Yoga while Black

I usually hide the links that reveal my lack of pedigree by responding to questions about my less than stellar childhood with vague and open-ended answers. But, on this particular day, halfway through my 200hr teacher training, everything I tried to put behind me was revealed during an exercise called “the privilege circle.”

“Is anyone in your family incarcerated?” the facilitator asked. “Were you raised by a single mother…Were there ever times when you didn’t have enough to eat? If any of these apply to you please take a step into the circle”

Looking down at my toes, not wanted to make eye contact, I stepped into the center of a ring of women. When I raised my eyes, I realized that I wasn’t alone. A woman who had early identified herself as a former addict and an immigrant of mixed race stood beside me, connected by our shared stigma of having experienced some form of poverty or marginalization within a society that sees us as foreigners.

“Do you have a trust fund…Were your parents’ professionals; lawyers, doctors, educator? “If you had access to nature area close to your home, take one step back.”

Once again, we are left inside the circle as they; the blonde, the lithe, and the healthy step further away from the center.

And then came the question that left me in the middle of the circle alone.

“If your ancestors were forced to come to the U.S., not by choice, take one step forward.”

I stood alone in the middle of the circle surrounded by the descendants of privilege, trying not to make contact by looking at my feet and noticed something odd. My toes were lifted off the floor.

It’s not always obvious to those of us who come from communities that have experienced deep trauma in the form of enslavement, war, holocaust, discrimination, racism that in addition to our own personal traumas, the pain, depression and anxiety that our ancestors faces still occupies space in our DNA.

That experience (and others) helped me realize the importance of creating spaces for people of color to heal through the yoga practice.

I’ve always felt that while yoga helps the privileged class reconcile the reality that they are NOT the center of the universe...it helps others realize that we ARE the universe...there are different wounds to be healed, different lessons to be learned both of which hopefully get us to the same end : respecting each other’s humanity. 

I’m so grateful that Studio 34 has established a weekly P.o.C yoga class, every Sunday from 5-6:30 pm and I’m looking forward to joining the teacher rotation this month. I hope you'll join me to participate in some healing and community building while moving to a culturally relevant playlist.

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Jazmyn Burton4 Comments