Stefanie Tovar is a healing artist, a singer, a yoga teacher, a racial healing facilitator—and so much more. She has over 14 years of facilitating wellness offerings and 20 years of presenting as an international and local performing artist, creating experiences to support healing, awaken awareness, and empower release in Body, Mind, and Heart. Stefanie is also a Recording Artist with Orchard Records and is the founder of a nonprofit called Yena, which is meant to support this work in schools, shelters, and intimate spaces to “honor people in Leading with Purpose, fueled by Heart.”
Stefanie visited the Feathered Pipe Ranch this past summer and quickly settled into life at the Ranch during Sonia Azaad’s workshop group. She attended Crystal’s going away party and played singing bowls with our Tibetan friend Tsering Lodoe during collective prayers. She was always blowing bubbles on the lawn and was even part of a group of ladies who did a wild woman moonlit dance on the nature deck then cold plunged in the lake after. She became a close friend in a very short period of time, and I’m so excited to bring this conversation to you.
In this recording, she tells me about her upbringing in Texas, the deep connection she had with singing and nature at such a young age, and the realization that her voice was a gift that she could share to effect change in the world. We talk about the ways that we humans are always receiving messages—what Stefanie calls “scripts”—about who and how to be. Although these messages can feel limiting at times, one of the beautiful aspects of life is that we can choose which scripts we want to follow. Which role we want to take. Which song we want to sing. And writing our own scripts is an option too!
Stefanie’s life experiences have led her to working in wellness, with a mission to lovingly disrupt the status quo of what it’s “supposed to” look like to be a part of this growing industry. As a Latina, she speaks of the importance of diversity in all healing spaces—diversity of race, socioeconomics, religions, belief systems, sexual orientation, abilities and functions. Her work truly highlights the intersection between wellness and social justice, and it’s only growing for here, as she was recently selected as one of 40 cohorts across the nation to be a part of the Culture of Health Leadership Institute for Racial Healing.
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Stefanie Tovar (00:00:01):
We are all human beings that have feeling hearts and loving minds. Every single body on this planet has that. And we have different life experiences based off of our embodiments, based off of so much that informs us on how to live life and all the scripts we’ve received. That racial healing circle facilitation really helps us become awakened and aware to have those conscious conversations of like, “Oh, wait, you have that experience in this life? No way. Like, this is my experience in this life.” And we really get to have that genuine sharing from human heart to human heart.
Andy Vantrease (00:00:56):
Welcome to the Dandelion Effect Podcast, a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community, and empowerment.
Stefanie Tovar is a healing artist, singer, yoga teacher, racial healing facilitator, and so much more. She has over 14 years of experience facilitating wellness offerings and 20 years presenting as an international performing artist, creating experiences to support healing, awaken awareness, and empower, release in mind, body, and heart. Stefanie is also a recording artist with Orchard Records and is the founder of a nonprofit called Yena, which is meant to support this work in schools, shelters, and intimate spaces to honor people in “leading with purpose, fueled by heart.”
I met Stefanie at the Feathered Pipe Ranch this past summer and had the pleasure of getting to know her through a two hour story mapping session, which was a sacred service that I offered to workshop guests who wanted to record stories of their lives for reflection, honoring, and safekeeping. Stefanie quickly settled into life at the Ranch during Sonia Azaad’s workshop group, and she attended Crystal’s going away party and played singing bowls with our Tibetan friend, Lodoe, during collective prayers.
She was always blowing bubbles on the lawn when I saw her, and was even part of a group of ladies who did a wild woman moon lit dance on the Nature Deck, then cold plunged in the lake afterwards. Needless to say, she became a close friend in a very short period of time, and I’m so excited to bring this conversation to you.
In this recording, she tells me about her upbringing in Texas, the deep connection she had with singing and nature at such a young age, and the realization that her voice was a gift that she could share to affect change in the world. We talk about the ways that humans are always receiving messages—what Stefanie calls “scripts”—about who and how to be. And although these messages can feel limiting at times, one of the beautiful aspects of life is that we can choose which scripts we want to follow, which role we want to take, which song we want to sing. And writing our own scripts is an option too.
Stefanie’s life experiences have led her to working in wellness with a mission to lovingly disrupt the status quo of what it’s “supposed to” look like to be a part of this growing industry. As a Latina, she speaks of the importance of diversity in all healing spaces—diversity of race, religions, belief systems, sexual orientations, abilities and functions. Her work truly highlights the intersection between wellness and social justice, and it’s only growing from here, as she was recently selected as one of 40 cohorts across the nation to be part of the Culture of Health Leadership Institute for Racial Healing. We also talk about the body’s knowing, the intelligence of emotions, and the moments in life that were divinely guided by a grief so large that it forced a dramatic pause in her career as a performer while she was working on Sesame Street Live.
This conversation is full, juicy, slightly uncomfortable at times, but most of all, it’s very real, and I can’t wait for you to hear it. I’m Andy Vantrease, and you’re listening to the Dandelion Effect Podcast with my soul sister and this week’s episode, Stefanie Tovar.
You have such a strong purpose of what you’re here for and what your creativity is to be used for. I think you even told me when I asked your origin story, like you hail from a long line of healers and earth people. And so this real connection with land, this real connection with divinity through our human body and also through nature, you know—what you would consider to be the Mother, God, Divinity. So I wanna start there and just allow you to reflect on that early connection to your creativity and how that’s woven with your understanding of how you begin to express yourself. I know that’ll be a thread throughout, but let’s just kind of see what’s alive for you in that part of life.
