Release Date

October 27th, 2021

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From working as a child star to working through its residual traumas, Alyson Stoner has turned her own healing journey into a platform through which she helps others. Tune in as Alyson shares what she learned about the role of trauma in art, why she put herself in therapy at thirteen, and how she manifests meaning—and healing—through her latest endeavor, Movement Genius.

“I am the product of all of the interactions and people in my life and events that have happened.”

INSPIRATION

TRANSCRIPT

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Redefined is hosted by me, Zainab Salbi, and brought to you by FindCenter, a search engine for your soul: part library, part temple. FindCenter presents a world of wisdom, organized. Check it out today at www.findcenter.com. And please subscribe to Redefined for free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

What’s most important about life? What is the essence of life? Is it what we do, how much we earn, how many social media followers we have? Or is it, do we live our lives in kindness to ourselves and to others, do we live our lives in love to ourselves and to others? In nearly losing my life, I was confronted with these questions, and it led me to the conversations that make up Redefined, about how we draw our inner maps and the pursuit of meaningful personal change.

What choice do we have when we’re hit with adversity? Some of us may become absorbed by it, some of us depressed, shocked, unsure of what to do. But today’s guest, Alyson Stoner, decided to fight, to reflect, to face her adversity and emerge from it with, may I say, a truly rare and inspiring voice. Alyson grew up as a well-known child actor, appearing in hundreds of productions, dancing with Missy Elliot and starring on screen with Steve Martin. But child stardom took an extreme toll, resulting in Alyson having to confront and heal from years of trauma. Still on her healing journey, Alyson is now an advocate for improved mental health resources and long-term prevention strategies for youth and underrepresented communities. I was personally blown away by the power of her voice and her values. And I truly believe Alyson is becoming one of the most compelling and wise leaders, activists, and allies of her generation. I am so proud of her and I am so excited to share Alyson’s moving story of transformation with you.

As I was getting ready for our call today, I thought of a Rumi poem that I wanted to read for you because I think you are that poem.

Alyson Stoner:

[gasps]

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And it says, “Dance when you are broken open, dance if you’ve torn the bandage off, dance in the middle of the fighting, dance in your blood, dance when you are perfectly free.” And it’s one of my favorite poems, I have to say. And it’s like you are that. And the combination of the dancing and tearing the bandage off and dancing in the battlefield and dancing when you’re completely free. I think you are that poem. It’s unbelievable. So I hope you like it as much as I do.

Alyson Stoner:

Thank you. That’s really kind, and I do deeply resonate, deeply resonate with the idea of learning how to thread it in to every experience across the full spectrum of human experiences in life. That’s your anchor, it’s your life force, it’s the vitality coursing through you. And yes, literally for me sometimes that’s movement and also sometimes it’s more of the metaphorical dance of that deep kind of essence that is somehow helping us take the next step forward.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s so true. And I mean, I see it as also a metaphorical way, like to live life fully also and embrace every aspect of it, but show up, be courageous, own your stuff and keep working until you are completely free. And whether we are completely free or not, I don’t know, but we are in the process and you are definitely someone in that journey. And I want to, if you don’t mind, I want to start at the beginning. I am curious about how did it begin? Did it start as a child from you? You wanted to perform and you wanted to do that? What were you like like a little kid?

Alyson Stoner:

Well, that’s a great question because it is an unusual life experience. It’s a very niche version of reality to be a six-year-old who is on camera and millions of people have seen certain projects. And I attended a simple talent convention in New York more as a hobby, as a one-stop experiment. And my family was supportive, but by no means were we seeking a full career to develop at that age nor the reality that we would have to relocate from Ohio across country to Los Angeles.

And I have two sisters, so of course their lives were affected dramatically as well. And I received really strong feedback from the agents and managers at this convention and they strongly encouraged us to try it out in Los Angeles. And fortunately/unfortunately, depending on which part of the story you’re telling, I booked work very quickly and then never stopped working. So if you are an aspiring performer, that might seem highly ideal to catch a big break and to work with large budgets and the grandest production companies as a kid, and then to continue building and maintaining that momentum.

