A large appeal to the yoga practice is the growing awareness of one’s Self. One’s body, mind, emotions, etc… and quite possibly of how “alone” you are, if you happen to be a person of color.
Of course you’re not actually alone while you move and breathe in a class full of other practitioners seeking to strengthen and lengthen their bodies, and hopefully their minds as well. Howbeit, in the introduction to my Yoga practice within studios and whilst in Yoga teacher training, that’s exactly how I felt… alone.
I envisioned myself as part of a Yoga studio family, which would lead me to a broader connection within the Atlanta Yoga community. I craved it. I yearned for it. For the practice of Yoga entered my life as the first thing I would ever fall in love with. I was all in! But, come to find out… I wasn’t in at all.
“You Can’t Sit With Us!” - Gretchen from the 2004 movie Mean Girls
Oh, but that wasn’t it. Per my experience it was more so, “you can sit with us (i.e. pay for this monthly membership), but you can’t teach with us.” For the first 3 years of being a Yoga teacher, constantly applying to sub positions at different studios, was more often than not met with patronizing behavior or a complete ignoral of my existence. Researching these studios and gazing upon the mainly whiteness of their teachers roster, made me believe I was in an excellent position to reach out and at least increase diversity points within their studio. The black community was what felt like a whole untapped potential in this Yoga world. But rejection after rejection from Yoga studios left me with three questions:
I found this woman… this amazing black woman, by the name of Octavia Raheem, an E-RYT with over 8,000 hours in teaching experience over the course of a decade, and training in many varying styles of Yoga. I would, un-creepily begin to stalk this woman for a year, watching the work she did and showing my face whenever I could. Co-owner of one of the first black-owned Yoga studios in Atlanta that I discovered, Octavia took me under her wing as a mentee. Guiding me to improve my abilities as a teacher and to shed light into the business of being a black female Yoga teacher in this white Yoga world. Yo, let me tell you, she’s a real one. If I thought it was hard breaking into the Yoga game as a black woman during the rise of its popularity due to social media… imagine how hard it was for her and even her predecessors. Sheesssh.
After my stint as her mentee, I became a full-time Yoga teacher at her diversely populated studio. Diverse not only in skin tones but body type and styles of Yoga offered. Invaluable experience, and even more so the connections that came. I got exposed to so many other amazing black woman Yoga teachers who have established themselves within this still predominantly white industry. I got hired to another black-owned Yoga studio with a very diverse nature of its own. It was there, in these spaces that it happened… the community, the Yoga family I was looking for. Instead of trying to force my way into the white spaces for acceptance and approval… I learned the importance of cultivating within MY spaces, with MY people and community. Because when we invest in each other such as we do ourselves, and invest in representation, a transformative experience emerges. I thought the only transforming I would be concerned about in this practice was my own, and that of my students of course. I hadn’t considered I’d be witnessing the revolutionizing of the Yoga industry and its regard to the people who practice it.
This is just the start. Much more work is to be done. I plan to continue on this path that all who come to the Yoga practice feel seen, and a sense of belonging.