Well+Good is pleased to present Wellness in Color, a new series highlighting prominent wellness practitioners of color who are doing healing work in their communities. Featuring conversations led by Latham Thomas, a Well+Good Council member and the founder of Mama Glow, these stories will shine a spotlight on energy workers, nutrition experts, sexuality doulas, and other wellness luminaries. Here, Thomas connects with Portland, Ore.-based sexuality doula Ev'Yan Whitney.
Latham Thomas: Ev'Yan, how and when did you begin your work as a sexuality doula?
Ev'Yan Whitney: I've been in the sexual liberation field for about a decade. This work started from a place of me realizing that my own sexuality—the way that I express myself sexually—was really being squashed by a lot of old stories and limiting beliefs. I was tired of not feeling like my own voice and my own sexual curiosities and desires were being acknowledged and celebrated and really deeply expressed.
So I started my own sexual liberation journey—which looked a lot like me reading a lot of books, being in therapy, and really beginning to unpack the layers of the old stories that I had been given about myself. From that place I started writing about my journey on a public blog called Sex, Love, Liberation. Very shortly afterward, I started getting a lot of people who were saying, "Wow, this is my story." After a year or two of people asking me when I was going to start working with people one-on-one and teaching workshops, I started my own practice. I've been doing that work now for eight years and it's been incredible. It's my life's work, for sure.
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A post shared by Ev’Yan Whitney • she/her (@evyan.whitney) on Oct 26, 2018 at 11:51am PDT
Beautiful! And can you speak about what this sexual liberation journey looks like when expressed through your clientele?
One of the biggest reasons I decided to do this work is as a way to give my younger self the kind of teaching and guidance that I didn't have. I was really thrown into my own sexual liberation without a roadmap. I wanted people to be able to be guided, supported, and held while they were doing this work—not just by someone who is an expert, but someone who's been there, who understands deeply the way that it feels.
One thing that I know is that healing isn't linear. As much as it would be great if I could have a one-size-fits-all formula or modality to help instigate healing and liberation in people, everyone's different. Every body is different. Every person's trauma is different. There are certain similar threads that are weaved together for all of us, but they all stand alone. And for a lot of folks, sex and sexuality is such a taboo topic. I like to approach it with a lot of gentleness and curiosity, while also walking this balance of not being too fluid and too gentle. I want to challenge their old stories. I want to ask them lots of questions: Where do those origin stories come from? How can we start to create a connection and relationship with your body, with your desires, with sex, with your sexual identity that feels really good for you? A lot of my work looks like me holding space. It looks like me being very curious. In the background I'm trusting that their own healing process is wiser than my own agenda. I basically give them permission to step into their own power to heal themselves.
Yes. You so beautifully laid out the very important pieces of what full-spectrum doula work looks like. It's not about us; it's really about the people that you're taking on a journey and holding space for. When did you realize that you were meant to serve as a practitioner?
I'll be honest and say it was within the first couple sessions that I did. I kept getting prompted by people, and I was like, I don't know, you guys. I'm not an expert. I don't have a whole bunch of letters after my name. I was talking to a mentor at the time, and she said, "Ev'Yan, you've got this. You're so ready to do this, this is your life's work, you just need to show up feeling fear and do it."
I gave myself a time frame of ten sessions to see how I'd do. It happened so naturally. As soon as I was on the phone, my posture changed, the tone of my voice changed. It almost felt like I was channeling a power, a confidence, or a deep inner wisdom that I didn't even know that I had. This work chose me. I am a vessel for the healing of other people. My job is really to show up, trust the process, and trust my own deep inner wisdom and intuition. That is what has gotten me to feel my thoughts and is, ultimately, what has helped heal and liberate my clients.
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A post shared by Ev’Yan Whitney • she/her (@evyan.whitney) on Sep 15, 2018 at 12:48pm PDT
What do you believe that you do, or what processes do you believe support the well-being of others?
I give them the gift of self-care. The permission that I give my clients is to prioritize themselves and to center their pleasure. Usually when we hear the word pleasure, we think sexual pleasure—and that's fine, I love sexual pleasure! I also want to talk to and hold space for the pleasure we get through experience, the pleasure that is our birthright in every single experience that we are in. I think that we [should] give ourselves permission to say, "I am a being that experiences pleasure. Pleasure is my birthright." That gives us so much potential and so much possibility for making ourselves feel good. As women, we don't really do that. Our pleasure is the first thing to be disregarded. Our feel-good is the first thing that goes. I love giving my clients permission to dream. I love giving my clients permission to be curious about themselves. I love giving my clients permission to reconnect with their bodies and initiate a relationship with their bodies because they haven't put themselves first.
