When speaking with Yasmine Cheyenne now, it’s hard to imagine her experiencing a crisis of the soul. The Washington, D.C.-based writer and spiritual teacher has a thriving career running her own workshops and courses on topics such as self-healing and relationships. She has explored similar themes in articles for Huffpost, which cover everything from grieving to running a business. Now, she’s joined Skillshare to teach a new Originals class on connecting with one’s inner life through journaling.
This fulfilling career and personal life—Yasmine shares her home with her husband, two kids and two dogs—didn’t come about magically. She had to work hard to strip away the tough exterior her Brooklyn upbringing had encouraged her to build up. She also had to work hard to reconnect with herself after leaving a career path that wasn’t working and becoming a single mother of a small child after the breakdown of a relationship.
She talked us through her experiences, and the lessons she learned, in an interview with Skillshare. She also discussed the importance of boundaries, the value of vulnerability, and the power of checking in with yourself by writing things down.
Your Skillshare Originals class is about journaling as a tool for self-healing. Do you find journaling helpful in your own life?
Yeah, I do. I use the note section on my phone a lot, if I'm in a train or a cab. It really helps me to slow down for a minute. Most of us spend that time texting and I try to take at least 15 minutes for myself, to journal while I'm traveling.
It can be so easy to keep busy all the time and never quite process what's happening.
Yeah. A lot of us have no idea what even brings us joy and peace. Self care is becoming a buzzword but people think it’s only accessible to people who have time and money. They don't feel like in their busy lives they can take the space to take care of themselves.
In [my] Skillshare class, we talk about how you can really shift the way you feel just by doing a quick exercise, within three to five minutes, that helps you remember what actually brings you joy. It sounds trivial, but those little moments of shifting your energy help you connect back to yourself and to the present moment. Usually we're worried about the past or we're fearing the future. Sometimes we just have to focus on what's going on right now.
How do you describe the work that you do, more generally?
I think of myself as a writer, a spiritual teacher and a speaker. I got into this work due to my own downward spiral of anxiety and depression and just feeling like no one understood what I was going through. I started doing my own self-healing work, and through that, discovering that not only had I been offering this for free to friends and family for years. It was something that I naturally took to very easily. I had been writing since I was nine years old.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and it’s one of those places that’s really tough, so a part of my healing was learning how to take that exterior shell off. [As a kid,] I was very creative and I was allowed to just be silly and explore. But as you grow up, those things tend to not be cool and you tend to focus on what will help you fit in. I had to relearn that and embrace who I am and bring that to the table.
After school, you went into the Air Force. What led to that decision?
I wanted to go to college, and the military pays for college once you complete your service. So I knew it would be an opportunity for me to leave New York. I’d never seen much of the United States, and so I wanted to see the world outside of that.
I was posted in Georgia and got to travel to Turkey and Germany and I was actually deployed in Kurdistan for six or seven months. It taught me about strength. It taught me that I was more resilient than I had believed. It taught me how you can build family and through connections, how you can grow.
When I joined, I thought I would do this for 20 years. And then I had my daughter, and I didn't want to leave her for a long period of time so I knew that I was going to be leaving the military.
You’ve talked about going through a pivotal change during this period. What were the first steps?
I think my whole life I thought, work harder, work faster, be more perfect, do it better. And that was working for me for quite some time. I didn't know what anxiety was, I'd never heard anyone use that word. I'd never heard anyone use the word overwhelmed in my life. So I didn’t have any connection to those emotions, it was just, ‘Get it done.’
When I started experiencing anxiety panic attacks I didn’t even know what was happening. I thought maybe I was just a little tired or didn't eat enough that day. Then it started to spiral into depression. My marriage was falling apart and I was becoming a single mom, all while living in a new place with no friends, no community. It was really hard.
I knew that I had to make some changes because I wanted to be present to my daughter, in a way I wasn't really able to be at that time because I was depressed. I also somehow knew that there had to be a way that you could live your life, and do the things that you have to do that sometimes suck, like taxes and bills and all those things, but still have access to joy.
So I just kind of [jumped] with two feet into therapy and wellness retreats and the whole world of spirituality. And I learned a lot about the stuff that I do enjoy and the spiritual world. I had thought that being tough was the way to survive, but I learned that it was actually being vulnerable that was going to help me thrive and connect and experience joy.
You've written about the importance of boundaries.
Yeah. In the midst of that awakening, I realized that I was living for pretty much everyone else in my life. Boundaries to me are the rules in the way that you connect with the people and places and things in your life. The questions that I often tell people to ask when setting boundaries are: 'How does this feel for me?’ ‘How does this work for me?’ ‘Is this something I really want to do?’ I've found that when you have healthy boundaries in place, you have more space for the people and places and things in your life that you care about
What do you hope students take away from your Skillshare class?
The cool thing about the Skillshare class is that you can be a beginner and do this or you can be someone who's way further along on your journey. I try to make it as fun as possible, and something that you could even do on the train. Nobody wants to be on the train sobbing. I tried to make it something that was very accessible. And the other thing is that you can do it over and over again. So each time you come to the class you can come to it with a different theme or a different experience.
Do you have a dream or plan for the future?
I have a workshop that I'm doing in DC in July. And I’m just hoping to have spaces where I can talk more about this and reach more people. I want people to know that they're not alone and they can get through it.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Want to learn more from Yasmine Cheyenne? Click here to discover her class, Writing for Self-Discovery: Six Journaling Prompts for Gratitude and Growth, now on Skillshare!