Anti-Oppression Work in Wellness: An Interview with Constanza Eliana Chinea of Embody Inclusivity
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Constanza Eliana Chinea focuses on Decolonial Education and Journalism in her work at Embody Inclusivity.
I’ve been working with Constanza Eliana for a few years now as she has been mentoring and facilitating the journey I’ve been taking surrounding anti-oppression work. I am really looking forward to sharing this interview we recorded on International Women’s Day about the importance of Anti-Oppression Work in the spiritual community and wellness industry. This is SO important for practitioners, wellness-based business owners, and people of all identities to incorporate as part of their practice.
Ashley Leavy: Hello and welcome. Today I am so excited and honored to have the pleasure of speaking with Constanza Eliana Chinea of Embody Inclusivity whose work focuses on Decolonial Education and Journalism. So Constanza Eliana, thank you so much for being here.
Constanza Eliana Chinea: Hi. Thank you so much for having me.
Ashley: So we’ve been working together for a long time now. I’ve been working with you for a long time now, and I’m really excited to have you on video and on the podcast because this has been something that I’ve been digging into a little bit more and more in my personal life, in my business. You’ve been a huge part kind of helping to shape that journey for me and educate me on the things that I need to look at within myself, within my business, within the way that I kind of operate in the world. And I think that this is such an important thing for us to be talking about in the spiritual community and The Wellness Community, and you have a background and wellness as well as the decolonial work that you do. So I’m wondering if you could just start by telling us a little bit about yourself so that everyone can get to know you a little bit.
Constanza Eliana: Yeah, thank you. Yeah, so I had been in the wellness industry, specifically the yoga industry for about 11 years. So I started off just like many people do just start it off practicing, gradually started thinking about teacher training, and starting to kind of teaching yoga to other people. Graduated from teacher training, and that was about two years after I first started practicing. And then I taught for about nine years, almost 10.
So it’s been a long journey right now towards being more on the decolonization side of things. I think a lot of the experiences that I had in the world of the wellness industry and outside of it, kind of led me towards just being really passionate about anti-oppressive work, anti-racist work, and how decolonization theory and activism can kind of push that forward. I’ve learned a lot along the way. I feel right now having made the shift more towards journalism, I feel like I kind of come full circle in a way where not only am I retelling my own experiences with racism and colonization and all of that. But I’m also able now to tell other people’s stories around marginalization, racism, oppression, and how that affects a person’s lived experience.
So I’m just really grateful for everything that I’ve been through, at the same time, I don’t necessarily want everyone behind me to experience the same things. And so I think a lot of my work is rooted in that foundation of trying to pave a better path for the people that come behind us.
Ashley: So yeah, I think a lot of the terms that you threw out just in that introduction will probably be new to some of our viewers and some of our listeners. They certainly, quite a few of those terms would have been new to me a couple of years ago. I’m wondering if you can just give us a really quick explanation or description of what anti-oppression work is or means to you because I think it can be different for everyone depending on the lens that they’re looking through. And actually, this is one of the reasons that I was really excited to talk to you about this today because in a conversation we were recently having, you kind of explained how anti-oppression work in and of itself is more holistic than just anti-bias work or just anti-racist work because it covers things like of all marginalized identities.
So can you tell us a little bit about what anti-oppressive work is it means to you and why it is so important for those in the spiritual community, the Wellness Community to be looking at this?
Watch the Interview Here:
Constanza Eliana: Yeah. I think anti-oppression work is pretty big. It’s pretty general. And I think that specialties like anti-racism really target the system and impressive structure of racism. Things that are very, very specific are important and they are included in anti-oppressive work. So I think in general, anti-oppression work is more about including all marginalized identities into the table and really understanding how any of us can kind of contribute to that continued depression, whether it’s systemically or individually or interpersonally.
So my introduction to anti-oppressive work actually started through the anti-racist work that I was doing. So I first started learning anti-racism work as a result of all of the racism that I had experienced growing up plus being so entrenched in the yoga industry. One would assume that you wouldn’t run into racism there, but it’s actually really rampant. So, in my personal search for gathering language and understanding around what I was personally experiencing, I started to learn more about the systemic structure of racism.
