Empowering Women Series: Octavia Raheem

Empowering Women Series: Octavia Raheem

What is an empowering woman? Immediate words that often come to mind are attributes like strong, courageous, genuine, and influential. But when you look up the actual definition of empower, it means to make someone else stronger and more confident; to give power to another. That is what an empowering woman does above all else - she instills power, strength, and confidence in others. We are surrounded by so many incredible women at KiraGrace, and we want to share a piece of their stories and characters with YOU in the hope that they will empower you the same way they’ve done for us. We will be highlighting different women who inspire us, challenge stereotypes, and are just, well, fabulous!

For the seventh issue of our Empowering Women Series, we interviewed the extraordinary Octavia Raheem. This amazing woman is a Yoga Alliance experienced registered teacher, wife, mama, avid reader and writer. Octavia co-owns Sacred Chill {West}, a refuge in the bustling city of Atlanta. She is the creator of two separate brands: CHILLshop® yoga, and Starshine &Clay Yoga Retreats. To date, Octavia has taught over 7,500 hours of yoga in studio, corporate and private settings. With more than ten years of teaching in the public and nonprofit sector, and over ten years of teaching yoga, Octavia brings an unparalleled professionalism, mindfulness and depth to the study and practice of yoga whether she is leading classes, retreats or training teachers. Her very real and everyday life gives her a deep appreciation for the ongoing process of human development as well as provides her with tremendous raw material to study, teach, guide others and live from.

Sacred Chill West

We’re so excited to be able to feature Octavia in our Empowering Women series, and we loved learning more about what inspires her both in her yoga practice and her daily life . . .

KG – How and why did you start practicing yoga?

OR - For years I’d remembered that I started yoga on January 9, 2003 as a way to recover from an unhealthy and soul crushing relationship. And that’s true. Recently I remembered the very very first yoga class I took at least three years before that day that I readily remember. It was a class at my university, so that would have been 1999/ 2000. I remembered beginning with a sense of curiosity, feeling awkward, yet loving the release I felt in savasana.

KG – What has challenged you the most in your yoga practice? And what challenges has yoga helped you overcome?

OR -Asana or the physical practice is a big part of what yoga is in the West right now. When I started, I would focus on how to get a pose “just right”. That emphasis led me to sometimes mindlessly push beyond boundaries or to hang back out of fear of not getting it “right.” As my practice deepened, I realized that yoga is so much more than the physical body. That realization was eye opening. Yoga’s a way to be in honest relationship with ourselves (this includes the body, mind, heart, emotions, soul -even) and others.

I used to be afraid of being seen and heard. I grew up a poor black woman in the rural south and internalized that the safest way to be is invisible or quiet--- to in some sense, get out of the way in order to avoid becoming a greater target than I’d already experienced being. Practicing yoga begged me to see and listen to myself. Every time I set my feet on my mat, I meet more of me. I honor more of me. When I began teaching yoga- my quiet voice emerged as a clear and steady stream or roar. I’d open my mouth and realize I had something to say and it was worthy of being spoken and heard.

KG – What is an essential part of your day?

OR - An essential part of my day: breakfast, snuggles, and book reading with my 2.5 year old son. A day is empty without our morning ritual. No matter how many moving parts are flying, I maintain that ritual because so much of what I do is motivated and inspired by the love of and for my family. Another essential to my day is pausing to practice yoga nidra {remotely} with one of my teachers and another badass empowered woman, Tracee Stanley.

Sacred Chill West

KG – What is your mindset when you step onto your mat?

OR - In college and my 20’s I took my practice for granted. I was only responsible for myself. I’d practice everyday, sometimes take double classes and rarely acknowledged the gift it was to have the time, resources, energy, and space to practice so consistently. As a studio/business owner, mama, and partner every single practice is carved out like a precious stone.It’s not as easy to get to it, even though I prioritize it. So when I step on my mat. I exhale. I bow. I acknowledge that I made it and I offer gratitude for the opportunity to be a student and practice every single time.

KG – What do you want your students to take away from their practice with you?

OR - I want my students to remember they are whole. I want my students to use yoga to explore balance, alignment, integrity, and truth in action in the way they engage their bodies. I want my students to take that wholeness and those qualities out into their communities- NOW.

KG  Can you describe the community you’ve created with Sacred Chill {West} SCW?