Stefanie Tovar (00:05:31):
As a little one, and actually throughout my life, there have been moments where I’ve experienced such bigness in my heart, but letting myself be as big as my heart. The way that I do that is through singing expression, actually. And I’m literally acknowledging that now as I speak with you, that that is, that’s always been the way for me. Like I remember having great sorrow or great excitement or just wisdom and creativity. It flowed through me through singing. I have a story that I share with students when I speak of my origin story and how that connects to me in this path towards Hatha yoga: Literally having in a music class just hearing, you know, the sounds that we were initially given, but then other sounds arrived for me to harmonize. And I couldn’t help but wanna play with that sound.
And I was six and a half or seven—somewhere around there—and my music teacher asked me to step in the front of the class and sing. And I went, Oh, no, I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble! <laugh> So I walked up and I sang, and that’s when she named for me the fact and the truth that it’s a gift, that my singing expression is a gift. And it is a form of expressing out and like watching the sound, how the sound passing through me changes me and how the sound being shared also changes matter. When that emotion flows through with such clarity and authenticity, it can’t help but vibrate the heartstrings of other people and change the matter. It changes and shifts audiences and shifts space so that it’s never the same again. When I speak to it in my story when sharing with students, I’ll speak to how it’s like colors, like how I would color my world.
And as a child, I did feel this way. Like when I felt great sadness, I would express it out and color my world with what I was feeling within. And there was such a cathartic, beautiful release to see that matter around me shifting. That’s when this person in this music class is like, Oh, you have a gift. You were meant to share this on stages. And that was kind of the beginning of me performing throughout many of my years up through tour. I toured internationally with Sesame Street Live and performed with different theatrical companies. And that also unlocked the truth that, okay, well I do wanna help support healing through sound, but there’s more that I can do than just the hour and a half expression of love. And so that eventually shifted me to yoga.
Then delightfully to my teacher, Sean Johnson, of Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band—always have to speak the name of our teachers! He introduced me back to my colors. Because there was a period throughout performing arts life, there was very much a way that we were told to tame it. I was told to tame myself: Ah, Stefanie, you’re too much or, sing, but not too much. Love people, but tour’s almost over or this person’s leaving tour, so don’t love too much. Or, you’re in this town and you’ve fallen in love with the people here or the families here, you gotta cut out falling so in love with people and falling so in love with life because to love is to lose. So throughout tour life, you know, I was receiving these different messages, coming back to my yoga mat and coming back to my own practice with self. Sean reminded me, Oh yeah, you get to color outside the lines, and you get to love fiercely. And to love is to lose and to lose is to love. I mean, it’s just, it’s the gorgeous part of living this life.
Andy Vantrease (00:09:41):
Wow. Yeah. I love that. And, and I think that that is such a path that a lot of us walk, right? Of like seeing the ways that other people exist, you know, when we’re young and going, Okay, how can I fit in and be a little bit more like that? Or if you’re performing and you’re following bosses and literally trying to be somebody that other people are telling you to be. A couple stories that kind of mirror that, like in your childhood of ways that parts of you had been separated unwillingly: I remember you telling me that at age five, I think your mother sat you down and she kind of revealed how she was bullied in school for speaking Spanglish and not having perfect English. And so she was prepping you thinking that she was protecting you. And saying like, From this time on, you won’t be speaking Spanish and you won’t be having as close of a relationship with your abuelos. And so like, the exile of certain parts of us begin and we start, you know, we start to navigate, okay, What’s accepted? What’s not accepted? What’s being praised? What’s being bullied? What part, you know, all that whole mess. I’m curious, it sounds like you meeting this teacher was a big turning point of calling back that energy of yourself. But I’m curious of you reflecting on that journey of coming back to your own wholeness.
Stefanie Tovar (00:11:16):
I think of how life can be many scripts. You know, like in my professional performance life, I was following scripts, I was following direction. And as people, we receive these different scripts. We do receive it very young. Like, Oh, you’re not meant to cry because you’re this embodiment, or, Oh, you can cry just not here. Like, we’re we’re told right away what’s societally expected, what’s acceptable, what’s respectable behavior. And we ingest that super early, you know? And so it’s just like we forget the mystically untamed within us. We end up following these scripts and these orders and like, this is how we’re meant to live life. This isn’t the way we are meant to be. For me, yes, receiving at five that script of this space, school space, you’re meant to speak proper English. And then receiving that early on the trauma of my mom, like just having that bullying.
I mean, just consider, you know, a five year old hearing that. Yes, she was trying to protect me. And I think that generation… there’s a generation of parents that told their children, Forget us, forget your heritage, forget your practices. Be as American as possible. And it was very hard cause I was very close with my father’s side of the family—mostly descents de Mexico. And so like slowly losing my relationship with Spanish meant slowly losing relationship with that side of my family, the regally, mystically untamed. They were people of the earth. They have land in San Luis Potosi, Mexico, and their space initially didn’t have electricity, and they tended the land. They received from the land, and they loved and shared stories in the land, of the land. And to be separated out from that, yeah, it did feel like a shutting out of sorts.
Also to say, just like many of us, everybody listening, I’m sure all y’all can acknowledge moments in which you receive scripts throughout life and how we’re meant to look at these scripts for what they are and understand that yes, some of it was protection that we received from people who love us from the lens of their own trauma and their own scripts. And some of it’s things that we learn in our life experience. Life experience told us to live certain ways, and we get to decide what scripts we’re meant to live with and which ones we’re meant to rip up and say, No more. No more. I get to write. And that’s what I love about my life now. <laugh> In supporting through the healing arts is like I get to decide what’s being said. I get to decide the journey of my own life, but also a healing journey that I get to facilitate for other people and try to be in conversation with folks, so I don’t end up imposing scripts on people that are not meant for them, um, that I can support freedom and autonomy and a co-creation of what a healing world can look like for all of us.
