Who Says Black Women Don’t Do Yoga?
WORDS: JACQUELINE LARA
Visuals: Wanakhavi Wakhisi
Think you don’t have a place on the yoga mat? Dana A. Smith is here to tell you that yoga is for everybody.
Western yoga practitioners have sworn by the physical and mental benefits of the Indian practice for decades. But for many women, the idea of a yoga class conjures some very specific images—ones that don’t always feel inclusive (remember that XOJane article by a white woman who felt “hyper-aware of [her] skinny white girl body” when encountering a black woman in her yoga class?). One woman is doing her best to fight the misconceptions and show that yoga is a resource for all, regardless of skin color or body type.
Smith knows from first-hand experience; she was able to overcome a horrible bout with depression through yoga. When she was seven months pregnant with her first child, her mother-in-law died in the 9/11 attacks. Unable to tap into her usual coping mechanisms like rigorous exercise or dancing and drinks with girlfriends, one of Smith’s colleagues encouraged her to take a yoga class.
“I felt hopeless,” Smith says now. “[But] I told myself, ‘You can do this, this is challenging,’” Smith says.
Yoga helped Smith manage stress through the remainder of her pregnancy and after Brooke’s birth in 2002, when she was diagnosed with postpartum depression. Family and friends noticed the positive impact yoga was having on Smith’s life, but repeatedly told her the only way they’d try yoga was if she taught it.
“In 2003, after completing yoga teacher training, I led a class in my basement until we outgrew the space,” Smith says, laughing. “I left my comfortable office job to pursue yoga full-time, and have been credited with bringing the first yoga studio to Prince George’s County, Maryland.”
Smith spoke with mater mea about why she started the YES! Yoga Has Curves movement.
What is YES! Yoga Has Curves?
I published YES! Yoga Has Curves in June 2014 as a testament that yoga is for EVERYbody and that no one physical size is better suited for practice. It celebrates beautiful goddesses of all curvy shapes and sizes, and finally allows the beauty of our curves to be recognized in this blessed art called yoga. My hope is that the book will help bring women to a place of self-love and self-acceptance, and if you’re already there, keep you there!
Why does YES! Yoga Has Curves Need to Exist?
Everyone can benefit from yoga, and you should never feel like you don’t have a place on the mat. It’s been encouraging to see more diverse representations of yoga practitioners in mainstream media like Dr. Chelsea Jackson who recently appeared in Yoga Journal.
Yoga brings you back to your core, happiness, and helps with stress management. I started my own practice doing tapes in the house, then ventured to Washington, D.C. because there weren’t any classes in Prince George’s County. With my post-baby body and often being the only black woman in class, I definitely felt uncomfortable, but stuck it out due to the benefits.
How can people participate in YES! Yoga Has Curves?
We have an active Facebook page and Instagram [account] where articles and 30-day challenges are shared, and we engage in active discussions about issues we’re facing in the yoga community. Supporters can also buy a copy of YES! Yoga Has Curves, and we have shirts and tank tops available for purchase.
I am working on Vol. 2: YES! Yoga Has Curves, and will begin shooting a YES! Yoga Has Curves DVD in August 2015. The DVD will be helpful to people who are more comfortable starting out their practice at home, and will give you a strong foundation when you take a class.
What has been the most touching feedback you’ve received about YES! Yoga Has Curves?
Many people have told me they were on the fence about doing yoga because they’ve been classified as obese, but when they saw someone who looked like them in the book, they were inspired to start. I am inspired when people take control of their stress using yoga. It’s important to add that you don’t have to be a certain size to support the YES! Yoga Has Curves movement–your spine is curved, your heart is curved, and it’s your softness that makes you a woman.
Tell us how you manage stress in the comments for a chance to win a YES! Yoga Has Curves t-shirt! (Must be based in the United States to win.)
Jacqueline Lara lives in Silver Spring, Maryland with her husband and two young sons. As a PR consultant, she develops messaging and conducts media relations for nonprofits, artists, and entrepreneurs. Lara also explores creative processes and blogs about the intersection of art and business.