It’s amazing to consider having that kind of stride. And also if you examine this through the lens of psychological development for a child, physical development, social development, there are many tolls, many deep health conditions and a vast kind of impact, complex layers to how this shaped me in my understanding of the real world and who I am and what’s important and how to relate to people. So from the inside out, that journey has been far more compelling than any piece of art that I’ve performed outside-in. And that inward journey is, of course, what has carried me into the spaces I am now, for example, with my company, which focuses on mental and emotional well-being.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

So it started, it seems like, in an organic way basically as a child, wanted to try out some things and it just was picked up and went to another world. And the question I have is, you know, a child doesn’t have, like you suggested, the emotional knowledge, know-how, on how to deal with some of the positions you were put at. I mean, your famous People magazine op-ed where you talk about being six years old and you enter a white room where a stranger stands apathetically behind, I’m now quoting you, behind a camcorder and then you’re acting a kidnapping and a rape scene, or that you have been kidnapped and a rape scene.

And you go into the car and you are processing how you acted and your mom is driving you and then you have to realize that you actually have to switch to another audition and then you have to . . . which is much more happier audition kind of thing. The question I have as I read the story, right? Here’s a child auditioning for something horrifying and then going in the car, processing the transition with her mom, and going to another, a different complete scene. As an adult, I have to tell you, that would be exhausting for me to do. How did your mom help you through that? Or how did she handle the fact that this kid is handling all these emotions?

Alyson Stoner:

So, first and foremost, it’s important for me to let you know that my mother is incredibly caring and never wanted to subject me to anything that could be harmful. There are so many steps that parents and families are not prepared for and you become subjected to these unexpected situations where it’s almost the only thing you can do is try to work backwards after it’s happened. And there are many ways that my mother stepped in and said, “Hey, we don’t need to audition for that, that’s not a theme or a form of content that you need to be exposed to at this age.”

However, when you’re in the audition room, sometimes the casting directors are trying to work with you to achieve a certain outcome and you end up doing things that are off script or you experiment with different things. And even if your mother or your guardian was trying to protect you, they can’t be in the room with you as it all unfolds. And so on top of subjecting yourself to this interesting dynamic where a stranger is asking you to visit very tumultuous, vulnerable spaces, you also then leave and if you do a good job, you’re rewarded with praise for accessing that space.

So you start making these associations with feeling a traumatized state and having that lead to, oh! Getting the job and making money and having a sustainable career. Hmm! So you start understanding the story that we see with artists feeling like they’ve got to remain in their trauma all the time and they’ve got to dig and they’ve got to . . . it’s always got to be this catharsis and they have to remain unstable because that’s how they get the “good art,” so to speak. That’s such a stereotypical view that we hold.

And sure, we carry a lot as humans, and artists certainly access complex spaces, but we don’t need to stay in that traumatized state. However, there aren’t many resources to prepare us to discharge that stress chemical cocktail coursing through your body to understand and separate your life from the character’s life, especially as a child. So I think my mother did her best, but didn’t really even know that that was happening—and in that degree—and I was simply just following the adult in the room asking me to do things.

And over time, the cumulative impact can be quite severe. And we’ve got the character portrayal element, but there’s also simply the logistical element of being a kid with the schedule of an adult who is primed and conditioned at seven years old to know how to carry themselves on a professional set, who feels far more socialized to interact with the twelve men in suits than she does with a peer on the playground. I mean, talk about real social anxiety as a kid. I didn’t know how to hang out with someone my age; I much preferred being on a set in a work environment.

But some of the complex layers that young artists are subjected to might include free or forced labor; it could include sexual, physical, or psychological abuse and violence, on and off set; there’s exploitation and extortion—there’s money that I will never see and didn’t even know I made because former teams were double- and triple-dipping into their commissions. And set conditions are just tough for any young person. It’s completely inconsistent, there’s no sense of routine. You come together and bond, but then suddenly those people are out of your life after the project’s over.

