Shayla practices mindfulness through the arts.

Shayla holding a boquet she created at a recent London Plane / PwA flower making workshop.

Shayla holding a boquet she created at a recent London Plane / PwA flower making workshop.

Shayla is the mother of two young children with disabilities, and a Seattle native who has seen her home’s landscape shift dramatically. She and her family constantly struggle to mediate the bureaucratic medical and housing systems that aren’t built to meet their unique needs. Raising children with disabilities affects her family’s ability to work, to keep apartments, to hold onto cars. In her words, “it’s not what you expect, not what’s talked about at the baby shower… Your whole world is flipped upside-down.”

Shayla’s life revolves around her children, Noah and Israel – ages 6 and 7, respectively – which has made it difficult for her to set time aside for herself. She began taking mindfulness classes at Seattle Children’s Autism Center called “Mindful Moms,” which teach coping skills for parents of children with special healthcare needs, and at University of Washington’s Center for Child and Family Wellbeing.

Walking into Path with Art’s Improvisational Theatre class with her mindfulness mentality, Shayla immediately saw the connections between Improv and mindfulness practice. Jill Farris, the Improv teaching artist, reinforced, there is no such thing as failure, giving people permission to mess up, which made everyone more comfortable. Shayla speaks to her experience in this class, and with Jill:  

“Jill’s specialty is Improvisation, but her understanding of how to get people to come out of themselves, while infusing in them that they already have all these skills, is through mindfulness. She was able to get people to be vulnerable. People who have every reason to have a wall stacked up eight feet high – she was able to get them to come down a bit, relax, and just have fun.”

For Shayla, every class has been a memorable experience. She has made friends. They’ve broken bread together. She had never seen an impov performance before, but when they received free tickets to go see professional improv, they went as a group. Shayla attended every single class for eight consecutive weeks, even through the snowstorms that hit Seattle in February.

“You’re able to channel anger differently when you have skills, you have tools, and people who actually say, ‘I see you, I recognize you, and I want to see what I can do to support what you’ve got going on.’”

In addition to being a mother and an artist, Shayla is a fearless disability advocate and organizer, most recently serving as a Policy Fellow for the Developmental Disabilities Council in Olympia. She is also working to make mindfulness a more accessible practice by sharing her experience and expertise with other mothers of color, who may benefit from support while coping with trauma and poverty.  

“I had a short temper, prior to mindfulness… Being able to thread mindfulness skills with art, and then coping, is a way of survival. Programs like these help us become the adults we want to be, to model that for our kids. It takes a village to raise grown-ups – but we have to be humble enough, and vulnerable enough, to admit that we need help.”