For most of my life, I didn’t think yoga was for me; I thought it was only for super flexible, super skinny women.
This is partly why a few months ago, I decided to attend the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color at Kripalu, a health center in the Berkshires, Massachusetts.
I know not everyone understands why some people are drawn to such a retreat. In fact, while soaking in the sauna my first night, a few white women gave me perplexed looks when I told them why I was at Kripalu. They saw a retreat for women of color as "separate," contrary to what yoga represents.
I was surprised that anyone would see it that way. For me, this event was just one way to approach yoga, with cultural customs of spirit and joy that amplify the practice.
Truthfully, I was at Kripalu for many reasons. Although I find community at my yoga studio in New York City, my hectic schedule limits me from bonding more there. Also, yoga can seem a bit "vanilla," perhaps due to Western influence.
This retreat was a change of pace, vibe, and an opportunity for connection with both the practice and others. Created by yoga instructor Maya Breuer, it brought together 38 women with ethnic backgrounds from the Southern U.S., Caribbean, and beyond.
It was meaningful to me to experience yoga and self-truth in this setting. Due to my day-to-day demands, I rarely have time to detach and reflect. I discovered that it was surprisingly therapeutic to unwind with women who have similar perspectives, without worrying about whether or not they’d judge. It can be comforting to share a journey with others who understand, even if they don't know you personally. And sometimes, new friends simply have new perspectives you haven’t encountered before.
Throughout the weekend, we shared stories and poems of before and after Civil Rights, reminders of where people of color had been. The thinking is that without identity you can't identify who you are, the world's response to you, and where you want to go. This helped me see myself both as an individual and as a woman part of a cultural group. Combined with yoga asana, I felt a peaceful, unifying energy.
Aside from open dialogue, we were encouraged to explore the Kripalu grounds to embrace time away. I walked outdoors, talking to God and accessing the universe — aware of my breathing and tmeditating on religious teachings. I believe that there is a oneness with the earth inherent to those of African descent, so I made it a point to do postures outdoors to take in unspoiled nature, feel grass between my toes, and exhale clean air.
We were also riveted by a multi-generational Afro punk dance night and amazing soul-infused yoga classes. Robin Downes led Saturday afternoon stretches to Rihanna's "Shine Bright Like A Diamond," and on Sunday, we enjoyed morning sun salutations to John Coltrane.
While I attended for cultural enrichment, my takeaway from the program was to "set intention." I hear these words in every Bikram practice, but the retreat taught me how to apply them off the mat. To set intention is easier to achieve than a goal, simpler than a to-do list, and quickly satisfies the spirit. Let it come to you, meditate, then make it happen. Simply uttering Ashe or dancing tribal-like moves to African beat music are easy and fast for release of tension or stress.
In the months since the retreat, I've defined my boundaries at work, and in a relationship. I've found my footing in caregivingof someone dear to me, preparing for the worst and prayerful for the best.
For the first time in my life, I'm less consumed with what's not working and instead flowing by setting daily intentions that allow me to live better with some ease.