Saeeda Hafiz and I met many years ago through the yoga and wellness community in San Francisco. Saeeda is a yoga instructor, author, and wellness educator for the San Francisco Unified School District. The last time that the two of us connected—Saeeda had donated a hundred or so copies of her book, The Healing, for an event I was hosting with an old business partner.
The Healing is a story about a young African-American woman who signs up for lessons in yoga and cooking as a symbol announcing her entrance into the middle class. Little does she know that this self-healing journey will soon bring her face-to-face with inner demons fed by the domestic violence, addiction, and poverty of her youth. But it’s these inner demons that set her on a spiritual path of self-discovery, ultimately leading to transformation. For our conversation, Saeeda shares with me bits and pieces from her memoir—the path that she has been on to get to where she’s at today.
At the beginning of our conversation, Saeeda and I discuss what it means to burn out and no longer participate in practices that were once large identifiers in our lives. After practicing and teaching yoga for nearly 20 years, I tell Saeeda that I no longer do either and sometimes experience feelings of shame when sharing that with others. Saeeda offers her side of a similar story: although she is known for teaching others how to cook, she doesn’t actually enjoy the process of making food. She loves eating healthy nourishing meals, but cooking wouldn’t be her first choice of activities to do for pleasure. In our dialogue, Saeeda and I wrestle with the secrets that so many of us keep because we are afraid of what others will think about us. On this topic, Saeeda describes the way in which she has come to terms with these secrets:
“[First], I had to have the conversation with myself and admit that I don’t like doing the cooking. And that [internal] conversation was its own sort of trip. Then, when I got comfortable within myself of saying ‘oh yeah, this is the actual truth,’ then it was okay . . . [I had to ask myself] how do I either a) hide this from folks or b) talk about it in a way that feels honest and true for me.”
“Once I was able to understand where I stood on all of those levels—having the conversation with myself, having the conversation with someone else—then I was able to write about it and have conversations with larger groups. . . . What I’m finding is that [sharing honestly and vulnerably] allows [other] people to also feel like they don’t have to be perfect and in love with [their identifiers].”
We continue to explore the topics of life purpose and one’s “calling” through a vulnerable lens: even if you are aligned with your life’s work, it doesn’t mean that you are going to love and enjoy it all of the time. Saeeda comments, “I think a lot of times our gut will tell us to take this path but doesn’t reveal everything that’s going to be on that path. Because if we see some scary things—we wouldn’t take it.” Further, she explains how she has come to view the overall journey of her path:
“For me, happiness actually is not the goal although I actually feel very joyful in these sections of my life at this point. Being authentic is the goal for me—am I true in it—as opposed to just reaching for the happiness. I look at the overall journey of my path—what am I supposed to experience in this lifetime—and learn from it and weave it into who I can be authentically. That’s really where my goal is and if I’m happy . . . that’s a great byproduct, but it’s not necessarily my personal goal.”
Saeeda currently works as a health educator for the San Francisco Unified School District. Her primary objective in the role is to interrupt systemic oppression for students so that they can have a fuller life experience. She pulls from her personal history to support this population and believes that zip codes, neighborhoods, or economic backgrounds don’t have to predetermine what kinds of experiences the students are going to have in the world. As Saeeda comes from a family with a history of domestic violence, she uses her own strength and resiliency to help support children in building skills similar to the ones she had to learn from a young age.
The skills of adaptability and courage continue to create the container for how she relates to her gut instinct and intuition. When Saeeda begins to share parts of her experience growing up, she claims, “The way that I look at listening to my gut [is] it’s guiding me on a path to make a turn or change in a certain way or certain area. And again, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to like everything I see when I actually make that decision.” In fact, sometimes it took years for Saeeda to listen to her gut, as was the case for practicing and eventually teaching yoga.
Toward the end of our conversation, Saeeda shares how listening to her gut and following a path of yoga and cooking have given her a holistic perspective in which to heal old wounds. As she discusses the lineage of domestic abuse that took place in her home growing up, she is aware of how her intuition allowed her to “see an interesting part of my family and [to] start looking at what it is that can make me more whole and heal and understand different points of view, even if I don’t agree with them.”
This ability to see truth—and to see it clearly—has influenced Saeeda in charting a new path. A path where she is not following in the footsteps of what was shown to her, but one in which she is willing to speak truths, offer forgiveness, and be her most authentic self.