Andy Vantrease (00:14:36):
Mm-hmm. Yeah. I know that we all have many teachers and you have already named one of your teachers, but I know that one person that has been hugely influential to you was Maya Angelou. And I remember just being so moved by your relationship to her work and finding her book, “I Know Why the Cage Bird Sings” at 13, because it seemed like it was this turning point moment for you since you’ve already gathered a lot of these scripts, a lot of really tough challenging experiences as a young person and her being a representation and this book being proof that we can go through these hard things and there can be a complete, beautiful, fascinating, complex life on the other side of all of these challenging things.
Stefanie Tovar (00:15:39):
Thank you for bringing her into this space, um, because I do feel like she’s very much a spiritual mother to me. It’s just so beautiful to witness how, to me, she’s a person that let herself get as big as her heart. A person who, her love ripples out and impacts so many people, and she’ll never know the fruits of her loving impact. Maybe she has more of an idea from the spirit world watching us, you know? And even right now, I do feel her presence with us with this podcast. Yay! <laugh> Reading that at 13 changed my life because I had received many traumas at that point. Sexual traumas, that’s another thing that many of us receive as life experience scripts, especially what it is to be female embodied, female-identified. That is not uncommon, you know? Many of us share sexual trauma in our stories, which is an unfortunate truth.
And I happened upon this book and read about, you know, Dr. Maya Angelou and how she had also been on the receiving end of many traumas among them, sexual trauma, and it helped shift my focus, lovingly disrupt me through the loving disruption of her own life to say, Okay, yes, this happened. You know, we cannot let ourselves be reduced by the actions that have been imposed or impacted upon us. We get to decide what this all means, right? And so that message from her at 13 had me realize I very easily could have continued a pattern of victimization and trauma begetting more trauma, but receiving those words at that age helped me realize, Oh, wait, I can metabolize my pain and transition it to power and joy. I can, and thanks be to that book, it helped me start to understand that.
And what’s wild… so I was a touring performing artist, and already I was kind of feeling like my life was a bit stale, you know, just receiving these messages of love but not too much, be not too much, living in and out of hotel rooms like that was my life, you know, for months on end, communicating joy, communicating love, communicating possibility to many audiences, many families worldwide. But then coming home to my stale hotel room by myself, and just not feeling that connection and interconnection with all that I truly was. A huge traumatic event happened in my life—my first love from high school committed suicide, and unfortunately, that was the fifth suicide that I had experienced in my life up to that point in my twenties. And so that really jarred my heart to feeling again. It jarred my heart awake to my grief. It jarred my heart awake to, Wait a minute, there’s more to this life than performing and communicating love and joy to all these people, but then retreating to a stale space over and over and over again. There is a fuller life out here that is possible, and that can allow space for the fullness of your heart to include the grief, include the rage, include what is still desiring healing, what is desiring full expression.
Andy Vantrease (00:19:21):
Do you wanna name that partner and that friend?
Stefanie Tovar (00:19:25):
Yes. Yes. His Americanized name is Dallas Ray Nucena. His native Hopi name is Dalajoya Nucena.
Andy Vantrease (00:19:36):
If I can remember correctly, you were touring and your voice stopped working.
Stefanie Tovar (00:19:44):
Andy Vantrease (00:19:47):
I wanna talk about that because I think is a really crucial point to start to recognize that our bodies are always talking to us and guiding us and leading us to what needs to be felt, what’s asking to be acknowledged. Tell me about that point in your journey and what that sparked for you, what you realized.
Stefanie Tovar (00:20:16):
Oh, I freaking love this of you so much, Andy <laugh>. Um, my grief was so big. I was even sharing with a friend earlier about how at the funeral, it was almost like a force field of grief and pain that was so big around me and around Dallas’ mother. People couldn’t get within five feet of us. Like it was just, you could palpably feel that grief. My mom drove me to the airport and she pierced through that field to hug me. And I remember that transfer of energy onto her and her going, Oh my gosh, this is massive. I’m flying back on freaking Valentine’s Day and carrying my suitcases through freaking Times Square, all these fluorescent lights. We lived at the Double Tree. I was still with Sesame Street at the time. So like, I was having to sing, like, “The happiest street in the world, the happiest street in the beautiful world.”
I remembered I would face the audience and sing, and then I’d turn offstage, and I’m like, Oh, I hate my life. And then I turned back and I plaster on the smile again. Yeah. It was just absurd. And so we were playing Madison Square Garden, uh, it was the second time I was meant to perform this long run over there. And they’re like, Stefanie, you need to suck it up and perform. You just need to suck it up. And so I managed to open us in Madison Square Garden. And I knew something was kind of up with my voice, but I managed, and the next morning my voice just didn’t work. It just didn’t work. I remembered they took me to all these doctors throughout New York, and then I was like, you know what? I’m gonna go to a reiki session.
I just, let’s just see how it goes. So, I’m getting myself in the space. I’m relaxed. I’m trusting this human. I’m, you know, this is gonna be lovely. And so I’m laying on the table, I’m like, oh, you don’t get naked in this? No, no, no, no, no, in reiki you don’t get naked. <laugh> And so like, lay there with my clothes. And I’m like, Okay, I’m in this space of belief and trust, in this space of belief and trust. I have faith that this is gonna help me. And so, you know, they start at the feet, and I’m like, okay, I’m in belief, I’m in trust. I’m in faith. I believe this human, I have faith in this human. And then they go to my legs and around my hips. I’m like, okay. I’m still in faith.
