Black Yoga Collectives Aim to Make Space for Healing

“When I think about racism, I think about stress and how much stress causes illness in the body,” said Lakshmi Nair, the founder of Satya, who grew up in a Hindu family in Aurora, Colo. “We believe that yoga is medicine that has the power to heal.”

Satya’s efforts are part of a growing movement to diversify yoga nationwide. The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, which became a nonprofit in 2016, provides scholarships, training and teaching opportunities for Black instructors. The Yoga Green Book, an online directory that lists Black yoga teachers, Black-owned studios and Black-led trainings nationwide, has also provided resources and a network since 2016.

According to National Health Interview Survey data, the percentage of non-Hispanic Black adults who reported practicing yoga climbed from 2.5 percent in 2002 to 9.3 percent in 2017.

A growing body of research shows that racism and discrimination may be playing a larger role in people’s health than previously thought. An Auburn University study published in January, for example, concluded that Black people experience higher levels of stress as a result of racism, which can lead to accelerated aging and premature death. Another study, from the American Heart Association, found a link between Black people experiencing discrimination and developing increased risk for hypertension.

Yoga is obviously not a panacea for racism, but it has shown positive results in helping people manage high levels of stress and as a complement to therapeutic work on trauma.

Sarah Naomi Jones, who did yoga teacher training at Satya, said the co-op provides a safe space to bond, vent and heal — a very different vibe from predominately white yoga spaces where many people of color feel, once again, out of place or unwelcome. Ms. Jones, 37, said she felt that an icy reception when, as a Black yoga newbie, she attended an intensive yoga class that was mostly filled with white attendees.

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