So I think specialties like really targeted theories are really important because they are a deep dive into something. And then, once you start to, kind of really learn about that, then you start to learn terms like anti-oppression, or anti-bias. All of these theories are also specialties by anti-oppression kind of gathers, all of them. It starts to show you more of a praxis which means education and action combined. So you’re doing both, you’re implementing as you’re learning. It kind of shows you the praxis to integrate into your daily life. So for instance, today is international women’s day and a lot of women are identifying as feminists nowadays. But if there’s no intersectionality combined with that feminism, then it really is just a different form of patriarchy. And so anti-oppression work can help you to see all the ways in which patriarchy and racism and other forms of marginalization compound on top of themselves and you start to learn a new way of operating in the world. A new way of even engaging with other women other feminists if you will.
And so that way you start to see, “Okay, it’s beyond just me it. I also have to understand how this can possibly affect or oppress other marginalized identities under the structure of feminism.” And a lot of feminists don’t do their due diligence to break down even gender bias and the binary of gender and cis people can definitely perpetuate gender norms into their feminist principles or just into their daily lives. A lot of women don’t understand how raising boys a certain way can continue to perpetuate the harm that they themselves have experienced. So in that same thought reference then feminism alone isn’t going to break down the patriarchy, you also need to break down a whole bunch of other systems in order to get the true principles of feminism to actually go down.
So I kind of steer people more towards like these specialties are there for a reason so that you can do the deep dives into those specific things. But in the big picture, we need to do the macro work as well. So not just the micro but also the bigger picture because systems are made up of a lot of different things. Just targeting one, the thing is not, in the long run, going to dismantle the entire system, you have to target all the ways in which that oppressive system operates. So, that’s what anti-oppression means, at least to me.
Ashley: I think this is one of the best things that I have personally learned from working with you is seeing how deeply intertwined and interconnected all of these oppressive systems really are because it’s like you start to pull at one thread. Say you’re pulling at the threat of white supremacy and you’re trying to understand what that is. And you see how it’s interrelated with a lot of forms of feminism. You see how all of these things are connected and you can’t just have one piece.
And I think one of the things that you just said that really stood out to me and rang true for me in the work that I’ve done with you, is that approaching things from this kind of anti-oppressive lens, teaches you a way to sort of zoom out and get that macro view so that you start to shift the way that you think, and the way that you interact. So it has to do so much with the action part of it. As you said, it’s the full praxis, not just the education, but the action. Because of this I can tell you personally, and we’ve talked about this.
This has so deeply impacted not just the way that I work in my business, but the way that I communicate and connect with people in my life that I love, who have marginalized identities. It takes a lot of work, but it’s a deeply transformational thing if you can really stick with it. So now that you’ve kind of given that definition and described it with a great example, like why is this important for people in the spiritual community in the Wellness Community? Why should we be doing this work?
Constanza Eliana: Yeah, I think it’s really important because there are so many people of color that are working in wellness or that are practicing different modalities of wellness. They are experiencing the same level of harm that they would experience anywhere else. It’s an industry anywhere. No matter if it’s cloaked under the umbrella of wellness, or cloaked on the umbrella of fashion, or whatever it might be. How people are outside of that industry is the same way they are inside of the industry. And so what I was realizing is that the reason I was drawn towards wellness it’s because so much harm had been caused to me that I was kind of self-medicating through alcohol. I was disassociating by partying all the time. I was really unhealthy like my body was physically breaking down. And so I was introduced through wellness as a way to kind of reduce a lot of the harm that I was causing to myself.
But once I stepped into the wellness industry, I realized that there are so many things at play like capitalism like patriarchy, like spiritual bypassing, like, appropriation, all of these other ‘ism’ started to come into play. I realized that the wellness industry was not going to help me get away from racism, but it could be a way for me to deal with the effects of racism. So the physical effects that my body was exhibiting, that was good for me personally, but it still wasn’t going to stop other people from being racist. It still wasn’t going to stop the misogyny. It still wasn’t going to stop the appropriation. It wasn’t going to stop a whole lot of things.
So I think I was really disillusioned for a long time by the industry. And what I came to realize is that if people are shown that there is a different way of operating and that harm reduction can exist within your practice. Whatever your practice is, whether it’s yoga massage, therapy. I consider therapy as a part of wellness. Whatever wellness modality it is that you’re in, if you start introducing anti-oppression praxis into what it is that you do, then it becomes a lot more holistic and it becomes a lot more authentic. Because I think a lot of people don’t realize that they are practicing in a way or teaching in a way that isn’t actually authentic to them. They’re kind of playing this part and not enough people understand how that’s not only harmful towards your students or the people who are experiencing that. But it’s also very harmful to you, the person who is doing it.
