Fitness Fridays: Liberty City’s Tawanya Norwood Is Using Yoga To Change The Life Of Her And Her Family
I was scrolling through my Instagram “Explore” feed when I first ran across Tawanya (pronounced Tawana) Norwood. She was hanging upside down like a graceful bat, one foot suctioned to the wall while the other foot was pointed. It was almost like she was doing a dangerously cool version of warrior III pose flipped. The image went viral.
My assumption from her poses and toned body was that Norwood was an accomplished yoga instructor who would have a story about a vegan diet, practicing for hours each day and upon introduction, could share with you the principals of the yoga practice. But what I learned after having a conversation with the 28-year-old was that was far from her story. The Liberty City-bred acrobat currently based out of Gainesville, Florida has been using some of the most advanced yoga poses and a love of photography to help her grab the attention of people like you and me. She is doing this in the hopes that she can not only achieve her dreams of being a motivational speaker, but so that she can also help her family and improve her circumstances. There was a lot more to her than the striking images, which she takes herself, let on. Learn more about the Marines-bound athlete and the way she’s using fitness to change her life — not just physically.
MadameNoire: What is your fitness background? Did you play sports growing up or did you become active mostly as an adult?
Tawanya Norwood: I played sports in high school. I ran track and cross country. Other than that, I didn’t officially do any other sports. You know, when you’re a kid you’re active, so mostly we ran around the neighborhood. But the only competitive sports I participated in were track and cross country. I didn’t run in college. I did run a little bit for a club team after college. It was like an AAU team, but they let me run with them even though I was older.
How did you get into yoga? Your strength is amazing!
It’s a weird kind of story. I always wanted to be a motivational speaker for athletes. So when I was running track, I was like, “I want to get a deal with Nike.” I figured in order to know athletes, gain their respect and for them to listen to you, you have to have an accomplishment. Being a track athlete at the time, I knew that athletes respected people who have contracts with major companies. So I was just trying to get some power behind my name. I was like, “Oh, I can be sponsored by Nike!” But then I thought, “I’m not fast enough to do that.” Then I was like, “Oh, I can be sponsored by them just to model.” But then I was like, “I don’t know how to do anything more than stand [laughs].” So that’s when I started learning all of the more advanced poses, basically, as a method of trying to get a sponsorship all so that I could become a motivational speaker. I know it’s a roundabout story.
Have you received attention from brands and been able to work with them?
Some brands. Most of the companies I tag on Instagram usually end up “liking” my picture like Under Armour, Adidas and Reebok. Nike has sent me shoes and replied to my pictures. And there’s a brand based in Sweden called Stronger and that’s the best connection that I’ve had so far. They’ve sent me clothes. I’ve had small brands too, but the way that I work is I would rather just focus on the names that are already established or that have a good product, a good foundation and good business behind them than to just accept things from anybody who started making tights and just start wearing their tights.
How many years of practice did it take for you to execute some of these moves? That upside-down pose that has everyone talking is insane!
I’ve been doing it for about two and a half years. But in high school, when I was on the track team, we were into stretching. My mindset has always been, let me do what I need to do to prevent having to really struggle when it’s time for practice. So I started doing these types of stretches all the time. I’ve always had flexibility. The poses I’m doing now as far as flexibility, I could have been doing them when I first started. I just didn’t have the understanding of how to actually get into the pose. But as far as handstands, it took me about two years to learn how to do a handstand. That’s a skill of balance, strength and mental focus. The pose everyone likes where I was upside down really wasn’t that difficult, I probably could have done that two years ago because a lot of it is more about strength. I’ve always been strong and flexible, but it took me two years to become confident in knowing how to get into the poses or not being intimidated by looking at the poses.
Would you say that learning these poses has helped you gain a love of yoga? For many, it’s considered a way of life.
I would say I’ve developed a love for photography and taking pictures. I guess in my own way I kind of love doing yoga. I have learned a lot about concentration because even just doing a handstand, you have to know how to concentrate. I’ve learned a lot about being focused on the moment. A lot of the poses, in order to hold them, you have to focus on what you’re doing at that time and be conscious of your body. So I’ve gained a lot from the practice of yoga. I wouldn’t say I’ve gained a love for it [laughs]. You know, sometimes, athletic stuff is hard and challenging so I don’t always love to do it but I still do it. I love the other things that come with it. So I’ve gained a respect and understanding of yoga, but I more so I see it as a means to trying to accomplish something to reach people. I love the product it creates, so I guess in my own way I have a love for it.
Is it true that you’re really taking all of these photos on your own?
