‘Queen Sugar’s Aunt Vi bringing inner fitness, beauty tour to Atlanta

Tina Lifford, aka Aunt Vi from OWN’s drama series “Queen Sugar,” talks about her upcoming Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty Atlanta Tour and soon to be released book at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta Wednesday, August 7, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Tina Lifford, aka Aunt Vi from OWN’s drama series “Queen Sugar,” talks about her upcoming Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty Atlanta Tour and soon to be released book at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta Wednesday, August 7, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

Tina Lifford is remembering the moments she was scheduled to sing in her school’s fifth grade talent show and had to be carried off stage because she’d taken a gulp of fear so fierce it paralyzed her; and when, much later, she longed for her brother Steven, far too sensitive for this world, to have a more peaceful existence.

Steven would turn to drugs to manage his internal struggles and eventually die of an overdose.

But years, no decades, after overcoming her stage fright to navigate a successful acting career and land a starring role in OWN’s “Queen Sugar,” one of the most acclaimed television shows in recent history, Lifford has finally come to terms with her private “hurts, dramas and traumas” and is rewriting her story.

She has learned, she said, that every struggle is meant to grow us and reestablish our innate sense of wholeness and internal balance.

“Rewriting is a lifelong process,” she said.

Lifford made peace with Steven’s drug use during a spiritual psychology program in 2004 that allowed her to reexamine her relationship with him through new eyes.

“What I discovered was much of my pain lived in my judgment of him and his life. Because of drugs, he was killing himself and making the family unhappy. As I came to understand the internal challenges that people live with, I was able to reframe that relationship by totally accepting that God had no problems with my brother, that God loved my brother as much as he loved anyone else, and that realization allowed me to let go of my judgment.

“When I let go of my judgment, I was overwhelmed with love and acceptance of my brother just as he was.”

To her credit, Lifford, aka Aunt Vi, is on a mission to lead the rest of us into that peaceful place.

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“When you think about it, the one thing that we all have in common are unresolved moments of hurt,” Lifford said recently. “I realized there is an internal or emotional self like there is a physical self and that self has needs. The internal self is connected to our emotional experiences and sense of well-being, and the external self is connected to our physical strength and wellness, and both are important. Both have needs.”

Tina Lifford, aka Aunt Vi poses for photos with fans before talking about her upcoming Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty Atlanta Tour and soon to be released book at the Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta Wednesday, August 7, 2019. STEVE SCHAEFER / SPECIAL TO THE AJC

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In Atlanta recently to promote her upcoming Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty Tour, she told me that she’d gone through a few iterations of names for what she’d been trying for so long to articulate. And then one morning in 2007, it came to her.

“I woke up and the term ‘inner fitness’ was etched across the inside of my eyelids and it made all the sense in the world,” she said. “In the same way that physical fitness represents overall physical health, inner fitness refers to our inner landscape, our mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.”

That was her first revelation.

Lifford wanted to live her life on purpose — not wanting to give up her dreams to fear and innately knowing there was more to her than the image she saw in the mirror. She decided to “get really good at navigating” her way through fear and challenges.

“I became really good at identifying thoughts, concepts and behaviors that supported who I wanted to be and how I wanted to feel,” she said. “I would deeply contemplate these transformational concepts and figure out ways to turn them into action and new behavior in how I responded to my life.”

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You’ll find those things and more about Steven’s journey and the pain it caused her in her new book, “The Little Book of Big Lies,” scheduled to hit bookshelves in November.

That was the second revelation and, by extension, probably the greatest transformation in her life to date.


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Since at least the 1980s, Lifford had been steeped in the practice of looking within and observing how she reacts to herself and life. Mindfulness taught her to take charge of her thinking, to see herself more objectively and to always act from self-love.

“The Inner Fitness Project is making the case that everything we know about physical fitness should and must be leveraged and made analogous to inner fitness,” Lifford said.

Doing that, we get two really important things, she told me. We get the healing benefit that comes from acknowledging our hurts and strengthening realization we are never alone in this shared human experience.

“When we see our personal experience as a reflection of a larger social experience, then shame and secrecy are unnecessary and unhelpful,” she said.

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Pain is common to the human experience, she said, but so too is the innate healing process.

“We can all proactively support the natural internal drive towards homeostasis (balance) by adopting prophylactic self-care practices.”

Therein lies the mission of the Inner Fitness Project — to help us see that we are more than the events that have taken place in our lives and support our natural ability to thrive. While proactively walking through something challenging is often difficult, getting to the other side leaves us stronger and more capable.

And so while you can expect plenty of talk about things like sexiness and style at Lifford’s Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty tour, she has also designed the day to make the idea of dealing with one’s inner fitness fun and life changing. She promises you’ll leave singing and dancing and thinking about what is possible for your life.

“The most important thing we can do for our lives is to allow ourselves to experience more of ourselves,” Lifford said.

So come because you’re curious, she said. Come because you have dreams that you’ve put on hold. Come because part of you knows you’re still waiting to fully meet and know yourself.

“Come because there is something in this article that seems to speak to you,” she said.

And as Aunt Vi told Hollywood during a “Queen Sugar” episode recently, come because “things don’t go away just because you don’t deal with them.”

Go and be blessed.

Find Gracie on Facebook (www.facebook.com/graciestaplesajc/) and Twitter (@GStaples_AJC) or email her at gstaples@ajc.com.


Inner Fitness | Outer Beauty Atlanta Tour

9 a.m.-2 p.m. Sept. 14. $75 general admission, $125 VIP experience, Riverside EpiCenter, 135 Riverside Parkway, Austell. Tinalifford.com.