And so, I think anti-oppression has really taught me to incorporate all the ways, all the systems of depression and how they kind of compound on top of themselves. It really teaches you to not only be critical of the industry that you’re in or other people around you. But it teaches you to be self-critical as well because there are lots of ways in which I have personal privilege even if I am a marginalized person. There are ways in which I have the privilege that if I don’t introspect that if I’m not self-aware of those things then I can perpetuate harm onto other people who are not part of my marginalized identity. That can be really tough work. It’s in the industries of what we call shadow work. A lot of people move away from shadow work because they think it’s negative and you want positive vibes only. That whole idea around positive thinking is going to change your life, blah, blah, blah.
Well, positive thinking didn’t stop racism from happening to me. It didn’t stop other men inside of the wellness industry to be misogynistic towards me. It didn’t stop the xenophobia that I was experiencing and it certainly hasn’t stopped appropriation. So we can think positively as much as we want but we still have to start to break down those barriers that kind of stopped us from causing harm to another person.
And so I think a lot of the time we don’t realize how certain levels of narcissism can kind of come into play in the wellness industry and to the point where it’s all about you. It’s all about you setting boundaries for yourself so that you’re happy. You doing positive thinking for yourself so that you’re a positive person and you can manifest all these things. But then there’s no shadow work in there to see.
Well, what are all of the ways in which I hold privilege and I’m perpetuating that privilege onto a whole group of people that don’t have that privilege? What are all the ways in which I am perpetuating, perhaps, capitalism, or white supremacy? Or all of these other isms around me in ways that I perhaps don’t even understand because I don’t experience them on a daily basis, but I perpetuate them whether it’s consciously or unconsciously. So the practice needs to be there because not only do you have to learn about these things not so you can perform it, not so you can co-opt it. But so that you can actually apply it. And once you do the application, which is the hardest part for most people, it’s very easy to pick up a book and learn and read. It’s very easy to kind of listen to other people’s stories and kind of empathize with them. That’s the easy part.
The hard part is actually implementing it because you might actually have to make a lot of changes in not just your life and your relationships, but also perhaps your businesses and your practice. And because that feels scary for a lot of people, then they kind of put up a wall and say, “Well, I can’t do that because I perhaps might have to change things about myself or my practice or my business and that is going to cause a challenge. That’s going to cause me to feel challenged.” And so again comes in the narcissism, but if you start to, break down all of those layers and see that wellness is not meant to just be for the individual, it’s meant to be in community and for the community because if I am not healed, you’re not healed. So you can be living in your bubble but that doesn’t mean that your healing is going to transfer over to me because I’m over here still experiencing harm. And in your bubble, you might not realize how that actually contributes to my harm. So it has to be done in the community. Wellness cannot be an individual sport. But unfortunately, the wellness industry has made it so individualistic that we’ve lost sight of what wellness is really about. It’s about liberation. It’s about freedom. It’s about harm reduction.
So if we step outside of ourselves and see there are people who are telling me that all of these things are happening to them. They are experiencing all of these isms.
Then how can I step outside of myself and my privilege long enough to see, “Yes, this is happening, I’m acknowledging it, but I’m not just going to acknowledge it, I’m actually going to do something about it.”
And that also has to happen in a community in order for us to step outside the savior complex, which happens a lot in the wellness industry. “I have this privilege and I’m gonna do something about it therefore, I’m the one that’s going to save you or fix you.” But instead, it needs to be community-first oriented. So, it’s, “I have this privilege. I don’t have the same lived experiences as you but I’m willing to support you. I’m willing to do what I can to make sure that all of these isms or systems of oppression start to break down. So, let me work with you, with community, with the marginalized and oppressed to make sure that I’m doing my part in the breaking down of those systems.” Not, “I’m the one that’s going to fix the system,” it’s, “I’m going to be a part of breaking down that system and building a new more holistic, more rooted in the wellness system.” It’s a little bit of abolitionist theory there, but…
Ashley: I have to say like if I was listening to this conversation we’re having right now like five years ago… Ten years ago, even five years ago, I would have been listening, nodding my head thinking, “Yeah, this all makes sense and I’m a good person and I’m doing all of the good things I should be doing.” And this isn’t just about being a good person or a bad person or anything like that. This is about getting kind of really real and honest with yourself and thinking about this in a deeper way because I have to tell you everything that you kind of just described so often there’s like this hint of narcissism and this industry and we go along perpetuating these things that maybe we’ve been told and we’re just regurgitating or whatever. That was me 100%.
