“In all your years of schooling—from kindergarten to whatever level you reached—did you ever take one course that taught you to navigate the dramas, traumas, upsets, disappointments that come with life?” In an interesting turn of events, inner fitness trainer Tina Lifford asks the first question of the interview.  “Not in my formal education, no,” I respond, intrigued.  “Ninety-eight percent of the people I ask that question respond the same way,” Lifford says, “and that means if we don’t walk through the steps that science is now identifying as necessary for us to effectively resolve unresolved [hurts], then we wind up carrying that stuff for years, if not decades, if not the rest of our entire lives.” Lifford is on a mission to change that.

Through her media company, Waking Up Fabulous, the licensed spiritual practitioner offers an empowering book, The Little Book of BIG LIES, as well as her Inner Fitness Project, personal development training specifically aimed at equipping people to deal with the inevitable hardships of life in a way that is spiritually healthy.  Although she has been a personal life coach for 15 years now, it wasn’t until Lifford was emotionally knocked off her center nearly six years ago that she felt the unmovable urge to launch her company.

“My older brother actually died of a drug overdose, and he had been challenged with drugs his whole life,” Lifford tells EBONY.com. “His drug addiction was a burden on my heart. I just didn’t understand why he met so many challenges, my life didn’t seem to have the kinds of challenges he had. Steve was an incredible heart but just wasn’t prepared to make it in this competitive world. As a sister, that burdened me. If you’ve ever lived with or been around a drug addict, it’s a very, very challenging life and I wanted to be free of the burden I felt around that. There was this thing in me that wanted to be able to help people like my brother, help people with the kind of struggles I had, and moved me to a greater sense of myself.” Combining her two passions, acting and personal spiritual development, her divine assignment was revealed to her.

In addition to offering spiritual life training, the accomplished Hollywood actress and current co-star of NBC’s Parenthood has also written, produced and starred in an interactive play, The Circle, based on her experiences with the circle of women in her own support system, that has been performed in Chicago and most recently at The Matrix Theater in LA.  She says the play has been a “cathartic experience” for both her and her audiences of “women and men, all ages, all colors and ethnicities.”  Lifford adds, “When I started to get feedback from my audience, one woman said to me that the gift The Circle has given me is that all this time, I thought I was unhappy. I didn’t realize that I was carrying a bag full of other people’s stuff.’ There’s a moment in the play when we invite the audience to say, ‘Carry your own damn bag!’ as an answer to letting go of the old stuff that we’ve taken on, the old hurts [from other people]. I cannot tell you how gratifying it is [to hear people in the audience say that].”

Although the multitalented Lifford says she’s been a “spiritual walker since she was in the second grade,” when she would consciously leave space beside her in her chair at school or on the sidewalk so that God would have room to be next to her, it wasn’t until three years before her brother died that she was able to get free from the burden she felt as a result of his struggle with drugs.  “I was blessed with a healing in my own heart where my brother is concerned, and that healing allowed me to realize that God did not judge my brother. In God’s eyes, my brother was whole and complete and, therefore, all of the judgment and confusion that lived within me I could give up and turn over to something greater. That allowed me to begin to want to create environments where other people could see into their hearts and address some of their unspoken discomfort and pain. I knew in our society in general, there’s really no collective space for that.”

Despite the fact that she coaches people on how to become spiritually in tune, she is careful not to draw conclusions about what “the essence of God,” is.  She says, “Whatever I think I know, whatever conclusions I draw about life and God, I will be wrong, I will be short-sighted, it will be incomplete. When you’re talking about something as infinite as the love and life of something — I am incapable of truly interpreting and understanding the infinite, so for me the ‘essence’ is really beyond love as we talk about it when one says ‘I love you.’ It’s beyond that kind of love. The essence for God for me is knowing that there is a space in which perfect life and goodness is present always and that perfect life can be felt no matter the circumstances or situations we find ourselves in.”

Tina felt that presence in acting, even after she suffered from debilitating stage fright as a child. “That’s the gift of saying yes to the gifts that want to live through you. My desire to act was greater than my fear. I had to learn to manage the fear. What I know now is that saying yes to acting really was a spiritual journey. It really was learning how to meet the “no”s [you hear] and the fears and systematically detangle ourselves from them in order to live our best life, no matter how big or small the challenge may be. That really is the challenge given to each one of us and I believe that is our greatest challenge…to get beyond the bind and the limitation of this human experience.

“Challenge has a spiritual purpose. People have to be introduced to that idea in order to be able to take that challenge but I believe that every single challenge no matter how debilitating no matter how heinous can be used as a spiritual tuning.”

Brooke Obie writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.