So you learn these interesting ways of relating deeply and intensely instantly and then breaking that bond and never speaking again. So of course I can list plenty of situations, but I think the most important thing to grasp is that a set environment as well as the entertainment process is not necessarily designed with human well-being in mind. And just like most industries are not.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I was going to say, yeah.

Alyson Stoner:

So how can we start to introduce concepts that speak to the real impact taking place depending on how the system is structured? And I think with the advocacy that I’m aiming to do in entertainment, if we can actually shift things in media, that can have a global impact for society. We’re all so connected to and influenced by media.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Many levels it’s interesting because one of the things I think is the cause of this, it’s like milking every talent we have to the extreme. And in your case, it happened as a child. I talk to a lot of models—any talent to be honest, singers, songwriters, fashion design, the industry—and I call it extreme form of capitalism. It’s extreme. It’s not capitalism itself. It’s the extremity of it that’s like “let’s milk this to every single aspect of it” and almost leave the person with the talent with emptiness.

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, yes. Totally. That’s a great way of phrasing it because you can actually imagine wringing out the sponge and then disposing of the human and saying, “Did we get every drop we could? Did we commercialize and commodify every talent we could? Okay. She’s had her run, now we can let her go and move on to the next sponge that’s full.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

To the next. Yeah, exactly. You had once made a reference for your dad and how his three daughters were taken into the swing of the industry, if you may. And I’m curious about your dad’s presence in that process.

Alyson Stoner:

Well, it’s a complicated answer because my parents were divorced when I was three. My mother remarried soon after and the male figure in my life was predominantly my stepfather. And so my father remained in Ohio and we weren’t as in touch as I’m sure he would have wanted and I would have wanted. Thankfully we’re repairing that now and making up for lost time in a very, very beautiful healing way.

But back in those chapters, I think I can’t imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been for him to see some of the struggles I endured and wonder what is going on and to not really—for complicated reasons—be able to step in and be the presence he might have wanted to be. And it’s something that’s important to acknowledge is, the industry is not just affecting the artist, it is truly affecting every person in the family. And on set, we’re supposed to have a set educator who kind of behaves as a welfare worker for the child.

However, they’re often under pressure to placate to the needs of production, which is fast-paced and ever-changing and makes for a tough place to really have any child be in learning legitimately. But also they find it hard to advocate for the child because everyone bends the knee to the production. The show has to get filmed. We’re on a tight schedule, a tight budget and we need it done yesterday. So the mental health practitioner—and/or the mental health toolkits and resources—can be designed to actually treat the full ecosystem.

The parents can learn some tools and create their own personalized plan for their family, for their child, and then someone on set can help young people as well as really anyone get into character and de-role after to really find that equilibrium again. But we can also look at better union regulation overall, we can ensure that there are child labor laws in all fifty states.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

How did you get your wisdom, Alyson? I mean, honestly, I mean, you have such, first of all, not only wisdom, but nonjudgmental. I mean, you are calling what’s wrong, but you’re also not . . . I don’t mean nonjudgmental, but not punitive about it. You’re more about moving forward and giving proposal for change. You don’t seem to be bitter about it. You talk about healing with your father after whatever happened. What was the turning moment in your life that led you to a path where you started grounding yourself in your heart’s essence? I’m curious because I mean, here you are in a world of fame and work and action and all of these things and then yet you are so introspective and grounded. And is there a moment, is there a story in that that led you to that?

Alyson Stoner:

Thank you. Yes. I think because there was such chaos both in my home and in the industry, I kind of—standing at the epicenter—felt like I needed to find an antidote. I had to find some source that would help me make sense of what was going on and—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

How old were you?

