TO LIVE + S.L.A.Y. (SELF-LOVE AND YOGA) WITH TEACHER, ADRIANA ADELE
It was an overcast afternoon, yet still one to appreciate during this new transition into fall, when I went to meet Adriana Adelé for tea and a conversation about her experiences as a yoga instructor. I first came across Adriana’s work on Instagram during a search to find a yoga studio and instructor to begin practicing with. As a black woman myself, Adriana’s account was one that instantly stood out to me for connection. She curates great images featuring yoga and travel + quirky morning weather reports on her daily stories… But with her long-form captions of promoting self-care and highlighting her passions for creating within the yoga space, it’s clear that she is very knowledgeable of this area of wellness that I have been looking to get into. Naturally, I reached out to Adriana to learn more about her story and the philosophies that have empowered her to thrive within her profession.
In our time together, I was introduced to Adriana’s plants (she has an estimated 40 total), her snow-white Pitbull named Almond Butter, and to her current lifestyle, intentions, and interests including a briefing on her love for Outkast + her artistic set of André 3000 and Big Boi drink coasters. We also wandered the unique blocks of her South Philly neighborhood, taking photos as she demonstrated some basic yoga poses along with some more advanced ones she’s recently learned. Below are the visuals + a look into Adriana's journey with the yoga practice, her views on balancing healthy lifestyles, and her amazing contributions to the Philadelphia yoga community.
My name is Adriana Adelé. I am 29 years old. My main thing right now is that I teach yoga in Philadelphia. I was born in the Virgin Islands, in St. Thomas, so I’m very biased that it’s the most beautiful place in the entire world... But I wasn’t there for very long until my family moved to Atlanta, where I grew up. I went to school in Ohio at Oberlin, which is a small liberal arts college. I moved to California, with my then-boyfriend, and then I moved to Philly about six years ago. Now I’m here, just trying to navigate what it means to be a woman of color in what today is... And just trying to live my best life — a life of meaning with the level of integrity that I feel is right for me.
ON PRACTICING + TEACHING YOGA…
In high school and college, all of my friends took yoga as an easy 1-credit class which, looking back, would have been really nice for me... But instead I started to dabble in it by going to a couple classes at places like the YMCA. When I was in college, I had a friend who I would look up yoga poses with in the Yoga Journal, and we would teach each other. It wasn’t until I moved to Oakland after college that I got a little more serious and actually started practicing. After I moved to California, I was really far away from my support system, and my friends, and I was just really looking for community and movement. I was also dealing with an autoimmune disorder which was totally undiagnosed at that time… So I think, subconsciously, my body was just looking for a practice of healing. There was a studio that was three or four blocks away from my house and I started going there — it was right next to the coffee shop that I worked in at the time. The studio let me do work exchange, because yoga can get really expensive. I would enter the waivers and clean mats, then I got to do unlimited yoga which is how I really started to spend my time. (That was in 2011.)
I didn’t even think about doing teacher training until about 4 years into practicing. It wasn’t until I found, what’s now, my home studio in Philly — Three Queens Yoga that I really started my teacher training to deepen my practice. At first, I had no desire to teach yoga... The idea of even standing up in front of a class of only like 5 people made me very nervous... But I went through the teacher training process, and it was totally transformative to who I am now. The only reason why I am teaching yoga is because my mentor, Mariel Freeman, one day after class, called me over and was like, “You need to teach yoga.” Mentors have a way of seeing things in you that you do not see yourself — that’s what makes a great mentor. She put me on the schedule for classes to teach at the Hotel Palomar in Center City. It was kind of like my yoga practice itself — there was like a calling in my heart that told me to keep coming back despite the fact that after every class I wanted to cry thinking, “I’m terrible, I’m so bad at this.” That self-doubt would come up every single day, but I just kept going and kept teaching to whoever was in the room. I think now I’m starting to see what that desire in my heart was. It was to share a practice that has changed my world view and shaped how I take care of myself and how I’m in relationship with other people.
ON THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF YOGA…
There are so many health benefits to yoga! It can be healing and very good for you. A lot of people come to yoga for the physical aspect, often thinking of it as a way to make the body more flexible... But when I started, it was actually to make my body stronger because I was pretty flexible to begin with. So building strength — yoga can be a great way to build strength.
I also think that one of the biggest health benefits is that you get time to connect with your body; to connect with your breath and connect with your body. Today so many of us are, just, busy. We’re busy, we have stressful lives, there’s a lot going on... And we can go days, weeks, or a really long time without just thinking about our breath. This can leave us feeling really disconnected from our bodies... And when we feel disconnected from our bodies, it’s hard to listen to our bodies. For me, that’s one of the biggest health benefits, but people can use it for a lot of different things.
