Mel Phillips was born and raised in the Carolinas and is a newly certified part-time yoga instructor and full-time devotee to the restaurant industry. She graduated from East Carolina University in 2014 with a Bachelors in Communication and a Bachelors in Merchandising. Mel escaped the South after graduation and moved to Chicago. She spends the majority of her “free” time teaching yoga for special communities and organizations like I Grow Chicago in Englewood and Yoga for Recovery, an organization that brings the practice of yoga and mindfulness to women in Cook County Corrections. Mel has specialty training in trauma-informed yoga and actively pursues bringing mind and body practice to those with limited access. When she isn’t running reservation systems for restaurants or teaching seven-year olds crow pose, she is sitting at home cuddling her hairless cat @sophiathesphynx.
Mel, a collaborator with SoapBox’s ongoing Fitness Against Fascism series, brings her trauma-informed yoga experience to the discussion around holistic health, access to wellness care, and the ways in which we challenge systems of oppression in seemingly apolitical industries. What does equity and liberation look like in the allied health continuum? Together, using Fitness Against Fascism as model, we extrapolate the connections between social justice and holistic health at various levels. Mel first speaks on the lack of women of color she noticed in mainstream yoga spaces and the article that changed that perception (see Black Girl in Om) as well as teaching yoga to women in pre-trail detention in Cook County Corrections. With that in mind, BrownTown discusses the different levels and roles people can take in addressing systemic inequality in fitness spaces—both meeting people where they are at and challenging more established institutions (see Trap Yoga Bae and the SoapBox article on her). The gang breakdown Chicago heat maps and critique the un-coincidental lack of access to traditional fitness spaces in the same areas that lack many social determinants of health (see Episode 7 with Jessica Puri).
Mel parallels this with the popularization of “self-care” and the power and privilege aligned with the necessary yet commodified phenomenon. She and BrownTown take a step back to investigate the function capitalism has in this regarding worker productivity, paid leave, and owners valuing employees for their humanity versus their ability to sell their labor for longer, both in the US and abroad. The conversation rests on the notion that it's crucial to understand that health and wellness, like everything else in our socialized world, is not apolitical. Our destinies are connected to each other and it's imperative, now more than ever, to be vulnerable and take initiative in and outside of these spaces. Health must be radical in its analysis and holistic in its approach if we are to truly obtain equity in wellness.
“Fitness Against Fascism" is an on-going SoapBox series of events, dialogues, and community collaborations. The first two events were workout fundraisers at CrossTown Fitness where SoapBox paired anti-oppressive, liberatory-minded high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts with yoga sessions in tandem with a community conversation about the topics of this episode.
Other Chicago companies and organizations mentioned: aSweatLife, Healthy Hood, and the Chicago Community Bond Fund. Not mentioned yet relevant: Caullen on aSweatLife’s podcast #WeGotGoals Episode 68 and Episode 87.