By DJ Johnson

Over the last decade, there seems to be a paradigm shift towards wellness and enlightenment among millennials. Among the growing trends like holistic and vegan lifestyle, yoga has become the path of choice for many millennials in the black community.

In this same timespan, I have had the pleasure of meeting some awesome yogis. What I find most amazing is the path each person takes to arrive at their practice. I myself found yoga in 2008 after I had my second reconstructive shoulder surgery. I needed a rehab regiment that would:

A.) Allow me to build my body from the ground up and

B.) Prevent the need of having to have a third surgery.

I chose yoga and the practice immediately enriched my life in unbelievable ways. Initially, it started with a simple Tara Stiles yoga YouTube video. Once my friends found out I was practicing yoga, we began attending classes together. Eventually, one of my friends decided, "I think I'm going to quit my job and become a yoga teaching hippie...", Just like that. 

 There is something truly transformational about yoga. The discipline has even permeated my artistry. The majority of my latest pieces have been inspired by yogis from around the country. I decided to reach out to a few yogi instructors I've met over the years to ask them a few simple questions: how was yoga introduced to them, what inspires them to teach, and how the practice affected their life.


Octavia Rogers- New Jersey |Yoga Instructor: Private and Virtual | IG, TW, FB, SN: @wonder_woman_o | www.wonderwomanyoga.rocks

How did you get started doing yoga?

 I began yoga when I was pregnant with my first child six years ago. I started yoga as a gentle way to stay in shape. Yoga has now seen me through 2 pregnancies

What made you want to become a yoga instructor? 

 I experienced the benefits of being able to calm my mind and reduce stress. I wanted to bring those health benefits to the black community and other under-served people. 

 How has yoga changed your life?

 I used to have the worst temper ever. I grew up in Newark NJ where being tough and protecting yourself were essential and necessary part of everyday life. Yoga has evened me out and provided me with the tools for self control and really that is what being tough is all about. Controlling yourself! 


Irie Bennett-Tallahassee, Fl |Yoga Instructor: Florida A&M University | IG: @sunkissed_goddess

How did you get into yoga? 

Someone I knew and use to worked out with locally had been sharing her yoga journey on IG for some time in 2012. I was always amazed by her posts and my curiosity grew from there. She advices me to follow other yogis on the gram like @hippieheathen, @ladydork who were both inspiration for her and eventually seeing them, how comfortable they were with themselves, their enthusiasm for sharing their journey and helping other get into yoga via IG really motivated me. I went to my first yoga class in March 2013 and I've been on my journey since. 

 What inspired you to teach yoga? 

Learning about yoga is what inspired me to want to teach others about it. I truly believe yoga as something to offer to everybody and I believe one of my life's purposes is to aid others to that gift. Diving deeper into yoga is always first for my journey but I also want to give those around me the same relief and peace. Yoga is unfamiliar information; something that's rarely ever spoken of in the Black community in regards to health, by instructing I'm able to introduces the world of yoga and all its benefits. 

 How has yoga changed your life?

Yoga has allowed me to become more aware of myself. My awareness has allowed me to be more conscious of my actions, which helped me progress from a reactive state to a more proactive state. Because of this more alert being, I get an honest opportunity to know myself and make discernments accordingly. Yoga continues to help me grow in mind, body and spirit daily. Some days I learn more about myself spiritually while practicing new posture or in meditation and some days I learn more about my mind and body because of my spiritual awareness, both days I'm able to grow

 


Kandace Stewart-Memphis, TN | IG: @kstwe205 | http://midtownyogamemphis.com/ | Wednesday 6:45 pm & Saturday 10:30am

How did you get started doing yoga?

I took ballet classes from the age of 6 until I graduated high school.  In undergrad, if I wasn’t dancing, I would work out at our student facility where they offered free yoga classes.  It was the closest thing to ballet that I could find and I would go whenever I could.  After undergrad I went to law school and didn’t work out for 3 years!!  I picked up practicing yoga again shortly after law school when I got a job working at a large law firm, but I would work so hard that I was neglecting my physical and mental health.  One afternoon after a particularly frustrating day I decided to leave work on time I went and bought a month’s membership to the first yoga studio that popped up on google (Better Bodies Yoga, which is thankfully a really good studio) and that’s when I really fell in love with the practice.  It was more than just a physical workout that I was getting at my school gym.  I was finally able to relax and not think about work, and I was getting my flexibility back.  Unfortunately, because of my schedule I wasn’t able to go to a studio and practice regularly, but I found some great videos on Amazon so that I could continue my practice.