I am 100% guilty of all of that, all of it being taught a certain way of doing things in wellness, and that this is how it’s done. And we don’t really even question why it’s done this way. We don’t think about that. We just do this or we put so much emphasis only on the individual. We don’t think about how that impacts other people. And ultimately, I think what it came down too, for me, and I seriously, honestly, wish I could remember exactly who said this that it’s just something for me like clicked finally into place and totally change everything. But it was someone saying “If I am a spiritual person if I think I’m a spiritual person and the things that I want most in the world or that I believe most that I value most in the world are compassion and empathy and love and this feeling that we are all one.” We are all connected and all those things that we are so much.”
And this spirituality community in the wellness industry if that’s really true and if we are all connected in the community, and if I believe so strongly in compassion and in healing and love and something that I am doing is hurting someone else and someone is saying, “Hey, that thing that you’re doing consciously or not intentionally or not that thing is hurting me.” Why would I want to keep doing that thing? And that changed everything for me because it kind of was one of those like, “Are you going to walk your talk moments?” “Are you really going to take these things that you say you believe in? How much do you really believe in those things? And how much are you willing to accept those challenges like you were talking about in addressing them in your life and your interpersonal relationships in the way that you do business? Because all those things are not easy, they are a completely necessary part of this. It is in a way like a huge deep dive into some shadow work.
To be totally honest, like when we first started our work together, I had a little bit of an existential crisis of like, “Who am I really? Once you strip away all these things that I thought maybe I was, like what is left. And not just like the more surface things, but the beliefs that I held. I mean, I was tearing apart beliefs that I held at my core and examining those and trying to go back through. I don’t want to say that to freak anybody out, but I think it’s important to know like you were saying, this isn’t just reading a book. It isn’t just listening to someone’s story. This is like interpersonal work. And something that I think is also important to be said here is that this is work to be done by all identities. People of all identities.
Constanza Eliana: Yeah. I think a lot of people have misconceptions that anti-oppression work is only for the privileged. It’s only for people who are part of the dominant status which right now is his cis white men if we’re honest. But it’s not just for that anti-oppression work is for everybody because even the oppressed internalized oppression, and perpetuate it onto other oppressed people, and the cycle of oppression continues. And it happens not because marginalized people are oppressed people who want to continue oppressing other people but it’s a symptom of experiencing harm. And so there are a multitude of ways that can express itself out that the people who are doing the domination and the control don’t even realize that, that’s what they’re doing. They are teaching oppressed people how to oppress other oppressed people.
And so anti-oppression work is holistic work. It’s work that applies to literally everybody. And it’s work that needs to be internalized because just as we’re internalizing patriarchy, we also need to learn how to internalize that so that we’re internalizing into oppressive principles and we’re not perpetuating patriarchy even against each other. And so, yeah, anti-oppression work is literally for everybody. But to your point, it has to be done in a way where, yes, you’re doing your own introspective work, but you’re also working in community.
Because otherwise, you’re going to end up going out and thinking that you’re going to save the world and that you’re the only person who can save the world. And you’re going to make a whole business out of saving the world and teaching other people how to save the world.
But the anti-oppression work never actually happens because all you’re doing is again, thinking and individualistic terms. And the other thing I wanted to touch on and what you said earlier is around a good person versus a bad person. I think part of anti-oppression work or anti-racism work or anti-bias work when you first step into it is a lot of guilt and shame starts to come up. Because that’s your first starting to realize and you’re really dismantling, “Oh, I’ve definitely done that before.” Or, “I’ve said this racist thing before.” Or “Oops. I definitely miss gendered somebody.” Or, “I used to think, in this way and that way.” And so a lot of guilt and shame starts to come up and sometimes that does kind of get people stuck in that place and they don’t really know how to get out of it.
