It’s rare that you find a black family with multiple generations of holistic medicinal practitioners. The Davidson family is that family. Three generations strong, Tamara Davidson tells stories of her father attending Howard University’s medical school with a love of music, science and research. Luckily, Ronald Davidson found a way to pursue all of his passions and became one of Harlem’s most renowned medical doctors. After medical school and completing his residency, he shadowed an acupuncturist in China Town, New York during the mid-1970s. He emerged with an acupuncture license and returned to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Tamara’s grandfather owned a house and had his medical practice. How often do you find a black doctor in the 1970s that is a second-generation medical practitioner? And it doesn’t stop there.
Eventually, Davidson started a new practice with his wife, Montez Davidson, in loft on 39th street and 9th avenue in New York. As Tamara describes it, this is when the Sha Sha House began. She shares, “My mother describes it as kind of an artist’s loft or commune. They offered music therapy, color therapy, yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage therapy, nutritional consultation, cooking workshops, and story telling for children. They also had shows and dance classes with jazz, swing dancing, and South African music.” They also saw patients in a traditional medical way.
Looking at an old flyer, it seemed like the Sha Sha House was the place to be. They held a summer body-cleaning event with free exercise and tai-chai classes, complemented by a swing jazz disco featuring Milton Hamilton on the jazz piano and chromatic harmonica. Clearly, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.
In 1993, the Davidson family moved to Harlem, but Tamara’s father continued to practice in Brooklyn and take house calls until the year 2000. That’s when the Sha Sha House officially moved to Harlem. Tamara explains, “My mother says that my father ‘lived twenty years in the future,’ so he was doing all the holistic health care that is so popular now more than 20 years ago. He successfully combined Eastern Medicine, Western Medicine, and traditional Caribbean healing methods. He practiced on the belief that there three doctrines in every culture: scriptural (religion and philosophy), scientific (orthodox medicine), and traditional (grandmother, the herbalist).” The Sha Sha House merged these three doctrines.
As expected, the Davidson Family practiced what they preached, even within their personal home. Growing up, Tamara did not know anything beyond healthy living and eating. She describes, “I grew up listening to all types of music and eating different kinds of food and feeling very comfortable around different cultures. I grew up doing capoeira, traveling to Jamaica, listening to jazz music, so it was all really fun. I remember feeling surprised going to school and seeing the way that kids ate and knowing that my family didn’t really let me eat sugary foods.” There was a time that she’d go to her friends’ houses and sneak a slice of pizza or simply resist her father’s mandate that she drink a liquid form of cod liver oil every morning before school. She laughs, “I would fight with him every morning, but I always took it!”
Ultimately, her parents taught her that health is a lifestyle, not a fad diet or workout but how you live day to day. It’s about what you eat, what you listen to, and the relationships that you have. Tragically, Tamara’s father passed away from non-smoking induced stage three lung cancer during her junior year of high school. To say it hit her family hard is an understatement.
Later attending NYU, Tamara slowly began to weave herself into continuing her father’s legacy at the Sha Sha House. She began practicing yoga at a donation-based yoga studio, Yoga to the People, and eventually made the decision to enroll in a yoga teacher training. She took her instructional classes at the Laughing Lotus studio in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York and finally began to heal from the traumatic experience of losing her father.
“Through the teacher training, I was able to begin healing with my body, which lead to the writing of poetry and songwriting. It was a life changing experience; I really had to face my pain and sadness. Going to Laughing Lotus was completely different from Yoga to the People. I was able to get really deep into meditation and chanting. I also read Yoga philosophy, which is really amazing. It truly was a holistic experience,” she confided.
In December 2010, Tamara graduated from Laughing Lotus and began hosting Sha Sha Yoga at her family’s historical practice. She gushes, “It is so exciting that I can share this practice with people I love because it is something that everyone can benefit from, to get closer to themselves.” What’s the mission of Sha Sha Yoga? It’s a traditional practice integrated with the healing methods of music and poetry. Tamara spends a lot of time crafting a playlist of music that heals and opens the body while also sharing poetry from Hafiz, Rumi, Khalil Gibran, and Paulo Coelho. At times, she’ll even share a song or poem that she’s written as well.
As yoga tends to be very expensive and something that people of color don’t have access to, Sha Sha Yoga classes are affordable at a five-dollar requested donation and attended by primarily black women, a unique and exciting thing. It’s beautiful to see black women come out and have a safe space to express themselves physically without harm and ridicule. It’s one of Tamara’s goals to spread Sha Sha Yoga to black and brown communities, as a healing method that can be incorporated into our every day lives. But regardless, everyone and anyone are welcome.
In the words of Tamara, “Yoga is a literal way to release pain and anger. It is a way to access ancestral memory.” Tamara’s mother and sisters are all working with the Davidson Wellness Engagement, which is housed in Harlem and combines the experience of the Sha Sha House with fresh leadership. They’ve also teamed up with White Diamond to form Jug O Nuts, a manufacturing company that makes organic food and drinks. Their Agave Ginger Sweet Tea is too die for!
Nothing is sweeter than seeing multiple generations of holistic health practitioners doing extensive work to heal brown and black communities. If you’re interested in learning more about the Davidson Wellness Engagement, email [email protected] or if you’d like to attend Tamara’s Sha Sha Yoga, which is every Wednesday from 7:00pm to 8:15pm at the Davidson Wellness Engagement, 2186 Fifth Avenue Lenox Terrace 135th Street, Apt 1R, simply drop her a warm note at [email protected] She also blogs class reminders at Harlem River Drive.