Name: Changa Bell
Profession: I am a health and wellness entrepreneur. I own a holistic wellness center, Sunlight & Yoga L.L.C.; I am executive director of a startup not-for-profit, The Black Male Yoga Initiative; a Georgetown University Certified Health Coach; and a weekly radio host for a wellness program titled, The RelationSHIFT Experience on WEAA 88.9 FM in Baltimore.
Please finish this sentence: I have changed/contributed to my industry by creating a space for African American men to feel comfortable, vulnerable, and safely guided in holistic wellness practices. I continue to educate, engage, and empower men of color to secure their legacy by first securing their own health.
What is your inspiration?
My inspiration has been many giants before me on whose shoulders I stand. They include but are not limited to my father Thomas Harrell Bell Jr., an educator and lifelong yogi; my mother Lillian Bell, a post-graduate Early Childhood educator and entrepreneur; my grandparents on both sides of the family, in particular, the amazing Lester Murphy, and storied Mattie Lee Schilcutt Bell; my brother Shawn Bell an indomitable spirit who died way too young at 39-years-old; my home community, Morgan Park, a village of kind, incredible men and women of color that raised me. Many of those “regular people” in Morgan Park have their names enshrined on the buildings of Morgan State University’s campus; and last but not least, my wife Devonna Bell, who inspires me beyond measure with her kindness, capacity to love others, and her will to surrender to Spirit; my oldest daughter Aszana Bell who is a straight A student, an accomplished violinist and the hardest working kid I know and finally, “The Lil’ Bells” my 5 smallest children who make me a better man daily: Hendrix, Harlem, Harley, Hagen, and Hampton are my heroes and sheroes, they require me to smile when life sends its biggest juggernaut to defeat me. Before I leave this Earthly existence, I want to get life ‘right’ for the One who bestowed the precious gift to me in the first place. As I said, I could go on and on. I am grateful.
Why is yoga so important for your mind, body, and soul?
Yoga is important for the mind, body, and soul because it is a science. In the Bible, Peter is often portrayed ‘teaching others how to pray,” and Paul how to ‘pray without ceasing.’ This technique or skill, for and consistency of prayer, is yoga. When your spirit is yoked to your character, your inner being, then your everyday waking moments all become a living, walking, and conscious prayer. A chemicalization of the blood takes place via designed movements (asana sequences) that manipulate the endocrine system to wake and energize parts of the brain and our own genetic code. Subsequently, through yoga, we are able to establish our highest selves in modern, contemporary culture. Thus, yoga as a science, not as a commodity, is important. This is the yoga I teach and practice in my studio and on my retreats and workshops. Yoga is a path of spiritual awakening. It is not only a lifestyle, it is a manner in which life can live you.
Describe your health journey and how you are teaching a new generation of black and brown men about self-care.
My health journey has been like many Americans both of color and non-color. As a contemporary teen, I drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, ate Buffalo wings, hamburgers, and hot dogs. That style of living has a literal timeline attached to it. The body can only take but so much toxicity. Add in urban stress, socioeconomic stress, noise from TV, music, and others and an environment fertile for diseases of all sorts is created: mental, biological, and spiritual. My sickness finally landed me in the hospital at 30-years-old with a severe cardiac event. My heart would randomly stop beating for moments at a time. I was fine and then one day I wasn’t. I was also experiencing a serious arrhythmia as well. In short, I didn’t have health insurance as a freelance film worker at the time so I was offered a pacemaker as one solution, the other was to leave the hospital the next day. I was scared and moreover, terrified to go to sleep. I gave in after about 30 hours or so of forcing myself to be awake. I said a prayer that basically acknowledged my bad ways of living and promised good and good for others if granted a life to continue living. I even startled the nurse overnight. My heart had “paused” long enough that the monitor went off. She didn’t see me breathing and the monitor flat-lined. She poked me to see if I were alive. When I spoke the poor thing, screamed out loud! Funny now, but scary beyond measure then.
I am truly blessed and grateful. Even though I left the hospital still experiencing the cardiac episodes, after a month of juicing, yoga, and abstaining from all the ills of my former life, my heart came “back on-line.” I credit yoga and my faith in God with healing me. I made good on my promise to live well and help others live well every day since that time 14 years ago.
I share my testimony and engage men of color in trying a demonstration in order to experience a dynamic form of holistic education via self-discovery of their own minds, bodies, emotions, and ephemeral states. I founded and operate the Black Male Yoga Initiative partnering with institutions, organizations, or programs to implement, events, workshops, professional and personal development and/or to consult on how to integrate the life-altering practices of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness into the fabric of their corporeal or private lives.
Why is yoga so important, especially among black millennials?