 What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

There was always something stirring inside of me that was telling me that I wasn’t really living my purpose.  I always ignored it for the sake of “real life”.  I told myself that I was an adult now and needed a sensible job to pay the bills.  I would get little nudges from friends and family because I was always introducing or suggesting some new class to them.  “Why don’t you just teach it” … “I’d come if you were the instructor” … My hairdresser in particular would leave out articles advertising teacher training for Pilates and yoga instructors.  I was always interested but kept putting it off because it was too time consuming or too expensive.  Finally, after making a decision and setting a goal to leave the law firm that I was at within 12 months, I applied to YTT at Midtown Yoga Studio in Memphis.  I figured that if I didn’t find a job that I wanted that I could at least have something to fall back on that I liked to do.  I never realized how much I would learn about myself and grow during the process.  As we started learning about the 8 limbs of yoga and we got to non-attachment, I understood that the only thing keeping me at that law firm was attachment.  I also realized that I really wanted to teach yoga because I wanted other people to understand and feel this way too!   It took a little longer than my goal of 12 months to leave that firm, and I still needed a little push, but once it was time to go I was ready and I knew that I was making the right move.

 How has yoga changed your life? 

Yoga has definitely helped me grow and develop into a more centered and aware human being.  I’m better able to remain calm in stressful situations and let go of things that no longer serve any purpose in my life.  I’m not perfect, I still have my moments of emotional outbursts, but I can always look back and figure out the source of my anger internally, where I used to look for someone else to blame.  I’m also more aware of what I feed my body.  Not just in terms of food, but things that we take in daily like music and television…people’s vibes.  When something isn’t nurturing me positively it cannot be in my space.  Period.  Finally, of course, there is the physical change that comes with a regular practice.  I’m getting my flexibility back and am getting stronger every day.  My practice is pretty athletic, I was running a lot right before I went through YTT, so my practice was largely focused on recovery and strength.  I gave my body a little break from running this year, but my yoga practice has remained strong and I have noticed more fluidity in the way my body wants to move now, likely in part to my ballet background.  I attained my goal of teaching two regular weekly Vinyasa classes at the studio, I teach a yoga class at work for my coworkers and am teaching public classes through my job on the NBA basketball court!  2016 was amazing and I’m looking forward to seeing how 2017 shapes up for me!

 


Karletha Gundy-Dallas | IG: @msrarequeen | www.deannasvoice.org | 

www.pushthrucoaching.com

How did you get started doing yoga?

 I started yoga in college but wasn’t really serious about it until after losing my older sister and father back to back.  My older sister was murdered in a violent domestic violence dispute and my father collapsed a year later suddenly while at work. Losing the two of them was really hard for me mentally, physically, and emotionally. I had turned to alcohol to try and cope with the pain at night and when that didn’t work, I asked my Dr. to provide me with sleeping aids. After a while, nothing seemed to work. I saw a friend of mine doing Ashtanga yoga on Instagram and started to ask and inquire more about this fun acrobatic type of yoga. Since I’ve been an athlete all of my life, the physical challenges of the poses is what intrigued me. I started to practice the different poses and sequences that I saw online while using my breath to take me further into a pose. Yoga became my meditation. My way of just letting things go. It became my norm. I realized that after practicing I felt different. I no longer needed help with getting to sleep and I started to think differently about the things that I faced in life.  

 What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

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Ironically I didn’t become an instructor to teach.  I initially wanted to take my practice deeper. I wanted to learn more about yoga, the history, and poses, etc. I was interested in learning as much as I could about the postures, the benefits, and the why’s. I really wanted to make sure my poses where aligned correctly and that my breathing was correct. I chose Core Power Yoga for my teacher training and got way more then what I thought I would receive. Becoming an instructor came after finishing the training and realizing how precious my ‘life minutes’ mean to me. Especially since we never know how many ‘life minutes’ we have left, we should spend them doing what we love.

 How has yoga changed your life?

Yoga has become a lifestyle for me. There’s so many different levels and types of yoga that the practice is everywhere. I’ve learned that life still brings its ups and downs. Bad things just do not cease or stop, however, how I see these situations do. By no means am I perfect. I still have a lot of work to do. I still cry and have hard days. I still get angry.  The difference now is that sad times do not last as long, situations are not as harsh, and I can pull myself out of any negative state without jeopardizing my growth or having to use some alternative substance to help me. 


Alyson-Atlanta, GA | IG: @shewhospeaks | LA Fitness Atlanta

How did you get started doing yoga?

