The Creative Wellness Project: Iresha Picot

I first met Iresha at my Golden Sutras yoga event in Philadelphia last year.  Her commitment to providing quality therapy to her community is both inspiring and illuminating.  Do we ever take the time to fully consider the care takers’ and therapists’ wellbeing? How do those who care for others take care of themselves?  Answering those very questions, Iresha Picot offers an unapologetic approach to self care and self love that I admire.  Here’s what she had to say about writing, yoga, and creative wellness.

1. Tell us about your background and what inspired you to start writing/ or practicing yoga?

The writing has always been inspired by the reading. When I was a young girl, I was a passionate book reader. I wanted to write books like Mildred Taylor (author of “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”) who was my favorite childhood writer. I cannot remember writing things outside of book reports growing up and maybe some poetry after reading “Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'fore I Diiie”, by Maya Angelou during my teen years, that my sister bought home one day from the library, but during my college days and studying African American Studies, my analysis of the world and my own experiences were shaped by being exposed to a plethora of Black writers and cultural critics during that time such as Baldwin, Morrison, and Walker amongst others. Blogging also inspired me to actually start the process of writing, and in graduate school I had a blog called “Black Girl Get Free” and co-wrote for www.doorknockers.blogspot.com, which is a female hip hop blog, as I was highly interested in Hip Hop Pedagogy and Hip Hop Feminism at that time.

I am a baby yogi. Since my mid-20s, I would take sporadic yoga classes, and found it to be incredibly difficult. Over the years, I would take a class here and there, and it would be a year in between before I picked back up with another yoga class. Instead, I fell in love with other classes such as Zumba and Belly Dancing, which allowed me to gain flexibility within my body and to re-visit yoga again. I started practicing yoga poses at home, taking water yoga at the YMCA, which are all standing poses, and just recently started taking workshops and weekly beginner vinyasa classes. It’s still a challenge, but I stay with it. I feel great whenever I leave a yoga class, which inspires me to continue. My body feels open and ready for the challenges I can overcome in those 60 minutes.

2. What does your writing/ art/ or yoga events aim to do?

I want my writing to tell my story and other stories and to tell all shared and individual experiences of struggle, pleasure and joy. Recently, I co-edited a book ‘The Color of Hope” on people of color mental health narratives. While I got to tell my story of growing up with a depressed mother, I got an opportunity to share many other narratives that focused on depression, borderline personality disorders, suicide and the other mental health struggles of my people.

As a yogi, I just want to push my body to go beyond anything I ever expected it to do for me. With every toe lift, or every downward dog that I can achieve and hold for five breathes, it’s the radical act of overcoming any doubt that I placed on practicing yoga before now.

3. What has been your biggest challenge and how do you overcome it?

All my life I had to overcome the self-doubt that I placed on myself from others opinion about me. Ever since I can remember being a child, someone has always told me that there were aspects of myself that were ‘wrong’. I was either ‘too black’, I was ‘too big’, or ‘too country’, or ‘too whatever’. When you are constantly faced with those things, they seep into your being, and it blocks you from achieving the best parts of life. I had to grow confident of the gifts that I knew I possessed and to take pride in what others felt were shameful. Through self-care and improving my own positive self-conception, I learned to lean deeply into myself.

4. What book would you recommend everyone should read?

“All about Love” by bell hooks. I call it my bible and keep it by my bed. She gives so much purposeful advice about loving oneself, and putting the appropriate boundaries for self-preservation without blocking your heart off from love.

5. Who’s your favorite writer/ yogi and why?

My favorite writer is James Baldwin. He was one of the first serious writers that I encounter as a teenager. His essays were some of the first pieces of work that I read that held up a mirror to White America by one its Native Sons. Additionally, the imagery in his fictional work is beautiful. The way he described his characters felt very realistic and raw. His characters did not have these redeeming qualities-- instead he presented them as the way they were, without satisfying the reader who wanted a beautiful story at the end.

As a yogi, I am inspired by Jessaym Stanley, Dana Falsetti and Valerie Sagun. They make me feel like it’s possible to get to the level I want to be as a fluffy yogi. They are inspiring.

6. Do you have a creative wellness practice? Something creative that you do to encourage yourself to take better care of yourself?

Absolutely! I am a mental health professional, doula, and prison abolitionist. In order to keep that work going, I have to utilize self-care strategies.

I enjoy exercising and taking different classes that moves my body. Belly dancing is my new favorite class. I also love Aqua Total Body Fitness, and Zumba. I enjoy journaling and doodling my thoughts and ideas, sitting still while burning Kush incense, blowing bubbles to be in sync with my breathing, and I enjoy doing yoga moves in my living room to my Makeba and Aretha records on my record player.

Additionally, every summer I gather several Black Women together for my Summer for the Sistas project (www.summerforthesistas.com), where we write love letters of encouragement, beauty and positive self-conception to other sistas, and then I mass produce them. It’s such a healing and soothing creative wellness project.

7. Is there anything else you'd like to add regarding your work?

Yes. I have learned over the years that at the end of the day, supporting and showing up for myself first makes it possible to do this work for others. I encourage all practitioners to do so as well.