Yoga…It’s Not Just for White Girls
Summer is over. Halloween is around the corner as well as the holidays and the end of the year, when we might sit down, take stock and evaluate if the year really went the way we wanted. There is never a right time for self-evaluation. It’s a constant process, and the result might lead us to step out of our comfort zone in melding our mental, physical, and spiritual aspirations. Have you tried practicing yoga?
When yoga entrepreneur Shelby Holly-Page started posting images of practicing yoga on her Instagram page, friends from her hometown of Ann Arbor, MI responded ‘Black people don’t do that. That’s a white girl thing.’ “It was just a cultural norm that it is a white girl thing,” recalls Holly-Page. “So I saw that and thought this doesn’t make any sense.” The ambitious 25-year old has been practicing yoga for just less than five years. Yet what she had seen and researched on Google indicated that Black women reviewing yoga classes, the prevalent opinion was ‘That’s for white girls and some went even further in delineating why Black women don’t practice yoga.
This topic has even been addressed in national publications like The Atlantic and Forbes. But Holly-Page is resolute in bringing yoga practice to the Black community. There are studios run by African Americans on the west and east coasts, but none are known in Colorado. But Holly-Page believes that there has been a bit of a paradigm shift. She left Ann Arbor to join her older sister and attend the Maharishi School in Fairfield, IA. There she took instruction in transcendental meditation and was introduced to yoga. As she continued studying she found yoga on YouTube and her practice developed from there.
As a young woman now living in Boulder, she has found the positive impacts in her life as a result of practicing yoga. “A lot of the time if I have a lot going on, the greatest benefit to me personally is I just like to get on my mat. It helps me release a lot of stress, a lot of tension,” said Holly-Page. “And I think as far as the African American community, we just have so much built up frustration. There are so many complications and health issues. I think the health aspect is going to be a huge factor in a community for people of color, even if they aren’t just African American.”
Holly-Page believes that there a numerous issues that practicing yoga could change for African Americans. There are perceived barriers to practicing-cost being one. Resources are often scarce. Yoga mats alone are $20, and drop-in classes are $20 as well. Most, when faced with a choice between groceries and a yoga class we choose to eat. We may be willing to change what we do or what we eat, but the shift is challenging. “I think that just as a whole if they are interested in healthy eating, you know being healthy is a mental thing as well as a physical thing. It’s not just if you exercise, then you are healthy,” said Holly-Page. “I think if we can get everyone on that ball or partially interested, you have to start somewhere, you have to start with baby steps, it will be a huge factor. Who knows…there are a lot of things, high blood pressure, diabetes, that would benefit from the yoga practice – communication skills, the list is kind of endless.”
Holly-Page’s consistent, disciplined practice of yoga has brought great opportunities as she forges a career as a yogi and model. She wants to focus on teaching athletes, who surprisingly are strong but often inflexible, and she believes, despite some doubters that the path she is on and the flow she has established is due to her practice.
“You know once I got in tune with my yoga and my meditation, I realized it was really easy to manifest a lot of things into my life. During my practice, I would focus on my meditation, I would meditate on them and things just started to flow super easy,” said Holly-Page. “One prime example was ‘I am really going to focus on getting scouted for a modeling contract’. I really want to do that. So during my meditations, I would zone in on that when I was getting into my yoga practice. I felt centered and one with my body, and I would focus on that and within two months of being in Boulder, I was at the farmers market and a girl came up to me and slipped a modeling agency card into my basket. And, I signed for almost a year with an agency, and that was after maybe a month of harping and focusing on that for my life.”
Our being is an integration ofmentality, physicality and spirituality. In making efforts to improve our lives, we often concentrate on a singular aspect, rather than a holistic approach. It’s important that we be open, and not get in our own way, by focusing on inhibitions that sidetrack our purpose. Yoga came to the United States in the late 19th century, and grew out of communities of color in Asia. It seems in the late 20th century it became primarily equated with exercise. Often we take the easier aspects of something and ignore the deep dive that takes more effort.
“If you aren’t practicing everything, you are just bending and twisting and doing some things that look cool, is what I have said to people. They say ‘You are the best yogi’, and I am good, but I still have my mental practice and everything that I am doing. So it’s a package,” said Holly-Page
Physical exercise and posturesor
asnas, is just one of the eight different “limbs” in yoga practice. Others focus on our actions, behaviors, breathing, and mental states. Yoga is all about getting in touch with ourselves, and using our renewed self-knowledge to constantly and consistently better ourselves. It is a long path of improvement. And it is up to each individual to make the effort and take the steps to develop the practice.
Today, it could not be easier with the rich content found on the internet. If you are really interested, do the research, read books, Google yoga topics, view YouTube videos for a snas and direction. Change requires baby steps, but you get nowhere if you don’t take the first steps. Do it, and don’t be concerned how you look or what other people think of you.
Holly-Page says Hatha yoga is an easy starting point. “Just like anything, you don’t want to try this because it makes you look different or standout or be noticeable. Just do your own thing. I think we are so worried about other people and other people’s opinion of what we are doing and how we look,” said Holly-Page. “Let go of all those expectations of what you are supposed to look like and how you should look like to other people. Just do whatever feels right for you, and you will find that over time you are going to get better and better and get over this idea of how am I looking in class. Are people looking at me and laughing? This blocks that flow and easiness when practicing.”
Practicing yoga is not going to the gym. Each asna has a specific purpose. Some poses help with lower back pain, some with digestion, some detox the organs and some will help you sleep. “Every posture and every pose has significance and meaning,” said Holly-Page. “There are yoga restorative poses. You just lay there and you do nothing and you restore the body. Every single one has a benefit to it.”
When Holly-Page moved to Boulder she was ready for a life change. On a visit she was taken with the mountains and the scenery, and within a month had moved to Colorado. She says the question she is asked most often by both women and men is “How do I get started?”
The first thing to do is get a mat, and then do the research.
“A lot of people don’t know what to do once they get started, and you wonder when you are alone by yourself, ‘What in the world do I do?’ That’s how I was. And then I got on YouTube. Granted I didn’t have a teacher to actually make physical corrections to my body in certain poses. But when you get a good enough YouTube Channel, which I hope to start soon, the teacher should be able to give you verbal corrections,cues and adjustments, which should help you get yourself into proper positioning. You don’t particularly need anyone. After a while it’s good to go to a class, so that is when you can get a private lesson. Just start somewhere. In order to start anything you have to start somewhere, and most people don’t want to start at the bottom of anything. But that is what it takes sometimes.”
The information and the technology is out there, it just needs to be leveraged. Colorado is known for having one of the most highly educated populations, but African Americans aren’t necessarily experiencing the implied benefits. We are also known for having a healthy population. We don’t create another ‘Colorado paradox’. As you look forward to making life changes, keep your mind open to maximizing your whole being.
“I don’t think that there is really anything stopping us (African Americans), except taking the initiative to get up and try it and go do it. So the biggest setback would probably be our mindset and not being open to the possibilities of practicing,” said Holly-Page.
Editor’s note: Start a conversation and learn more about Shelby Holly-Page and her yoga practice on Instagram, @chocolate_yoga. clude ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), bramacharya (sexual restraint), and aparigraha (non-possessiveness).