Written by Deanna Green
I decided to give yoga a try because I had pain in my lower back. Simply rolling out of bed left me in severe pain. I couldn’t go to work, and there were moments where I was crawling around the house because it hurt too much to stand up. Looking back now and knowing more than I did then, it was probably the beginnings of sciatica, a condition where the vertebrae of the spine pushes against the nerves, resulting in a shooting pain down my leg. But at the time, I had no idea—I was just like, “Man, this really hurts.”
I went to a few doctors and they all just kept saying the same thing: “You’re really young and you don’t have an injury, we aren’t gonna give you an MRI—you’ll be fine, just lose weight.”
This was so frustrating for me, I felt like there was nothing I could do. I was venting about my pain to a colleague, who was in the middle of taking her yoga teacher training. She encouraged me to try yoga as a solution to my back pain. I was desperate for anything that might help, so I was willing to try.
I had taken exercise classes and gone to the gym, but I had never tried anything like yoga. To prepare for the class, I followed along to a YouTube video on yoga since I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or how to do any poses. After 10 to 15 minutes, I got a good sense of the class and the poses. The next morning, my back even felt better— just from 15 minutes of YouTube yoga.
I started taking classes two to three times a week and I told my colleague about how much I loved yoga. I loved how it challenged me but then how I feel so great after class. We discussed different classes I took around the city, which teachers I loved, the classes that were my favorites. But I never really talked about how I was the only Black person in class most of the time, or how I was the largest body in the room. But I noticed it. I was feeling so good though—my back pain had completely subsided—that I wasn’t going to let my differences distract me from continuing on my yoga journey.
If I was ever in a class where there was another yogi that was closer to my size or another person of color in the room, I would always perk up. I never once had a Black teacher. But, I was feeling good, my back was feeling good, so I kept showing up to class for that. But in the back of my head, I was craving seeing more bodies like mine practicing yoga, more people of color and a wider variety of sizes.
After bouncing around from class to class, I finally found a studio that made me feel comfortable. I found complete acceptance at Abhaya yoga—complete acceptance from the others in the room and complete acceptance within myself. Every time I came to class, I arrived perfect just the way I was. As women we are constantly trying to prove ourselves. As a Black woman, I feel like I have to work so hard to be accepted in this society. But in this space, I felt like I could drop in and let all of that go.
The first teacher that I had was a man, something not so common in yoga. When we were moving through a pose, he said, “See if you can close your eyes here, because we don’t have to worry about how you look. You look awesome anyway, that’s not the point. Just focus on how you feel.” It felt like permission to let my guard down, permission to be myself exactly as I was. That was when I started to break down some of my own issues around sexualizing my body and started to instead see my body as this structural piece that could do so much. I ended up going on a retreat with this same male teacher. He gave me so many assists and safe touches, and I remember thinking this was the first time I was touched by a man, besides my dad, without having any sexual connotations behind it.
I had no intention to become a yoga teacher, but so much of the yoga teachings resonated with me so strongly. I found myself reflecting on my mother’s journey with her sickness, as she had passed away from cancer. I felt like I was learning so much information that I wish she could have had access to. I thought of so many Black women that are struggling with mental health, generational cycles of violence and trauma, and how that can manifest in their bodies and show up as an illness. I believe yoga is something that would have helped my mother and so many others that have bodies that don’t fit the description of what we think of as the yoga body.
At the time, I was a new mother and wanted to make sure that I did all I could for my health with my daughter in mind. Well after my back pain had disappeared and my physical body had changed, I noticed my first mental change. I suddenly had a new perspective on motherhood. I was now able to relate to my child in a completely new way. Yoga also released the tension that I was holding for both myself and my daughter. I no longer held myself up to the standard of being a perfect mother, I instead let myself be me.
I had relieved my back pain, learned to accept myself, changed my perspective and was working on eliminating negative self talk, but I still wanted more. So, I began teacher training and devoted 200 hours of time to yoga. And, as part of the training, I started teaching. And it felt really good.
While it could have been stressful as a new mother, taking countless hours of teacher training, yoga allowed me to find a support system. I usually don’t allow myself to ask for help, but I had to get creative about how I was going to juggle caring for my child while furthering my yoga practice. The community I had become a part of was so strong and supportive that it kept me coming back and making sure I could show up. I thought that if I were ever to have my own studio, I’d want to put an emphasis on community, too.
I got my new teacher certification and started teaching some small classes for kids with my daughter and sharing it on social media. Then I got reached out to about teaching kids’ yoga other places. Next, I was reached out to about another teaching opportunity. And then another! It was exhilarating. But it was also scary. I quit my full-time job and became a freelancer. Being a yoga teacher, or any kind of freelancer, is not for the faint of heart. The lack of stability through regular paychecks is tough, especially with a little one at home. But what always kept me anchored was my yoga practice and community.
While teaching classes at various studios around the city, I noticed that there weren’t many spaces that reached out to me, and there weren’t many spaces that I felt really comfortable at due to my size and skin tone not looking like everyone else in the class. So I decided to create these inclusive spaces instead. I did a wellness event three years ago that was truly transformational for me. But this wellness event was the first time I had ever created something completely my own—not executing someone else’s vision but truly creating my own event from beginning to end. I was terrified that no one would show up. Lo and behold, people did show and the event was a huge success. That’s when I realized I could create something, develop my own vision, execute it, and people will show up.
Those who attended that event mentioned to me just how diverse the room was. People of color were present, all levels of ability, men and women, different body types. This really resonated with my attendees. I believe that if we see more bodies that actually represent our own communities practicing yoga, we would all be more inclined to take a class. It’s much more inviting if you feel represented.