I took a philosophy of Yoga class in undergrad at Temple University and I was drawn to the Pranayama or breath control part of the practice. I was pregnant at the time and even more in tune with my body, and the life growing inside me, than ever. This was the beginning of my intentional awareness of how one can move and ascend the self. 

What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

I had discovered a way to express, explore, and evolve myself in a way that was empowering & I wanted to share with others. To be able to lead others in a practice of developing the self each and every day, practicing patience, progress and self-love just made so much sense for how I wanted to invest my time and energy back into my community.

How has yoga changed your life? 

I am someone who once had a very difficult time connecting with others. Yoga has helped me communicate. First I had to learn how to love me, and communicate intrinsically with myself. This practice helped me see and deal with my anger, anxiety & feelings of abandonment. It has become a means of communication and bonding between my daughter and I as well as created a way for me to connect with other women in my community. 


Shamika Manuel- Lawrenceville, GA | IG/FB/TW: @sheliveswell | www.sheliveswell.com

How did you get started in yoga?

 In 2002 my Dad briefly introduced me to the Art of Yoga. About a year later I begin to study and came across The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This ancient writing captured my heart and soul... it felt familiar and gave me a deeper connection and understanding of the Practice of Yoga. For years, I only practice in the comfort of my own home in front of a television with guidance of a Yoga DVD. It wasn't until 2012 that I stepped outside of my comfort zone and attended classes at a local yoga studio. And from that moment on, my life was transformed.

 What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

 During the start of my home study in 2003, I begin to learn & practice more Holistic Living strategies. Immediately I knew I wanted to teach others who had a desire to transform their lives. I didn't know what my niche would be at the time. However, when I started practicing Yoga in a Studio, I knew this what it! I didn't realize how quickly thing would move, but after 9 months of practicing 6 days a week, often twice a day, my Yoga Teacher Training journey began. It was the transformation I witness within & outside of myself that really pushed me to this path of teaching Yoga.

 How has yoga changed your life? 

 Yoga has been a "Whole-istic" transformation! Meaning it has changed every area of my life. Physically, my muscles have leaned out, toxins were removed and this cause a tremendous weight-loss. But the weight I carried was more than physical. The emotional blockages were released & that energy began to flow and move to the areas where they were more beneficial to my complete well-being. This practice of yoga taught me how to manage my emotions. Mentally, I gained clarity and spiritually, I discovered the healing that I had been searching for.


Nikky Green | Atlanta, GA | IG: @yoga_at_a_glance | L.A. Fitness E Atl Village

 How did you get started doing yoga?

I started yoga 4 years ago because I needed to reduce my stress levels. I never practiced before but I knew there were benefits to starting a consistent practice. I used this moment as a commitment to myself. The first night I laid my mat down my life changed.

 What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

  I started a yoga/fitness page on Instagram under @Yoga_At_A_Glance just to inspire, empower and motivate others to lay down their mat. Believe it or not, this helped me step outside my comfort zone. My yoga instructor explained to me that my Instagram account was my classroom. At first, I was reluctant but after mediating and discussing it with my husband, we decided "Why not?" I might actually be cut out for it. 

 How has yoga changed your life?

Yoga has changed my life so much. Yoga has helped with all aspects of my being... mind, body, and breath, self acceptance and self awareness. This awareness has allowed me to watch everything that is going on with my mind and body - as a witness. Celebrating life with gratitude for my mind and body for all it allowing me to do! 


 Renee Watkins- Nashville, TN  | FB, YT, Tumbr, IG: @iamreneewatkins | www.rwyoga.com

How did you get started doing yoga?

My runway coach suggested yoga and Pilates instead of the gym. I chose yoga being lazy because I thought it would be easier. I was also going through an EXTREMELY tough time with my personal life so although I started yoga for the physical aspect it really helped me mentally.

What made you want to become a yoga instructor?

I made the decision to become an instructor within a month of starting my practice because of what my practice had done for me mentally. I literally started yoga July 2013, then started YTT in September 2013, and had my yoga teacher certification November 2013. The universe put it in front of me and told me it was meant to be so I followed because it felt so natural.

How has yoga changed your life? 

I think yoga saved my life. For starters I'm a much calmer person but looking back on it without yoga I don't know if I would've been able to make it through a lot of the things I've dealt with in these last 3 years. I'm a better mother, friend, and over all person because of my practice.


Written by: DJ Johnson for Invert The World Art & Design.

DJ Johnson is the Director of Operations for AB+L Radio.

Check out his  website for more of his work. www.inverttheworld.com

 

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