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True health and wellness knows no race, and these Black yogis have been making themselves seen and heard.
These days, yoga is everywhere. It’s on TV, YouTube, social media, and there’s a studio on just about every block in major cities.
Even though yoga is a spiritual practice started by brown people in Eastern Asia, yoga has been co-opted in America. It’s been commodified, appropriated, and marketed with white women as the poster girls for the practice.
In reality, yoga is an ancient practice from India that aligns flowing movement with breath and awareness for a profound form of meditation.
Practitioners are encouraged to align their bodies, minds, and spirits to connect with the divine within themselves, as well as with the greater universe.
There are many documented health benefits of yoga, including anxiety relief, improved heart health, better sleep, and more.
Luckily, true health and wellness knows no race, and Black yogis have been making themselves seen and heard.
Just follow the hashtag #BlackYogis on Instagram. Instantly, your feed will be filled with fabulous, powerful yogis in every shade of melanin.
Here are a few of the #BlackYogi trailblazers burning up internet feeds to make yoga and wellness inclusive for everyone and every body.
Dr. Chelsea Jackson Roberts is a New York City–based yoga teacher and scholar. She’s been practicing yoga for 18 years and teaching for 15. What first drew her to yoga was finding a method to alleviate stress and move her body in a way that made her feel connected.
“As a Black woman, I come from a lineage of teachers, healers, and community connectors who have historically been ignored when it comes to the wisdom our cultures hold,” Roberts says.
For Roberts, practicing yoga is a reminder that she is whole, despite all of the messages embedded within our society that she and other marginalized groups are not.
In a recent Instagram post, Roberts’ voice is strong and pained as she says, “We are never separate. Each one of us is connected. My freedom depends on yours, and your freedom depends on mine.”
Her pronouncement is indicative of her favorite quote by a famous feminist writer:
“When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people, we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us.”
— bell hooks
Drawing near, being connected, being whole, and being free are the foundations of yoga and of Roberts’ very being.
She lives by the words, “You cannot compartmentalize liberation.”
Lauren Ash is the founder of Black Girl in Om, a global wellness community for Black women that prioritizes intentionality through meditation and journaling.
Ash is intentional in the curation of Black Girl in Om content. Her focus is on the wholeness of the Black woman: her spirit, her mind, her body, her priorities.
At a time when Black women are doubly tasked with the societal burdens of their race and gender, Ash has created a safe space for Black women to lay those burdens down and focus on themselves.
In these intentional acts of self-care, Ash has affirmed the healing power of yoga to the community she serves.
In a recent Vogue interview, Ash says, “We brilliantly possess the power to prevent, cure, and carry dis-ease out of our lives by inviting healing possibilities into our psyche.”
Crystal McCreary first came to her yoga practice 23 years ago from a dance background.
She found that yoga not only gave her more breath and ease in her body while dancing, but it also decreased her stress and increased her patience as an elementary school teacher in Oakland, California.
She says yoga allowed her to witness her life experiences and cultivate the full scope of her own humanity.
“Yoga for me is about returning to wholeness, remembering who I am, embodying the values that are near and dear to my heart, and living an authentic and free life,” McCreary says.
McCreary says that even though yoga is an “ancient technology,” it’s one that’s still needed, still holds value, and was created for Black people and other people of color.
“We have every right to challenge or interrogate the intentions of creators of yoga spaces where we do not feel welcome, because spaces like those are not about yoga at all,” McCreary says. “We also have a right to let that fight go and find yoga spaces where we are seen and valued.”
This interrogation of unwelcome spaces and the abandonment of the fight that comes with living under the gaze of others is embodied by McCreary’s motto, a quote borrowed from the French philosopher and writer Albert Camus:
“The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
— Albert Camus
Britteny Floyd-Mayo is not with the sh*t.
As the one and only Trap Yoga Bae, Floyd-Mayo mixes the ancient art of asanas with bass-heavy trap music to bring some Black sass and a whole lot of ass to her high-energy yoga sessions. Her classes are as much about getting free and whole as they are about twerking.
Trap Yoga Bae is on a mission to help anyone who has ever questioned themselves get their mind right with her easily quotable #RatchetAffirmations, like “You can’t be committed to your growth & bullsh*t. You gotta choose one.”
With degrees in positive psychology and social behavioral studies, plus receiving her yoga certification in India, Floyd-Mayo is a breath of fresh air in heavy times.
She helps us do the inner work to examine ourselves and our lives so we can now and forever live “F*ck Sh*t Free.”
Jessamyn Stanley is proud to be exactly who she is: Black, fat, and queer.
Her feed is a meditation of what it means to take the labels society foists upon you as a negative and turn them on their head into the most positive and beautiful parts of yourself.
Stanley, who’s the author of “Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear, Get on the Mat, Love Your Body,” proclaims that “joy is [her] resistance.”
She created The Underbelly, an app for yoga beginners and aficionados alike. On the app, Stanley leads practices to help users learn how to harness their own magic and find self-acceptance, as Stanley has done for herself.
Danni Thompson is a new voice in the yoga and mindfulness space working to help people align their health and wealth all at once.
As the founder of herDivineYoga, Thompson has been practicing yoga for 10 years and teaching the practice for 4 years. She found yoga after years of battling chronic depression and anxiety.
“There is a saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear,” Thompson says. “My doctor at the time recommended I give meditation or yoga a try, along with a prescription for an antidepressant.”
Since then, Thompson has been on a mission to share this wellness strategy with as many people as possible. “I think often in minority communities, mental health and real strategies to help people to cope are not discussed,” she says.
Her favorite quote sums up exactly why she loves yoga:
“Satsang is the invitation to step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will burn only what you are not, and set your heart free.”
Thompson lives by the words, “I AM a child of Divine Fortune,” and hopes to bring the power of yoga into mainstream Black wellness spaces.
Whether you’re sweating it out, twerking it up, or sitting peacefully and intentionally directing your thoughts, how you show up on your mat is how you show up in life.
For these Black yogis, that means showing up with the intention to be whole and free. In these times, isn’t that what we all want to be?
Nikesha Elise Williams is a two-time Emmy award-winning news producer and author. Nikesha’s debut novel, “Four Women,” was awarded the 2018 Florida Authors and Publishers Association President’s Award in the category of Adult Contemporary/Literary Fiction. “Four Women” was also recognized by the National Association of Black Journalists as an Outstanding Literary Work. Her latest novel, “Beyond Bourbon Street,” will be released August 29, 2020.