I’m still like, Is something supposed to happen? And then my core, I’m like, okay, I don’t know. Why did I do this? And then my heart, my body lurched up off the table. Like it was like, oh, what? Uh, like it completely flew up. And then he kept on going to my throat. Like I felt Dallas actually with me in this space. And this person who provided reiki for me, he told me, he is like, Wow, whatever you are holding, usually I don’t leave space when I’m with people. I’ll leave the room, but I don’t leave the building. He’s like, I left the building and I took what you had, and I threw it in the dumpster. It was that heavy, massive, and gross. And he’s like, And there’s this really tall young man in this space that said he told you not to come.
And I said, That’s Dallas. And I said, He told me, and I heard him telling me in message too prior, like, Don’t come to my funeral. Just keep living your life. Keep being awesome. You’re doing awesome things and keep being awesome. Don’t stop for me. And I was like, Of course I’m gonna stop my life. Of course I’m gonna take time to honor you. Of course. Like, why would you even think otherwise? And so look at this, even years now, tears out pour with thinking about that and thinking about him. So I was able to come back to singing condition, meaning I sang okay enough to perform to a level that was okay. It still wasn’t my full expression, but it was possible. And meanwhile, I’m singing and I’m performing the script, but in my head and in my body and in my heart, I’m like, What was that? <laugh> This energy stuff is for real!
And I learned more about reiki and the fact that that is in connection with the chakras, you know, which means energy wheel and like, Oh, whoa, okay, that explains the grief. And the fact, like, I had that field that people couldn’t get within five feet, and now people could get closer to me—People were still holding their distance, and I didn’t mind it! I was like, Yeah, I just wanna be alone in grieve. I don’t have any room in my heart to love other people right now. I’m busy being in love with Dallas and grieving Dallas. I was between shows and there was a period where I was flying back and forth between Boston and Minneapolis doing two different shows at the same time. It was absurd.
Andy Vantrease (00:25:25):
Stefanie Tovar (00:25:25):
But, but even as I say this, I made time to do this chakra healing meditation and that as well as yoga asana were like my lifeline. It was what was keeping me going.
Andy Vantrease (00:25:41):
Stefanie Tovar (00:25:42):
Actually, that does lead me to another thing, because I was performing back and forth, and the theater company I was working with that was a little bit further out from Minneapolis, had written a show for me that was gonna be working with middle schoolers and high schoolers, addressing social justice. And I remember going, Whoa! And he wrote it for me, and I was the lead in it. And it was gonna champion so much that I do feel very much in my heart that are so important to help us truly all flow towards wellbeing. And so I came back to Dallas cuz I was gonna do that show and then go and work with a physical theater company in Australia.
Still very much in grief though. And my mom knew that Dr. Maya Angelou was my spirit mom. Or maybe she didn’t know that much, but she knew that Dr. Maya Angelou was certainly someone I revered and looked up to. And she was scheduled to speak while I was there. And it was a very short window of time. I was meant to fly back to Minneapolis, literally the day after her speech and her talk. And so I went there and she ended up opening… she was addressing youth, more college-age youth. And she addressed the audience, opening with an African American spiritual, “When it looks like the sun ain’t gonna shine anymore, God put a rainbow in the clouds.” And so like, she started singing, which made me instantly, whew.
Like the tears just floated out. And she was talking about how we’re called to be a rainbow in other people’s clouds and how many of us can turn to people in our lives who have been rainbows for us in our clouds. And how in order to be that rainbow, we need to exude with all that we are and allow that true shine to flow through. And I was crying and like feeling like I was in conversation with her, even though, like, I’m in the audience with hundreds of people, but I’m like, I’m shining, but not fully <laugh>. I just wanna grieve!
I just wanna cry. I just wanna be upset. Like, I did know deep in my heart, I was like, These people love my shine. I’m helping, I’m healing people. I’m contributing. Right? But there’s something in me that knew like I needed to go deep into my dark. I needed to go deep into my grief. I needed to go deep into what was shaking up in my life, in my heart, in my body and my spirit to really unearth and reveal the true radiance of me. And so I was in debate, like, conversation with her, even though she didn’t know. That shook up my life again! Blessed be, this woman, like a little over 10 years later. And then the next day the flight was booked and everything, like, we literally started backing out of the driveway and I stopped my mom. I’m like, I can’t do this. I’m not going. And so that’s when I called the theater company. I’m like, I can’t do this show. I’m not doing the show. I know, poor theater company. They’re like, Oh, a death happened? Okay, that’s okay. Well, don’t worry about it. We’ll give you two weeks. I’m like, No, I’m not coming. I’m not doing it. It was just a very drastic shift. But that is what turned me to going, Okay, I need to stay home and heal.
Andy Vantrease (00:29:23):
For me, I know what you’re saying when you’re saying like, there was that arising or there was that call, or there was that knowing that you had to go to a deeper place. I know how that shows up in my body, but I’m curious, like, in that moment for you and in subsequent moments, as you have deepened this relationship with this inner knowing, how does that come to you?
Stefanie Tovar (00:29:55):
Universe, Spirit, Mother, God, Nature, all that is divine and sacred is dynamic as all get out <laugh> in communicating message to us. But, you know, as you said earlier, I am descended from curanderas, who are healers of the earth. It’s an indigenous way, another form of shamanism, just for folks who don’t know what curandurismo is. I’m descended from cantina singers. I’m descended from dancers. It’s in my blood too, so whenever I tap into this, I’m tapping into ancestral knowing. And it’s something that’s visceral, but it’s also very natural and easeful for me. Those who have experienced “Capital T” traumas, we tend to have a way of acknowledging when we’re in spaces of safety, we tend to really have a heightened sense of people around us and how they are feeling. Because especially for me as a child, navigating through spaces like that, how another person was feeling or how they were responding or reacting to life around them impacted my reality. So knowing when and how to navigate around space to maintain my own safety and my own sacredness was crucially important. And that was a skill. It’s a superpower, I will say.