Because unfortunately sometimes either the praxis isn’t shown to you and it’s not presented to you in a way that actually helps you to get out of that guilt and shame or through it kind of work your way through those feelings. Or it’s just the person has a really, really hard time getting themselves out of it because they’re still stuck in the individual. But one of the things that oppression work helps you to get through is binaries of all sorts. We know about the racial binary, we know about the gender binary but there’s also the moral binary. You either fall into the good person category or you fall into the bad person category. A lot of people don’t realize that bad is a narrative that all of us have grown up in whether we lived in a religious household or not. Whether you lived in the Western Hemisphere or not. We’ve all been taught, right? Santa Claus is going to come and give you gifts as long as you’re good. That is a narrative that gets internalized.
Even in the workplace. A lot of people think I have to do all of this really, really good work and I have to put in all of this good work in order for me to be rewarded. How? Through bonuses, through a raise, through all of these things through getting promoted. And so what happens there is that throughout our entire lives, we’re constantly living on this moral hemisphere. “Am I a good person today or my bad person today?” And then you start to look at the prison industrial complex and you start to see, “Oh, so all of that crime and punishment narrative, I have also internalized that what happens in schools. Teachers say, “You’re getting detention because you’ve been bad today.” Or, you’re not going to get the star on the little board.” I don’t know if they still do that, but they did it in my elementary school. We had a treasure chest in my elementary school. So if you were good and you got enough little stars on your board, then you were able to, on Fridays, get your little treasure from your treasure chest. And it was like little knickknacks for kids.
And so you work really, really hard to be good or to be a good person and you internalize all of that. So the moment you do something “wrong,” like you get called out for a microaggression like you said this patriarchal misogynistic thing. Like you promoted the white guy instead of the Black woman because of x, y, z. You get called out for that or you realize it in the moment or something happens and you’re like, “Oh, that was bad. I’m a bad person.” “I don’t deserve this.” “I don’t deserve that.” And so people can step into anti-racism work, anti-bias or anti-oppression work with that same mentality. And they kind of take it on as this moral stamp of “I’m doing anti-oppression work.” “I’m doing anti-racist work therefore, I’m a good person.” But they haven’t actually applied any of the principles or they’re not yet able to get out of the guilt and shame section of the work.
And so, that’s what I’m trying to help bring people out of because, even oppressed people who have perpetuated oppression byways of colorism or, misogyny or whatever it may be. Even xenophobia can be internalized by the oppressed and then we then perpetuate that same xenophobia that we’re experiencing on to even our own communities.
And so what I’m trying to help people get through is the fact that there really is no good or bad. There is no moral binary, instead, there are choices. Every single day we can choose to reduce harm. Harm reduction isn’t about perfection because that’s another binary.
“I’m either perfect or then I’m completely wrong.” And that perfectionism really holds people back. And so what I’m saying is we can start to learn how to reduce harm to other people. And even if you are regressing in your mind, even if you’re regressing and you said, “Erase this thing.” Or even if you’re regressing and you accidentally perpetuated colorism. There are still choices left to make. You can still attempt to either repair that harm, or you can choose to continue learning so that you don’t perpetuate that same thing again. But if it happens again, there are ways that you can manage that not only within yourself but within the community so that we slowly start to work towards harm reduction and harm repair. And so the way that this works systemically is that we can start to integrate Abolitionist Theory into everything.
Abolition is really a theory that kind of puts into play instead of just burning the whole bridge down because it’s bad, the infrastructure is horrible, we’re just going to burn it down. Now, people have no way to get from A to B, across the river, instead, “We’re going to burn this bridge down, but we’re going to make a better one right across the way. And we’re going to make sure that the people who didn’t use to have access to that old bridge that we just burned down, also have access to that bridge. Not only is this bridge a lot better, but it was built by the community instead of the capitalists like patriarchal standards. So now, everyone gets access to this. Everyone has a stake in it making sure that it continues to be a safe bridge for everybody to go across. That’s Abolitionist Theory and we can apply that to everything.
So Abolition is typically applied by way of the prison industrial complex with I think a lot of think of defunding the police but it’s a lot more than that. It’s more so about creating structures that stop people from going to prison in the first place.
Ashley: Yeah, so the idea, abolition of the entire carceral system.