I really am. The reason I started taking pictures myself is because I really didn’t have the money to hire anyone for photography. Even with my whole journey, coming from Liberty City, I was from a low-income neighborhood. I graduated from college but my income still didn’t improve and I was still struggling. So I was just trying to find a way to use my talents and reach other people but also do something I like as far as being fit. So I was like, I only have a certain amount of resources. I didn’t have the money for a camera or a photographer, anything like that. But I like gymnastics. I live right near the University of Florida campus, and one day I went to a gymnastics meet and they were having a free raffle. I entered it and I won an iPad. That was right around the time where I was like, “I could be a fitness model!” So then I just was like, I can use this to take my pictures. And so that’s how it kind of started out. I didn’t really have any other resources, but my mindset has always been to use what you have. So as I went along and would post photos on Facebook and stuff like that, people would say, “You should get a photographer.” I still couldn’t afford one. Sometimes people offered and I did end up working here and there with some people, but I realized my pictures came out just as good as theirs and I could take them at my own time. Also, too, I’m the person who edits them with the coloring and they come out the way I want. I learned early that when someone else takes your pictures — at that time, yoga in my environment wasn’t very practiced. So the people who were taking pictures of me wouldn’t understand when I was actually in the pose. They would be taking pictures of me before I even hit the pose. They would take pictures, but not at the right moment. And so I wasn’t getting the same quality pictures, the same execution. They didn’t understand what the poses were supposed to look like. That made me realize that I like taking my own pictures. It also added to my story of telling people to use what you have and you can make a difference and create something great.
What is your diet and exercise routine like outside of learning and executing these poses? You are in amazing shape.
I always stress money because, like I said, I didn’t have that much money. So I usually just eat what I can. I like spaghetti [laughs]. I like cereal. But those are my main staples just because spaghetti is filling and cereal is like my way of having sweets but not going out and eating candy or donuts. It all goes into using what I have. That’s why I don’t really share my diet with people because it’s not anything intense. Probably a lot of it comes from not eating a lot of stuff. I eat out here and there but for the most part, I don’t eat a lot of fried foods or super greasy foods.
As far as working out, I do a lot of jogging. But my mentality for working out and life in general is to do things at a pace where I can maintain it years down the line. I don’t want to be a superb athlete now and then I’m so tired out when I hit 50 or something that I’m like, “I can’t do that stuff anymore” and I get fat. So I do 20-minute jogs, a simple crunch and sit-up routine that is very easy and I can do it even if I’m running late in the morning. Everything I do fitness wise outside of the poses is not very challenging. It keeps me active and I’ve always been very good at executing things. And I think because I do it efficiently, it also helps me stay in shape. So I mostly do things so I can maintain and my diet is a diet on a budget, basically.
You mentioned that what’s next for you is joining the Marines. What is the story behind making that decision and what will happen to this practice that you’ve developed that does seem to have a following on social media?
It goes back to the same thing in this journey: One, finding a way to inspire people and two, trying to improve my life. And so having taken pictures for two years and no one offering me a deal and not making money from it, I was still basically struggling. Then there were members of my family who were also struggling and I just felt bad that at that time I couldn’t help them. I feel like in life there are two types of people: People who can just go after money, work 8-to-5, 9-to-5, make the money to pay the bills and as long as they make money they’re fine, and then there are people who can’t get through that. They want to be passionate about what they do. They can’t just sit somewhere from 8-to-5. I feel like I’m one of those people. So one of the reasons I was struggling was because I was like, “I can’t just go work a full-time job that I’m not committed to or interested in.” So I came to a really rough financial and family place in my life. I thought, okay, if I’m not going to work 8-to-5 somewhere, I need to find somewhere else that will give me financial security but will still allow me to pursue this dream and be a motivational speaker and also take pictures too. I felt like I have too much talent including doing these poses to just let it go. In thinking of what I could do, I saw a couple things, overheard some conversations and the idea of going into the Marine Corps came to me. I chose the Marines because of the people I saw, they were the most physically fit. I was like, that will incorporate everything I’m looking for, being able to inspire people. Because when you’re in the military in general and you stand before people and you speak, you command respect. You influence people. And then I’ve always heard that military families travel. That’s also been a dream of mine because I’ve only been outside of Florida to Atlanta. Other than that, in some ways, I’ve always felt like this girl from Liberty City because I haven’t been able to break this mold. I really want to see the world. So that’s what kind of gave me the idea. I just wanted to find something that would give me financial security, stability, not only for myself but for my family and my future family, and to also be able to travel. Going forward, I plan to get settled into the Marines. The job I chose is actually in photography! So I’m going to take full advantage of the opportunity, continue to take pictures, and to continue to look for opportunities to speak.