What Tina Turner Taught Me About Finding Your Spiritual Path

May 25, 2023 0 Comments

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I have never had strong women in my life that I could look up to. The women I knew had a strong self-awareness rooted in a spiritual strength that sustained them and everyone around them. But Tina Turner was, I believe, the first woman I witnessed who used that power in a way that was different from the black church traditions that were formal for her (and me and everyone I knew).

I was first introduced to Turner’s spiritual practice when Angela Bassett played her in the movie What does love have to do with it? Here was a rock star sitting at the altar and urgently singing in a language unfamiliar to me. She repeated Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, a practice of Nithiren Buddhism that emphasizes “faith in action.” Although her practice seemed different from the faith my Baptist mother and grandmother had taught me, Turner helped me understand that I was not limited in the spiritual tools I could choose for my own growth and evolution. In this way, she made yoga, meditation, and other contemplative practices the choice for seekers like me.

Learn to be truly free

Turner always seemed free and unleashed, flinging her lion hair, shaking beads on her glittery dresses and singing loud and proud. But freedom did not come easily to her. She had to flee rather than walk away from an abusive relationship with her husband and musical partner, Ike. She eventually left the US to find the support she knew her talent deserved.

Instead of making her bitter, Turner’s hardships and heartbreaks taught her that she can persevere. “I discovered a strength within me that allowed me to survive even in the worst situations,” she told TODAY in 2021. “I just had to find a way to harness that power and increase it, because then I knew I would find the courage to stand up for myself and live the life I wanted and deserved.”

Turner credited her meditation practice with giving her the courage to escape an abusive marriage, navigate the music industry as a solo artist, find ways to express her true creativity, and live life on her own terms. Her example showed that the same is possible for all of us.

Finding the source of her power

“I got my first denim jacket because of Tina Turner,” says Stephanie Y. Evans, professor of black women’s studies at Georgia State University. She remembers practicing Turner’s signature touch while belting out the lyrics to “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” “That was my growing up.”

Years later, while researching her book A History of Black Women’s Yoga, Evans came to better understand the source of Turner’s strength.

“I’m a victim of domestic violence myself, and when I started studying yoga, my appreciation for it grew because I understood how it escaped,” says Evans. “She had access to a deeper source of strength—a source of love.”

“Reading and listening to Tina Turner talk about her practice helped me really understand, in an embodied way, that power is internal,” says Evans. “She understood that she had something that no one could take away, and it came from within.”

Evans says studying Turner’s evolution also helped her understand yoga better.

“Tina Turner’s story opens up a huge amount of how we can interpret yoga,” she says. “Her work, her practice and her writings represent yoga in a broader sense. It is not just an asana; it’s not just body movements. She explained that chanting, meditation and the vibrational aspect of yoga…were healing.’

Following the traditions of different cultures

For me, the story of Turner’s life suggested that it is possible, and perhaps necessary, to leave the usual and take a step into the new and unknown. Buddhist chants seem a far cry from the gospel hymns Turner sang when she was little Anna May Bullock growing up in rural Tennessee. But she didn’t see it that way.

“When we all pray individually, it goes in one direction, in one force,” Turner shared in an interview. Sometimes she recited the Lord’s Prayer before beginning her chanting and meditation practice. One of her most recent recordings was a four-album series called Beyond, which featured women from Syria, Nepal, India, Israel and Switzerland singing prayers from various religious traditions. For her there were many paths to the divine.

“Chanting helped me go inside and discover the deep sources of happiness and wisdom in my own heart and mind,” she said. “I soon realized that I already had everything I needed to change my circumstances and create a truly happy life. Everyone has it, and I want everyone to know it.”

Embrace the greatest love

When I heard that Turner had passed yesterday at the age of 83, I went to bathe in her music. I listened to the songs she is best known for – “Proud Mary”, “Private Dancer” and “We Don’t Need Another Hero”. But I also found a remix of her 1968 recording of Motherless Child mixed with Buddhist, Sanskrit and Christian prayers. I played her recitation of the Sanskrit peace mantra Sarvesham Swastir Bhavatu over and over.

In the middle of one of the ethereal chants, her deep, warm voice came with a message that seemed to foreshadow the day we would hear of her death.

“Nothing lasts forever,” Turner said. “No one lives forever. The flower withers and dies. Winter passes and spring comes. Embrace the cycle of life, which is the greatest love.”

Evans says, “At the end of her life, the purposeful gift she continued to give was to ensure that her legacy was not just a story of domestic violence, but a story of love. It was the story of how she found love within herself… She took great care not only to embody the principles of yoga, but also to give the principles of yoga to us.”

Here, listen to Turner’s recording of the Lotus Sutra, a prayer for peace, chanted in Sanskrit.


Sarvesham Swastir Bhavatu

Sarvesham Shantir Bhawat

Sarvesham Purnam Bhavat

Sarvesham Mangalam Bhavatu

Om shanti… shanti… shanti…


Let there be prosperity for everyone.

May there be peace for everyone.

Let there be Fulfillment in everything.

May there be Grace in everything.

Om, peace, peace, peace

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