As a podcaster for justice, I stand with my sisters from the Women of Color Podcasters Community. We are podcasters united to condemn the tragic murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and many others at the hands of police. This is a continuation of the systemic racism pervasive in our country since its inception and we are committed to standing against racism in all its forms.
This week I interviewed Lauren DeVera, certified positive psychology practitioner, yoga + mindfulness teacher, movement artist, host of the Thrive and Thread podcast, and life coach. Daughter of Filipino immigrants, Lauren lives in Alexandria, Virginia and grew up in a blended family with six older half-siblings. Because her siblings were much older, Lauren felt like an only child.
She grew up speaking English and Spanish, and her parents only spoke Tagalog (the native language of the Philippines) when they were arguing. As a result, she associated hearing Tagalog with anger and pain. When her parents divorced when she was in fifth grade, she moved from a suburban home to a low-income apartment with just her mom.
Starting ballet at an early age, she grew up in the dance world, dancing five days a week.
Lauren never felt like she fit in with other Filipinos. Her half-siblings were born in the Philippines and had already established a family dynamic, so she didn’t know how to fit in.
She remembers when her step-grandmother would take her to the bus stop and compliment all the white girls. That made an imprint on her. “For the longest time, I wanted to be white.”
She loves being Filipina, but also notes differences in the way she views the world. For example, she notes the popularity of soap that makes your skin whiter and paler.
Juro Ongkiko, a Filipino photographer who created an Instagram project to encourage appreciation of dark skin, commented, “It’s been 120 years since our colonizers left the country, and we’re still holding on to their beauty standards.” Colorism, or discrimination because of someone’s skin tone, began during Spanish colonization from the 16th to the 19th century, when lighter-skinned Spaniards had power over darker-skinned Filipinos.
As Lauren has gotten older, she’s realized she doesn’t know much about her culture and family history. Her mom is half-Polish, so it wasn’t a typical Filipino household. With her family dynamic and not being able to speak their native tongue, Lauren always felt like “the other.” Now she realizes that feeling manifested in a positive way because she is passionate about creating space for other people to feel like they belong.
She also felt people treated her as mixed and exotic, carrying multiple labels. As a result, “With the people I’m supposed to feel safe with, I don’t feel safe.”
Lauren now sees incredible grit and resilience in her own mother. It took a lot of years to forgive her parents for certain things in her life, but now she views them through the lens of compassion.
When money was tight, her mom advocated for her and worked around the clock so she could keep dancing. She fully supported Lauren’s dance and the artist within her.
When Lauren moved from ballet and modern dance to hip hop, it opened up the opportunity to have more freedom with her body, instead of limiting herself to doing the same choreography over and over.
Since earning her bachelor’s in dance from Old Dominion University in 2010, she has performed and taught at the Kennedy Center, the Howard Theatre, Dance Place DC, Culture Shock DC, World of Dance, Carnival, BET, and the CW Network.
At the same time, she also worked full-time at a variety of jobs. In 2013, she got accepted for a dance program in LA and quit her stable job with benefits to pursue teaching dance full-time. In the small pocket of time she wasn’t insured, she tore her ACL a month before she was supposed to go to LA. In that horrible year, her mom also moved cross-country to California and Lauren’s relationship ended. That’s when her resilience and grit showed up yet again.
Forced to find another job with benefits because of her torn ACL, she took a job at a credit union but got fired because of a toxic work environment. But Lauren believes everything happens for a reason. Then she worked at a large church for nearly a year, taking care of new people coming into the church.
She has taught dance consistently since 2010, but she realized she wanted to start a class where people who love choreography and street dancers could drop in and take classes. In 2016 she quit her full-time job again to create The Lion’s Den and Bahay Base with her partner at the time. Unfortunately, her partner did not take good care of the business and a few years later they had to close the studio and move out within 3 days. Not only did she lose her space, but she also lost the community and felt shame from the business ending in 10 months.
That summer she decided to do something for herself. Spending 10 days in New York studying yoga and dance, Lauren made a new commitment to bring back her dance class. She thought,
“I can do this. I don’t need the people I thought I needed in my corner.”
