Gratitude for Community Yoga: Making yoga accessible to people of color

Candlelight Gratitude Yoga Class at Mary’s Dance Fitness

A year ago I was given the priveledge of starting a community yoga class in Hawthorne, California. A little more than half of the population in this city is Latino and about 28% are African American. When I started practicing yoga almost six years ago, I would go to yoga studios in the beach cities and notice that I was a part of a small minority in the group. Two years ago I decided to get my yoga certification in the hopes of offering yoga classes to people who might not have access to yoga studios.

As stated in the article, Why Your Yoga Class is So White, “a 2009 study in the Journal of Religion and Health found that 63 percent of African Americans and 50 percent of Hispanic Americans pray to improve their health. Only 17 and 12 percent, respectively, reported relying on an alternative spiritual practice like meditation or yoga to stay healthy, and almost everyone in that group also prays. In contrast, twice as many white Americans identify with alternative spiritual practices and don’t pray at all.” (July,2014).  In my experience, I have seen many people of color sincerely interested in the practice of yoga. However, many have shared that they felt out of place being in a white studio, the cost of classes were out of their budgets and they felt divided in terms of respecting their religion while learning about yoga.

Mari lighting a gratitude candle – owner of Mary’s Dance Fitness

For the last year, Mary’s Dance Fitness, a zumba studio, has let me have a weekly yoga class. The cost is $5 for an hour class. Patrons have gathered to learn the basics of yoga while flowing to a myriad of Spanish ballads. Classes are typically taught in English, Spanish and Spanglish in an intimate and relaxed setting. The space is not the typical yoga studio with its swanky and cool interior – but it’s enough for one to learn, relax and unwind. Fortunately, some of the yogis who came when we first started this community yoga class have now ventured out to find yoga studios and styles that complement their yoga practice. And that was the goal – for every day folks to learn about yoga and make it their own.

Here are some of the comments shared by yogis whose first experience of yoga has been through this community class:

  • Hatha yoga led me to explore Kundalini and since then practice both daily. Sometimes Kundalini more so than Hatha because of time constraints. I find both practices to be similar in ways but yet slightly different. The kriyas that I’ve learned and practice through Kundalini have been extremely beneficial to my overall health and well being.  -N.L.
  • Community yoga has given me a local and affordable place to practice quieting my mind and syncing with my breath in the company of supportive women. -P.I.
  • I love that I get to clear my mind while getting a great workout. It truly feels like my arms and legs are longer every time I’m done doing yoga. Gradually, I’ve felt more comfortable with the yoga world and even ventured into trying hot yoga and barre yoga. Thank you for the wonderful introduction to your world. -T.V.
  • Community yoga has connected me with my home where I was born and raised. …Yoga brings me home, it brings me peace, and the joy I feel after spending this time with my roots is beyond any other experience. -J.V.
  • I never thought yoga would change my perspective on life as much as it has. Every class I attended offered me the opportunity to take a step back and appreciate my existence. I genuinely love that yoga teaches me to breathe every day. It teaches me to not be afraid of truly feeling. Although sometimes in tears, yoga makes me happy! -J.J.
little yogini

Little yogini lighting a gratitude candle

I am super humbled and grateful to be la maestra de yoga. As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, we had a candlelight gratitude yoga class. It was a very soothing class and I felt like the luckiest person in the world because I was surrounded by kind souls that have come together to create community. What I’m really enjoying is how some yogis are bringing their children to yoga – sweetness.

Wishing you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

The purpose of life is to be beautiful, to be bountiful, to be blissful, to be graceful and grateful. What a wonderful English word—grateful. If one is great and full, one is God. And whenever smallness faces you, you should be great. And full. Full of that greatness. 
-Yogi Bhajan