The mental benefits are also huge. It creates a time and space to focus can help with anxiety, it can help with depressive symptoms... And not to make it sound like a cure-all, but yoga can be what you make it. There are so many options like restorative yoga, gentle hatha yoga, and different ways to do yoga. When you find a teacher that’s right for you and your access point into the practice, then it can be life-changing.
ON YOGA PHILOSOPHIES TO CARRY OUT INTO THE WORLD…
The style of philosophy that I’ve been trained in is Rajanaka Tantra, which is the ‘yoga of the householder.’ Rather than yoga that’s meant to take you away from the world, like to go sit on a mountain top and isolate yourself, it’s meant to be IN the world. There are so many great teachings and philosophies like the Yamas and the Niyamas that are ethical, guiding principals for the way we treat ourselves and those we are in relationship with in the world. Anytime I feel lost, I like to come back to those teachings. Then there’s the idea of Svadhyaya, which is ‘self-study.’ It requires you to look at yourself and know yourself so that you can know how you interact with the world and be aware of what pushes your buttons, how you react to stress, how you react to challenge. Another one is the idea that yoga is the invitation to greatness. It’s not about success in the way that society has defined it, but more about what greatness looks like to you and how to get closer to your version of greatness.
Also in the style of philosophy I come from, is the divine (however you define that — God, the Universe, etc.) shows itself as diversity... And that’s something to be celebrated. It’s not like, “This person is different from me and that’s a problem.” But more like, “Wow, this person has blue hair? That’s awesome. This person is from a different culture? That’s great.” That’s just whatever is ‘up there’ showing us the infinite possibility... And I think it’d be really cool if the world held on to that a little bit more right now. In that, it’s been teaching me that there’s no one-right-way. I think we get really caught up in the idea of doing everything the “right” way but we just need to consider if we’re doing things the right way for us. There’s definitely a wrong way, but there’s no one-right-way. That takes away a little bit of judgement towards other people and yourself. Your version of greatness doesn’t need to look like the person next to you, and if it did, it may not even be authentic.
ON ADAPTING A BALANCED, HEALTHY LIFESTYLE…
I think the key is knowing yourself... Knowing when to push yourself, when to take a break and take care of yourself, when to remove yourself from a situation. I think we get really caught up in like a go, go, go, mentality which can be totally beneficial at the appropriate times — you’ve gotta pay your bills, go to work, take care of your kids... There are things you have to do, but you don’t have to overdo it. So knowing yourself and what works for yourself, knowing that balance is not a fixed-point. Your external stressors aren’t going to look the same every single day. Some days self-care might look like a face mask and a pedicure, and some days self-care towards a balanced lifestyle is having a really uncomfortable conversation with someone so that you can set the boundaries that you need in your life. Balanced healthy-living that is often overlooked is the tough stuff and being really honest with yourself about your habits like, impulse shopping, overspending, and budgets. Like if I was to sit down and look at my budget for plants that I’ve spent recently... That would be hard for me, but it’s something that I need to do to create balance in a holistic way in my life.
Also, looking at health and wellness beyond just the physical. The physical can be really important... But an example one of my instructor uses is if you can do a one-arm handstand in the middle of the room, cool... But if you leave the studio and you’re an asshole to the next person you meet, then you might not be doing this right. Realizing that there is a mental, spiritual, and emotional aspect to our health and wellness.
ON MEMORABLE LESSONS AS A TEACHER…
To meet people where they are. I think that’s really important — whether it’s in a pose or the way you convey the information. Which is hard for me to explain because sometimes that can lead into respectability politics and trying to make yourself palatable, and that’s not what I’m trying to say... But meeting people where they are, knowing that there are self-perceived limitations that people walk into the room with and learning how you can give people the support that they need to feel comfortable while also giving them the option to challenge themselves.
ON THE LOCAL YOGA COMMUNITY…
I love how vast the yoga community is in Philadelphia. It’s not just one thing; there’s so much here... It’s got a lot of variety, there’s everything. There are people doing a lot of great work in the yoga community. You can take it as deep as you want to. There’s definitely space for the more corporatized, sanitized, yoga... But there are so many options, a lot of diversity.
Right now I practice at Three Queens, it’s my home studio where I’ve done my two trainings and assistant teacher training. I practice there with Mariel Freeman and a lot of other amazing teachers. I also practice at Maha with Justicia, she’s a wonderful teacher. I’m kind of lazy so I don’t get out to other studios as much as I want to or probably should, but that’s one of my goals... To get out of my comfort zone and practice with other teachers I don’t normally see.
The other great thing about the Philadelphia yoga community is that there’s so much free yoga. Especially in the summer, there’s probably free yoga every single day. There’s a very giving spirit to the Philadelphia yoga community!
ON THE GIRLS WHO S.L.A.Y PROJECT…
Girls Who S.L.A.Y. came about recently when I was getting my 500-hour certification. My mentor is an entrepreneur; she’s the Owner of Three Queens Yoga studio and co-owns the coffee shop, Shot Tower Coffee. She’s very entrepreneurial so we had to do a project to show something we actually did in the community at the end of our training. I initially came up with a lot of ideas like retreats and an online series until I decided that I’m kind of over adults and wanted to invest more in kids. That quote, “Be who you needed when you were a child,” inspired me. When I look back at everything I went through from that awkward age of 11 to 14 age to where I am now, it would be really cool to have the tools that I have now. I think about what I’ve been recently learning about self-discovery, and boundaries, and getting to know yourself... And it’s like, why am I just learning this in my 20s? It would have been really great to learn this around 11 or 14. That’s where idea for the camp came from. It also came from the fact that I have an amazing network of wellness women in my life and I felt like if everyone could donate 2 to 3 hours of their time, we could make something really cool.
I partnered with an organization in the city called Roots to Rise. They do yoga in community centers, schools, libraries, recovery centers, all around. Their whole mission is to bring yoga to where there isn’t access to it, so it was like a perfect partnership in that way. Girls Who S.L.A.Y. ended up being a week-long camp that we ran out of Cobbs Creek Recreation Center. If you look at a map of the median household incomes in Philadelphia, you can probably imagine where the map has over $100K households, which are color-coded green, and ones that are under $20K, which are color-coded red. Then if you look at a map where all of the yoga studios are, they’re all in the green places... So we chose Cobbs Creek because there aren’t many yoga studios in that area.
The mission behind Girls Who S.L.A.Y. was to introduce the aspects of yoga, health, wellness and self-love (S.L.A.Y. stands for Self-Love And Yoga) to whoever wanted to be there and step into that... And to remove as many barriers to access as possible. We did a fundraiser over the summer and raised enough money so that we could have all of the supplies we would need in order to keep the registration cost down to $50, which we felt was pretty in line for what the recreation center normally does. We also had scholarships available for some of the girls. It was a really amazing experience. Every day we started off with Gianna from Get Fresh Daily, who’s doing amazing work in the school system. We started off by making a green smoothie every morning, and throughout the week the girls learned how to make their own... We did yoga and had workshops of meditative beading where we made African waist beads... We had a vision board session... We went on nature walks... We had Adjua Fisher from Reap Wellness come in and she made guacamole that the girls loved. The mission was to give them an opportunity to learn these tools, that some of them already had experience with and some hadn’t, and to be able to incorporate at least one of those things into their lives when situations arise somewhere down the line. Whether it was journaling, gratitude work, or little things like that.
ON CREATIVE OUTLETS…
As you can probably see, plants have been one of my things over the past year or so. It’s been very similar to my yoga practice. I just started and didn’t really ask questions about why I enjoy it so much. I think plants is a weird creative outlet, but I’ve been finding it really enjoyable. It’s a really quiet meditative time to get to know another living being and care for it.
This isn’t going to sound actually creative either, but I’m a bullet journal-er. It’s like a freeform planner where you write out our own monthly schedule, and you can add in any other information that you want. I track how much I’ve been meditating and I’ve got a little spot for gratitude, and I’ve got pages about plants... That’s been something that’s been really nice. I was really creative in high school and college, I studied abroad and had a minor in Studio Art. After college I kind of stepped away from that artistic side of myself, so it’s been a nice slow way back in. I’ve been recognizing that I’m in need of some more creative outlets so I think I’m going to get back into drawing which will be fun.
I also use Instagram as a creative outlet. Some of the pictures I have are taken of me, but I’ve gotten really into insta-blogging with really long captions about yoga philosophy and how we can bring it into our daily lives and what I’ve been thinking about that I want to share. I love poetry, and recently wrote my first poem in a very long time that I posted on Instagram. It’s like my place to scream into the void. I also love to cook! It’s one of my greatest joys. I love it so much. It’s my time to kind of glance at a recipe, but then do whatever I want to do with it.
ON THE IDEAL SUNDAY…
I’m torn. I want to say I would sleep in, but I teach a 9 AM Basics yoga class that I love... So depending on how I’m feeling, I’d teach that class. I’d also take yoga with my mentor who teaches on Sundays. I would go to a farmer’s market (assuming I’m in Philly, because going to the beach in St. Thomas would always be ideal for me)... At the farmer’s market, I’d walk around looking at produce, I’d buy some flowers, maybe stop by a plant store. I’d come home and play with my plants for a bit. I’d walk my dog, Almond Butter. Then I’d cook a good meal. Now that it’s fall, I’m really into stews, soups, and really hearty stuff. Then I’d sit on the couch and watch some TV. Right now I’m re-watching Game of Thrones, I also like really funny stuff... I can re-watch 30 Rock and The Office until I know every single word... A little bit of reality TV on Bravo, like the show Below Deck. I’d also probably meditate earlier in the day and spend some time bullet journaling... Just get my mind right, get my body feeling good, get ready for the week, make some good food and relax.