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, I remember being seven and eight years old. Because . . . So in my family we had elements of abuse and addiction. And I think some of the desire for wisdom was born from a survival mentality. It wasn’t necessarily this beautiful emergence of understanding the inner workings of the world. It was more, so how do I get by? And I’m not feeling like I’m connected to my body and I don’t know how to make this suffering stop, so what are my options?

And to be fair through observing other people, I got to see, okay, some folks will cope with substances and it doesn’t seem to be adding to their life. So I don’t think I’m going to do that version, what are my other options? And I chose the societally acceptable versions, which I actually think is kind of even more sinister of me at some points, because I basically said, “I will still be struggling and suffering and just as chaotic, but I’m going to make it look like I am performing, achieving, modeling this really idealized character and behavior.”

And I acknowledge I had reasons of doing that, but it didn’t eliminate the tornado, it didn’t reduce the anxiety that I experienced. So all that to say, I’ve always been drawn to wisdom teachers, contemplatives, folks who are interested in consciousness and cognition. And I think I wanted to understand the mechanics of why I was responding in certain ways involuntarily. Why did I have these patterns I couldn’t control? Why was I suddenly obsessed with food and exercise when I knew logically that did not make sense?

I tried to go to the source. I read about trauma. I wanted to know the science, I wanted to know the philosophy. I think maybe some of that is just, depending on your view of life, just kind of the essence of who I am that I didn’t really choose. But for the parts that I’ve played along with, I would say because of the extreme environment, I had to have extreme solutions. And I started therapy at thirteen years old and—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

But as in you asked for therapy or your mom said, “Why don’t you go to therapy, honey?”

Alyson Stoner:

No, I asked, I wanted it, I needed it.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow, that’s impressive.

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, but it doesn’t feel impressive in the moment because you’re going, “I don’t know how to take . . . I don’t know what else I could do. I need help, big-time.” And by the way, from the outside looking in, compared to many of my peers whose struggles were more visible, I probably looked like I was just a precocious, put-together young kid, but I just always felt like, “Ah, there’s so much more, there’s so much more here and I want to understand it.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

So your curiosity basically saved you.

Alyson Stoner:

There you go.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

If you were not curious and kept on going and digging and exploring and understanding all of that, you would not have . . . you probably would have gone to other routes to numb yourself in other ways but you just went into the eye of the storm through your curiosity to get out of it, to get out the other side. Which is, that’s the impressive part, to say, “There’s something not working in here and I’m going to see what solutions are available in a healthy way.”

You talk about your relationship with God, and I’m very curious about that. So when I read about your relationship with God, I was so curious because you as a child, you went to church regularly as I understand it. And I’m curious, what did you understand God as being as a child? And then how—if I understand, it has evolved your understanding of what God is—has evolved over time, and where do you see God now?

Alyson Stoner:

Great question. I’ll answer to the degree that I’m comfortable sharing publicly because there is a strong part of me that wants to be able to teach with my life and let it be experienced as opposed to me having to give the language and detail of it. But I chose to enroll myself in the church around thirteen. My family was not very involved—like you said, more culturally, around the holidays, of course. However, between the chaos and at home and in the industry, I remember meeting two people and their families seemed to have a glue about them, this sense of being there for each other no matter what.

And for me, I kind of felt like, oh, I kind of feel like my family is a collection of islands and we’re all kind of self-governing and we’re not necessarily intertwined in that same way. And both of these people happened to be heavily involved in non-denominational Christian churches. So they started inviting me to service. And at first my understanding of God, as I think it is for many people is he, the language for the Christian Church, God is the personification of the rescuer and savior and fixer, provider of that which you do not possess currently or need most.