Let's flip to your own self-care practices and what you do to take care of your mind, your spirit, and your body.
It is a work in progress. I've been having a lot of conversations about my own personal self-care because I haven't been very good at doing that. It's very easy to preach it; it's very difficult to put action behind that. With that said, one of the things I am trying to get better at is recognizing that this work that I do is no small thing. I am giving so much of myself emotionally, energetically, and physically whenever I am in session with a client. Realizing over the last few years that this is emotional labor and deep spiritual work has allowed me to give myself more permission to seek self-care. With that reverence for how deep I go and the space that I hold for people, I recognize that getting body work is really non-negotiable for me. As an empathic person, as someone who is highly sensitive, a lot of those old stories that I'm helping to release out of other people, they get held within me. Body work is a really great way for me to release that, to shed what isn't mine because those stories don't belong to me and they don't need to be in my body.
I also have been asking for help. For the longest time I've been doing this work solo. I just recently hired an assistant. I'm onboarding a business advisor and a manager. It's only been a couple of weeks since I've onboarded these fabulous human people but it's already been huge for me to be able to ask for help. My work lately around self-care is to relinquish that control. I think it is so important that healers have their own healers. Otherwise, I'm just depleting myself. I need that energy back and that safety, security, groundedness back from my community.
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A post shared by Ev’Yan Whitney • she/her (@evyan.whitney) on Nov 12, 2018 at 10:05am PST
I'd like to ask you what your wellness mantra is.
Honestly, these days it's been "Good enough is good enough." I am a Virgo. I am very perfectionistic. I get things done in the best way. It's always clean. It's always perfect. But that perfectionist aspect of me can tend to get me overworked. It can make me very tired. The thing that has been keeping me well, to the best of my ability, is "good enough is good enough." It doesn't have to be perfect. I don't even need to show up to a session perfect. I'm allowed to be messy. I'm allowed space and flexibility to be messy, to not be super-clean and clear. I get to be a human being.
If there are any ancestral practices that you pull from that inform your work, I would love if you could share some of those with us.
I'm so glad you asked that question. I have a few rituals whenever I am about to start a session, when I'm in a session, and even after a session. I have really been thinking about the ways in which I am doing this work, where that deep wisdom is coming from, who it is I'm channeling, and how much support I'm getting. I realized that I wouldn't be anywhere where I am today without my ancestors. So I actually have an ancestral altar in my office and I sit in front of it while I'm doing sessions. It's a way for me to honor the ancestors that have allowed me to be able to do this work, that have given me a voice and a platform to be able to do this work.
It's also a way to acknowledge the fact that I'm not doing this by myself. I've got a whole army of amazing, incredible people; ancestors; people who are my ancestors by choice rather than by family. Their influence lives within me. There's something very powerful about that. I noticed that the more that I've thought about ancestry, the more I tend to my ancestral altar. It's like we're doing this together and I feel such a sense of community. I feel such a sense of groundedness while I'm doing that work. Then, at the end of the session, I always thank my ancestors for being there and guiding me. I love my ancestral practice. It's been a huge addition to the way that I run my business and also the way that I show up within the spiritual aspects of my work.
What you have to share is so beautiful. For my last question, I wonder if you could share a piece of advice that an elder has shared with you.
The biggest lesson that I've gotten has been to never forget how powerful I am. I return to that message a lot because in this work, especially as a queer black woman, I deal with imposter syndrome—making myself small and conforming into certain boxes, and that really dulls my shine. It creates an environment for me not to show up fully in the work that I do. It creates me apologizing on behalf of the space that I take up. Just being reminded, both by my ancestors who have passed and also the elders that have been in my life, to be big and to take up space, to never forget how powerful I am, how much wisdom I hold within my bones and my body has been huge. Having that as a reminder, especially with this work that I do, is so important. It's medicinal, really.
Latham Thomas is a master manifestor and the founder of Mama Glow, a healthy gal's guide to actualization in the modern world. Her second book, Own Your Glow, was recently published by Hay House Inc.
What should Latham write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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