Finding peace in times of duress can be a challenge for many. But, if there’s anyone who knows how to flow through what they go through, it’s those in the yoga world.
In addition to overcoming all of life’s universal obstacles, Black yoga instructors also walk (and bend and stretch) with grace to surpass their underreperesentation within the industry. It’s this very limit to access that makes Black yoga instructors even more powerful — both as sources of mental motivation and fitness inspiration. And, to be quite honest, we could all learn a lesson from their resilience and perseverance.
With that in mind, keep reading to discover what seven Black yoga instructors across the United States have to say about yoga and its myriad benefits. Here’s hoping their unedited thoughts can inspire you to flow forth — inclusively, with love.
Location: Atlanta, GA
Inspiration to Flow: “As a mindful yoga coach and avid practitioner, I know firsthand how critical it is to have a healthy outlet for physical and spiritual wellbeing,” Tie says. “Yoga is a beautiful gateway for anyone seeking sustainable overall wellbeing because it encourages a personal journey to mind, body, and spirit connection.”
A Personal Note: “For me, what started as a fun way to physically challenge my body suddenly cultivated a domino effect that enhanced the quality of my entire life,” she says. “When I committed to a consistent yoga practice, not only did I drastically increase my strength and flexibility, but it slowly shifted the quality of my breath, my mental health, nutrition, personal relationships and connection to Self. Right now especially, as we face so many uncertainties individually and collectively, having a yoga practice can also provide an effective and accessible way to soothe bouts of stress, anxiety and mild depression. Whether it’s for 15 minutes or an hour, I encourage my students to hop on their yoga mat to breathe, move and connect daily. It truly is the ultimate life hack.”
Location: New Jersey & New York City
Inspiration to Flow: “Yoga is beneficial in so many ways — just in its simplest form, allowing yourself to low down, pause and recognize your breath is something that can be utilized in all aspects of your life,” Phyllicia says. “Your breath literally gives you life, and by accessing it properly you can allow yourself to heal from the inside out. Yoga is so essential, especially now when the world has literally been turned upside down in chaos. A lot of us that are used to moving around — to go here or there — but have been limited to our home spaces now. So there is the huge need to get the body moving, allowing the blood to circulate and release pent-up energy. The awesome thing is that yoga can be done anywhere — in the bedroom, living room, backyard, on the couch … get creative with it.”
A Personal Note: “Our bodies are made to move,” she says. “So as a teacher I always recommend students to honor themselves and their bodies and start at a pace that will work for them, in a way that they can integrate it into their life. Even if it’s just 10 to15 minutes each day, give yourself permission to utilize that time for true self care. Everything that goes on with us physically is just a reflection of truths on a deeper level. Yoga allows you to balance it all out, aligning yourself — meeting the needs of your mind, body and soul.”
Margaret “Margo” Francois
Location: Tampa, FL
Inspiration to Flow: “Yoga truly is the gift that keeps on giving,” she says. “It nourishes your mental, physical and spiritual wellbeing and is an amazing mindfulness practice of moving meditation. Studies show that in addition to its physical benefits, yoga helps reduce stress and anxiety and is great for cultivating mental clarity. Creating a routine of consistently practicing yoga is a great way to invest in your overall health, especially during times of duress when stress and fear of the unknown are at peak levels. I recommend making yoga a part of your lifestyle by doing it at least three times a week. You can start with 10 minutes of gentle stretching in the morning or before going to bed, and nurture your practice from there.”
A Personal Note: “I live by the mantra: ‘Yoga is inclusive, not exclusive,” she shares. “There is beauty in diversity and inclusion and it is my life’s mission to create safe spaces where underrepresented groups feel a sense of belonging. You can’t thrive where you don’t feel represented and valued.”
Location: Atlanta, GA
Inspiration to Flow: “Yoga has many benefits, such as increased strength and flexibility,” she says. “What intrigues me the most is the mental health benefits that come out of practicing. Yoga brings a sense of balance, calmness and oneness, uniting the mind, body and spirit. It brings a sense of confidence, clarity and creativity to the practitioner, making them feel alive, attentive and motivated to take on whatever comes their way. In times of duress, uncertainty and tragedy, this sacred practice is much needed; especially in the African American community. Yoga is a great aid toward healing for all. I truly believe that if everyone practiced some form of yoga, whether it be breathing techniques, mindfulness or attending a weekly vinyasa class, the world would be a much better place. Having a consistent yoga practice can lead to a high sense of wellbeing by bringing the practitioner inward, inviting them to become the observer of the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise. It brings a sense of emotional intelligence to the individual helping to calm the nervous system.”
A Personal Note: “Yoga is so much more than getting on the mat and flowing through poses; it’s how I live my life,” she says. “A life of mindfulness, a life of reflection that’s intended to express compassion, love, wholeness and joy. Although randomly attending a class in-person or virtually can assist in overall well-being, consistency and discipline are key for psychological, physical and spiritual growth.”