So for some, it’s an authority figure because you don’t have a reliable parent or guardian; for others, it’s a disciplinarian and it brings structure and virtue to your life; for some, it’s this kind of ecstatic, sensational experience of the Divine, because the world is so mundane and meaningless otherwise. So I first encountered God as a dad and as a guide. Where do I go? What matters? And can you kind of tell me . . . can you show me the ropes? And then when later I fell in love with a woman unexpectedly and that was completely at odds with my faith, I was invited to deconstruct and really check in. And when I tell you . . . When your soul is on the line, and you are assuming that you will be spending eternity in hell if you do not correct or change this part of you, you really dig into that research. You really pray in your prayer closet, you really get on your knees and beg for mercy.

And so I sought as much information as I could and was surprised when I found, oh, there’s a lot to this story of God that I have inherited that may not necessarily reflect the pureness of the teaching but is actually more a derivative of American nationalism, capitalism, words that I hadn’t really contemplated much at that age. I was probably seventeen, eighteen, or maybe even a little later, nineteen, twenty. The way that congregations’ mind was shaped was actually more reflective of hyper-individualism and even militarism, some of the language, and I’m going, “Oh, okay. So then if that’s not God, then who’s God?”

All right, well now I’m totally in mystery. I’m totally in the unknown. I’m terrified of getting it wrong because I’ve still got the lingering sense of “don’t miss the mark,” like repent as many times as you can in a day. And so my experience of God really felt cracked open. I really felt invited and challenged to believe that if there was some force or creator and they portrayed themselves as love, then I was going to have to trust that through this wild adventure of unraveling, if I’m aiming for truth, I’m going to believe that somewhere I’m going to land closer to it by doing this, even by walking away from previous congregations and communities, still not dissolving the belief system entirely.

Well, flash forward as I’m continuing to expand and transcend different concepts and then I start interweaving a scientific understanding of personal development and just cross-disciplinary information. My concept of God continued to evolve and where I am with it now I don’t really share publicly. I feel it’s important . . . Well, yes, I’ll leave it there. But I know that through this journey, the fruit of this process has been a deep transformation in learning how to give and receive love and a much greater enthusiasm and fervor for serving the planet, serving people and really offering myself as a vessel for others to be empowered.

And in my private circle, yes, I’ll speak more off-the-cuff with where I’ve landed currently. But I also know that where my foundation is today probably won’t be where it is in seven years. So I like to embrace mystery these days and if you can do that in such a black-and-white society, phew! I mean, that really builds resilience. So 10 out of 10, would recommend.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That is really, really, really beautiful. And I have to share my experience because I grew up a Muslim, in a Muslim culture, in Iraq. And even though my family were secular, God and religion had certain structure, which I resisted and resented as it was presented to me. But I had this relationship with God, which I didn’t know what, but I had love, this love for this unknown something. And then I came to America and I came here through an arranged marriage, which was a very abusive marriage and my family was in Iraq and there was war and I was displaced here and I escaped from the marriage and with no money in my pocket and this . . .

So I was very angry, right? Very angry at God. How could you betray me like that? It’s a sort of the savior, exactly. Even though it’s different traditions and different religion, it’s a savior. But then honestly what helped me come back to that love and trust, trust . . . It doesn’t matter whether one believes in God or doesn’t believe in God, for me. It doesn’t matter what God is. But what helped me is—ironically, was in a very different route—is I started going to attend traditions and ceremonies and teachings of an Indigenous tribe in Canada and where they see the stones as their grandmothers and their grandfathers.

And there were all these ceremonies of sweat lodges and others in which it’s much more about thanking the spirit, the stones for sacrificing their wisdom for us. And then they were teaching me how to pray for water and it was very obviously out-of-the-box for the tradition of Islam that I grew up in. And then I started going to a friend. I met a friend from . . . a Buddhist friend from Tibet, and she started teaching me about all different kinds of traditions about, again, encountering the Divine and encountering the Divine within me, that was the Buddhist teaching.

And I don’t like structure and denomination or anything like that so it’s like more I wanted to explore them in a free-spirited way. And then by happenstance, many years later, actually a few years ago, I get invited to speak in Saudi Arabia and I go, and there was the house of God there in Islam, right? And it was interesting for me because for the first time I go back to my own tradition, but associating and connecting to God from a completely different lens from where the Indigenous way of looking at God impacted me and there is the Buddhist way of looking at God impacted me and there is the Jewish way and the Christian way and all of that.

