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Meet Dr. Sará King of MindHeart Consulting in Long Beach

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Sará King.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I started MindHeart Consulting when I was still in graduate school at UCLA getting my Ph.D. I was studying the experiences of urban youth of color who were learning yoga and meditation in school, and how it impacted their relationships, emotional resilience, and overall well-being.

I was fascinated by the stories of how these middle-schoolers took these practices from school interventionists and used them to positively change their relationships at home – many of them seemed to become more altruistic, empathetic, and compassionate towards their family members not only because they had the chance to learn how to connect with vulnerability to their bodies and their breath – but also, I could see that the emotional connection they had with the people teaching them was very transformative and powerful. There really is a lot of traction in the power of mentorship!

However, this was just one group of students – the ones who had a positive experience. There were two other groups of students that I studied – one who felt pretty neutral about yoga and meditation, just sort of “meh,” in a word.

Then there was another group who either were traumatized by feeling as though they were forced to do yoga and meditation without being consulted about how it felt, or those students who outright mutinied against the practices, even going so far as to form a student organization to get the intervention banned from their school! They wrote up a school-wide petition and had it signed by hundreds of students!

I wondered what it was that angered these youth so much, and I knew that there was something missing – that their emotions were valid. I knew that as yoga and meditation practitioners (adults) who care and who were learning how to serve them from a humble place of starting with their needs and desires, we could do better.

At the same time, I was a long-time practitioner of yoga and meditation myself. As a woman of color who has come from a background of extreme poverty myself, I turned to yoga and meditation to heal from being formerly chronically homeless and also from my experiences with the prison industrial complex – having incarcerated family members, for example.

I found that many of the studios that I tried to frequent were very elitist. Most of the students there (this is in L.A.) were very wealthy, white-identified students who didn’t share my socio-economic background, and who weren’t impacted by racism or systemic violence on a daily basis in the way that I was. They also were many times unaware of the implicit bias with which they approached students of color, and stereotyped them, which was often times very harmful.

This made me oftentimes feels like an outsider in spaces where I was trying to find healing. My experience was problematic because being othered in yoga and meditation spaces was working directly against my healing process!

When I looked at the experiences of the students that I studied who didn’t resonate with the type of yoga and meditation they were being taught, it seemed to me that this was because the people who taught them did not have cultural competency.

They did not know the ways in which how they were teaching was actually harmful. They did not realize that people in marginalized communities need their healing practices to be in conversation with their efforts for social justice because we have been up against systemic injustice and violence as a community for hundreds of years!

I also examined the science of the disproportionate health disparities that exist in communities of color and how much we need practices that speak to our unique well-being and mental health needs, and I thought that I could possibly do something to be supportive!

I created MindHeart Consulting so that I could offer my knowledge and training as a UCLA-trained educator and scientist to serve both the people who dedicate their lives to the work of social justice, as well as those who lives and well-being are negatively impacted by systemic oppression. That’s who my curricula and classes are meant to serve.

I know that working in the field of social justice – whether that’s environmental justice, racial justice, food justice, LGBTQI rights, etc. means confronting a lot of embodied pain and trauma. This trauma gets stored withinin the body and can show up physically, emotionally, and/or psychologically – or all of the above.

I saw that people engaged in this work could take charge of their own healing by learning about contemplative practices, or even by emphasizing a return to the healing traditions of Black and Latinx people which we have always had in order to survive and thrive in this society, but that I could offer a space that is safe, and potentially speaks to what they/we are going through and honors their beauty as well as their struggle.

Just look at how incredibly resilient the immigrant community in LA has had to be, for instance. You can’t tell me that they don’t already know what it means to be contemplative! Their way of being spiritual just isn’t spoken of as being the same as mindfulness – but why should that be the case?

I offer a wide variety of services that are informed by what I call “The Science of Social Justice.” This is a framework for addressing the healing needs of communities that says that well-being and social justice are one and the same for us. We simply cannot move in the direction of one without the other!

I continue to conduct professional research as a part of my consulting services, that explores how the science of well-being can be put to the service of social justice. In other words, I explore what healing practices already exist in marginalized communities (POC, LGBTQI, and indigenous) and how these might intersect with contemplative practices, mental health services, or the neuroscience and psychology of healing the nervous system.

I also design workshops and seminars for groups, as well as offer one-on-one healing sessions in person and via Zoom that educates about “The Science of Social Justice” using both the curricula I have designed, and guided meditation and yoga practices.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I have faced many obstacles along the road to developing MindHeart Consulting.

First of all, when I began research yoga and meditation in urban schools over eight years ago in graduate school, I had a hard time convincing people in my department that this was a phenomenon in education that was actually happening!

For instance, there was this widely held misconception that yoga and meditation were practices that mostly young, wealthy white women did in the US. My professors thought that folks in communities of color were simply not interested in doing yoga and meditation because they were too busy surviving.

So first I had to prove that while yes, media and advertising would have many believe that yoga and meditation are practices that are happening among an exclusive and elite group of people – that there were many marginalized groups benefiting from these practices and making them their own. Take a look at People’s Yoga or The Tree in East and South LA, respectively. All, if not most of their clients are Black and Brown identified.

