Now more than ever, people are turning to alternative wellness and fitness strategies to manage stress, cope with mental health issues, and deal with chronic medical conditions. Within the African-American community, many of these issues are compounded by stigma, limited access to resources, and systemic injustices. Recent data collected by the US Department of Health and Human Services suggests that African-Americans are 20% more likely to report serious psychological distress than their white counterparts.
Over sixteen years ago, I turned to yoga to combat these very same issues and it has had a profound impact on my life. It’s become a lifelong tool for managing anxiety, boredom and stagnation. It is something I have been able to use for self-care no matter my level of fitness, body shape, or financial status. When you can trace the source and direct the flow of your breath, you can control almost anything in your body. As a trauma survivor, yoga has been the way that I stay grounded and how I learned to cultivate compassion and develop boundaries. It’s been my most important teacher outside of parenting because it is constantly giving me myself over and over again.
A typical yoga practice consists of exercises to help you feel calm and focused, followed by a series of physical poses that help you to move your body while staying connected to your breath.. It is a kind of moving meditation that hopefully allows you to learn something about yourself during the process. Flexibility, mental clarity, strength, and relaxation are some of the most common goals and benefits. Most classes end with a brief relaxation or time to reflect.
Yoga in the media doesn’t look very inclusive. People may worry that they will not fit in or that the poses will not work for their bodies. One of my goals is to change the face of yoga and dispel common myths. There are a number of resources in our community like Common Ground Healing Arts that provide affordable classes, are accessible to beginners and bodies of all shapes and fitness levels. On the third Sunday of each month, I teach a class just for Women of Color, where participants are able to experience healing amongst their peers without the burden of racial stress. It’s also important to know that a yoga practice makes room for the individual’s own spirituality and requires no worship or religious commitment.
Yoga may not be for everyone, but I do believe that everyone should have the choice!