Because now when I facilitate in spaces, I tend to be more explicit in the fact that I’m unlocking all those doors, including the door to my own intuition and opening up my heart to really hear and take in awareness of who is in the landscape of that space and what may they need to help support the unlocking of their bodies, minds and hearts, to introduce them to themselves as they fully are, and to learn how to embrace themselves as they fully are and to be intimate with all aspects, including our dark. So for me, I’ve received, through intuition, through my own wisdom of knowing. I know I’m an old soul. I learned that very early on in interacting with my mother because she certainly championed that and acknowledged that where I think many parents look at seniority in human years and that kids have nothing to teach us—when really they have everything to teach us. <laugh> Especially cuz they’re not fully tamed yet, right? They’re not following scripts or they literally tell you. My daughter Luna, she’s like, This is silly. It’s like, you know what? It IS silly <laugh>.
She helps me acknowledge when certain social scripts are absurd. Kids help remind us of what’s absurd about us, and where can we be more playful. So there is no one answer and we get to decide what it’s called. If it’s called intuition, deep knowing or whatever. I think we’re just meant to really watch for the signs internally and externally. I think oftentimes, we have this culture that’s like, Grind anyway, do it anyway, or don’t listen to the duh, like all this stuff. And I’m like, No, that’s a sign. Like maybe there’s cause for self-reflection, self-analysis. Let’s remember our whys, evaluate and then move forward. But like, there’s many signals and signs that tell us like, Hey, time to pause and pivot, or time to pause and stop <laugh>. You know, just stop.
Andy Vantrease (00:33:31):
Just stop. Like, that being a full idea, <laugh>
Stefanie Tovar (00:33:36):
Enough, you know?
Andy Vantrease (00:33:38):
Yeah. It’s been really interesting to be in Mexico this winter and really recognize the difference between the rushing of America, like the hustle and grind culture and just the inability to rest. I mean, I think that exists here as well. But it feels like there’s such a different built-in pace. And I was like explaining this to somebody, I think it must have been my roommate who’s from Switzerland, but I was explaining to her like how amazing it was to be here during New Year’s because I didn’t hear a single thing about losing weight, doing a sober January. It was a completely different experience to usher in a new year, however I wanted to without the messaging of like, Keep going, work harder, like all of these things. I’m thinking back to what your boss was saying: Just suck it up. Just suck up the grief. It’s so unhealthy to me. And now being physically removed from it and not hearing it, I’m realizing the effect that that has on my nervous system. When we allow ourselves to rest, when we kind of can figure out a way to take a break from that system and allow ourselves to rest, like what does it actually feel like? Am I actually resting or is my body just resting and then my mind is going? I think a big part of it is to get away from that messaging and to really be welcoming in new messages or no messages from the external and just really what it feels like, you know, to be in this body and what it needs.
Stefanie Tovar (00:35:34):
Man, you hit so many points that I passionately agree with. It makes me actually feel very fired up. <laugh>. Cause it’s like, Okay, grind culture and workaholism—it’s dehumanizing. My husband left a culture where people were celebrating this guy cleaning this space, and it wasn’t even his job description. And he was cleaning the space on Christmas Eve and they’re like, Look at this person’s commitment. This space is shut down and they’re on their hands and knees cleaning this space and they don’t even have to. Isn’t that amazing? And Zach’s like, No, that’s unhealthy. That person’s not resting. They’re not with their family. They’re not in their own tradition and in their own home. Like, that’s not healthy. That shouldn’t be uplifted. And we do it all the time. You know? It’s hard. It’s hard to contend with. And I do feel like during Covid there was this period where we were aware of the gift in the pause, the gift in the exhale, the gift in being with Mother-God-Nature and witnessing how we uphold, we laud things as so important. And then we’re with nature. It’s like, Oh yeah, nothing’s important. <laugh>.
Like, I am being among this beautiful living world that’s healing all the time from all of our muchness, from all our much-ery <laugh>, you know, that is metabolizing the trauma we put on Mother-God-Nature and constantly metabolizing it and shifting it to nourishment and joy and magic. I mean there are moments at Feathered Pipe that was gifted by Mother-God-Nature and gifted by the divinity of the people there that were gathering, as well as the people that had been there before. It just awakened so much self-expression outta me. I say this too because I remember meeting with a shaman quite a few years back now. And she spoke to how absurd New Year’s resolutions are, and I remember feeling that, like I started feeling that in my body.
But she said, If we were to actually align with the seasons, we would acknowledge and realize that that time of year, the winter is a time for hibernation. It’s a time for rest and reflection. It’s not a time for like revving our engines. All engines go, be the best version of you. And that means thinner, that means healthier, that means no substance. That means like #goals, #grindculture, hashtag, hashtag, all of the hashtags! You know, It’s like how skinny can you be? How tall and beautiful can you be? How young can you look? It’s like freaking ridiculous.
Andy Vantrease (00:38:19):
It’s ridiculous. And exactly like you said, if you’re looking at any other animal species, they’re literally doing the exact opposite of what we are told to do come January. It’s like, sleep as much as possible. Eat as much as possible. <laugh>.
Stefanie Tovar (00:38:39):
Andy Vantrease (00:38:40):
Gain weight because you need to get through the winter, and just chill until spring comes. Cuz once spring and summer come, it’s time to be active.
