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Essays

For One Local Instructor, Yoga’s Beauty Is Deeper Than the Poses

Alondra Smith reflects on how the yoga studio became a haven for her as a Black woman over the years.
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Black Swan Yoga community manager Alondra Smith began practicing yoga 11 years ago. Since then, she's helped lead the charge to diversity and equality in the local community. Mo Sadjadpour

I was introduced to the beauty of yoga eleven years ago. I began my practice in the comfort of my home on a secondhand yoga mat. With the help of Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown and YouTube, I learned pose names and breathing techniques. After building my confidence, I ventured out to find a Dallas studio to call home. 

While the experience of trying new studios expanded my knowledge of yoga, it also opened my eyes to its world. I remember thinking, “Where are the instructors that look like me?” There were countless times where I was the only Black person in class. It was very isolating, intimidating, and, at times, uncomfortable. There were microaggressions and people code switching when they spoke to me. Unedited music with the n-word and poses that weren’t accessible to all bodies. 

It became a constant battle, questioning whether I belong. I knew I loved to practice, but my back fat, melanated skin, cheap clothes, and used mat made me question my place in yoga. Where was the yoga for people like me? 

My name is Alondra Smith, and I am a 200-hour registered yoga teacher in the D-FW area. I am an instructor and community manager at Black Swan Yoga and teach at JOURNEYFIT. As a Brown woman, I’ve experienced micro-aggressions and exclusivity in the yoga community throughout the past decade. But over the years, I’ve striven to lead the charge to equality by being my authentic self. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to lead classes for South By Southwest, Michelob Ultra, and Topo Chico. Last year, I was featured on NBC5’s “Texas Today.” I’m currently a Lululemon ambassador. And while we’ve made huge strides in diversity and inclusion, there’s still work to do.

For Christmas in 2017, I was gifted Every Body Yoga by Jessamyn Stanley. And, ahhh! Finally, some representation. I began following Jessamyn online and saw she was hosting a workshop at an Arkansas studio. I loaded up my car and drove around five hours from Dallas to Barefoot Studio in Little Rock. The experience was pure magic! The room was filled with all kinds of bodies, ethnicities, and walks of life. Jessamyn had a way of making everyone feel seen. Her energy was inviting, fun, and encouraging. I left feeling inspired, convinced, and thinking, “I’m going to teach like that one day.”

However, it wasn’t until I was faced with grief and depression that I began to truly deepen my yoga practice. In the midst of my darkness, a friend said, “find something to do and do it every day.” For me, that was yoga. I enrolled in a yoga teacher training in 2018, and I never looked back. I started teaching part-time while still working full time in the medical field. But after getting laid off, I decided to take the risk as a full-time instructor in 2019. I was teaching anywhere and everywhere: free community classes, yoga in the park, Dallas Independent School District, Top Golf—if you can name it, chances are, I’ve probably taught there. Those earlier days created the perfect opportunities for me to connect with yogis, evolve as a teacher, and show the community that Brown girls yoga.

Yoga provides tools and resources that are beneficial for all communities, such as meditation, breath work, and the eight limbs of yoga. As an African American woman, I’m expected to be smart, but not too smart, because for some people, it’s “intimidating.” I can be passionate, but not too passionate, because others will deem it “aggressive.” Yoga gives me permission to just be. Yoga is a reminder that I can be both soft and strong, gentle and powerful. Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self. Yes, it’s a serious practice but, the truth is, we don’t have to and shouldn’t take life so seriously. There’s a heightened sense of perfection nowadays and yoga gives you space to try, fall, fail, explore, and be a hot mess while doing so. I love that for me. I love that for us.

In my opinion, yoga is deeper than a few poses tee’d up for a nice Instagram pic. It’s about self-discovery. What is the pose teaching you? When faced with discomfort, do you lose control of your breath? When you’re invited to try something new, are you open to being a beginner, being vulnerable, and taking risks? Or do you play it safe and stay in your comfort zone? During trying times, how’s your self-talk? That pose that you dislike isn’t a punishment, it’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to breathe. It’s a privilege to move your body. It’s a privilege to connect with yourself. A privilege that has no barriers.

Has yoga made a positive shift over the years? Absolutely! The community is more diverse, studios have more teachers of color, and holidays are being honored and celebrated. I feel the BIPOC community is represented now more than ever. From YouTube to at home smart gyms, you can find someone who looks like you. Yoga is becoming a lifestyle for some and a place of refuge for others, and both are welcomed. Let’s stay on this path! Hire more POC, offer BIPOC-centric classes, and remember to hold space as allies.

And even with all the progress that has been made to push yoga towards more diversity, the community has the responsibility to be a safe space for all people, including those of us who experience the ongoing trauma of violence and inequality. As a mother, and specifically the mother of a Black teenage boy, I have to watch young men who look like my son be murdered at the hands of the police far too frequently. From Botham Jean and Philando Castile, to Atatiana Jefferson, George Floyd, and Michael Brown, I see both my son and myself in these victims. This reality is heavy for the community—triggering for some and heartbreaking for others. Where do we go for peace? Yoga can be the place of refuge. Because everyone, including people of color, deserve to feel safe, seen, and loved. We need to know it’s okay to inhale fully and exhale slowly. It’s my job to create that space to breathe. 

Representation matters. I lead classes the way I wish someone had led me, especially when I was the only Black person in class. My classes are packed with love and inclusivity. Even if it’s just for sixty minutes at a time, I want humans to feel safe being themselves, unapologetically. I encourage my students to quiet the chatter, to hone in on themselves, and to take inventory. It doesn’t matter the age, size, ethnicity, gender, or economic status; in my classes, everyone matters. I let my students know that I see them, I honor them, I am them. 

I teach in spaces like JOURNEYFIT and Black Swan Yoga because the essence of their staff and community are a perfect depiction of what I hope to see in all areas of wellness—inclusivity. Dallas’ yoga community has changed drastically since I started my journey. When I began, I was almost always the only the woman of color in classes. The music lacked diversity and when other genres were included, the songs were often played unedited. 

But my calling in the yoga world has been to help change that. From the moment yogis walk into my class, they’re met with a warm, inviting energy from me and from the community. I often ask yogis for song requests, so they control the playlist—the music ranges from pop, hip hop, and R&B to country, EDM, and the occasional gospel jam. And the community is welcoming. Don’t have a place to roll out your mat? No worries, we’ll create space for ya! I begin class by inviting yogis to say “hi” to their neighbor and share their least favorite yoga pose. Then later, as we do those poses together, the entire class generates a sense of comfort and community. We feed off each other. When class gets challenging, I remind my students that even when things are tough, we are in it together. 

My hope is that when a person of color sees my ambassador picture at Lululemon Knox, they’ll feel just as inspired as I did after Jessamyn’s class. My mission is to provide a space for humans to show up as their authentic selves, because yoga does not and should not have a “look.” I will continue to do my part by holding space during Black History Month, Juneteenth, and throughout all the months in between. Our voices are worthy and deserve to be heard. I will continue to pour from a place of love and grace. 

Yoga is for everyone. And though it took me some time to learn that myself, I now walk into every room confidently, with my chin up, and my shoulders back. Yoga is no longer an exception. As my mentor and good friend K. Joy would say, “we’re changing lives one mat at a time.”

Author

Alondra Smith

Alondra Smith

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