Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Blacks In Yoga: If You Want To Be Represented Then You Have To Represent

Be the change that you want to see in the world- Gandhi

Before I start, let me establish this, if you didn’t know, I am Black.  The picture at the top of the page is me. This article is not going to win me any popularity points. If you are easily offended, stop reading now. There are many articles in the blogosphere talking about why Black people don’t practice yoga. I am  not going to share one with you because they all are all full of the same thing….excuses.

If you want to represented in yoga then you have to represent. It is that simple. Think about it. If all Black people are sitting around waiting for other Black people to go to yoga, how is this helping? If Black bloggers are sitting around writing about how there needs to be more Black people in class but they are not regularly attending classes themselves, how is that helping?

Sometime before 1955, some Black people looked out and said, “we are not properly represented. Our children don’t have access to high quality education. We don’t have access to good paying jobs. We can’t eat at the cute restaurant down the street. Lets do something about it.”  Then the Civil Rights Movement was born.

Black people often say, “if feel uncomfortable in predominately White yoga classes.” Do you think the people who got spit on and shoved at the lunch counters were comfortable? Do you think the people who had dogs and hoses turned on them were comfortable? Do you think the first kids to segregate public  schools were comfortable? They were uncomfortable so that this generation doesn’t have to be. No, it still isn’t perfect but I feel pretty comfortable as a Black person drinking from the Wal-Mart water fountain. This is a fricking miracle! My mother couldn’t do that when she was a girl! I don’t know about you, but I am going to count my blessings.

 

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The worst thing that will most likely happen, if you go to a predominately White yoga class is you MIGHT get the side eye. You won’t get locked up. You won’t get beat down. You won’t get water hoses turned on you. You may feel slightly uncomfortable. However, if you can let that go, there is so much you can gain! Health, freedom from suffering, happiness,peace, and ever lasting joy are are just a few of the gifts yoga can give. I am totally down with a little bit of temporary discomfort for these benefits!!

Real talk though. In my 13 years of practicing yoga in the deep dirty south, I have NEVER had anyone give me the side eye or make me feel unwelcome. NEVER. Here is my secret. I don’t go in looking for it. I walk in looking for happiness, peace, joy, compassion and acceptance. Someone might be giving me the side eye, but I wouldn’t know it because I have my hater blockers on.

 

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hater blockers

Racism is real. I am not saying that it is not. Even though I have never had a racist experience at a yoga studio, I am sure some of you have. But here’s the thing. If you stop practicing yoga, it is not going to change. If you chose to segregate yoga and start Black only classes, it is not going to change. Whenever I hear of people starting Black only yoga, I can only imagine that Martin Luther King and all the other people that died for integration, are flipping over in their graves. Martin Luther King didn’t say, “one day I want black boys and girls to hold hands in their own specially made school in their own special neighborhood”. He said,

“I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls.”Martin Luther King

Many people see separate classes as a stepping stone. Yes, it can be. However, something I have noticed in the yoga world,is that when people get in their comfort zone, it is really hard to get them out of it. If I had a dollar for every time someone has told me that an  asana (physical yoga poses ) practice is a stepping stone to the other internal limbs of yoga, I would be rich. If that were the case, every yoga studio that is established and has been open for a while, would have packed out meditation, pranayama and Yoga Sutra classes on the schedule. I haven’t seen it happen. I predict the same thing for these separate but equal Black yoga classes. People will just stay there.

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Segregating yoga is a step back and honestly it is not yoga. According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, which is the text that yoga is based on, the ultimate goal of yoga is absorption. When you are absorbed you are deeply involved with all life. There is no separation from you and Life. You are Life.  Segregation is separation from an aspect of life. This is the opposite of yoga.

If you want to see more Black people in yoga class:

  • If you are Black, go to class
  • Bring your Black friends to class
  • Educate your Black friends about yoga and its benefits

If you want to see more Black practitioners on social media, media and the web:

  • If you are Black, take pictures and videos of yourself and post them
  • Take pictures and videos of your Black friends and post them
  • Start your own blog, magazine, Facebook page

If you want to see more Black people out there doing their thing

  • Support Black yoga teachers, bloggers, instagramers, You Tubers by watching AND reposting their stuff and attending their classes and workshops

 

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

4 Comments

  • Kelly

    Amen! Amen! Amen! The whole dang article, I was saying “Amen!!!” Thank you, Shanna!!! So proud of you for representing, and for putting your Satya out there!!! Nama-friggin-STAY!!

  • Warren

    I would like to preface this statement with a little light comical candor. My wife showed me this page while we where laying around in bed one day and I was like “Hey that’s Shanna” like my Yoga teacher was a celebrity or something but I digress 🙂

    Needless to say I attend Shanna’s classes and I’m black. I’m usually the only black male in class. So as I read this article I asked my wife “are there all black yoga studios?” She shook her head at me and said “Yes Babe”.

    initially I was apprehensive but once class started I was to busy breathing, checking in, making sure my feet are pointed straight, holding a pose and breathing to think about what the yogi on the mat next to me is doing and usually the yogi next to me is my wife. My point is, it’s my practice.

    I am conscious of the fact that some of my classmates might have their own perspective of me but my acquaintanceship is not dependent on or connected to the yogi’s I am in class with.

    I appreciated this a article. I represent. See you in class.

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