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Finding Yourself Through Yoga


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As the holiday season ramps up, it can be a challenge to find moments of peace in which you can decompress and care for yourself. Today’s guest offers practical advice for starting a yoga practice and her suggestions may surprise you! Even if you’ve never been into mind-body movement, you won’t want to miss hearing the wisdom of Oneika Mays, a multi-hyphenate facilitator and yoga instructor who offers practical tips and authentic engagement to help guide students through self-discovery and self-acceptance.

the transformative power of yoga

Yoga provided a transformative experience for Mays 15 years ago after a loved one was killed in Iraq. Her yoga practice helped her find herself — and fall in love with herself — after years of not doing so fully. “And from that, I fell in love with the world and realized that, as... a black queer woman, I was holding onto some narratives about myself that I didn't wanna necessarily admit and some self-loathing. And when I practiced yoga, I opened myself up and I realized that I could show up just as who I was, and it didn't matter what the world thought of me. And when I did that, I found joy.”

Mays found that her new calling was to share that joy with others. She learned that “the things that we think stop people from loving us are the very things that people will love about us,” because those are often the things that are most interesting about us. 

It’s this self-acceptance and authenticity that Mays brings to her yoga practice and her teaching. “[W]hen I show up to spaces authentically as who I am, I think it ... sets a tone for students to allow themselves to have the experience that they need to have [...] people can show up and do what they need to do for themselves, because I think that's liberation, right? And that's what yoga did for me. It allowed me to liberate myself from being seen a certain way or swallowing stories about myself.”


During her time as a yoga instructor at the Rikers Island jail complex, Mays learned that her work was less about rigid asana instruction (that is, instruction on specific yoga poses) and more about showing up and bearing witness to others’ experiences while living according to her belief that “we can disrupt systems with love.”

Part of her task in this endeavor was to let go of attachment to outcomes or specific definitions of what yoga is. Many of us believe that yoga is only (or mostly) the asanas and flows we see in classes and videos, but more broadly, yoga is a way of life and of “understanding that we’re all connected.” Mays says that yoga “is the way that you move through the world and show up authentically. You being you and showing up in spaces in the way that you are.”

This mindset helps Mays create safe external spaces for her students, but she also emphasizes that “the safe space that we find is inside ourselves, [because] there's no space that we can find that will be 100% safe.” She teaches students they can do this by “recognizing that our own hearts are tender [...] [H]ow can we take care of ourselves? How can we create boundaries for ourselves from harm that either we're doing to other people or other people are doing to us?”


Mays’s advice for those wishing to tap into their spirituality while participating in society is to remember that, although everyone has their own way of showing up, “when we take care of ourselves, when we reflect on our own actions and how we show up in the world, we are making the world a better place.”

Mindfulness is an effective way to care for ourselves, but it can seem daunting, which then leads us to put off starting a practice. Mays suggests starting small, with just five or ten seconds of mindful engagement. There are many ways to be mindful that don’t require sitting in silent contemplation, like rubbing spices between your hands or finding a flower to smell and observe. 

Whether you choose to practice yoga, breath work, or tiny, everyday moments of awareness, mindfulness is a practice that can help you discover and love yourself in ways that can change your life. Tune into the full episode to hear more about the transformative power of yoga as a mindset.

Interested in learning more about the power of yoga to change your life? Check out our episode on resetting your life with Ritu Bhasin.

Listen to this episode to learn about...

  • [1:46] Mays’s journey to self-love through yoga
  • [6:03] Her role as yoga instructor
  • [8:16] Why change means discomfort
  • [13:20] The importance of bearing witness
  • [16:16] The true meaning of yoga as a way of life
  • [18:37] How to love others
  • [20:04] Creating safe spaces
  • [23:27] How to use spirituality to show up in the world
  • [25:10] Mays’s advice for starting a mindfulness practice

Tune into the Members Only episode to learn about Mays’s current book project about her time at Rikers.