The first night of her new dance class, 25 people showed up. That lit the match for something massive to grow. The Lion’s Den got legitimized and became an LLC. She also launched Mind Move Matter to focus on yoga and mindfulness. Once COVID hit, Lauren’s yoga, meditation, and barre classes went online within a few days. Now her students come from all over the world, thanks to their quick pivoting.
I marveled at the way Lauren has kept rebooting herself over and over again, and I asked her where she got that from. She is interested in personality tests, and we soon discussed our extensive overlaps in that area! Lauren is an ENFP (campaigner), and I am an ENFJ (protagonist). Her signature strengths are strategic, futuristic, belief, and input; mine are input, strategic, positivity, communication, and ideation. Lauren commented on a certain energy we have in common, and we shared how energized we both were as young people to start and lead things.
Being able to reboot and be resilient is a form of privilege, because not everyone has that innate resilience. It’s hard to train someone in how to be that way. We also both had parents who believed in us, so that contributes to innate resilience.
Lauren knew what she wanted to do at a much younger age than me. She left corporate America because she values freedom, flexibility, and creativity.
“Now I’ve been able to build the type of community that I wish was there for me...and making dance accessible regardless of whether you want to be a professional or not. The mission is this: dance is an expression, and you don’t need to be training to be a professional to do it. You do it because it feels good and it’s empowering and you learn so much from dance...confidence, discipline, and owning your body...owning and really loving it regardless of what it looks like.”
Lauren said when she was working in a corporate office space, she always had an idea for how things could be better.
“I’m sure you were that way too. If we weren’t in spaces that nourished that, it felt suffocating. It felt like we weren’t valued, and that puts a real damper on your self-esteem and it just makes you angry...”
Being an entrepreneur gives us the chance to create spaces that are welcoming and supportive...doing business in a respectful, compassionate way. This fall Lauren launched a podcast, Thrive and Thread, in which she’s able to share meditations, mindfulness, and inspiration.
Lauren and I discussed her struggles with polycystic ovarian syndrome, and I asked her how she feels about what’s going on in the United States right now, specifically Black Lives Matter.
Lauren’s engaged to a Black man in law enforcement. In the summer she witnessed him coming home and hearing their friends say things like “f*ck the police.” He didn’t know how to respond. Lauren believes that things are coming to light and none of this is new. People and organizations are being exposed, and a pruning is happening. Lauren and I are part of an entrepreneur Facebook group where this reckoning has happened. It’s going to take beyond our lifetime to mend the problems.
“It really comes down to everyone’s individual character...the deep ingraining of people’s hearts...and how do we retrain hearts? So it’s definitely on all of us as individuals to do our part and keep being the best human beings and show love and compassion...I think more of us need to do the work, or at least be aware of the work that needs to be done.”
I asked Lauren how her faith integrates with her feelings about justice. We share a faith in a radical Jesus.
“Since sin has been on this earth, there has been injustice in every capacity...we live in a fallen world and an f’d-up world, and I think every person has a purpose they serve. And within our own purpose, we can start to heal each other. We can start to create the peace that we’re all longing for.”
I asked Lauren about a grit and resilience story that inspires her, and said she is in awe of both her parents. Her dad is almost 80 but still working and still pushing, has done everything to provide for his children and still give.
His generosity amazes her. He has survived prostate cancer, and her mom has survived breast cancer and a quadruple bypass.
“Just honoring and respecting what immigrant parents have done to get here and provide for their children...it inspires me to be the best person I can be.”
Lauren is committed to empowering, educating, and equipping humans to flourish through mindfulness, movement, and mentorship. She helps folks banish burnout and live a life on purpose.
Next I interview Madison Ways, my youngest guest yet. Madison is a junior in high school trying to figure out her life after the death of her father. Her friends didn't understand or feel comfortable with her grief and weren't very nice to her at a time when she needed them most. She’s been trying to rebuild a new life for herself focusing on her schoolwork and developing a strong passion for social justice. She has cultivated a huge TikTok following (60.6 thousand followers) with some controversial posts around inclusion, diversity, and politics...and since her dad’s death, she’s come out as a lesbian.
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