by Chioko Grevious
I really want to practice yoga. God knows I do. I don’t want to practice to be super trendy, or the clothes provide a little slimming effect. I want to practice because yoga, for me, represents a connection between my mind and my body. Yoga represents peace, tranquility and concentration.
I have been in yoga classes that start off well enough. I walk in, a couple of people look at me like, “Oh God…she doesn’t know how to do yoga. Bless her heart.” I sit on my blue mat and close my eyes. I breathe deeply and meditate, slightly. The instructor starts speaking in a hushed tone, giving complex instructions, and my confidence fades away. At that exact moment I remember why it took me so long to join a class. I feel as if my body wasn’t designed to complete those complex poses that have been requested of me.
I am a black woman with some serious curves and a good handful of boobs. My body cannot easily manipulate itself the way that my yoga instructor wants it to. I feel out of place, tired and frustrated. I sit in the yoga studio covered with mirrors which makes me extremely self-conscious. I start second-guessing my outfit choice, which includes that cute purple yoga tank top that I purchased. I can’t stand how flabby my arms look when I put them above my head or how my stomach protrudes when I am sitting down.
Not only am I the only person of color in these classes, I am the only one with a body like mine – thick thighs, a stomach, boobs and those flabby arms that are driving me crazy. These classes heighten my negative thoughts about my body. Now I am beating myself up. Not only do I not look the part of a trendy yogi but also I physically cannot do the poses that my classmates are doing.
Two percent of Black women in the United States practice yoga. Out of 16 million women in the United States, only 30,400 Black women do yoga.
Yoga promotes physical, as well as mental wellness. Yoga helps reduce stress and chronic illnesses like hypertension and heart disease. It lowers blood sugar and increases flexibility and strength.
With all of the chronic diseases that are plaguing the Black community, the practice of yoga is beneficial. Black people need yoga. The community is having a tough time right now and yoga has the ability to improve your outlook on the world and yourself.
In my yoga classes there is always that one girl who came out of the womb doing the warrior II pose, meaning that she is clearly advanced for the super duper pre-beginner class (my class). She has the unnecessary desire to show off all that she knows. You know the one…she’s wearing the Lululemon Athletica pants and tank top, with a bun in her hair. She might even have her legs around her own neck when the rest of the class is struggling with the downward facing dog. To top it off, she has the competitive look on her face that screams, “Top that, bitches!”
I just came to relax and she came to win a gold medal.
The word “yoga” means union, and connection. Since the westernization of the practice, the inclusion aspect is no longer visible. Don’t get me wrong, westernization isn’t a bad thing, we have been introduced to something that has enlightened us, but it has also perpetuated the exclusion of groups of people who can definitely benefit from the practice.
How can folks of color with bigger bodies be included to practice in a safe, healthy and welcoming environment?
More yoga teachers could step outside of their swanky studios and head to the community. Meet the community where they are: at church, at community centers, and at schools. My hometown of Sacramento has yoga in the park on Saturdays and Sundays. It is free of cost and the community can borrow mats. This gives everyone the opportunity to participate in something that isn’t easily afforded or accessible without the stares of the elite and privileged.
Honestly, classes can be expensive. On average, a Black person’s income is less than a White person’s income and this factor can make attending a yoga class more difficult. But there are some yoga studios that offer scholarships to people who cannot afford the classes. Yoga is also about service. There are the rare studios that charge over $100 to attend but don’t discourage students because of the inability to pay.
Black women are not the face of yoga but that doesn’t mean that we are not meant for it.
Inclusion is necessary. We all need to feel welcomed and supported. I have returned to yoga, barely. I have returned because I know what yoga does for my mind and my spirit. I want those feelings to be the core of my practice. Nothing else.
Chioko Grevious is a mommy, wife, daughter and friend. A Black yogi. A blogger at Juliette Health Organization www.
image via tumblr