Breaking down barriers in the representation of BIPOC in the growing yoga community.
By Gerrard Roberts
Yoga can help release your inner peace and strength
Namaste. Asana. Vinyasa. These are words commonly used in the yoga community to describe gestures, poses, and practice flow. Yoga uniquely calms the noise of everyday life and can unlock your inner peace. Like a lidocaine patch, yoga takes the body from an intense warm state of crane pose to the calm, relaxed state of child pose, leaving the body in a state of woosah. Walking into a room created for peace can be intimidating when all eyes are on you because yoga spaces are often perceived as sanctuaries for white privilege. However, there more melanated spaces are evolving as inclusive retreat centers to “let this groove get you to move.” For homebodies, there are YouTube and IGTV to cultivate a fun, convenient yoga practice. To help understand the barriers to visibility and representation of BIPOC in the yoga community, we’re highlighting three yoga instructors taking up space and advocating for change in their local community.
Broadway Performer Leverages Yoga for Mental Wellness
Early into his ten years of success on Broadway as a cast member of The Lion King, Cornelius Jones Jr. suffered an injury that could have halted this journey. However, a castmate who was a yoga teacher suggested he take yoga to assist with his physical recovery. This kind gesture started a journey of healing that Cornelius has been able to carry with him throughout his career as a performer.
“Living in Los Angeles, California, and being in the entertainment industry; there can be one hundred no’s to one yes. That type of rejection can break you emotionally. So remaining consistent with my physical practice is imperative to my mental health and mood.” – Cornelius Jones, Jr of Get Yoga Burn
On the road to achieving 6,000 yoga teaching hours over the span of ten years, Cornelius has proactively advocated for the intersection of mental health awareness and the healing properties of yoga within the Black community.
“For years, in the Black community, we didn’t talk about mental health because it showed signs of weakness and fear of how others may perceive it.” He says, “social media has allowed us the space to say it’s ok “not to be ok” and it’s ok to seek help.”
Social media platforms during the pandemic served as a catalyst for amplifying Black voices, sharing Black healing experiences, and developing safe spaces of dialogue within the Black community. To support the accessibility and wellness benefits of yoga, Cornelius launched his online yoga and wellness platform, Get Yoga Burn. He hopes this space continues to grow and develops into a resource for individuals who do not have the time or cannot afford an in-person yoga studio membership.
From YMCA Yoga Classes to Radical Yogi
Growing up in Richmond, VA, Charles Bolling Tinsley was introduced to yoga during an AP gym class at the local YMCA while attending Armstrong High School. After that one class, the yoga bug sunk its teeth into him. However, the appreciation for yoga quickly became a bittersweet indulgence. After moving to California to attend discipleship school, he noticed that the lack of diversity in the yoga community was an issue from coast to coast, and the self-proclaimed Radical Yogi was born.
By understanding the healing properties of yoga, Charles has become an instructor helping others embody a lifestyle of being mindful of the physical, mental, and spiritual health of their being.
“Yoga has focused me by practicing the eight limbs of yoga; Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharna, Dhyana, and Samadhi.” – Charles Bolling Tinsley of Radical Yogi
He believes that Black mindfulness is the key to abolishing systems, practices, and institutions that have harmed the Black community. As an instructor, Charles guides participants with a mindful mantra of authenticity that encourages free expression of self and develops a valued community.
Transformative Meditation Leads to Self Discovery
As a mother and military veteran, Kennae Miller continued to redefine her strength, resilience, and happiness throughout her life. Searching for an authentic outlet to serve marginalized and underrepresented communities through meditation and yoga, Kennae created Transformation Yoga in Charleston, South Carolina.
“I started a yoga studio because I knew the teaching I had to share was not going to be received in spaces with people that did not share similar cultural experiences as I did.” – Kennae Miller of Transformation Yoga
The history of enslaved Africans being transported through the ports of Charleston is often overlooked and dismissed, but locals continue to live with the dispersion of this trauma without adequate resources to mend the agony. Miller understood the need for purposeful advocacy and mindful mantras for relief in the BIPOC community.
“Saying ‘love and light and just let it go’ to people who are seeking healing or refuge from unarmed murders of Black people, to mothers that are working several jobs not knowing where the money will come from, or to Black men who haven’t been able to rest, does not address the actual systems or institutions that create barriers to our healing or wellness”
Kannae walks in the purpose of sharing with her community that they have the tools within themselves, through their breath and presence, to regulate their nervous system and respond to the world around them.
After finding their internal joy, these community leaders have embarked on a journey of developing innovative and intentionally led yoga practices. In cities across the country, BIPOC yoga instructors are popping up to help you regain chakra balances, mental wellness, and inner peace. So invite them to the cookout and let them guide you through some much-needed mobility and stability exercises. As Huey P. Newton once stated, “I have the people behind me, and the people are my strength.” As melanated yoga instructors continue to create safe spaces that offer positive growth pathways, it’s important for communities to pay attention to detail with their buying power and cultural influence. If you’re in the area, check out these businesses. Either way, share their stories so more people can explore the diversity in yoga.