Dana Falsetti: on giving power back to your community
Photo by Michele Suits
Dana Falsetti is a thought leader, yoga teacher and activist based in Pennsylvania. Through her practice, she focuses on personal empowerment and finding one’s autonomy. She inspires hundreds of thousands of people online daily through her classes, podcast and Instagram posts. Dana didn’t initially intend on being a yoga teacher, she was called to the profession after seeing what it lacked: a safe space for a community of marginalized people to explore a practice originally intended for all. Dana’s approach to the yoga practice resonates strongly with Setu’s mission. Enjoy learning more in this interview!
Libby: I wanted to start with a question, pulled from your podcast description. In a paragraph I find really juicy, there is this sentence, “the podcast will discuss topics ranging from sexuality to social justice and consciousness to capitalism.” Could you share more about the connection you see between those four moving pieces? This a big question but gets to the core of your work.
Dana: It is a super open-ended question and it’s hard to answer because it’s also dynamic. I don’t see yoga as something that can be inactive in spaces of social justice. If you’re basing anything in terms of the yoga practice on the foundation of the yamas or the niyamas, any of the philosophy or spiritual aspects of the practice, social justice can’t be left out. Marginalized communities can’t be left out. Certainly exploring the capacities of your own life is also not something to be left out. This is where consciousness comes in, yoga philosophy and my own thoughts on the ego – what it means to be human, how we understand and interpret things and how what you know comprises your personal reality.
Things like sexuality are forms of human expression and ways to learn about yourself. Over the last two years, I’ve been perpetuating the message of self-awareness and no shame. So much of the the discussion of sexuality revolves around shame. The reason I’m trying to have those conversations is to negate that. Sexuality is another path of being able to tap into what might be the highest version of yourself. You can experience more life and more feelings than known possible. I’m shown as I continue to live, that I think I’ve felt it all until I feel something more.
The intersection is where we’re able to heighten and expand our collective awareness and our collective consciousness. We can live more fully if we can tune into self-awareness. We can all continue to benefit and support each other, if we can listen to the experiences other people are having and see where we can make our own change. This is where capitalism comes in, corporate anything starts to come into the conversation and how we can get these parts working better together.
Even on an individual level, in your own life, you figure out your balance of these things and change the way you think. Critical thought based in the foundation of self-awareness is an incredibly powerful tool. In these mundane times of social media – especially in the yoga and wellness world, the perpetuation of the love and light message and the shutting down of many important conversations – I’ve felt more sparks than ever to create new places for people to dive into critical thought and have uncomfortable conversations.
Yoga is everything and it is all of those things [sexuality, social justice, consciousness, capitalism]. One of the most limiting things as humans is how we love patterns and love to categorize in order to understand things. But everything has a moving part and I want people to realize how their thoughts and every single thing they do matters and impacts all the other pieces of their lives. That’s why the podcast and the topics are meant to be so diverse.
Photo by Cheyenne Gil
I really enjoyed the podcast episode with Cheyenne Gil about your boudoir photo shoot. Could you share more about how the photoshoots shifted your perspective on your relationship with yourself?
Yeah, definitely. I’ve been very open about my whole life between struggling with weight loss and gain and body image and all the different versions of external validation. My body changed when I was very young. By the time I was 12 years old, I was very curvy and looked 18 or 19. As much as I was being shamed and marginalized by society, I was also being hyper sexualized. I ended up falling down this path of seeking external validation from men and from sex all the while feeling incredibly insecure about my body. None of it was really about pleasure or about a shared experience but rather about me needing to walk away feeling like somebody desired me.
That started to change many years ago. What happened when I first started doing these shoots where I was either nude or in lingerie, being directed by Cheyenne, I was able to be really free and see my body in a different way. It’s all been very collaborative along with my yoga practice, journaling, getting my own thoughts on paper and starting to understand them. Doing these shoots – and now I love them they’re one of my favorite things to do – allowed me to reclaim my body, my sexuality, my sensuality, my power and take all those things back for me.
Sexuality and sensuality resonate with me so much and they always have. You know how some people have that vibe? They have that aura about them and you can just feel that driver? I would classify myself as one of those people. I’ve always felt that way but I never fully felt like I had the driver’s seat, like I had autonomy in that power. I felt very much like society was the one deciding to hyper-sexualize me or to save me for my body. Through doing these shoots and my own practice, I’ve been able to learn respect and appreciation for my body. It has completely changed the way I see my body. I’m able to move through the world with much more confidence because I finally feel like that power is mine, nobody else is giving it to me and I don’t need anybody else to give it to me.
Photo by Cheyenne Gil
I am curious what that process of supporting a community has been like for you and what your top focus is or what you’re cultivating right now.
The light of my life and the fulfillment in my life is being able to support and uplift others while I can support and uplift myself.
In yoga and wellness spaces where we don’t want to have hierarchy, there’s a lot of elitism and many people are being boxed out. It’s so opposite of what I feel is possible from the yoga community. This is actually why I’ve created a platform and done it in this way. Hopefully, I’m setting a bit of a standard for what can be possible in terms of creating a community that allows people to pay what they want and provides accessible videos.
I’m trying to find as many ways as I can to use the power I’ve been given by the community to support the community back. It’s become the pinnacle of everything I’m trying to do – give more power back to the people. In a lot of ways, that’s what yoga is. I feel very strongly about the power of autonomy and being able to self-govern and have self-empowerment. It’s one of the most important things for people to have in their lives and just one example of the gap I see that exists between the individual and those who are providing the spaces online or in studios. So much of that has to do with listening and being heard and that’s where we could all do a little bit more.
Photo by Michele Suits
What do you see as the future for the body positive movement and or what is your ideal future for it?
Ideally, I would like to see the body positive movement come back to its political stance. That’s what has been lost but that’s to be expected. It’s morphed into this self love and self care for all, which is great but that’s not what it was initially intended to do. Body positivity is a political movement because it’s meant to be a space to vocalize the ways in which people in marginalized bodies are actually systematically discriminated against. It’s not just about not loving yourself when you look in the mirror but actually the ways in which fat people, people of color, disabled people and other marginalized people are actually hindered in their lives by society, systems and capitalism. I would love is to see it come back to that conversation. I know a lot of people in the body positive community who are truly marginalized have shifted to body justice instead of body positivity, as a way to bring the political impacts of the movement back.
You actually don’t have to love your body all the time. I feel very strongly that if you root any version of your identity in something that is external, you’re going to be on shakable ground when that thing changes. For me, body positivity is about recognizing the way people in marginalized bodies are impacted and ways that we can start to change that. Listening and action both come in here and very much yoga yet again. You don’t have to love your body every day. You have to love yourself every day. That message has gotten lost in the body positive mission where it’s just become all about external.
For me, some days I wake up and I look in the mirror and I don’t necessarily love what I see but I’m not going to allow that to stop me. I’m not going to allow that to limit the way I’m going to live my life because I choose to love myself as a person internally. The message, the light, my passions and what I have to offer the world is more important to me than having to love my body.
I would love to see the body positive movement go back in the direction of stepping into self-empowerment. I would like the message to bring the political and social justice focus back into the conversation because there are endless endless ways people in marginalized bodies are truly oppressed by silent systems.