Constanza Eliana: Exactly. Yeah, so it’s not just we’re no longer going to have prisons, it’s we’re no longer going to have a society that sends people to prison as a result of something that they did. Instead, we’re going to tackle what did this person do and what was the environment that led them to do that thing that society thought was bad or is bad? And then how can we work in the community to make sure that person is also rehabilitated but that that person also works in the community and the community can help to support that person and vice versa. Eventually, the community has a form of healing that it didn’t have before. Instead of just taking that person completely out of society locking them away and throw away the key and hoping for the best. Hoping that the community is now filled because of that.
So we can apply that Abolitionist Theory to every part of our lives. So if you actually say something racist to me and I tell you, “Hey, that’s really harmful. Now, we need to work that out. Now, we need to repair it. Now, we need to take a step back. Now, we need to figure this out.” But if you turn around and run or you start cussing me out, or you start defending yourself, crying in a puddle and you’re so so, so, sorry, there’s no repair there. Now, there are just choices. So, even if you start defending yourself, you can still make a choice to say, “Okay. I’m sorry. I just defended myself. I realized how that might come across. Let’s talk this out.” “If you’re willing to, I’m willing to do this, this and this.” What repair do you feel like you need in order for us to move forward?” “Do you need time and space?” Do you need me to step down from this for a little while and make sure that I’m doing my introspective work on my own.?” “Do you need other community members to come in and we can do a mediation?”
There are so many ways in which we can start to repair conflict and harm that has happened in a way that’s holistic to everybody. In a way where I not only get a chance to towards healing but you get a chance towards healing. And so that’s what anti-oppression work is meant to do. Everybody has a chance to do it.
Ashley: And that kind of takes that good-bad binary out of it. When you realize that it is about collective healing. It is about embodying some of the principles and values and beliefs that many people in the spiritual and wellness community have tried to hold. When we realize that this is a move toward that, it becomes really powerful. One of the best things about working with you has been just that in realizing that every day is an opportunity for new choices and new actions.
One of the things that were my very first actionable thing when we started working together was deciding to no longer carry white sage, Palo Santos ceremonial tobacco at my crystal shop. It was one of those things that required some thought, required some education on my part, required a decision, and like you were saying, earlier a letting go of that perfectionism. Because it came down to this will not be a perfect choice. All decisions are going to maybe have a bit of mess associated with them.
Constanza Eliana: Always.
Ashley: …how to mitigate that mess. And that the good news is if I make a decision, it’s not a perfect decision. It’s not going to be and something else comes up, I get to make another decision after that. I get to continually move toward what feels best, what fits in with those values that I’ve aligned myself with, and those things that I’m trying to move toward.
Constanza Eliana: Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things that help people get to the place where they got is introspection. Taking a look at your entire life, your business, your practice, and seeing, “What are all the things that I have adopted into this practice or into this business, or I have implemented that perhaps I was doing because I saw other people doing them or perhaps I was doing them because they were trendy or someone told me I was going to make a lot of money doing that, or I’ve seen other people making a lot of money doing that. Why is this a part of my practice?” And that is just base level Step 1. And that is work only you can do. And only you have the answers for.
The reason you got to the place where you are today is that you did all of the work in order to see what is authentic to me and what is not and what have I just been perpetuating because other people have been perpetuating them versus what is actually rooted in something that I personally have learned, grown up with, etcetera. All of those things that fall into that category of murky, messy, “I’m not sure,” or, “Yes, I’ve done this because other people have done it,” right? This happens a lot more than people realize in the wellness industry.
I can just give personal examples. When I first stepped foot into a yoga studio, the teacher was burning sage. I was confused, but I was like, “Okay, I guess this is done.” And it wasn’t until I took the teacher training that I realized, “Yoga teachers, they don’t burn sage.” It’s not a thing that comes from the yoga practice, the traditional classical yoga practice. That’s not a thing. So, how did this get to the yoga studios? So, once I started getting really curious, I’ve started kind of breaking down that whole idea of burning sage. What is that about? And then I think too many people get stuck in, “Oh, I’m doing this because that’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m doing this because somebody taught me to do it.”
But perhaps they don’t consider that that person who taught you to do it somebody else had taught them to do it without context or without the proper knowledge of how to do it properly, holistically perhaps from their culture, whatever it may be. And so I want to be clear that a person’s individual journey of how they get from A to B is their individual journey. So for you, it was white sage perhaps and there’s a whole Ashley of other things that you and I have worked on. But white sage is just the prominent one that we can talk about. But for somebody else, it might be their yoga practice where it might be Reiki, or it might be crystals. It might be something else that is very dominant in their life, but they’re not 100% sure if it’s authentic to them.