OR - I co-own my yoga studio with Meryl Arnett. Together we have created a yoga and meditation studio that is one of the most diverse and inclusive in the nation. We know that yoga is not one size fits all, yet we often see the contrary projected outwardly. We have many students who’ve said that they yoga wasn’t for them because they were too ____________ (fill in the blank) until they came to SCW and experienced teachers and students who looked like them, were real, and welcoming. We also focus on the chill aspects of yoga: Restorative, meditation, yin. Our flow classes aren’t about “sticking a pose” or performance. It’s about experiencing and noticing what is. We are a place where people know one another by name. Where we refer to one another as squad. Where our yoga is as much about connecting deeply to self as it is to reaching out to one another.

Sacred Chill West

KG – What is your favorite yoga pose of the moment?

OR - Can I share two? Plank and savasana are my favorite poses right now. I am so into embodied experience that allow me to dance along the edges of strength and softness, effort and ease, holding on and letting go. Those two poses allow me to do just that.

KG – Why is yoga important to the times we’re living in?

OR - Yoga reveals. Collectively we are in a time where so much is being revealed to so many.

Yoga is a tool and practice that can support us in being able to deeply witness, see, and feel what makes us uncomfortable. Yoga is a revolutionary practice. In my personal experience, the deeper I dive, the more it shakes up my inner “status quo” the part of me that wants to stay in some comfortable or habitual pattern even if it doesn’t serve my greater good. See, yoga disrupts and pulls apart- this is some of the way it reveals. It also supports us in coming back together, building our muscle of {fierce} compassion, and peace. We need all of that right now.

KG – What makes you feel empowered?

OR - I recently co-led a Starshine & Clay Yoga Retreat for Women of Color with my sister/friend Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts. One evening we held a talking circle. An open space for women to share their dreams, hopes, and fears. 42 of us women sat in a circle, listened with our whole hearts. 42 of use spoke truths that many of us hadn’t said out loud to anyone before. Holding space in a circle for powerful, vulnerable, real women to dream and speak aloud without fear of judgement or shame- that- that makes me feel empowered.

Sacred Chill West

KG – What accomplishment or aspect of your work are you most proud of?

OR - I didn’t start out with a lot more than my vision, grit, and whole bunch of prayers. I am most proud that I am able to identify my inner and outer resources and assets- every challenging experience, every rejection, every class no one showed to, every class 60 people showed to, community, authentic connections- I could go on- experiences are resources. I am proud that I am able to use what I have to create more space, access, resource, visibility for other women like me who may be starting off with simply a vision, grit, and a whole bunch of prayers. I am proud that I have transformed what many may have deemed “not enough”, to even get started into something much more than the sum of the parts.

KG – What inspires you to write?

OR - Once I moved beyond my hiding and being silent in hopes that it would protect me from the glare and ridicule of others I realized that if I don’t tell my story, someone else would? Indeed, daily, someone is actually telling a propagated tale about women who look like me. It’s so important for those of us who have been marginalized to share/tell how it actually is with us. To counter the narratives about us that does not reflect our truth.

KG – How has being a mother changed your outlook on life?

OR - My labor was long, natural, intense, and powerful. And not only did I survive it. I brought another person into the world through it and re-birthed myself in the process. The moment my son entered the world I literally looked at my husband, midwife, and doula and said “DID Y’ALL SEE THAT! I can do ANYTHING! I mean anything! They have lied to me and all women through all time. Our softness- our ability to be pulled apart, yet not break- makes us the flyest humans. Women are f$cking strong! I… I can do anything!”

Yes I said all of that or something like that immediately following giving birth- ha!

So in short, becoming a mama awakened me to a level of strength, expanded my capacity to navigate through deep discomfort in order to create. Motherhood has also magnified my already urgent sense that we ALL have to make this world a better place for our children, and children’s children- for our future.

Sacred Chill West

KG – Do you have a favorite quote you live by?

OR - It’s more like a poem I live by. I carried this poem in my pocket or purse for a long time. Then I memorized it. Here’s a part of it:

“what did i see to be except myself?

i made it up

here on this bridge between

starshine and clay,

my one hand holding tight

my other hand; come celebrate

with me that everyday

something has tried to kill me

and has failed.”

― Lucille Clifton 

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our others like: "Empowering Women Series: Sianna Sherman," "Empowering Women Series: Christina Sell," The Art of Aging Gracefully: Issue 3", and "The Art of Aging Gracefully: Issue 2."