In 2001, the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT) helped me take a quantum leap forward in consciousness.
When I attended their Annual Summit & Retreat. I had recently resigned my position as the head of a high-profile entertainment company, and was in dire need of a new understanding of my identity: Who was I without titles and business cards?
I felt raw and unsure but eager to understand the habits of this yoga community: the humility with which people spoke, the warmth in their eyes and the five days of vegetarian meals. (No meat products whatsoever—who were these people?)
Up to that point, my practice consisted of two years of Kripalu classes in a friend’s home and Erich Schiffman’s Moving Into Stillness, which I played until it literally stuck in the VCR.
At this retreat, I met Eugene Fisher. We would later serve together on the IABYT Board of Directors. Fisher is the Co-Founder of Watts Learning Center, a charter school where Black and Latino students surpass the academic performance index thought to be the norm in that area. I studied with senior Iyengar and Ashtanga teacher, Purusha Hickson, who gave my practice grace and encouraged my dream of opening a yoga studio. I took classes and workshops in Kundalini, Vinyasa and Kemetic Yoga, a tradition tied to yoga’s Egyptian lineage. I grew in love and compassion. And I was enveloped in IABYT founder Krishna Kaur’s infectious devotion to use yoga’s teachings to serve communities throughout the Diaspora.
As the weekend ended, many of us bought T-shirts to commemorate our feelings at the retreat. We longed to hold dear the friendships formed over meals or a heartfelt conversation shared in those tender moments after a class. They should have sold leather jackets. I felt like a rebel. I returned to my family and friends a yoga ambassador. Those of us with a devoted practice know the razor tongues of doubters who wonder if we’re getting too weird. Yet, through witnessing my commitment to practice and attending other events of IABYT, those doubters have become believers. Some even practice themselves. And this is IABYT’s greatest impact–the large numbers of people practicing and teaching yoga around the world, including: Cuba, Ghana, Togo and across the U.S. According to research by VibeHolistic.com, 50% of Black women are living with obesity and Black adults are 1.8 times more likely to contract diabetes. Yoga and tools for holistic living can help to decrease those numbers. And teachers and students, of all cultural backgrounds, can be involved in this mission.
As IABYT celebrates a decade of service, I look forward to meeting the faces of the new crop of yoga ambassadors who will continue offering people tools for yoga practice.