And it can be really scary. I was in the yoga industry, I am, Puerto Rican. I am not in from India. I am not South Asian. I’m not from Pakistan. I’m not from a country that actually bursts yoga. And so, for me, it took me many, many years, for me to realize that there are ways in which I have been appropriating this practice that I didn’t realize. There are still ways in which I can practice that isn’t appropriate. And there are still ways in which all of these things that I have learned can still apply to my life in a way where I’m not the one leaving. I’m not the one at the forefront. It can still be a part of my wellness routine, but I don’t necessarily have to be the face of it.
It took me a long time to get there but the only reason I got there and that’s not a choice that everyone makes, but the only reason I was able to get there in my life is that I applied anti-oppressive principles. I realized that if something isn’t authentic to me, I shouldn’t be leading it.
Ashley: Everything you just said, resonates so much, and using the white sage thing as an example. Still, when I started going on that journey and kind of uncovering and asking those questions, there were so many things that came up like there was the good-bad binary thing. There was the shame and guilt of perpetuating this. There was anger, a lot of anger at the people who taught this to me and anger at myself for perpetuating it by teaching this to others when I had no business doing that. There was a lot to work through just on the emotional level before I could even get to the point where I had enough clarity to make a decision going forward. And I think this is the biggest part about the work that you do that’s so supportive because of the way that you frame it, it is done in community, it is done in a way that’s supported and helps you move from that place of feeling stuck into that place of action.
I know that you’ve actually just developed your co-facilitating a program right now called the Anti-Oppression Academy that focuses on this and getting people to work in the community toward embodying these anti-oppressive principles. So would you be able to tell us a little bit more about the Academy? How people can learn more about it and get involved?
Constanza Eliana: Yeah, absolutely. So, this is a collaboration that I’m doing with Tommy Allgood. He is an anti-oppression activist and practitioner. When he and I were just talking amongst ourselves, we realized that there really isn’t anything out there that can kind of help people apply all of this in a community-based environment. I think there’s a lot of individual work that people can do. They can read books, they can take anti-racism courses, and then after anti-racism, they can do anti-bias. It’s all very scattered. And so we wanted to create something that not only gives out the education and the knowledge but it can also be applied in the community that’s learning. And I think that’s a really beautiful thing.
So we call it a program because it’s structured like a program but it’s really a mentorship. And my favorite thing to do is mentorships. I run a mentorship program for people of color specifically, and wellness every year and I felt really strongly that this also needed to be mentorship. That way we all learn from each other because one of the biggest things that I have learned just on the anti-oppression side of things and the decolonial side of things is that when you do things individual like if you only read to yourself and you’re not really sharing this work with anybody else, or you’re not talking to other people who are also doing this work, it can one be really isolating but there’s really no chance for you to actively apply this. There’s no chance for you to actually spread the awareness of why it’s important. And so we’re doing it mentorship-style with a small group of people.
So it’s really still based on learning anti-oppressive principles. Learning what anti-oppressive frameworks are, how to apply those frameworks into your life, your relationships. The way that you interact with other people. The way perhaps if you’re a business owner, the way that you interact with your employees and even your clients, getting out of performative ism and really getting down to the root of things. But then in the application part, because it’s a three-month program, so towards the end in the application part, we learn more about the Mutual Aid structure and how that works. We learn about abolition and how that can be applied to our lives.
And we really worked together as a group to decide how are we going to implement this into our daily lives. And the group can then become more cohesive in a way where even as the program ends, you don’t have to stop the work. As a group, you can continue doing the work, hold each other accountable. You can continue having monthly, bimonthly meetings, whatever the group decides. It becomes really personalized to that group, but also the group helps to build each other up. And so I’m really excited about it because anybody can kind of teach anti-oppressive work, principles, language, whatever. And it’s good, it’s good to learn all of that. But applying it is always the hardest part and doing it in a community that understands what it is that you’re attempting to do is very very difficult to find.
