an air of authority. And all I might assume was: Who is she? And: I wish to be like that.

“She” is Gail Parker, PhD, a medical psychotherapist, licensed yoga therapist, meditation coach, and yoga trainer. In yoga circles, she’s respectfully referred to as “Dr. Gail.” The regard is properly earned: In her decades-long profession, she’s held college positions at medical colleges and was a daily psychology skilled on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has given numerous talks, lessons, and workshops. And I’m removed from the one one wowed by her—she appears to have a fascinating impact on everybody she meets.

As a longtime pupil of yoga, Parker understands the idea of ashrama—that every person passes by a collection of life phases: pupil, householder, retiree, renunciate. In Hindu tradition, one embraces every stage, lives it to the fullest, and strikes on to the following with grace. At the time of the YSC convention, Parker had closed her psychotherapy observe and stepped totally into her position as trainer and mentor, combining her psychology expertise and yoga expertise to show others the artwork and science of yoga remedy.

Little did she know that her star was about to take one other leap. Her e-book, Restorative Yoga for Ethnic and Race-Based Stress and Trauma, was revealed in 2020, at a second when the world was in determined want of some knowledge on the topic. Earlier that yr, she took on a brand new management position as president of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance board of administrators.

Today, at 75, Parker is within the supreme house to share life classes accrued by examine and expertise. In these difficult occasions, individuals are hungry to listen to from somebody sensible and wise and sort—Parker, in a nutshell.

More from Dr. Gail Parker: How Restorative Yoga Can Help Heal Racial Wounding

Parker emerges from yoga class at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 1968. Photo: Courtesy Lorenzo Wilkins

Brahmacharya: The Student

Parker’s yoga journey started at a most incongruous place: the Detroit Institute of Arts. “I don’t know how I stumbled across [my first] yoga class,” she says. It was in 1968—one yr after the Detroit riots rocked the nation to its core. Parker was 22, contemporary out of school, newly married, and dealing as a social-welfare case employee in a metropolis nonetheless cooling down from the social strife and smoldering race relations of “the long hot summer.”

“There were no yoga studios in those days,” she says. Yoga mats, yoga pants, yoga podcasts, playlists, and YouTube channels? No such issues. Parker and a few 20 different college students got here in T-shirts and denims to be taught hatha yoga poses.

“We were taught by a man named Mr. Black,” she says. “He wore a black suit and tie to teach class.” She reveals me a fading black-and-white picture of her trainer. With neatly trimmed hair and a crisp white shirt, he appears to be like extra like a financial institution supervisor than a yogi.

Years later, she found he was a direct disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda. “I was introduced to the practice of yoga by a master,” she says.

Parker attended Mr. Black’s lessons faithfully. When he added a weekly meditation, she went to that, too. He shared copies of the Autobiography of a Yogi with the group, to assist deepen their research of yoga philosophy. “I tried to read it, but it went over my head,” she admits. “I was too young.”

What drew her again every week, she says, was the sense of peace and well-being she obtained from the observe. When class ended, she went again to her life as a younger spouse and busy welfare employee, serving to single mothers, individuals struggling to seek out work, and others caught in a system she realized was not designed to assist them get out of poverty.

Gail Parker sitting outside
Photo: Nolwen Cifuentes

What nobody knew—what she might barely admit to herself—was that at the top of her work day, she went dwelling to a bodily abusive husband. Like most individuals in her scenario, she lined it up and made excuses. She didn’t converse of it to anybody.

And then sooner or later, in the course of one in every of her husband’s tirades, Parker says she heard a transparent voice in her ears: You know he has an issue. But so do you, since you’re placing up with it. Something inside her shifted. She by no means stated a phrase, however for some purpose, he didn’t hit her that day, and he by no means touched her once more. But her intention was set: She was leaving. That section of her life was over.

“In that instant, I went from feeling like a victim to realizing that I had agency,” she says. “I had stepped into my power.” She believes that the sense of peace she felt in her yoga class woke her as much as the truth that her dwelling life was something however peaceable.

Grihastha: The Householder

That identical voice that instructed Parker to depart additionally had clear recommendation for what she ought to do subsequent: “You need to get a divorce, you need to go back to school, and you need to get on with your life,” she says it instructed her.

“I couldn’t just walk away,” she says. That’s almost unimaginable, and generally harmful, for individuals in abusive relationships. “I had to strategically plan my departure.” She utilized to graduate faculty and was accepted. At a time when divorces had been arduous to get, she discovered a lawyer who would take her case. She rented a studio residence. “In the end, I walked away from everything,” she says.

By 1976, she had earned a doctorate in psychology, and she or he ultimately arrange her personal personal counseling observe the place she might assist individuals who wanted steerage on relationship points, existential crises, or private development challenges. Along the best way, she discovered new love with a good-looking physician.