Stefanie Tovar (00:38:50):
It’s so funny. But I will say I speak to the narrative by offering a class that I lovingly call my “F That” class. On New Year’s Eve, I offer it in person, and New Year’s Day, I offer it online—and it’s the best. We practice yoga asana. We dance. We cuss. We blow bubbles usually. We color with crayons usually. And we talk about all the shit we’re letting go of. And that’s to usher in the new calendar year. But even I speak to the absurdity of the calendar year. It’s like whatever, we’re just cleansing here and we’re cleansing the grime of our heart and our minds. We’re cleansing the narratives, the scripts, the people or the experiences that told us that we’re meant to live a certain way and we’re clearing that shit and we’re saying lovingly fuck that <laugh> like no more. You don’t have control over me. And we let it be a celebration in light. And I do think that’s something for us to be aware of. Like those of us who are storytellers of wellness, and who are a part of the story, it is important for us to acknowledge that better doesn’t mean thinner. Better doesn’t mean looking younger. Better doesn’t mean speaking English better. Doesn’t mean speaking perfect Sanskrit. I mean humanity’s imperfect. We’re not like that. None of us are meant to be tamed into perfect.
Andy Vantrease (00:40:15):
Mm-hmm. Yeah. I love that approach that you have to wellness. And I know that a big part of your presence in that work is to lovingly disrupt what it, using air quotes, supposed to look like to be a wellness practitioner. Like you say, I am not a yoga teacher, but I teach yoga. How to use the healing arts and how to use these tools and how to have this like humanity-first approach. What I can see is that you’re creating the space where social justice and wellness intermingle and intersect, and that being in just a broader soup of humanity. I’d love to use this as a segue into some of the wellness and the racial healing work that you’re doing and how those things are completely overlapping and necessary for each other to exist—and necessary for growth and healing.
Stefanie Tovar (00:41:16):
I call myself at this moment a healing artist. And I say at this moment, cuz I’m allowing freedom for it to shift. And I specifically call myself a healing artist because I bring in so many different aspects of myself to the space and invite other people to do the same. And that’s what I have acknowledged as a wellness facilitator, but also in performing arts. The more embodied we are and the more accepting of all that we are as a healing artist, as a facilitator of wellness, the more we allow our full self to be in this space, the more we can support that freedom and that permission for others to do the same. Because the truth of the matter is, is that we tend to walk into spaces compartmentalized. I would be surprised if any one person feels like they can walk into any space fully who they are.
You know, there’s certain spaces where maybe we feel like we need to put on airs to exude success or other spaces where we need to speak especially eloquently or spaces where, Oh no, this is where I actually am very casual and let the f-bombs fly. You know, there’s different social codes and scripts that we follow depending on where the space is, and for me, I’d like to consider that my work is part of a movement. Not to necessarily have people feel good, but to have people be held lovingly accountable to their own freedom and to support freedom internally and externally and allowing for the celebration of difference to breathe in a room. Because I think wellness tends to bypass so many truths about it. Like we tend to bypass and go straight to the, We are all one narrative, but like the truth is, is that we are not all experiencing this world and this life the same.
It’s just the truth. That could be based off of our race. It could be based off of our age, our body size, our neurodiversity. It could be based off of so many different components that make us who we are. And so to celebrate the truth that we all have different experiences of this life, based off of even geographically where we are, our immigration status, our family’s immigration status. Like there’s just so many different things that impact and inform how we live life on a daily basis. And to let that difference breathe and to help open that lens up in that aspect. I mean, I’ll even speak to it in this space when we recruit our imaginations. Sometimes I’ll speak to like, invite into your body, mind and heart a soothing color. And I’ll say like, just something as neutral as that.
And then I’ll say, and how beautiful it is that everyone here is experiencing a different color right now, or maybe they’re same colors. I don’t know. Just acknowledge that even though we’re all in the same space, having the same words that we’re receiving, everyone listening to this podcast right now, everyone’s receiving it differently. Based off of where we are in our lives, what time of day we’re listening, the human body with a life experience, experiencing it. I think when we unlock that awareness, we get to have the conscious conversations that can help open up humanity.
I have learned through Dr. Gail Christopher, this beautiful racial healing circle facilitation alongside many other practitioners across the nation. Her approach is very human focused. Like it certainly speaks to this truth that we are all human beings that have feeling hearts and loving minds.
We do. Every single body on this planet has that. And we have different life experiences based off of our embodiments, based off of so much that informs us on how to live life and all the scripts we’ve received. So that racial healing circle facilitation really helps us become awakened and aware to have those conscious conversations of like, Oh wait, you have that experience in this life? No way. Like, this is my experience in this life. And we really get to have that genuine sharing from human heart to human heart. And I think that’s really what is crucially important in this world to help us heal and to together consider what a loving healing world can look like.
Andy Vantrease (00:45:58):
Mm-hmm. Are there bits of frameworks, approaches that you are using or that you see yourself using?
Stefanie Tovar (00:46:06):
Actually this does remind me to speak more awareness into Yena, my nonprofit. It’s a 501(c)3 nonprofit and yena is a Spanish word for full. And actually when people say yena like, “Oy, soy yena.” It’s like you’re too full. It’s usually with food <laugh>, you know, like too full. But that’s exactly it: I want us to be overflowing full with wellness, overflowing full with love and joy. And the thing is that there can be joy even in becoming aware of the trauma of like, Oh yeah, that really is a wound that’s been there for so long… but I can heal. Oh wow. Blessed be, I get to heal. With that love pouring in, we get to support the healing.