I run a book club also quarterly. One of the things that people inevitably always say in the book club is, “I wish I had this community locally so that I can continue doing this work.” And I always feel sad when that happens because yeah, it can feel really isolating to do anti-impression work, anti-racist work, whatever. But it doesn’t have to be isolating. There are so many people learning and I want to bring all those people together so that we can continue learning and applying and learning and applying.
Ashley: So where can people go to actually check out the topics that are covered in the structure of the program and also, actually, before you tell us that or maybe while you tell us about that. I know that you have a really cool way, you structured this also that’s rooted in anti-oppression where it’s kind of a one for one scholarship model too. So, can you tell us about that and then where people can go to read up on everything about the Academy.
Constanza Eliana: Yeah. So one of the principles that we are integrating into this is Equity. So, racial equity is something that I’m really passionate about.
I think a lot of people understand equality in the concept of equality, but for marginalized and oppressed people, equality really isn’t a thing that we’ve ever experienced. And so for me, equity is really important and I always want to attempt to model equity as much as I can. So not only is that reducing barriers to access financially, but it’s also just making sure that there is no hierarchy, meaning, just because you can pay more doesn’t mean you’re going to get more. And it doesn’t mean that somebody else can’t benefit from that privilege of you having financial access to something.
And so the way that the Anti-Oppression Academy is structured is that when someone buys into the program, they buy a spot for themselves in the program. They’re also buying a scholarship for a marginalized person to enter the program at no cost. That way it’s cyclical. Not only are you helping yourself but you’re also helping a community member who wants to be a part of this that doesn’t necessarily have the financial access to do so. So that’s really exciting. And I’m really happy to be able to create that structure for people.
People can definitely go to my website, embodyinclusivity.com and they can find the Anti-Oppression Academy information there and they can also go to my Instagram, the LinkInBio has it. So it’s @Eliana.Chinea and you can find all of the information there too.
Ashley: And I think for quite a number of people who are watching or listening right now, this is going to be like they know this is that step that they’ve been waiting to take. This is what they’ve been looking for because like you said, it’s been missing from so many communities, not just in person but even from the online space, it’s just not there until now. But if there are other people who have been watching or listening who may be a lot of the concepts we’ve been discussing are a little bit newer to them or they’re uncertain, you also have some really great introductory courses to familiarize people with these concepts and kind of start to understand and integrate them into their lives. They can find those on your website as well?
Constanza Eliana: Yeah. So on my website, I definitely have a tab that you can click on that has all of the different programs and workshops that I put out there. One of my biggest things is Identity Work. I think Identity Work is something that is really important, and it is something that you can do pretty easily as an individual. But it’s definitely something that I feel needs to be done a lot more often, especially as people are moving through anti-racism and anti-oppressive work.
So you’re going to find a lot around identity. I have a Race Versus Ethnicity Workshop that kind of doesn’t just dismantle race as a construct and ethnicity and how the two are different, it really goes into,” Okay, why do all these structures exist, and how can we start to dismantle them not only just individually, but also in our personal lives.” So that’s a really important one and I have others but I’m blanking out on what they are.
Ashley: There’s so much over there. So head over to embodyinclusivity.com, and I also want to encourage everyone who’s watching or listening if you have learned a ton in this video or episode of the podcast and you want to show some support. I would encourage you to head over to embodyinclusivity.com and donate and look for the link to the Anti-Oppression Academy. I know that it is going to be an amazingly supportive community facilitated by two amazing people. So Constanza Eliana, thank you so much for your time today, for your sharing, your connection. Just thank you so much.
Constanza Eliana: Yeah. Thank you so much for having me. I’ve watched you do this work individually and inside of your own community and I always love to see it. So, keep doing your thing. And yeah, I hope people are able to join the Academy if that feels good to them. If they are still interested but financially it doesn’t work out for them, they can always sign up for a scholarship and we’d be happy to have them.
Ashley: Awesome. Thank you again, and thank all of you for watching or tuning in. Until next time.
3 responses to “Anti-Oppression Work in Wellness: An Interview with Constanza Eliana Chinea of Embody Inclusivity”
Very interesting topic, much food for thought.
Hi Stephanie, we appreciate the interest you’ve showed in this topic, thank you so much for your feedback! <3
I do not feel anything is 100% authentic to any of us. In my opinion everything was learned from someone else throughout time and taught to others. For example rice and okra originated in Africa, China and Asia, however it is eaten every day all over the world and is sold in many restaurants which are not indigenous.