Yoga will take you deep sufficient into your self that you’ll acknowledge that you’re greater than the exterior issues you might be hooked up to.

She continued to do yoga as a private dwelling observe till the ’90s, when yoga studios started cropping up. “When I discovered studios, boy, did I have fun,” she says. She realized Ashtanga Yoga, then Anusara Yoga “before anybody really even knew what it was” (and properly earlier than its founder was embroiled in scandal).

These days, she eloquently speaks of the deep connections amongst remedy, yoga, science, and spirituality, however in her early skilled life, she stored these issues separate.

“I wasn’t teaching my clients asana, because they weren’t coming to me for that,” she says. “But if they were doing high-chest breathing, I knew how to teach them to deepen the breath. I used what I understood about yoga to help people become self-aware.”

She was in her 50s when she lastly sought out formal yoga trainer training—to be taught extra in regards to the observe fairly than to show it. There, she realized about restorative yoga, which drew her skilled life and her yoga life even nearer collectively. “It will, at some point, take you deep enough into yourself that you will begin to recognize and realize that you are so much more than all the external things that you’ve become attached to,” she says.

Many of Parker’s shoppers had been coping with the actual stresses of being in marginalized communities. While public health specialists have not too long ago come to acknowledge the impression of racism on Black and Indigenous individuals’s psychological and bodily health, Parker understood it early on, as a result of she noticed it on daily basis in her shoppers. She had skilled it herself. Case in level: After attending an elite Virginia boarding faculty for Black girls, she was tapped to combine the faculty she attended. “I was the first Black person to live in the dormitories, the only Black woman on campus,” she says. Today, she hardly ever mentions the identify of the college as a result of her expertise of isolation was so painful: “It was a miserable four years.”

Restorative yoga grew to become a software to assist heal racial and emotional wounds—hers and people of her shoppers. She shared her data with college students in yoga remedy packages, with colleagues at the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), with lecturers at the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) Conference, and anyplace else she might.

Gail Parker shares her knowledge at “Yoga as a Peace Practice” at Satchidananda Ashram—Yogaville in 2018 and at the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance Conference in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Lorenzo Wilkins

BYTA cofounders Jana Long and Maya Breuer recruited Parker to assist develop the curriculum for Yoga as a Peace Practice , a program designed to assist individuals get better from trauma and the impression of violence of their communities. “Activism is hard work,” Parker says. “You can’t do it without restorative practices that keep you healthy.” She sees her position not as a frontline fighter, however as a caretaker of those that are.

Vanaprastha: The Sage

In 2015, Parker was beginning to consider closing her psychotherapy observe when a sewer flood pushed her out of her workplace. That was the nudge she wanted to shut that door, however nowadays, she’s as busy as ever.

Aside from presiding over BYTA’s board, she’s having fun with the success of her e-book and is planning a companion how-to information for reworking race-based stress and trauma with yoga. She continues to be a coach and a information for different yoga lecturers as properly.

“She’s a great mentor,” says Pamela Stokes Eggleston, founding father of Yoga2Sleep. When Eggleston grew to become co-executive director of the Yoga Service Council, Parker helped information her by it with “very sage advice and counsel,” she says.

Sannyasa: The Seeker of Enlightenment

These days, Parker and her husband divide their time between Michigan and California, the latter of which is hotter and the place she could be nearer to her son, now an immigration legal professional. She’s within the enviable place of being in vibrant good health, securely beloved, extensively revered, and having nothing to show. From this vantage, she’s selective about what tasks she takes on. She makes time for contemplative observe and to mirror on the circumstances and serendipities that introduced her to this stage in life.

Ageism is actual—and infuriating—for Parker, however she takes a wide-angle view of the presents that include healthy longevity. “I realized that I’m also a role model for what aging can actually look like, feel, and be—and I don’t just mean physically,” she says. “I mean what it is to accept, embrace, and cherish one’s maturity.”

Gail Parker outside in a long dress
Photo: Nolwen Cifuentes

Like all the things in yoga, it entails discovering steadiness. That means accepting that Chaturanga could now not be a daily a part of her observe (too arduous on the shoulders), whereas additionally understanding that she will nonetheless get pleasure from a playful, energetic observe.

“I’m 75 years old. It’s a big number,” she says. “The older I get, the more of myself I become. That’s the beauty of being my age: You continue to step into being more and more of who you are.”

Restoration & Revival

Gail Parker understands the therapeutic energy of relaxation and rest. “Just because you’re not doing anything doesn’t mean nothing is happening,” she says.

“Trust your body to know how to function properly and bring itself back into balance. As long as the nervous system is relaxed, the body can be a self-healing organism,” she says.

Tamara Y. Jeffries, RYT-200, is senior editor at Yoga Journal. Find her on Instagram.

Nolwen Cifuentes is a photographer and director born and raised in Southern California, now dwelling and dealing in Los Angeles. Nolwen is an honoree of The 30: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch.

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