Celebrating Black History Month with Damithia Nieves

Damithia Nieves (she/they), Founder of Thrive Yoga and The Mindful Mentors Project

What is your current role?

I am the Founder of Thrive Yoga, which will be changing to Thrive Centered. Sound Discipline has been a supporting partner for a program I created called The Mindful Mentors Project in the Tukwila School District. This is a somatic-based SEL program for local high school students who undergo an 8-week reciprocal-learning based training. The training teaches foundations of trauma informed care, contemplative embodiment practices, mindfulness, foundations of Ruler Social Emotional Curriculum, social emotional learning, storytelling and more. They then co-facilitate, with an adult guide, small group mentoring sessions for elementary school students that include movement, mindfulness, and social emotional skill building.

How does social emotional learning (SEL) inform your work?

An aspect of Yoga is body wisdom. It’s one way to communicate body wisdom. It is necessary for us to know ourselves and know what’s going on in ourselves in a way that allows us to interact with other folks, which can be distilled to this idea of embodiment. Yoga helped me to better  understand myself through getting reacquainted with my body, my awareness.

Western society in general is so disembodied. The energy is all neck up – what can you see, taste and touch, not what can you feel. We need integrated connection with the body mind and spirit. We are whole beings but are expected to separate these parts of ourselves to…survive really. I believe that for any SEL tools to be supportive they must be shared in a way that recognizes and honors the wholeness of us all.

SEL is a practice of how we BE together in ways that are generative and supportive on a daily basis. It’s how we create our community.

What brought you to your current role?

I have been working with young people in some form my whole life. I love it. I really do. So, when I got to a point in my practice where I wanted to teach, I knew I wanted to work with young people.

In my own experiences as a Black woman, and as a Latina, I did not see myself represented and that was a driving factor for me wanting to teach. Even looking back on my experiences in education and growing up, I realized that yoga would’ve been such a benefit to me if I had access to it at a younger age.

We see SEL work as liberation work. What are your thoughts?

Being liberated or liberation work… this movement and the direction is toward this place where people can show up as who they are in all moments. There are so many levels beyond just SEL, but at the crux of it is, can we move through the world as we are, in a way that’s free. I can’t speak for all SEL, but if you’re moving through a liberatory frame, it’s that same goal.

When we talk about feelings, it’s not what should we feel, it’s what are we feeling. What is going on with me? Whatever that is in that moment is ok. I do not have to subscribe to someone else’s idea for me. I can be who. I. am.

When folks would hear that we do mindfulness or yoga, they think we’re going to help everyone calm down and relax. Maybe. It might also help people find the place where they realize, “Wait a minute, I’m not okay with this.” And then they’ll be able to name it. Just like yoga is a practice, feeling our feelings and being aware of them is a practice as well. We exist in a society that is constantly pushing the narrative that we are not enough, that our value is in what we are able to do and produce. And this is a practice of just being, with our whole selves, moment to moment and learning that that is enough, WE are enough.

Which Black Leaders have influenced your work and life?

Maya Angelou. bell hooks. Reverend angel Kyodo williams. Dr. Jaiya John. The idea of Kingian Nonviolence. I’m just getting into Kingian Nonviolence and recognizing it as a truth I’ve known for a long time.

I’m also influenced by every person I’ve practiced with – teacher, student, and young person – it’s been a huge culmination to who and how I am today.


Damithia was interviewed by Sound Discipline Facilitator Sylvia Hadnot