Black Yogi. White Studio.

February 5, 2015

Originally posted at Yoga for Every Body. Cross-posted with permission.AnitraCottledge (1)

Thank you to guest writer, Anitra Cottledge, for this honest post. Anitra is so very much truly #WhatAYogiLooksLike.

Oddly enough, what pops into my head when I think of my sporadic yoga practice is Kapalabhati breathing.There was a certain point when I’d abandoned doing yoga in a studio (more on this in a minute), and decided I’d just do it at home. The DVD I chose? Hemalayaa Behl’s Yoga for Urban Living.

Behl takes you through some Kapalabhati breathing exercises, and I remember feeling convinced that my body wasn’t meant to do what she was asking of it. I tended to give up shortly after beginning, assuming that only the people who went to secret, exclusive yoga meetings could conquer these practices.

Secret and exclusive sums up how I think yoga can feel when you are a black woman with curves and boobs, etc. (And glasses; I’ve always felt out-of-place as a bespectacled person doing yoga.)

The only yoga class I’ve ever gone to went a little like this: black woman signs up for class, buys yoga mat and yoga clothes. Panics that her yoga clothes aren’t the “right” clothes. Comes to class which has mirrors everywhere, feels self-conscious that the tank top she’s chosen isn’t flattering to her arms. Realizes she is the only visibly identifiable person of color in the room, not to mention the only black person. Tiny white girls are dressed yoga chic; black woman is convinced now that she shopped at the “wrong” yoga section of Target.

That yoga class was an experience in self-consciousness. It was hard to focus on developing a healthy relationship to my body. That is, outside of the moments when there were poses that were challenging for me, and I felt guilty for my perceived shortcomings.

This was a beginners’ class, and yet there was That Yogi in my class. You know, the lithe white girl who was balancing on one finger, while simultaneously drinking a latte and typing a paper. I used to wonder what the hell she was doing in that class. Shouldn’t there be an Ultimate Fighter Yogi Platinum Level class that she should be in, or perhaps teaching?

It all felt very competitive, and that’s not the feeling I want to remember everyday. How do we get past yoga as an exercise in competition, so that we can have meaningful yoga practices in spaces that don’t reproduce dominant narratives of power, privilege and access?

I’m slowly coming back to yoga, and I need a space that I can be present in, a space that holds up all of who I am.

Over the past few weeks as I’ve contemplated a return to yoga, I’ve found some wonderful resources like Jessamyn Stanley and Anacostia Yogi. And seriously the Black Yogis Tumblr gave me my whole damn life.

And that’s the feeling that I want at the core of my yoga practice.

Dear Universe: I am settling for nothing less than a yoga space and community that will give me my whole damn life.

Signed, Management.

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