Editor’s intro: I’m white, half-Jewish, all-Buddhist. I was gifted, as a boy, to have a dear gay friend, a black best friend, a black best girl dash friend, a Latina bestie, and countless strong female, LGBTQ, and/or BIPOC mentors, peers, and teachers. They all embraced my ignorance, and good intentions, with a spirit of generosity that can be rare, these days, for understandable reasons.
One of these many guides was a young woman who wrote an article on Elephant about her experience, then sat down with me for a conversation many years ago. She invited my sometimes-dumb questions with a wisdom and humor that I still look back on with appreciation. ~ Waylon
Talk about awkward.
It’s something that I’m way more familiar with now but a few years ago it was a real fear of mine—we’ve all been there.
The day I decided to take my first yoga class—I snagged a spot in the back and sat there checking, watching the people around me, thinking about how much I need to buy new work-out clothes. I watched some sculpted bodies walk in and roll out their thick mats along the front of the room.
(I didn’t even know yoga mats could look like that.)
Imagine having all of those nerves—and also being the only dark person there.
Yep, that was me—that is me. Just me and my curly fro, waiting for class to start. Being darker than everyone else was a huge distraction for me in class. Yes, I got smiles and waves like everyone else in the studio, but I still felt like “The black girl.”
It’s not that I think yoga is anti-black people—I just think that it’s intimidating for us to get involved, even more so than for other folks. It’s kind of sad, really.
Do you know how many black girlfriends of mine want to come to yoga or learn more about it but shy away for the specific reason of being black?!
“It looks fun, but it’s a white girl thing.”
“Yeah, I’d go but, I feel like everyone is watching me.”
It’s because of these uncomfortable “I don’t belong here” feelings which gather inside and prevent us from experiencing what I’m sure many can agree to be one of the most potentially transformative things in our lives.
Despite my feelings of awkwardness, I was developing a strong appreciation for my practice and my body. The (sometimes cheesy) openings to class that spoke about embracing and accepting yourself started to penetrate through my self-sabotaging mind.
Over time, I began to understand that yoga was not a competition; it was not to see who could hold crow the longest.
It took some time after that before I started to promise to focus on myself—and it was a big (yogi) wake up call.
“Now I get why people go gaa-gaa for this stuff.”
I trained myself to not worry what others thought about me, or how much I wobbled in tree. When I turned my focus inward, it was so rewarding and refreshing, how could I not return to my mat? My confidence was boosting. It went from feeling weird about being the only black girl, to “Yeah that’s right, I’m the only black girl up in here. Look if you want to!”
I saw the impression I was making on my friends and family as they witnessed me transform and learn sanskrit and chakra clearing.
I remember handing a business card to a fellow sister—and as she glanced through my various titles she gasps: “Oh crap! You do yoga?! I love finding other black yogis!”
It was great.
So if you can relate to this, what can you do?
Show up—if we start showing our black and brown faces, we’ll encourage other curious beings to show up, too.
So, I write this not only for the black yogis—not only for the black potential yogis—but for all yogis: be supportive of each other.
Next time you’re in samastitihi be aware that most people that have shown up that day did so with a lot of courage.
Waylon Lewis and Alexandra Hayden Hernandez talk Yoga & Social Justice:
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Bryonie Wise