Yoga is widely practiced for health benefits, stress relief and pain relief. Originating in Northern India, yoga can be defined as a Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline, including breath control, simple meditation and the adoption of specific bodily postures.
According to a recent study conducted by the Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, more than 36 million people in the U.S. practice yoga.
Pearl Walker, an instructor at Your Inner Yogi, believes that yoga is expanding in the African-American community due to people being more exposed and curious about things that help with wellness and health.
“Yoga is expanding and definitely growing. There are so many people that I am running across that are accepting it,” said Walker. “It’s a totally different response to yoga than it was years ago.”
Hollon Beasley, who has been teaching yoga for more than three years in Oxford, Miss., said that yoga has been popular since it first originated.
“I think many people are falling in love with it for exercise first,” said Beasley. “Then they come back for the mental health section of the practice.”
While the number of yogis has increased over the years, still less than 10 percent of the adults in Tennessee practice yoga.
“Being in the South, not a lot of people understand what yoga is about. People think you’re worshipping another God,” said Walker. “It’s spiritual because you’re turning within yourself and becoming more in tune with yourself. Blacks weren’t able to put that into context.”
Beasley said that yoga teachers who reach people of different backgrounds can bring a community together.
“My classes encourage the participation all races,” said Beasley. “Yoga is about the unification of body, mind and also having compassion and acceptance to others, so there’s never a gap between people.”
Walker said that diversity in yoga classes can continue to increase when participants do not limit themselves to a specific community or specific studio because of the ethnicity of the yoga teacher or studio owner.
“More of us are becoming instructors,” said Walker. “We aren’t limiting ourselves to our communities, but reaching out in a way that others haven’t.
“There’s just an openness and acceptance of yogis, regardless of racial and ethnic background,” said Walker. “You can go to a yoga studio and find diversity.”
In the past, the cost of a yoga session has been a barrier in getting people to practice yoga. Now most studios, such as Your Inner Yogi, offer a discounted community class with prices starting as low as $7.
For those who are shy about going to the studio, another option for practicing yoga is watching videos online. Websites such as YouTube are making it easier to practice yoga from wherever you want without any cost.
“The best yoga experience is at a studio, but it’s not the only experience,” said Walker.
(Your Inner Yogi offers a discounted community class every Tuesday afternoon.)