One thing that I wish to provide is space for people to feel like they can come into that space fully themselves, not compartmentalizing, but be their full selves in that space, because that in of itself is deeply healing. So to support even that is a healing experience, but to then express and release from that place. So the work that I’ve been able to do through the racial healing circles, the work that I have been doing is being with organizations, supporting the awareness of how racism does harm our bodies and dehumanizes us, including people who are told they’re white or people who identify as white, you know, because even that bleaches out culture. Everyone has ancestors. Everyone does. So I tend to turn our awareness to our ancestry and to turn our awareness not only to our bloodline ancestry, but to our spiritual ancestors, the beautiful guides and mentors. I usually speak Dr. Maya Angelou’s name in the space. Like all those whom have beautifully informed us who have now passed on and who get to hold space for us, who get to continue to bear witness to us as we remember who we actually are: The mystically untamed within us.
Andy Vantrease (00:48:25):
Mm-hmm. How important do you feel like it is in these spaces to have people that look like other people? To have other Latinas and other black folks and other white folks in these spaces? Yes, everybody’s coming with their complexity of human experience, and what is the importance of having shared experiences based on how you’re perceived in the world?
Stefanie Tovar (00:48:55):
My own personal healing was crucially important to support racial healing in other people. And it’s still continuing in me by the way. I remember speaking to an experience that I had while being a facilitator of color in a white wellness space—which most wellness spaces are white, let’s just be clear about that. And that’s reflective of our U.S. American history of wellness. Yoga was initially brought to California in service to the white and wealthy community. So we are reflective of our history here in U.S. America. I do think that’s important to name, but like in this white wellness space, we had a beautiful yoga class experience and this white older woman at the end of class and we’re all quiet, like it was so deeply sacred that we had complete silence after class. And then she pierced the silence with, My goodness Stefanie, that was beautiful. What are you?
Andy Vantrease (00:50:03):
Oh my god.
Stefanie Tovar (00:50:03):
And my heart was so open and I had all this love. And that just pierced through the silence straight through my heart. And I said, Excuse me? And she said, What are you Stefanie? And I said, Tell me more. And this was my way to self-regulate, to be fully frank. <laugh> Tell me more. And she’s like, Well, I mean I just sense some native, I sent some Greek in you. What are you? And I’m like, Well, I’m first generation Mexican American. And she said, Mexican? but you’re so beautiful.
Andy Vantrease (00:50:42):
Oh my God.
Stefanie Tovar (00:50:43):
And to this, the space, that sacredness easily just shifted to like, Oh my god, this is like… and I could feel it, but no one came to my aid, right. And I’m in a position of power, but not really cuz I’m not the owner. And I said, Well, I hear you, and I understand how you may wanna exoticize me and make me other than I am, but the truth is is that I am Tejana, I am from Texas, I am Mexican, and I am beautiful. And then like there was a little bit of edge to it, and I was like, oh wait, power dynamics here. And then I opened it up to the space and I said, But honestly, can we all just look at it and when we think of our own ancestry, can’t we all just say it’s complicated? Because truly it is. It’s complicated. So I do have indigenous roots in me that I still have yet to fully unearth. I do have Spanish blood in me. I have colonizer in me too. But it’s funny because I spoke that story for the first time out loud at Dallas Truth Racial Healing and Transformation, and all the people in there were either people of color or white people interested in having the conversation about color and culture. And when I said it, I heard a room full of people go Oh, mm-hmm. Or Ohhhh. I heard the collective gasp and it brought me to tears. And now it brings me to tears. Just remembering being witnessed in that. So even for facilitators of color, it’s healing to be in spaces, to be witnessed because we get to speak truth to our own visceral experience. And to have people, like people were nodding their heads like, Oh, I believe that. I believe you. I wasn’t gaslit and going, are you sure? Sid she really say it like that? Did she really say Mexican… but you’re so beautiful? And they didn’t question me. They received it and they’re like, Oh, that’s so wrong. I can’t believe that.
So this is to say why it is important for facilitators of color, for big bodies to be facilitating yoga, people with different physical abilities to be facilitating yoga because representation absolutely a thousand percent matters to support people in feeling brave. Brave enough to speak the truth of their experience in a space. And for a person to see someone and go, Okay, they may have an idea of what my life is like… this is why Yena. And we still are debating whether we want a space or not in our, in our aspect. And by our, I mean me. <laugh> I still debate that cuz I’m like, Oh, am I gonna be reinforcing that narrative, unwillingly or unknowingly? You know, like, are our spaces accessible to people? And how can we support accessibility and opportunities for people to go, Ah, that person may have an idea.
Because teacher trainings tend to be at a price point that’s just mostly for wealthy humans. And the narrative in U.S. America still prevails that it’s mostly white people that have access to financial capital. And so like, how can we support accessibility? How can we support equity in wellness? And certainly one of the fast track ways to start supporting that is by having facilitators of color leading. Because we do have information, we do have awareness around what it is to be well. How brave it can be to rest and to champion joy in a country that tends to marginalize. But even to say like I know of colleagues, facilitators of color who have not had that experience of facilitating in a space where it’s mostly people of color in their class and they have yet to unlock healing in themselves because it is so different. It’s so different for the facilitator as well.
Andy Vantrease (00:54:58):
Yeah, I can imagine. And because of all of the social constructs like facilitating a space where you’re not fully sure what parts of yourself you can bring. It brings us all the way back to the beginning of this conversation of the compartmentalizing and the walking into spaces and going, Okay, is this part of me okay? Is this part of me okay? And we all have, it that doesn’t matter what race. We all have that in such a complex way—and there’s a layer of it that does have to do with race and how you’re being experienced by the world and how you are experiencing the world.
