To the Other Black Woman I See in Yoga

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I love the blog post Open Letter to the  Fat Girl in Hot Yoga by Joshilyn Jackson. The world of yoga is definitely becoming more diverse, but I really identified with the sense of ‘otherness’ that was poignantly captured in Jackson’s essay.

There’s a small smile and nod I get and give when I see a Black woman in a yoga class.

I want to tell her that I’m so glad to see her in class because African-American women get more unhealthy each year. I smile at her because even though there are still so many people who think we all know each other, in this moment I do know her.

I know that’s it’s nice to see walls broken down. Not the walls of a yoga studio but the walls of our own community. Our community that tries to tell us that certain things are ‘Blacker’ than others.

Yoga will help change that. 

Yoga is/was not Black (Though I am convinced it is the new Black). And though some people will say, will ask, why does something have to be Black or White? I will say that it doesn’t but  (because of reasons that are too long to explain here) they are, for now anyway.

Yoga will help change that. 

I will say that I recognize that snicker or look  from ‘the’ community when you do something this is out of the ‘norm’ or realm of Blackness.

Makes me think of Lisa Bonet on the Cosby show, Lenny Kravitz, Living Color and Bad Brains…

I get frustrated as I try to explain that we are not one single experience. We are not one neighborhood, TV show, music channel or type of food.

I turn to my mat to think. Black history shouldn’t be celebrated for one month, but every day along with women’s history, Latino history, Asian history, Native American history and every other group who has come here in search of a better life.

I wish that more of America looked like the 6:30pm Yoga to the People class on 27th St in NYC. It is a sea of color drenched in sweat  in the 105° heat. Sweating with common purpose and smiling because everyone completed class together.

Yoga will help change that. 

I don’t want to admit it, but it’s nice to see a face like mine and feel like I’m back in the club, if only for a moment before my music, book or music choices get my privileges suspended again.

Yoga will help change that. 

I’m part of something. Something bigger than me.

Before, sacrifices were made to be called ‘Black’ enough. But seeing her in the studio, a space that is my church, I am happy. I am smiling, I am peace.

Peaceful as I flow through class.

Sometimes the class is Bikram. Sometimes it’s vinyasa.

We chat after, for a moment. Chat about hair or how long we have been practicing. It’s never a long conversation, but it’s nice. It’s even nicer now when I tell her that I’m a teacher and she wants to know where I teach, because her friends want to practice and she thinks it will be helpful or inspiring for them to see a Black teacher. We agree that yoga is amazing and it has invariably changed us forever.

Our differences make all of us stronger, not weaker.

And as I take my yoga off the mat I keep my hands in a metaphorical prayer and say:

Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be peaceful and free”

 

This is yoga. And with any luck it will change the world.

Namaste y’all.

relaxation

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12 thoughts on “To the Other Black Woman I See in Yoga

  1. Love it! It’s so true. Whenever we show up in places that aren’t traditionally Black, there’s comfort in seeing another Black face. And yoga definitely isn’t Black although there are more and more practitioners everyday. Keep doing the damn thing Neik!

  2. I love this! I am not black, but I have the same feeling when I see a black woman in class. I know how hard it might be to do something that is different for the culture. I am happy to see my classes become more diversified because yoga is not black or white or indian or asian. As you said “yoga can change that.” And it is happening more and more everyday. The sea of white thin women in lulu is washing back into the ocean and left are people of all colors and creeds. I want to see everyone enjoy the benefits of yoga regardless. Thanks!

  3. Yoga has a way of making strangers friends – so true, I’ve seen it too. And thank you, Oneika, for so gently pointing out that it’s possible to feel lonely in a yoga class. We have such a far way to go, but yoga does change things. I am fortunate to have found you.

    1. Thank you Bharat. I had no idea that sharing my thoughts in cyberspace would be so rewarding. I really enjoy talking yoga with you. The world is so big and yet so small.

  4. I can totally relate to this. Seeing another black woman in class is like “Yes!” Even if we don’t talk. I do agree, yoga is for everyone and I LOVE diversity. At the same time, I tend to feel connected from our community most times because I feel like everything I enjoy is not typical of the “average black american”. Whatever that is. I think you know what I mean.

    I think I told you I am going to be a yoga instructor. I am also a part of a group of naturals, meant to connect naturals in our community. It’s still a newbie group. I was considering if it would be worth it to try to teach a class catered to black people. Not making us any more special than anyone else, but bringing in that connection. Also, as you said, we are not the healthiest, a great way for that spiritual and healthy connection. I don’t know. lol 🙂

  5. I don’t really know how to explain my feelings about this.

    I’m a black woman, and a yogi. And I feel that those two things are mutually exclusive. I prefer to keep it that way.

    I have been practicing yoga since I was a child, and it’s not until recently (since I’ve entered the yoga blogosphere) that I have come across this idea of yoga being a “white” thing. In fact, my introduction to yoga came from watching Wai Lana videos on PBS, so this is actually a very new concept to me.

    Yes, there is most certainly an othering of blacks who don’t fit the typical US black “culture” (I know this from personal experience). However, I find that I just don’t care. I especially don’t care when it comes to my yoga practice. When I see another person on the mat, I just see another person. At best, I notice their level of their practice, and if it’s much higher than mine, then I seek to learn from them. If they’re struggling, which I definitely do in Ashtanga, then that is when I feel a connection.That’s when I feel like I’m not in it alone, but yet we’re both/all pushing through and growing. And I think that’s what you’re saying happens when you see another black person in your class.The problem with me is that I cannot do that, because I just don’t see yoga and race as interconnected. But maybe for some people, it is.

    I just think that too often, everything in the world is made to be about race, when our race doesn’t define who we are. The use of race, which doesn’t technically exist, by it’s very nature is meant to separate. So I think the true solution is to get rid of race as a way of defining ourselves and others.

  6. Yoga actually began in Africa, ancient Egypt. Just as we have been misguided about many things not belonging to the “black” people, yoga is also one of them. It should not be a black or white issue, bc it’s a beautiful practice that I encourage many to connect to. It just becomes unfortunate that we as a black people have lost so much of our roots (thanks to the government, society, and centuries of oppression that helped rob of us these rich roots, replacing others a as inventors of our marvelous creations) that it becomes easy to say, factually as a few readers above have done, that these practices (beleiving from India) that are predominantly performed by white people are not of the ancient people of Egypt, which were in fact not the light skinned Arabic looking individuals, but dark BLACK Africans. These same higher powers that have stripped us of our accomplishments are the same ones that have created racism and oppressed our people to keep us from the greater things in life through division. Thank you for this lovely article, and I challenge you to continue to research our roots as it may be more than eye opening, but more so an awakening from a suppressive sleep you will never fall victim to again.

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