And it became like a collection of the wisdom, because ultimately what it took me to is the purity, I think, of the essence of love and giving and kindness towards each other and towards Earth, to ourselves. And it’s like it becomes stripped back to a very basic concept outside of structures and religions or any of these things, and the religions become framework for expression rather than the expression, rather than the dogma. And [it] seems that you had a similar journey from what I’m reading between the lines, in terms of making your own formation with the Divine. And it seems that you’re looking at it as you came to a conclusion, and correct me if I’m wrong, what I’m hearing from you, is came to the understanding that to see the Divine within you, yourself, inside of you.

Alyson Stoner:

I certainly struggled with that concept so much because I interpreted it initially through the lens of my kind of ego-self being the capital-G God, and that just felt problematic. It was like, “Well, that’s a setup for me to just be my fallible human self and crumble at some point.” But it’s really like you’ve got to deconstruct the story that’s driving you and your current paradigm in order to be able to put on new goggles and say what you just said with a very different understanding of what you’re saying.

So I hesitate to give language not because I’m afraid of people judging me, but more so because I’m keenly aware that had anyone spoken a sentence to me seven years ago, I would have such a different diction bias than I do now, that I would hear a different story. So if anything, it’s just I constantly want to encourage people to take a very deep examination at the paradigm driving them. Because the tradition I come from, if you have a pastor, where did that pastor study and who was that pastor’s pastor and what were the elements of government and politics that informed why they taught certain things more than others in that season?

Do you know the way that it’s packaged currently is not the way it was packaged a hundred years ago? So can you start to pick apart those elements and see them for what they are? Okay, these are maybe current or modern expressions. We don’t have to throw it all out as being negative or wrong. But really if we’re getting to the core, like you said, we can’t mistake the . . . If the moon is the core, we can’t obsess over the finger pointing to the moon.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Absolutely, absolutely.

Alyson Stoner:

The finger is just pointing to tell you, “Hey, look, this is what the main event is,” but we are super interested in who’s got the best looking finger or the right finger.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

So true. Again, I’m amazed, Alyson, here, because everyone in this modern time where everyone is looking at how many social media followers they have and posing all of that—you got that. You got the fame, you got the attention and yet you are so grounded in a sense of inner humility and it’s almost like the exact opposite of the struggle that I see so many people have, like they want the attention and the following and doing all the crazy things to get that. Where did you get your groundedness? I mean, did you ever struggle with it? Did you ever say, “Oh, I’m so famous, I’m going to walk here and all.” Did you find it through a bad experience or it just was there? Or was your family, how was your . . . maybe it’s how your family dealt with this whole story

Alyson Stoner:

Yes. I mean, of course I am the product of all of the interactions and people in my life and events that have happened so [I] couldn’t pinpoint this as one specific thing. But I don’t think I grew up ever really overestimating my worth. If anything, I felt quite cut down and was striving to feel like I was enough. Even from the outside looking in, I was in a position of power or influence, it truly felt disempowered in the moment from the inside. But I think . . . Sorry, there was something that came to mind. Can you state your question one more time and see if it jogs the . . .

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s how did you find your groundedness?

Alyson Stoner:

So a couple of things. One, to me, something clicked at an early age that this was all an illusion, that the hierarchy of people is an illusion. Because when I have people come up to me and say, “We love your work,” or, “You are the best,” or, “You’re our favorite,” in my mind, it felt very easy to go, “Well, yes, I hear you and I validate that and appreciate it, but also you don’t actually know me, you only know what you’ve seen.”

