I am attempting to become a yogi. A yogi is someone who is a practitioner of yoga and that is what I am trying to become, a practitioner of yoga. Are there any Black Yogis out there? Why, yes there is. I saw a whole Tumblr page dedicated to Black Yogis. Studies have shown approximately 2 percent of black women in the United States do yoga. That means out of 16 million women in the United States, only 30,400 black women do yoga. Inspiring. I have a yoga mat that I keep in my cubicle at work to attend my co-worker’s class at lunch. On those days I hesitantly change out of my business casual wear, put on my yoga pants, my loose fitting tank top, or my Larry Bird shirt, grab my mat and make the trek to the dimmed room with soft music playing. The environment is physically comfortable enough but for some reason, I am incredibly uncomfortable because I feel like I don’t belong but I realize I have just as much of a right to be in that class. I have the right to receive the benefits of practicing yoga.
As women of color, we can benefit a lot from yoga too. Not only does yoga improve flexibility but it makes your posture better. Yoga builds strength, increases your blood flow, drops your blood pressure (if you have hypertension, give it a shot), makes you happier, inspires you to become a more conscious eater, lowers blood sugar, boosts your immune system, opens up your lungs to breathe better, increases self-esteem and it improves sexual function. Oh yes ladies! It benefits sexual function! Did you know that participating in yoga can boost arousal, desire, orgasm and general sexual satisfaction?
Every week I take two yoga classes and every week I say to myself, “I am going to do this and I am going to love it.” I walk into the class with my mat tucked underneath my arm, do a few poses, look around and realize that my poses don’t look anything like anyone else’s. I look around the room for familiar bodies or familiar struggles but I can’t find any. I stick it out to the end even though I am exceptionally critical of myself. Why do I keep coming back? I keep coming back because I made a vow to commit to the wellbeing of my body. I want to be in tuned with my body and gain new strength. Participating in yoga is teaching me perseverance and patience. I keep trying to strike those poses. There are times when I look absolutely crazy but once I get it, I got it. Developing the art of yoga just takes time. I have to realize that I am not going to be able to do a side plank or a Warrior II pose by attending a few classes. My mind might be set to do those poses but my body is a little further behind. I have to wait on the flexibility and strength I am seeking.
Yoga is good for the soul as well as the body. It is a great practice to connect with your body and spirit through the focus on breath and movement. It gets uncomfortable when it becomes less about a spiritual experience and more about people in class feeling that it is for the thin bodied. Yoga has steered into the realm of becoming obsessed with a slim, toned body. When someone says, “She has a yoga body” or “He has a yoga body” what image do you see in your mind? Have you ever seen the cover of a yoga magazine? Those images don’t look anything like me. But, that is okay. There are several ways to get over that. You can find YouTube videos and do yoga in the privacy of your own home, or find a class that is welcoming to all body types, a place where people won’t stare at you like you are wearing Lady Gaga’s meat dress with pity in their eyes. My favorite option is to grab some friends and go to a class with them. What is more welcoming than your supportive friends?
Black women are not the face of yoga but that doesn’t mean that we are not meant for it. Honestly, classes can be expensive. The average Black person’s income is less than a White person’s income. This factor can make attending a yoga class more difficult. There are yoga studios that offer scholarships to people who cannot afford the classes. There are community centers who offer yoga classes for free or a low cost. Yoga is about service. Most studios don’t discourage students because of the inability to pay.
Yoga is empowering. Everyone should have the opportunity to participate and feel welcomed. It should be inclusive and affordable for all. I know, I know…the prices can be a little insane. The YouTube videos are free and a lot of communities offer classes in the park for free. I feel good taking yoga. After a class, I feel enlightened, aligned and the stress of work, my son’s activities, the grocery list and those bills melt away for a while. Life gets stressful. Long term stress contributes to serious health problems. Stress disrupts the systems in your body. Chronic stress can cause chronic illnesses and we don’t need that in our life. So grab your mat, your yoga pants, water, a towel, concentrate on your breathing and start stretching.
Invest in our health.