Phyllicia Bonanno on Yoga for Self-Expression & Personal Growth
The unlikely art form that transformed everything
It was her dedication to yoga that helped Phyllicia Bonanno, better known as @yogi_goddess on the ‘gram, really come into her own. What started out as a physical practice quickly turned into a creative outlet and eventually, a way of life—now the yogi and fine artist teaches yoga and does reiki and sound healing (you can even catch her at our Soho studio!), not to mention teaches art to elementary school kids. She even co-founded an art collective called Sisters of Yoga to celebrate, support and spread awareness about the underrepresented diverse community of yoga teachers and students. A total trailblazer, if you ask us. Phyllicia chatted with us about her journey to yoga and self-acceptance, plus, she curated the perfect playlist for practice!
How did you get into yoga?
In truth I was a huge Madonna fan in high school and loved her Ray of Light album. She was very much into yoga at that time, and it inspired me to give it a try. I would take Bikram classes at the Gold’s Gym a few blocks from my house before heading to school in the morning. I began my yoga practice for the physicality of it all and the fact that the movements seemed to resonate with me more than cardio or any other sports. I was never quite an athlete and was looking for a way that I could get my body moving and like it. I soon realized that the physical is just a small part of what yoga really is.
What made you take the leap from practicing yoga to becoming a yoga teacher?
The yoga studio that I was practicing at had a YTT (yoga teacher training) scholarship. I applied and was honored to receive a full scholarship. When I went into YTT, I honestly did not have the intent to teach—I just wanted to deepen my practice and understanding of yoga. I had practiced with so many amazing teachers and did not think I would be able to compare to them. I was filled with so much doubt and fear that during one of our classes I freaked out. It was my turn to teach the group, and as I was directing them with the movements, my throat closed up, I dashed out of the room and the tears just fell. I could not fathom the thought that students would come to my class and look to me for direction, however, I was blessed to be part of a strong group of women that helped push me and give me space to grow. We all cried and grew together. At the conclusion of my YTT I had the desire to teach and share what I had learned.
Tell us about Sisters of Yoga, the amazing collective that you co-founded! How did it come about?
Sisters of Yoga came about as we saw the ever growing need for diversity in the realm of yoga and the wellness community as a whole. There has been a lack of representation for a long time and we want to bring awareness to the fact that there are women of color teaching and practicing yoga. We offer monthly yoga challenges on Instagram @SistersOfYoga, free meetups, a community online and offline and so much more to come.
In addition to teaching yoga, you’re also a talented artist and teach art to elementary school kids! Where does your love for art come from? How does it play into your yoga practice?
Being a creative is something I was born with and comes to me naturally. I have always been a bit of an introvert, and art has been my way of expressing my emotions and true self. Art making, like yoga, is form of meditation for me. When I create art I prefer to work on a large scale, as I use my whole body with big gestural movements. When I am painting I go into a realm of calm focus that allows me to dig deep and release my truth onto the canvas. For me these movements are very much like yoga—calm, yet full of energy, intention and love.
How has yoga affected your day-to-day life?
Yoga is truly a lifestyle. It has made me mindful in everything I do: eating, speaking, how I treat others, letting go of anger, being patient, being open to new challenges, and the list goes on. I use to hold on to anger deeply and had a lot of resentment toward those who caused me pain and heartache growing up. Through my yoga practice I have learned to recognize and let go of those emotions. I have come to the realization that those moments have only formed me into a stronger being, and now I am thankful for them. The same struggles you go through in your physical practice are aligned with your emotions and life. Coming back to my breath always helps me deal with difficult situations.
You started out doing Vinyasa and now you practice Ashtanga. What about this style of yoga resonates with you more than others?
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good vinyasa flow with music, however, Ashtanga has my heart. I like the order and sequencing of Ashtanga, knowing that every day I practice, no part of my body will be left unloved. As I master postures, new postures are given to me based on my own development. I have an amazing teacher that knows my body 100%, and she knows when I can handle a deeper assist or when I need a modification. In my Mysore practice (one of the ways Ashtanga is taught) I get an individual guidance that was missing from all my vinyasa classes. Also, practicing without music takes away distractions and really helps me focus on my breath. In Ashtanga you build up heat from within using your breath, unlike a hot yoga class that supplies the heat for you.
What has been the most difficult part of your yoga journey and how did you overcome it?
Accepting myself for who I am and what I have to offer and understanding that I am enough and that I am exactly where I need to be. I used to get caught up in comparing myself to others, when I should have been just be focusing on myself. Once I was able to let that go, the growing has come at an expedited pace.