And that’s great, you may like that, and that’s enough, but don’t mistake the piece of me that you know for the totality of who I am. If you can only see the good parts, that’s just because we haven’t hung out in person, it’s not because they’re not there. So I think I was very aware that the light and the dark was always around. I mean, I definitely didn’t want anyone to see the struggle or the mess, but it was very easy to see that this was an illusion.

Because I could also tell there were so many talented, capable, competent individuals who never got the chance to be on a set and I did and that in some ways I was only there not because I was talented but because my name now had a value that could achieve a certain monetary result for the project. And just all of these different factors just made it a little bit like, “Huh! This is kind of silly. And if I buy into this too much, I’m going to be swaying side to side and have no spine.”

I think an approach that I take that maybe others don’t—and it has been very helpful—is I receive praise and criticism with the same weight. So I think sometimes people are like, “Don’t listen to the haters, but if someone is telling you, ‘You’re the best,’ yeah, receive that!” To me, if I only listen to people telling me that I was the best, yeah, this would be a very different conversation. I mean, my head would be larger than the state of California. But in reality I kind of have to hold everything “tightly loosely,” is what my mentor says. You just like, you hear it and then you just keep moving.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Now I want to go to your activism, if you may, because you’ve raised your voice in a number of ways for the LGBTQIA community, even writing a book to support mental and emotional health of the people in it. Can you tell me some more about the things you teach in Mind Body Pride?

Alyson Stoner:

Yes. So Mind Body Pride is the name of my first book, designed specifically to help queer folks understand their mind-body connection, reconnect with themselves, and feel safe and comfortable and confident in who they are. And it’s a combination of somatic-based movement practices. And for queer folks, our bodies are . . . I mean, they’re policed in very intense ways. They are abused and harassed. They are called unnatural, for many queer folks. We feel like we can’t trust our own cues because supposedly what we find attractive is either sinful or unnatural—the words that are used toward us.

So Mind Body Pride is this seven-step process. And it was written alongside experts, queer folks of color to be a specific, just if people are concerned about the own narrowness of my identities. And we learn how to listen to our body, to make that connection again, to understand the story that we’re telling every day in our mind and in our body, how we show up in the world, and then to rebuild trust with our mind and body, and then also to start sharing that with other people, communicating and potentially rewriting some of that story, if . . . yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And how did you do that? I mean, because you had an evolution of your relationship with your body.

Alyson Stoner:

Yes. So many years ago, I’m super fortunate that I had access to not only therapy but a therapist who taught me how to safely re-inhabit my body. She had a deep understanding of the somatic, which is just referring to inner sense of the body. And so when we were going through cognitive behavioral therapy, I wasn’t just changing my thoughts from the neck up. I was learning how to re-inhabit the sensations and work with the nervous system.

We tend to have this kind of push “no pain, no gain” mentality, and it’s performance- and results-driven as opposed to a more holistic understanding of the mind-body connection really internally and how that shapes your mood on a daily basis and your appetite and your relationships and your work choices and the patterns of how you’re sometimes like, “Why do I feel like I’m stuck in the same rut over and over and over again?”

Well, those patterns are stored in the body. And when I started unpacking it from that lens, suddenly, one, I was able to just come as I am. And I think in those moments, then, well-being also has a roundness and a richness to it. It’s not just, did you journal for fifteen minutes today and check the boxes of what society currently names self-care practices to be? But are you truly finding an authentic version of well-being that meets your reality and your day-to-day needs and your lifestyle and your fullest potential. And that’s what I want to see obviously more accessible for everyone because you start to heal at the individual level. Well, now we can start healing systems. We can start repairing larger matters, and we have plenty of stuff to solve.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Indeed. Now Alyson, you are, I don’t think you’re thirty yet.

Alyson Stoner:

No, no, twenty-eight

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And I feel . . . Unbelievable. And I feel you lived so many lifetimes in less than three decades, overcoming so many obstacles, fought for your life. The question I have for you, who are you now and who do you want to be as you grow?

