Quick and candid with journalist Sonia Azad about mindfulness in middle schools, Instagram yoga superstars and french fries.
By John Holcomb
Who is Sonia?
Sonia’s an Emmy® Award winning journalist who has spent her professional career globetrotting. From reporting on big stories for TV stations across the country, Sonia has covered youth and politics in Washington D.C., reported on global conflicts and war crimes from The Hague, and now files health and wellness reports as a medical correspondent at WFAA-TV (Channel 8) in Dallas. Along with an undergraduate degree in Journalism from The University of Texas, Sonia holds two advanced degrees (Journalism and Legal Studies) from Northwestern University.
Sonia's Yoga Background
Sonia has been practicing yoga since 1999. In 2015, Sonia became a RYT-200 certified yoga instructor through the The Yoga of You. She describes her current approach to yoga as old school-- deliberate, alignment-based mindful meditation in motion rather than fast-paced gymnastics. Sonia both teaches yoga at Balancing Energy Health & Yoga Center and leads destination retreats through One Yoga Global.
5 Questions for Sonia Azad
JOHN: How do you feel your high school experience would have been different had your teachers been yoga-certified?
SONIA: I think it's so easy to get lost in high school... figuratively and literally. There is so much happening -- emotionally, physically, mentally. I was fortunate to have incredible teachers and mentors who did their absolute best to ensure my success. I think a yoga certification for teachers would have only enriched my experience as a student. In fact, in graduate school, I did a thesis paper/ project for my Religion & Law class at Northwestern University. I found that despite staunch opposition to yoga in public schools in some parts of the country [particularly in the south and rural America] that teaching mindfulness is essential during the school day-- namely, to reduce and relieve stress. That was 9 years ago. Fast forward to 2017, and mindfulness programs exist in middle schools in Dallas, Texas! So, we are progressing. Pausing to teach young people how to speak, act and think appropriately-- how to breathe-- how to respond rather than react-- how to handle difficulties, challenges and unforeseen circumstances both at school and at home -- not only benefits the young person who is growing into adulthood, but I think it helps the adult to take steps to improve the same qualities in him or herself as well.
JOHN: Can you tell us about a particular “a-ha” yoga moment that led to a major breakthrough in your practice?
SONIA: For me, teacher training was a pivotal time in life. At the encouragement of my teacher (Larry Thraen), I agreed to check it out... to deepen my practice. I have to admit, as an often skeptical and ruthless journalist, opening up was difficult at first. The more I found myself softening as a person-- mentally and emotionally, largely due to the curriculum and the vulnerability of my fellow trainees, the more I found my body begin to open. It is, as we tell students, a journey on a continuum. The practice of opening continues...
JOHN: (FOLLOW-UP Q) How did you become a Health and Wellness reporter? Sounds like an ideal fit for you. (Yes, we’re all jealous...)
SONIA: I knew crime reporting wasn’t the right fit for me. My personality wasn’t a match for my job. When my time ended at that TV station in Houston, I spent seven months teaching yoga, waiting for the perfect gig-- even when others tried to rush me into just taking something. I practiced patience and really had to be honest with myself about the type of energy and quality of life I wanted to invite into this next stage of my career. I worked as a medical reporter back in 2004-- in Waco-- so this was getting back to something familiar. It’s more than a job-- it’s an extension of who I am and what I already live.
JOHN: Do you have a guilty pleasure you’d like to share with us to prove that Yogis are people too?
French Fries!! And Social Media!! As a journalist, staying connected is part of my lifestyle. While I often disconnect for days at a time and encourage my students and colleagues to do the same, it's tough. I sleep with my phone right by my head because I could be called into work at a moment’s notice. My personal rule is that when I go on vacation: no wifi, no posting, no checking email or texting -- unless it's work-related travel. The French Fries.... I can't rationalize. I just love them.
JOHN (FOLLOW-UP Q): How do you manage all the social media, texts, emails et al (that a reporter must) yet still present in your daily life? Got protips?
People and face-to-face conversations are always my priority because that’s life as it is happening. Beyond that, in spaces between interviews, meetings, calls, sleep, meals and workouts, I am all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email & other news-related sites. And sure, I might miss something here or there. My mantra: Any news that needs to come to me, eventually will.
JOHN: Is there a movie, book or song that has stuck with you recently that you’d like to recommend?
SONIA: I recently saw Hidden Figures -- which people might have heard about since the Oscar nominations were announced. I have to say-- it was a remarkable, touching and poignant film and I highly recommend it!
I'm reading Aziz Ansari's "Modern Romance" which is hilarious and eye-opening! And, I am a junkie when it comes to House of Cards! I can't wait to binge watch the next season!
As for music, my playlists include: Adele, Coldplay, Radiohead, Lana Del Rey, Mazzy Star, Lindsey Stirling, Ray LaMontagne, London Grammar... should I keep going? I'm in love with them all!
JOHN: What’s a misconception non-yoga practitioners have about yoga that kinda bugs or entertains you?
Image. Hands down. Because of this wave of "Instagram Yoga Superstars" -- the average human thinks they need to be thin, tall, super-fit or freakishly flexible to be a yogi. No! No! No! I appreciate the articles that I have seen illustrating that yoga is for all -- ages, body types, genders, etc. But it's still not a widely-accepted mindset. While I find value in social media posts about the correct form for postures, or finding creative ways to teach yogis about how to get into and out of variations-- or even sharing personal breakthroughs, I think posting for the sake of narcissism is intimidating and actually drives people away from yoga itself. Yoga is for more than thin, rich, white, flexible women. And, I will add -- because now you've got me going-- that I'm only referring to asana... which doesn't even get me to the other seven limbs.
JOHN: Finally, Do you have any questions you’d like to “pay forward” to the next Yogi we interview….
SONIA: Yes, I'd love to know with so many yoga studios sprinkled across the Western world now, how do yogi's make theirs stand apart?
JOHN: I bow to you, Sonia.
SONIA: Namaste, John