For Sonia Azad, there’s always been joy in curiosity, whether through telling stories, learning the practices of yoga and meditation, or building a career based in discovery. As WFAA’s health and wellness reporter, the Emmy Award-winning journalist spends her days merging her passions.
Azad caught up with PaperCity to share her career’s journey to Dallas, her favorite local vegan meal, what she would change about her city, and her thoughts on a transformative year.
Your Dallas-area coffee order?
Sonia Azad: My morning walk is to Ascension, and I grab a flat white with almond milk.
The best Dallas meal you’ve ever eaten?
I am a sucker for small businesses always, so I’m going to lean heavily that way — but this one is also great for me, because I don’t eat meat. The Dharma Bell at Cosmic Cafe is my favorite, and I substitute avocado for cheese. That’s my go-to with a cup of dahl or a lentil soup.
Your favorite Dallas wellness spot?
I also teach here, but Breathe Meditation & Wellness is my favorite because of its sanctuary feel. It’s crisp, clean, quiet, and sort of tucked away. It feels kind of like a little hideaway.
Speaking of hideaways, what’s your favorite hidden gem in the city?
It’s a little park in the Turtle Creek area (Connor Park) where I’ll sometimes go, take a book, and roll out my yoga mat. I spent a lot of time there during quarantine — and, I mean, a lot of time.
What has your career journey looked like?
When I was 9 years old, I knew I wanted to be a TV journalist. But specifically a war correspondent, which sounds kind of weird for a 9 year old. I watched the Persian Gulf War unfold with my parents, and that was really influential for me. My family is from Iran, and I remember looking at my parents wondering how would we know what’s going on there if these people weren’t showing us. Seeing [my parents’] investment made me invested, and that shaped me wanting to do that.
I studied journalism at UT Austin, wrote for a community newspaper, did an internship on Capitol Hill, and then came back to start working in TV. My first TV job was in Bryan/College Station, but I recognized early on, that — man — this is a tough career. You’re working holidays, you’re working weekends, and you’re by yourself. I was shooting my own video, editing my own video, and there was a lot of me pouring myself into the job. After doing that for about a year and half, I got promoted to producer/anchor and ended up feeling a little stuck.
I went to graduate school at Medill, and they offered a dual degree in both law and journalism. I had switched from wanting to become a war correspondent to wanting to cover courts, since I was covering a lot of crime and following cases through the war systems. But, as a 23 year old, I didn’t really have full knowledge of [it all]. I’m interviewing these prosecutors and defense attorneys and I’m in civil courts and criminal courts and reading documents, and at the same time we’re watching the Michael Jackson trial unfold, and the Scott Petersen trial unfold, and it’s so gripping and engaging for a young journalist.
I did that graduate school program, part of which was spent in Chicago, part of which was spent in D.C., and then I lived in Paris for a little while attending Sciences Po, their political science school. I wrote for a NGO called The Institute for War and Peace Reporting, and there came another life’s path question: should I stay in Europe (they’d offered me a job), or should I go back to the States? It all came back to money: I had to pay back private grad school debt, so I got back into TV, took a job in San Diego at the ABC station, and from there went to Houston at the ABC station for six years, and then I came here to Dallas and have been here for a little over five years. It sounds like a lot but this is actually a very abbreviated version.
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How do you prioritize your own mental and physical health?
Sonia Azad: I remember this moment so vividly, at the beginning of , I’m not married, I’m single, and I’m like woo! Dating, 2020! We’re gonna do this, I’m going to recommit to this — and then I remember coronavirus starting to become a really big deal, really before many people were starting to pay attention. And I remember, one specific Friday, being invited out and I had to tell this person, ‘I am so sorry, but I have to watch this 20/20 special on coronavirus’ — and it was the first one they put together. [I knew] this was going to be a big deal.
I recognized early on that my career has always taken a front seat, even before myself. My meditation teacher training taught me to slam on the brakes real hard, because I had to get into the mindset of putting myself first, even before my job. But my job isn’t just a job. I see it as a responsibility, and the questions that have poured in this year are insane.
So in March I started meditating every day, religiously — and I was meditating three times a day. So, first thing when I wake up, I find 10 to 20 minutes in the middle of the day (and usually tell people… if you don’t have 10 minutes for yourself in the middle of the day, you have a problem), and then before bed. So, gratitude practice in the morning — even when I wake up at 3:00 in the morning — and yoga nidra practice at night. By making that a priority and creating that routine, I’m better able to prioritize and structure my days. It’s been transformative for me, personally. Ultimately, it’s the most important — because you’re the person who has to deal with yourself every day, all the great parts and the bullshit. Other people only see the great parts, but it’s when shit’s really hitting the fan and you’re alone with yourself, how are you dealing with it? That part has changed, and that’s what nobody really sees.
What would you change about Dallas?
My answer may be that unpopular voice, but I would like to dissolve how segregated it feels. By that, I mean, as a person having moved here from Houston, you ride around in Houston and there’s everyone everywhere. You hear a bunch of different languages, you’re eating all sorts of different food, and you’re inside the center. In Dallas, it sort of feels very homogenous.
There are pockets — like, if you really want great Persian food you go to Plano, if you want really great Indian food you go to Irving, if you want this you go to Richardson, if you want that you go to wherever… South Dallas or East Dallas. You really — as a person not from here — have to search to find these gems. I think part of it is based on this arbitrary grid that has existed in this city for such a long time, and these lines that have been drawn. There are places that are starting to feel a little more mixed culturally with a vibe — I think of Bishop Arts — but that’s what I would change. That would permeate the entire nucleus of the city, because I think we could stand to learn a lot more from each other and be together in a different way; a more authentic way; a more connected way.
What advice would you give to Dallas women?
I think we, as women, are so hard on ourselves. There’s enough pressure from the outside to do it all, be it all, and succeed at it all… blah blah blah. Give yourself some grace — like, really. I know that’s hard for a lot of people, because they want to be the best. They want to not have acne, they want their hair to be perfect, they want to be thin and workout everyday and have the kids and have the house and have the family.
I don’t know if all that’s possible, because I don’t have all of that, do all of that, or aspire to all of that. But I think that no matter what’s important to you, as you’re on your path towards experiencing life, continue to give yourself grace. Then, life doesn’t feel so hard. You’re not constantly struggling and suffering. You’re just taking it in and flowing with what comes and what goes. Why do we make things so much harder than they need to be?