Angelica Marie Wilson
Location: Queens, NY
Inspiration to Flow: “I believe that yoga can be beneficial for everyone,” she says. “Before I say why, I’d like to mention that yoga is more than folding like a pretzel. An asana (posture) practice is an aspect of yoga but there is breathwork, meditatio, and more. So there are many ways to cultivate a practice that you can tap into whenever. Maybe your practice looks like taking deep breaths for a couple of minutes; maybe it looks like a down dog. While navigating through the yoga world you might be able to pick up practices that fit you. Once you have your practice in your back pocket, it can be a useful tool to turn to, especially during times of duress. Tapping into your practice can help you recenter your focus, analyze your situation, and support you in formulating your next steps in response to a situation which can be useful for your day-to-day or when processing something larger.”
A Personal Note: “Please know that while a steady yoga practice can be helpful in times of duress it does not replace therapy and/or psychiatry,” she says. “Know that if you ever feel like seeking professional mental health, please seek it out. You can see a therapist/psychiatrist and practice yoga!”
Location: Chicago, IL
Inspiration to Flow: “Yoga has been incredibly healing for me,” she shares. “My mat has been a sacred space for five years now. My healing has evolved from relationships, past trauma, depression, body image, etc. and has allowed me a better understanding of inclusive wellness and holistic living. I am a Black woman adopted into an all-white family. At a very young age, I had a hard time conceptualizing why I didn’t look like my family or why my body was shaped differently than my friends. I grew up feeling different with no way to navigate my relationship with my body. I was an athlete my whole life but still had curves despite my small physique. In high school, I battled depression and anxiety. I was put on medication that resulted in weight gain, which added more insecurities around my body and how it compared to white counterparts. I was always driven by movement. Growing up playing sports, it was all I knew. When I was dealing with mental health issues in high school I naturally gravitated to the concept of it. My dad had the P90x DVDs and I always did the yoga class. It was a change of pace from soccer and volleyball but had so much emotional power over me.
I dabbled with yoga a little bit in college, but my priorities weren’t in self-improvement but rather chasing the next party or boy. During my senior year, my grandpa passed away unexpectedly — all for health issues that were preventable. I quickly shifted the way I approached food, exercise and lifestyle as a way to cope with that.
That summer, yoga was reintroduced back into my life and I haven’t looked back since. It has been my safe haven and place for me to grieve and connect with my health in a very holistic, all-encompassing way. I have been holistically treating my depression and anxiety for the past eight years. I have explored meditation, essential oils, journaling, adapted a clean diet, learned about energy healing, and now consistently practice yoga. All practices that coincide with my desire to heal, not only mentally but physically.
My relationship with my body is ever-changing and always growing. I’ve learned to embrace my differences and how they’ve built me to be the woman I am today. My body and I were speaking different languages for a long time. What used to be shame, resentment, guilt, and fear has now culminated into a lot of tears, self hugs and language translations.
I am raw, genuine and fearless when it comes to my radical self-expression and that wasn’t possible until I started practicing yoga. Yoga has taught me to appreciate the journey and fall in love with the process of being.”
A Personal Note: “Yoga is a ‘practice’ for a reason: there’s no end,” she says. “There’s always a lesson to learn. I connect a little deeper with myself each time I step on my mat. I think the same goes for self-love. I don’t think anyone will ever fully be there, but we can appreciate the small wins, the growth, the shift in perspective — the entire process.”
Location: New York City; Currently Edmonton, Alberta
Inspiration to Flow: “2020 has been quite the year for all of us,” Yemie says. “We are in a place of both mass, and individual, trauma and pain. Yoga in itself is both a practice and a philosophy. It allowed us to unlock the different aspects of ourselves. The truest parts that hide underneath.
Society has taught us not to look too deeply at what’s inside, and concentrate on our outwardly selves. Yoga does the opposite. It asks that we get to know our inner selves. It opens the pathways to our dreams and desires and gives the comforts we all strive for. Self worth.
This practice may come to you in many different forms; the physical we call Asana, the mental we call Meditation. The spiritual we call Self-Realization. Know that regardless of how you find it or when, that moment will be the right time for you. YOU ARE THE PRIZE. As it is a practice, I encourage you to try and fail and try again. Know that on this path you will die a 1,000 deaths and be reborn 1,001 times.”
A Personal Note: “The work you do on your yoga mat directly translates to the work you do off the mat,” she says. Take your self-discoveries and empower yourself to find the intersection in your life and use that to fight for equality for all. The world is waiting for you. Radicalize yourself through love and self acceptance. The yoga in your mind must be able to see the worth of all to see the worth of one. You are the one. You are deserving of what you desire!”