Yoga, yoga, yoga. We all know that dreaded four-letter word right? Whenever I see or hear the word YOGA, my honest first thought is tall slim white women with cleavage coming from their fitness bras, pelvic bones protruding from their Lululemon pants, and long blonde hair in a messy bun. I know, I know....that was a very stereotypical comment to make, but let's be honest, that's the westernized trend in yoga. Grab a couple of shirts with phrases like "Stay Calm and Yoga" and you're ready for class. Don't believe me, just Google "yoga" and you'll see what I'm talking about.
Yoga began in India thousands of years ago; it is related to Hinduism and has been a common practice of meditation in eastern civilization. But like all things that make it's way to western civilization, it loses it's purpose, becoming less of a lifestyle and more of a trend. The westernized practice of yoga has somewhat deterred me from joining any yoga classes because it just didn't appeal to the black community. Mainstream yoga practice simply doesn't focus on individuals in black neighborhoods. Most yoga classes are held in trendy upscale areas where black girls from the hood, like myself, just don't fit in. Let alone the fact that we don't even understand half of it. But like most things in America, it is up to the black community to raise awareness on things that are beneficial to us, despite how little it is talked about.
After my divorce earlier this year, I suffered a complete mental breakdown. I turned off any and everything society had to offer. I stopped watching the news, I deleted all of my social media accounts, I got rid of anything and anyone that brought negativity into my life. Eventually, I received the help of a therapists, got rid of my anxiety, started reading motivational books to help with my low self-esteem, and I even tied in the practice of aromatherapy to help uplift my mind. But I still felt as though something was missing in my life. My mind felt calm, but I could still feel tension in my body so I knew that I had more work to do. I began researching ways to relax both my mind and body, and honestly yoga still hadn't crossed my mind. At least until I came across the word "holistic." I've heard of the word before, but where I'm from, this word was often tied to people that didn't believe in God and the power of prayer. This is another stigma that is spread throughout the black community which hinders us from reaching mental and spiritual growth. While I do believe in God and the power of prayer, I have learned throughout my spiritual journey that inner peace comes in multiple forms, and exercising the mind and body together is the only way to be at full peace within yourself.
Women like Jessamyn Stanley (pictured above), have created paths for not only black women, but also curvy women to find their inner yogi. This is extremely beneficial to the black community because it knocks down the typical barriers of yoga. Let's be honest here, not too many black people in general practice yoga because we don't fully understand the benefits of it. Most black people think of yoga as a group of people getting together, sitting with their legs crossed on a floor mat with their middle fingers touching their thumbs while humming. Well this is only the physical aspect of practice and it does have meaning. Yoga is a time for you to connect your mind and body by being at peace and letting go. The feeling of lying down or sitting upright and releasing negativity from your mind and body is a life changing experience. You are encouraged to stretch your tensions out and clear your mind. There is no pressure of an instructor yelling at you to pick up your feet or physically release your tensions in some form of aggression or another; you just calmly sit, lay, and stretch with no pressure or military-style shaming.
With the stress that the black community is constantly faced with, yoga is a beneficial cure to sustaining inner peace and creating a sense of harmony within our families and households. As black people, we have become accustomed to aggression and anger. We often take out our frustrations on one another without actually addressing our issues and working out the kinks individually, let alone as a community. Let's face it, there are not a lot of yoga classes being offered in the black community, if any at all. And to be brutally honest, most black people like myself have not yet elevated to a new level of thinking. I am now learning how to flush out negativity and channel in positive energy and peace. If only more of us would find harmonious peace within ourselves and void the stigma placed on the black community, we would discover the ability to change the dynamic of the black family.
Yoga instructors like Brandon Copeland, have introduced this practice to the black community in a more familiar way; combining trap music and yoga together. I have watched his videos on YouTube and it is a unique way to introduce both male and females to yoga, erasing the common misconception of awkward silence or nature sounds in yoga that can sometimes be a distraction if you are not used to calm. However, the music is played low enough that it is barely heard which still allows you time to focus and process positive mental energy.
It is refreshing to see black men take part in something that renews or restores positive energy to the mind. The black male is the product of many stress factors in white America, therefore, I encourage black men to seek out this practice with other males or even a female companion in addition to any physical fitness that you may be active in. The black community looks to the black male for guidance in our homes and families and the mental stability of the black male is extremely important in our households. And like any king and queen, the mental strength of the head of the family is the key to it's families success.
The black community is suffering from a lack of knowledge on the various health benefits society has to offer. We have been programmed to attend a church service to pray about things, without getting to the root of our problems. The mind and body works together; therefore in order to seek change, we must create change in more ways than one. This change starts within ourselves and it is difficult to accomplish with a set state of mind. But just as we promote music and fashion trends in our community, we can promote the need for peace and tranquility. We need more people to step up and offer beneficial programs that are centered around the mental wellness of the black community. Time has to be dedicated to the inner strength and peace of our own families in order to break the cycle of poor mental health and low self-esteem.
I am new to this journey myself, but I felt compelled to share with you how therapeutic studies have raised my mental and physical awareness. I feel positive, anxiety-free, and most importantly, in control of my emotions. My five senses have come alive and I am able to tap into all of them at once through the practice of yoga. I encourage all of you to tap into the various forms of therapy and examine how this can change your life. You can subscribe to a yoga channel such as The Mat Project on YouTube for no cost, pick up self-help books from your local library, and invest just a small amount of money into some form of aromatherapy, whether it is incense, candles, or essential oils. Take small steps into inner peace and tranquility and watch your life transform into something greater than just coexistence. I promise you will find yourself at peace with yourself sooner than you think. It is a lifestyle change nevertheless, but a change long overdue in the black community.
Please enjoy this video by The Mat Project. Subscribe to her on YouTube and make it a habit to practice this at least once a day for about 20 to 30 minutes and embrace the calmness you will feel. Click on the links provided to get more information on the benefits of yoga. Peace and blessings!