Canisha Bell sits with her legs crossed and her back to the window of an enclosed patio at her home in a neighboring Flint, Mich. suburb. She leans over and grabs a bowl, a lighter, and sage.
She explains the smudging process, clearing negative energy, and asks if I mind if she cleanses the room. I don't mind. I'm more than familiar with smudging. This isn't my first time meditating. This isn't my first time practicing yoga. But this is my first time having a Black yoga instructor.
Black Girls Do Yoga
Nearly three years ago, Bell walked into a room facing primarily white peers. At that time, Bell decided to take advantage of the many learning opportunities at the organization she worked for, the Crim Foundation in Flint. This time, it was yoga.
That training would lead to a mission for Bell to encourage as many Black people as possible to practice something that she has now adopted into her everyday routine.
"My mind with doing Black Girls Do Yoga...was to get Black women of all different shapes and sizes and skin tones and take pictures of them in different yoga poses and to talk about the benefits of each yoga pose," said Bell, who is a yoga instructor, meditation facilitator, and mindfulness educator. "I wanted to show Black representation."
Bells said when she started teaching yoga in the community she would get push back from mostly Black people.
"Anywhere I went with yoga, there were no Black people," Bell said. "When I started doing it, a lot of Black women were like that's not for me. They weren't as receptive towards it. I think it was because of representation. If you look up yoga or Google yoga you saw mostly white women, and then these really hard yoga poses."
A study from the Yoga Journal showed that out of the nearly 40 million people practicing yoga in 2012, more than 85 percent of those people identified as white.
Bell is among a growing population of Black people throughout the nation who are now practicing and teaching yoga to their peers. Their presence has become more prevalent as they use social media platforms to get the word out to the Black community about the benefits of yoga. You can now easily find people like Bell under Instagram hashtags like #Blackpeopledoyoga and a number of Facebook groups with Black yoga enthusiasts and instructors.
Bell said the increase in racism and hostility towards Black people makes yoga and mediation a must for the Black community.
“Specifically, Black people should practice yoga because, in addition to everyday stressors we all face, Black people also face systemic structural, institutional racism. That starts to take an impact on our bodies. The emotional state of your mind starts to take an impact on your body," Bells said.
According to studies, yoga improves strength, balance, and flexibility. It also helps manage stress, anxiety, and depression, which can lead to medical issues, including hypertension and heart disease.
Heart disease, cancer, and stroke are the leading causes of death for Black people.
"When we can move and allow the stress to move and not keep it in our bodies, it allows us to be healthier mentally and physically because we can let go. We can learn to respond versus react...It's that meditation. It's that mind-body-spirit connection.”
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