Stefanie Tovar (00:55:41):
We are all, every single human being is required to take a look at our own bias. Because when we do not take a look at our own bias, we end up unknowingly inflicting harm. As human beings, I move from the assumption that we do not wanna inflict harm on other people. And if we do not look at our bias, if we are not real and self-reflective, that’s svadhyaya—self study. If we’re not in self-study mode and we don’t study our own biases, we end up inflicting harm through our bias. And I’m reminded of a moment when I was in a space with spiritual activists. Seane Corn is one of my teachers. Hola Corey, Suzanne Sterling, formerly Off the Mat Into the world. And I remembered my transphobia coming up in conversation with someone. It wasn’t even anything spoken. It was a flicker of my eyes at figuring out who is standing in front of me. I had that moment of me assessing and my own bias and then seeing the person in front of me and then great sadness and shame, like self shame of like, Wow… and sadness and compassion for this person. I can only imagine how many times a person is looking at them and figuring out. And then even now I’m like, Oh, it’s so gross. And that happened.
I speak this to also allow and hopefully support us all to be vulnerable and aware of like, wait a minute, how have I been closed off from other human beings by a way of my bias? By way of maybe even not allowing myself to look at what I choose to shut myself away from? Like what am I locked away from? And how can I open myself up more? And yeah, to speak truth that I am a person of color, I am Latina, passionately, proudly so, and I have bias that I can still heal, and there still are ways for me to unlock my mind and heart to support even more love for more people.
Andy Vantrease (00:57:52):
This really just makes me think about part of your work being willing to—and actually excited by—having difficult conversations. Because you and I have talked about how interesting death is and how hilarious it can be sometimes. And how like there’s just all of these different parts of life experience that are kind of taboo or not talked about or like everybody’s walking on eggshells. And the way I kind of see the conversation around race is similar to the way I kind of see the conversation around death. These topics that people don’t wanna touch, but they are so directly linked to our collective liberation, and our ability to see the humanity in others and see the humanity in ourselves. Like we have to touch these conversations. I just so see you as somebody that’s like, Let’s go there.
Stefanie Tovar (00:58:56):
I can’t help but remember the Story Mapping cause I giggle and I bring it up to other people. Like how I told you about me taking myself on writing retreat and how that was what I did for my birthday. And I was writing about my trauma and I was like out by myself writing about my trauma and crying and laughing and you’re like, Of course that’s your idea of a good time. <laugh> Like writing about trauma and crying and laughing like, Happy Birthday to me! You know, I love it. I love going there. Like again here we are with being intimate with the dark. And in the darkness resides our bias, in the darkness resides the untapped, unmetabolized trauma, in the darkness resides the shame. Brene Brown beautifully says, you know, “The moment shame touches the air, it loses its power.” And Seane Corn does a beautiful job of speaking in spaces of her bias. We all do it, all the time. Unbeknownst to us sometimes, like you were saying about New Year’s resolutions. Be as skinny as possible. Be as beautiful as possible. Be as as calm as possible. Even yoga. Like don’t be angry, don’t be passionate. You’re supposed to be zen and all chill. And…
Andy Vantrease (01:00:14):
I have so much trouble accessing anger because my narrative has been like, be good, be easy, don’t rock any boats. And then kind of being in a yoga and wellness space, it just exacerbated it. It was like, now I have to just really be chill all the time. And where can this sacred anger go? Where can it go?
Stefanie Tovar (01:00:39):
Andy Vantrease (01:00:39):
Because it’s one thing to come up and then it’s being shoved back down. And so I’m working with that right now, and I’m like super nervous but also super excited because I know that it’s going to have an unlocking effect—like you said at some point in this conversation—to the ecstatic potential of our existence. Like all of that has to be released and felt in order for the other emotions to be released and felt.
Stefanie Tovar (01:01:11):
I love that you said sacred anger cuz I passionately feel the same way. And those are exactly the words I utilize too, because that anger is information. That’s telling us that we deserve more than what life or what a person’s handing us. Like we deserve more. And it’s a way for us to awaken to our self worth and awaken to justice. Awaken to how we can love each other better or love ourselves better. Love this world, love this planet better. And this is where, and I feel like why folks in yoga practices or yoga experiences tend to have the tears out of nowhere or have the rage out of nowhere because it is in our bodies. It lives in our bodies. And hopefully we can have more spaces where people are encouraged to really allow our experiences to pass through us. I am passionately working towards and allowing for my full self to come together to support my love story of myself, my ancestors, and all those who I get to meet.
Andy Vantrease (01:02:34):
Stefanie Tovar, a radiant being who shines wherever she goes. Stefanie has taught me many things, one of which is a deep trust of letting emotions flow. She’s one of those people who can cry and laugh and yell and sing all in one sentence without holding any of it inside. And she’s inspiring to me in that way, allowing herself to be a vessel for life to flow through her, whatever that looks like. Many people talk of the ecstatic joy that resides on the other side of deep grief and pain. But not many people embody this the way Stefanie does. She’s living proof that it’s possible to alchemize our life experiences into even more vitality and expression. I’m so thankful for this honest sharing, broaching subjects that can be tricky to talk about, like the grief of losing a partner to suicide, or the importance of understanding race as a factor in the healing capacity of wellness spaces. To learn more about Stefanie and her work, visit stefanietovar.com.
A big shout out to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how these ideas move throughout the world. This podcast is brought to you by the Feathered Pipe Foundation. Help support us by donating at featheredpipe.com/gratitude. And leave us a review on Apple Podcast with your feedback on a particular episode or the show as a whole. Also share episodes with your friends. This is the most organic way that the show grows, and we even get to meet people at the Ranch who first heard about us through a friend sharing a podcast. Keep the Dandelion Effect going, and until the next episode, have a beautiful day!