Editor’s Note: I know Charlie, the Yogi interviewed here, from middle school! We’ve stayed connected through Facebook, and I was so happy to read of her mission to make Yoga more accessible to all folks.
In my personal experience, I took Yoga from an amazing friend here in California during my pregnancy. It really felt fantastic and became something I looked forward to every week. I hope that each mama reading this will seriously examine your self-care practices: what have you done for yourself lately? I promise to do the same. Sending so much love to each of you. #BlackLivesMatter
As a woman of color and yoga teacher, what is one thing you wish other women of color knew about yoga?
Yoga is for everyone! It’s not about your experience level, body type, having fancy clothes, your flexibility level, or even your instructor. It is about finding comfortability, movement, and expansion in your body. Historically in the U.S., women of color have experienced and internalized mental and physical trauma as a result of a combination of “isms”- Racism, Classism, Sexism, etc. The reasons that yoga can be so revolutionary for women of color is that it helps to grow and cultivate self-love and body awareness. Every day I see more and more students, black women usually, that were referred by their doctor or therapist to take yoga for mental health and stress relief. In a yoga class, you learn how to find space to breathe as you move and bend and twist on your mat. If you are able to take time to be mindful and breathe as your body is sweating and moving it becomes a lot easier to do these things out in the world. As I always say, the yoga mat is a microcosm of how you navigate your relationships, job. . . your whole life. Your mat is where come to unpack your own mess and learn how to put it back together with one breath at a time.
Why did you choose to teach yoga?
In 2010, I was in Borders Bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana and in the magazine section, I saw this beautiful black yoga instructor by the name of Faith Hunter on the cover of Yoga Journal Magazine.
“Black people do yoga?!?” I thought. I had always been taught that I could do anything I put my mind to but there were some things that just didn’t seem like they were for someone with my cultural experience. That was the beginning of my personal practice of yoga.
As I navigated the yoga community in Indianapolis, Indiana, I had many experiences of being “othered” and feeling unwelcome in classes and events. I decided that I wanted to learn to teach yoga to cultivate a space of healing a connectedness where people of color can come and breathe life into each other.
Is yoga safe for expecting mothers? If so, what are some of the benefits?
Definitely! Outside of the benefits that non-pregnant people get from yoga, some listed on the infographic above, Yoga can be helpful if you are trying to conceive, are expecting, or are recovering from a pregnancy. Mula Bandha, in yoga, is an “internal lock” of the pelvic floor muscles that is often engaged in breathing exercises and postures during a class. By engaging the Mula Bandha, you are essentially doing Kegel exercises—toning and lifting the pelvic floor. At the end of the day, if you go to class and all you can do is lay, engage Mula Bandha, breathe you are getting the benefits breath control, stress relief, and pelvic floor control which are extremely important for the time that the “little bun” is cooking, for the birthing experience.
How can new moms fit yoga into their daily lives?
You don’t have to do an hour-long yoga class every day to observe the benefits of the practice.
-If you are expecting, I would say go to a prenatal/Gentle yoga class 2-3 times per week and in between those times spend half an hour doing breathing exercises, gentle postures, and relaxation.
-If you are postpartum, you can keep the same schedule but avoid abdominal pressure from core work for at least 6 weeks, after this time gently increase intensity of practice until you have fully recovered.
What’s the best way to find safe spaces to practice yoga that celebrate diversity?
That is a very good question! Word of mouth and social media have been the best tools that I have found, so far, to finding safe spaces for people of color to practice yoga. Outside of that, you have to “date” yoga studios and instructors to find the spaces that fit for you. The honest truth is that you will have to kiss a lot of frogs but I want to encourage you to get out and explore your area and see if you can find a fit.
If you can’t, then maybe you need to create it!
Any other pieces of advice to mamas interested in yoga?
Get to class 10-15 minutes early to chat with the instructor. Introduce yourself, let them know if you are expecting and what trimester that you are in. This will give you an opportunity to get to know your instructor and for the instructor to give you suggestions, props, and or modifications to support you through the practice.
Be gentle with yourself and your body. Yoga is truly a practice where you learn to Be Humble or Be Humbled. Love your body for where it is and show gratitude for all of the amazing things it does for you on a daily basis. There is no physical end goal in the practice of yoga. Your yoga may look different than the person next to you but they are both equally valid as you are both doing your own work.
How can we follow and support your work?
You can find me . . .
If you are in the Indianapolis area, I would love to see you in class! Stay tuned for yoga sequences and videos on my Youtube channel.
One more note from Desiree: If you are worried about cost, look up “sliding scale Yoga (location)”. There are many Yoga instructors who accept payment on a “pay what you can” basis in an effort to make Yoga accessible to all.
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