I had to show with data that there were hundreds of thousands of youth of all different kinds of backgrounds practicing yoga and meditation in schools, especially.

Then I had to bring my argument a step further. I had to show that for youth of color who face many obstacles to their education and their health and well-being, such as poverty, criminalization, and systemic violence, that teaching yoga and meditation inside schools as a way to calm the body and the mind, was not enough to help level the playing field for them in terms of educational achievement and opportunity.

It simply wasn’t fair to assume that these kids should be able to get all chill and zen inside of school and then walk outside into a war zone and that they should somehow learn to be fine with this because they are yogi’s now. I wasn’t down with that narrative!

The work of social justice is about consciousness raising. It is about providing opportunities for people to take a look around their communities and to give them space where they have a voice and a place where they can say, hey, I know exactly what is needed in my community – because people have agency and should be empowered to feel like their perspective matters.

People know exactly where the pain and trauma in their community is. They need resources, though, to help both cope and transform. But sometimes it can help to have a person who is from these communities, and who have also experienced that trauma and who is working skillfully with healing it themselves facilitate that conversation. That’s where I feel MindHeart can be of service!

This is where contemplative practices like yoga and meditation, or making art or music mindfully can be helpful. Because these practices, especially when they are led by someone who understands the trauma of marginalization, can really help people connect with their minds and bodies and they can begin to heal their trauma and restore their well-being…but on their own terms! Meaning, in ways that are culturally meaningful.

Taking the time to develop my vision and services has been challenging but it is worth it though!! I also can’t quite describe how difficult it was to leave 14 years of higher education and start a company that was really unlike anything else being offered out there.

Some people around me just didn’t understand why I didn’t go after a more traditional job with the safety it brings, such as being a university-employed research scientist or becoming a professor. I could have turned my skills with research and data analysis into a lucrative job with a tech company.

But I felt really passionately about creating a platform where I could offer the full spread of my knowledge and services to the communities that I care about, without having to tone down my message for corporate pressures.

I am still interested in collaborating with universities because I am also passionate about moving forward the conversation about this in academic research. Universities have always offered amazing opportunities for researchers to be in relationship with and serve their surrounding communities, and I think that UCLA is an excellent example of that, with the creation of their Lab School, for instance.

However, I am really happy that I started MindHeart Consulting because it is charting a path forward merging the field of wellness and social justice in a way that is really meaningful to me. I feel like any of the obstacles that I am overcoming are worth it for the younger generation of scientists-activists and yoga and meditation practitioners who will see it as a model for how they want to spread healing in the world.

Please tell us about MindHeart Consulting.
MindHeart Consulting is a consulting firm that designs cutting-edge scientific research projects, workshops, seminars, and one-on-one healing experiences using the revolutionary framework of “The Science of Social Justice” developed by yours truly – Dr. Sará King.

The Science of Social Justice is a way of both studying (researching) and teaching that is informed by an interdisciplinary framework that merges political science, ethnic studies, feminist and queer studies, interpersonal neurobiology, cognitive and affective neuroscience, psychology, and public health.

In all of my research projects, seminars, or one-on-one sessions, I first ask – “What is the issue of social justice that is impacting a person, group, or community?” I know that there is a social, psychological, and biological answer to this! I then want to investigate “How can the science of well-being be put to the service of social justice?”

From there, I can co-create either a research project or a healing experience for groups or individuals that is holistic (impacts the individual and the community) in its approach.

All of the embodied healing practices I offer are informed by my constantly evolving understanding about the particular needs of POC, indigenous communities and their allies, and how their lives are impacted by mental, emotional, and physical health disparities. I also believe that by incorporating the community cultural wealth and healing practices that already exist in our communities that I can offer services that celebrate our collective heritage!

I believe in creating experiences for groups and in one-on-one settings that are safe spaces of empowerment where people can cultivate loving-kindness and self-compassion for themselves and their loved ones and collaborators – and by extension, I hope that these energetic qualities will positively shift the way we all work and live, for the benefit of all of our communities.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
You know, I would love to have a healing center/research institute that is a physical space dedicated to supporting the mission of MindHeart Consulting, where I could create space for other scientists, practitioners, or healers of color to do meaningful work and to connect with the communities they care about.

There are so few healing centers in communities of color that are doing work that is grounded in our traditions, and that is also evidence-based. There has been this real disconnect between scientists and the vulnerable communities they seek to serve, for a variety of reasons. I hope to do something positive about that!

However, I know that these are all the next steps for my business and I am happy to have these as goals in mind for the future. Being a scientist, healer and entrepreneur is a challenge I am so proud to take on! I think that having my vision supported early on with venture capital would have been another important step to take, and I am still looking into ways to make that happen.

In other words, I am always looking for other scientists, yoga/meditation practitioners, social entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who are also dedicated to the work of merging wellness with social justice to collaborate within continuing to develop the vision of MindHeart.

I am really thankful for the opportunity to be interviewed by VoyageLA as a forward-thinking publication, and I hope this gives me the opportunity to connect with like-minded people who believe in what MindHeart is all about!

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