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, well I have a mantra that is maybe vague, but it is meaningful to me. And it’s, “I know who I am in truth, I know what I am in truth, I know how I serve in truth. I am free, I am free, I am free.” I learned this from a mentor. And even though I can’t totally define who I am according to your question, saying that seems to have this power of attuning me to that truest form. So I say that almost every day multiple times a day.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

What a pleasure, what a pleasure to be in conversation with you, Alyson. It’s just truly inspiring and thought-provoking and I’m in awe of your wisdom. Now I have a few quick questions for you, rapid questions for you. So who are your teachers, teachers who have impacted your life?

Alyson Stoner:

Oh wow. So first every moment of life is an education. And a few people who stand out. My vocal coach growing up was so much more than a vocal coach, his name’s Nick Cooper. And he used to say, when people asked what you do for a living, he would say, “I’m a garbage man because I help clean out the trash in people’s lives.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Songs that make you feel empowered. I mean, I love your songs.

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, thanks.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Now the question is also for other songs. I truly love your songs actually.

Alyson Stoner:

Oh, that’s kind. Well, okay so if by empowered we aren’t just saying the feel-good confidence boosters, but more like empowered to embrace the fullness of life, then I love a lot of soulful artists, India Arie is one of my early favorites. And I also grew up listening to Janet. So in some way I think she’s really . . . her music just lights me up.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Gorgeous. Favorite poems and quotes that you often go back to.

Alyson Stoner:

I have a . . . The phrase, I’m not sure where I learned this first, but “seek first to understand before expecting to be understood” is something I return to often. The easiest way of putting it, “I have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” And another quote or a poem that a friend, a dear loved one introduced me to by Adrienne Rich, it’s from her Twenty-One Love Poems. And the last line is “I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow, and somehow each of us will help the other live and somewhere each of us must help the other die.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Oh, wow, wow.

Alyson Stoner:

That gives me chills.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow. So then what brings you joy?

Alyson Stoner:

I just recently moved out of Los Angeles into more of a natural environment and to be able to go for a walk each day and to see how the wind and the rain and the weather have changed the little lines and divots in the dirt path is so phenomenal to me. That every day this walk is slightly different because the planet is changing and I actually get to see it now as opposed to being in my apartment complex in an urban city for decades.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And what is love?

Alyson Stoner:

Just to keep it simple for now, I might say love is a deep knowing and a deep understanding and a deep compassion.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful. Beautiful. Thank you. Thank you so much. And keep going, sister, as it goes, keep going. You are shining inside and out and truly, truly a gift to be in conversation with you, Alyson. Thank you very much.

Alyson Stoner:

Thank you times a million. And please, please let me know how I can learn more, support, whatever you’re up to. And truly, it’s a gift to be able to speak to you and knowing that we may be in different generations and you’ve got so much wisdom and experience and I want you to know that I want to do my best to carry the torch.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Oh, you are doing it. You are doing it in the most beautiful way. I tear up witnessing you. Thank you. Thank you very much. Keep going.

That was Alyson Stoner. For more about Movement Genius, please visit www.movementgenius.com. To order Alyson’s new book Mind Body Movement, please check out www.alysonstoner.com. For transcripts and other resources from this episode, please go to www.findcenter.com/redefined. You can follow Alyson on Instagram @alysonstoner. You can follow FindCenter on Instagram @find_center. You can follow me @zainabsalbi. And please email me questions about this podcast and your own transformative moments at redefined@findcenter.com. Thank you so much for listening. We’ll be back next week for another conversation about life’s turning points and lessons learned. My guest will be poet Yung Pueblo. Redefined is produced by me, Zainab Salbi, along with Rob Corso, Casey Kahn, and Howie Kahn at FreeTime Media. Our music is by John Palmer. Special thanks to Issa Perez, Christine McGuinness, Neal Goldman, Jenn Tardif, Elijah Townsend, Amanda Graber, Caroline Pincus, and Sherra Johnston. Looking forward to seeing you next time.