Part III: Safe Spaces in Yoga
By: Vivi Vallin, M.A.
I am currently in a yoga teacher training at a studio in East Los Angeles called People’s Yoga. They are the first yoga studio in this particular area of Los Angeles and are going to be celebrating their two-year anniversary in the coming weeks. People’s Yoga prides itself in making yoga accessible to the community of East Los Angeles. Classes are affordable, some are bilingual or in Spanish, there are classes for families to practice together, many of the instructors are people of color and the studio is accessible via public transportation. This year they offered their first 200-hour yoga teacher training. The others in my cohort are also people of color. All different backgrounds and ages but sharing the experience of what it is like to be a person of color who has been drawn to yoga on their own healing journey. As we learn about yoga together, we also share our experiences of feeling excluded, navigating being undocumented, being a queer person of color, how yoga is viewed by our families, and how we view injustices every day. We have a space in yoga to integrate our cultural and ethnic identities and experiences from that identity. This process is powerful.
On a personal level, I believe practicing yoga brings you closer and closer to your authentic self. Although yoga did not originate in Mexico, practicing yoga as a Mexican-American has brought me closer to my own culture’s healing practices, my roots, my history, and my family. I think this is because of yoga’s ability to cultivate self-awareness and self-love. In yoga, we embrace all parts of ourselves. From this space, I can see that a yoga practice brings individuals closer to who they really are. Each of us is unique. Our stories and experiences are unique. If we allow space to share and unite these stories, the experience of each of us will be richer and more full.
Black, white or brown (or however you identify) – we can all be united in our experiences of trauma, pain, sadness, joy, happiness, and gratitude. These are universal human emotions that link us together. We can heal together. As we move toward this ideal, we still need to acknowledge that there is a need for safe spaces to heal for marginalized groups. It may look like a yoga studio that opens in East Los Angeles. It may look like a workshop about traditional Mexican healing practices. Each community should have the right to access safe spaces to provide wellness and healing, individually and together. Each community should have the right to choose the practices that will help them heal. Healing movements and leaders historically emerge from within their own community. In this case, as fellow brothers and sisters in color and among all throughout Los Angeles, our shared role is to respect and support this work for authentic and accurate cultural representation in any way we can.
BLACK YOGA TEACHERES ALLIANCE
When I heard about the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) I was excited and wanted to learn more about their work. The group was founded in 2008 and first began as a social media group. The goal was to create a safe space for teachers, students, practitioners, healers and enthusiasts to discuss yoga, share resources and create community. They wanted to create a place to explore the many paths and types of yoga, while also incorporating the authentic spirituality that black yoga teachers bring to the practice of yoga.
The BYTA provides their collective community with resources about teacher trainings, educational programs about yoga, scholarship opportunities and yoga publications. It also launched its first national initiative named Yoga as a Peace Practice: Redefining black lives and restoring peace and pride in our homes and communities. The initiative includes offering curriculum to yoga teachers so that they can take action by offering yoga, meditation practices and yoga based on lifestyle philosophies among those who are victims of violence (BYTA.com).
Since 2008, the group expanded and will be holding its first major retreat and conference in August 2016. The speakers being highlighted are black yoga instructors who have been leaders in this movement for a long time. The BYTA wants to celebrate and highlight these leaders that do not often get the recognition and space to share their wisdom and experience. The conference information describes that there will be an emphasis on the experience of being black in yoga and in this nation, as well as spaces to share and heal in community.
The Black Yoga Teacher Alliance currently has a Kickstarter Fundraiser organized by Jacoby Ballard of Third Root Community Center. The fundraiser aims to raise enough money to support 10 scholarships to black yogis who otherwise would not be able to attend the conference. A second goal of the campaign is to have 1000 white yogis donate to support the campaign. This would be a sign of support and send a powerful message that these types of safe spaces and events are important.
I donated to the BYTA scholarship fund because I support their efforts to create safe space for and to celebrate black yogis. They are not only sharing yoga but also leading the way with national initiatives that use the practice of yoga to engage with major issues such as violence and victims of violence, especially in black communities. I encourage those of you who are part of a yoga community to also support by donating to the scholarship fund, finding out more about the BYTA and/or attending the conference to learn more about their work first hand. Their efforts and contributions to the broader yoga community are valuable and are contributing to breaking stereotypes of exclusivity in mainstream yoga.
See what the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance is up to, get involved or donate here.
Photo Cred: BYTA.com