Yoga is critical for ‘millennials’ of color. We have reached a tipping point in technology. We have advanced well beyond the projections of Moore’s Law that it has impacted the wiring of the brains of the younger generation. They require constant stimulation and a bombardment of information to the point where stress and a non-resting state seems “normal.” In addition, most of humanity is under this same constant stress, therefore globally this normal state of not “turning off” or “turning down” affects all aspects of society and culture. We have also reached a critical mass for white supremacy; it is dying out, the sun will set in the British Empire and manifest destiny will see its end. This has created a great deal of duress on the souls of those recalcitrant spirits that don’t want to change. The lives of men and boys of color are under constant attack: spiritually, chemically, physically, emotionally, and mentally—it is a full-on blitz! Metaphysical and spiritual well-being practices will be the only way to mitigate the demise and implosion of people of color. It is up to our young people to master spirit the way we mastered athletics, music, and entertainment. Jesus said we all have the power to be as he now more than ever. It is time to “Yoga-Up” and “Get Lit” in the most enlightened sense of the word!
How do leaders like yourself break through the static and make an impact among your peers?
I think time and consistency yield trust. Trust and a proven record of commitment to my mission and purpose as a family man, spiritualist, and wellness practitioner has allowed me a place among the top tier of those in my industry. I am not perfect, I am flawed and it is my flaws that allow me to impact and influence my peers. It is a healthy acknowledgment of my failures that links me to friends and colleagues. Success is often an individual highlight that the collective can’t understand. I mean how many of us know what it is to be nominated for and win 11 Grammy’s through the course of a lifetime? Even many ridiculously talented musicians do not know that feeling and they often sell records individually by the millions. Yet, we all know what heartbreak, infidelity, stealing, and cheating feel like. We all recognize and wrestle with the darkness in our hearts, but we don’t like to highlight it and discuss openly how that darkness often pushes us to the light. I make an impact with my peers because I embrace a balance of light and dark and the force that supports it all.
As a man with a strong character, how do you see your own impact within your community?
I see my impact within my own community by the reflection of my light in others. I hear stories, see God’s light in their eyes, and I know that I have not influenced anything but that I have allowed the force of life to operate in a way that the glory of life has been recognized: in a moment, a conversation, a gesture, or a smile. I see further evidence from testimonies of students and lives that changed trajectory once the “path” was begun. Eventually, as each one teaches one, this movement will be bigger than jazz, hip-hop, or rock and roll. This will be the body and soul movement and it is coming soon to a city near you!
What is the key piece of advice you can offer to the younger generation and BE Modern Man hopefuls hoping to cultivate a successful career?
Be yourself. Be true to your truest nature no matter what! No matter how poor you may think you are, no matter who leaves you or who stays with you, those are just tests of faith. Remain true to the “inner voice.” The same voice that guides comets in circles around the Universe guides your heart. You have only to attune your awareness to that voice. Learn the power of discernment through any contemplative practice—yoga just happens to be my mode of choice—but remaining ‘yourself’ keeps you in a unique space that is reserved as your mark for destiny and greatness. But be mindful! Not all inner voices are THE inner voice. Allow time and practice to cultivate righteous awareness!
Why is it important that BE Modern Men like you are represented in your industry?
It is important that BE Modern Men like me are represented in the wellness industry because there are many more! By sharing my testimony and highlighting my efforts in the community, many more will rise! After all, it was the modeling of my father and others in my community that allowed me to become who I am today.
The BE Modern Man tagline is “it is our normal to be extraordinary.” What makes you unique and stand apart from the crowd?
What makes me unique and stand apart from others is my perspective and my extraordinary gift for empathy. My gift of empathy shows up in the form of “healing hands.” I can take a cold, flu or sickness from my children by laying hands on them. In my yoga practice as an instructor, I can use this gift of touch to ameliorate many body challenges; to be clear this is not a miracle healing power, simply an energetic force that I call empathy. We are all capable of both tangible and “intangible” empathy when we open ourselves to it. I just happened to witness this power so often with my father that I accepted it as my own.
My second unique trait is my perspective. I often say to people that although I am not funny on purpose, I can make any and all comedians laugh. I have a unique perspective that expresses itself through me in language and creativity that makes for a very powerful and interesting charisma. People either hate that trait in me or love it, but either way, it is very unique.
Lastly, there is one other rather obvious extraordinary thing: my name is Changa Kimani Bell. Perhaps this name is not so remarkable in parts of Northwestern Africa, but in terms of our western culture of the United States, ”Changa” usually sets me apart in a room!
What does a BE Modern Man mean to you?
To me being honored as a BE Modern Man is a dream come true. It is like an NAACP Image Award or a BET Award. Black Enterprise is Black Excellence. I have been a subscriber since I was a teen. Like BE founder Earl Graves Sr., my mother, father, sister and grandmother all attended and graduated (except my grandmother) Morgan State University. Earl Graves Sr. and his family are etched into the annals of time; an example that I have long looked up to. Like Eddie C. Brown, Robert Johnson, Cathy Hughes, or Reginald F. Lewis, these local and regional heroes have been larger than life for so long to me that to be acknowledged by BE places me in the same start gates as those committed individuals. As a BE Modern Man, I am truly humbled and even more inspired to continue the virtue-based path that I am on now. This honor of being mentioned in Black Enterprise as a BE Modern Man means everything to me.
It’s our normal to be extraordinary. Follow @blackenterprise and join the BE Modern Man conversation using #BEModernMan.