From child’s pose to standing splits, yoga provides an enriching, challenging and peaceful experience. However, starting the journey can be physically or mentally difficult for some black people -- especially given how few people of color are represented in mainstream yoga.
In 2014, The Atlantic reported that of the one in 15 Americans who practice yoga, more than four-fifths are white, due at least in part to socioeconomic issues. Yoga can be expensive, as Chanelle John, a blogger for Decolonizing Yoga, has written. In communities with low-income families, it isn't always feasible for residents to participate in expensive studio classes -- often resulting in a homogeneously white environment that may feel alienating or discourage more diverse participants from exploring the practice. That we typically only see thin white women on marketing photos for yoga studios and equipment doesn't help.
Though underrepresented, black people practice yoga too.
Shayla Thomas doesn't fit the stereotypical mold of the typical yogi on commercial merchandise -- but she didn't let that hold her back. She started practicing in 2014 after having her third child. "As an African-American woman [yoga] has taught me to love myself in my raw form," the New York-based yogi said. "To accept myself as I amhat what makes me, me is absolutely beautiful no matter what others say."
Thomas is just one among many talented black individuals who religiously carry out the craft and inspire others to join. Whether you're a novice to the practice or have totally mastered it, we've rounded up 13 black yogis on Instagram who will make you want to grab your mat and namaste:
1. Elisia Young, @daughteroftheuniverse
Seattle-based yogi Elisia Young began practicing to battle her addiction to alcohol and transform her life into a new and more fulfilling journey, she told The Huffington Post. Her advice for new and experienced yogis? "Relax and come into your queendom or kingdom." Spice up your timeline with her whimsical photos.
2. Racheal Weathers, @YogaRacheal
Los Angeles-based Racheal Weathers' impressive poses and reflective captions bring all the zen you need. She said she began practicing yoga by mimicking poses she saw on Instagram and drew inspiration from other yogis on Instagram -- including @chelsealovesyoga, @alex_elle and @santinagiardinachard. "Stay true to yourself," Weathers told HuffPost. "There's a lot of pressure to do these extra things. And if you don't want to do something, you don't like to do something, don't do it."
3. Derrick "DJ" Townsel, @dade2shelby
Derrick "DJ" Townsel and his yoga-loving daughter are too adorable when they practice together. He teaches her how to perfect her handstand and become a better all around person and it is makes us wonder why we weren't practicing as kids. Although the former NFL player has always been athletic, he perfected his practice with time. "Stay consistent," the Houstonian yoga instructor told HuffPost.
4. Kario Champagnie, @_kariooo
"The biggest challenge I'm conquering in yoga right now is being consistent with my practice," said Kario Champagnie, a Cliffside Park, New Jersey yogi whose journey started by taking classes she found online. Now, she explores a range of poses and posts them on her page. "I won't always be in a good mood and my body won't always feel the same as it did the day or week before, so I'm in a constant battle with my ego to accept where I am at every stage of my practice," she said.
5. Shayla Thomas, @afro_yogi
"Some challenges I've faced and still face are the judgement I get for my body type," Thomas said. "Which is why I always use the hashtags #lovetheskinyourein and #aintnoshameinmyframe but for every negative comment I get there's a bunch of positive ones."
6. Faith Hunter, @spirituallyfly
International yoga instructor Faith Hunter said she began practicing yoga in the 1990s to cope with the loss of her brother. "From that moment until now, yoga offers me freedom, balance, and connection to spirit," she told Gaiam TV. "It keeps me grounded and rooted to the true essence of who I am." Although she's based in New York, follow her Instagram to catch one of her classes when she comes to your city!
7. Marcus Jennings, @superhumanyogi
After Marcus Jennings, from Nashville, ruptured his Achilles tendon in 2011, he reflected on his workout habits. He turned to yoga as a means of recovery and stuck with it, improving his overall health. "I used to be one that got sick a lot with colds and flus," the Nashville native said. "When I started doing daily yoga about a year and a half ago my sickness has decreased tremendously. It has been two years since I’ve had a cold or flu." He encourages fellow yogis to join in Instagram yoga challenges, even if they don't post photos of their asanas.
8. Chelsea Jackson, @chelsealovesyoga
Chelsea Jackson founded chelsealovesyoga.com, a platform for discussions on yoga, race and diversity. The Dayton, Ohio native also teaches yoga to teens. “I see yoga as a tool to dismantle structural oppression,” she said in Yoga Journal Magazine’s June issue. “It can help us interrogate systems that are constantly putting us in boxes or marginalizing us.”
9. Alex Smith, @alex_elle
Taking a more meditative approach, Alex Smith -- a Maryland writer and yogi since 2008 -- wants black yogis to look at yoga beyond the complicated poses. "It's OK to be still and quiet and to recenter why you're there and I feel like that's very important because a lot of people see on Instagram and stuff like 'yoga is a handstand' or 'yoga is crow pose,' which very daunting scary things, but that's not yoga. Yoga is your personal practice to getting closer to your higher self."
10. Brandon Copeland, @brandoflows
Brandon Copeland said he needed a productive stress reliever when he took time off from college to take care of his newborn son. He said he chose yoga because "it was pure." Once he let go of his expectations and anxieties about yoga, he finished school and flourished in the practice, eventually becoming an instructor. Copeland, who teaches in Washington, D.C., encourages others to start slow and stick with it. "It's not a status thing. Don't feel like you have to be perfect."
11. ShaKara Ames, @zuluisms
"Black women tend have a lot of outward confidence, though internally we may allow our ego to beat us up spiritually," said ShaKara Ames, an Orlando-based yogi who was introduced to Kemetic yoga at five years old. "I’ve become much less inhibited as a result of my yoga journey, which is important for my daughter to see. I have no problem throwing my leg up in King Dancer pose, getting upside down next to a dope art wall, or even falling down in public spaces in order to catch a good yoga picture."
12. De'Andre Sinette, @deandreyoga
De'Andre Sinette said he hated yoga when he started in 2013. As a former heavy weightlifter, he was surprised at how difficult yoga was for him. Over time, he's shattered his preconceived notions and mastered the art. "Being a male you must be able to open up to your true emotional self," he said, crediting yoga with teaching him "compassion, manifestation, wisdom, perspective, perseverance, community, self love." The Dallas-based yogi also runs the Instagram account @inflexibleyogis, a yoga page that inspires empowerment and growth.
13. Wasia Ainke Ward, @wasiawasia
YouTube tutorials guided Trinidadian Wasia Ainke Ward through her practice with yoga when she started her journey almost two years ago. "There is so much energy harnessed inside of us which we merely need to tap into," Ward told HuffPost. "So many people are searching for answers, trying to find themselves and believe that they need to be validated by associating with certain types of people; but you only need to look within."
Also on HuffPost: