Power to the Peaceful: 11 Black Yogis

From headstands to "Namaste," these yogis have taken the ancient discipline and made it an integral part of their lives.

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  • Russell Simmons

    Russell Simmons

    Co-founder of the legendary hip-hop label Def Jam and the clothing line Phat Farm, and producer of many movies and TV series, Simmons is the archetypal multiformat black entertainment mogul. Since 2000 he’s also added “devout yogi” to his résumé. Simmons meditates each day and has a vigorous, 90-minute daily yoga regimen. His studies at the famous Jivamukti Yoga Center inspired him to adopt a vegan diet. He is eager to spread the word via DVDs and a yoga scholarship through his endeavor Global Grind.


    Captions by Martin Johnson

  • Faith Hunter

    Faith Hunter

    One of the top yoga instructors in America, Hunter has twice been featured on the cover of Yoga Journal. She began her practice in the ’90s to find balance and peace when her brother was dying. She found that yoga asanas (postures) enabled her to connect with her inner self, and she has sought to enable others to make the same internal bond. A graduate of Grambling State University, Hunter is one of the most in-demand presenters in the yoga world.

  • LeBron James

    LeBron James

    NBA legends from Kareem Abdul Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal have practiced yoga, but few as enthusiastically as two-time MVP James. He began practicing two years ago to counter the imbalances in his body resulting from a pro ball career: strong in certain areas and weaker in others. Yoga gave him flexibility and calm. In 2009 James took a vicious fall in which he rolled head over heels. He credited his yoga practice — especially the shoulder-stand pose — with enabling him to avoid serious injury.

  • Michael Hayes

    Michael Hayes

    At 250 pounds, Hayes wearied of being the biggest yogi in the room. So he opened his own studio, Buddha Body Yoga, which caters to the needs of the plus-size practitioner who might otherwise feel excluded from the yoga community. His classes are renowned for their personal attention and the use of straps, blocks and bolsters to enable newcomers to acclimate to the yoga curriculum on their own physical terms.

  • Kerry Washington

    Kerry Washington

    For many, yoga means a series of arduous, if not grueling, poses. For Washington — the star of movies such as Night Catches Us and The Last King of Scotland, as well as the acclaimed Broadway play Race — yoga is most important when taken off the mat. A core tenet of her activism is the Buddhist prayer “May all beings everywhere be happy and free. And may my practice of yoga contribute to that happiness and that freedom.”

  • Maya Breuer

    Maya Breuer

    Breuer is both an acclaimed jazz singer and an internationally renowned yoga instructor. She began practicing 25 years ago; 10 years ago, she opened the Santosha Yoga Studio in Providence. She writes on her website, “Through the years I have taught yoga to all peoples, but I have always had a special interest in bringing yoga and its magnificent lifestyle and healing properties to people of color.” After a performing hiatus, she recently returned to the stage, citing influences as diverse as Angela Bofill and Kanye West.

  • Amani Toomer

    Amani Toomer

    Ten years ago, some newcomers to the New York Giants roster were surprised to discover that yoga was part of the mandatory fitness regimen for the NFL team, thanks to the influence of wide receiver Toomer. He had practiced Bikram yoga — a style that involves 26 poses performed slowly in a room heated to more than 100 degrees — as part of his off-season workout. A standout player for 12 seasons, Toomer continues his yoga practice as part of his training as a marathon runner.

  • Monique Schubert

    Monique Schubert

    Chosen by Yoga Journal as one of the most important yogis under 40, Schubert has been practicing yoga for 15 years. A devotee of Kripalu yoga and a protégée of Maya Breuer’s, Schubert has distinguished herself in the New York City area by teaching yoga in public schools and bringing the discipline to incarcerated teens. She told Yoga Journal, “I teach the basics because I want everyone to have the real tools they need to help themselves. The external teacher awakens the inner teacher.”

  • Michael Franti

    Michael Franti

    With his dulcet baritone and lilting grooves, musician Franti, along with his group Spearhead, was probably featured in hundreds of yoga classes even before he himself began practicing 10 years ago. He did the music for the CD Power to the Peaceful People with Jivamukti founders Sharon Gannon and David Life. He dedicates himself to the yoga principle of ahimsa, the avoidance of violence. He also says that yoga gives him a language to advocate a philosophy of compassion.

  • Keith Borden

    Keith Borden

    Fifteen years ago, Borden taught one of the very first yoga classes this writer took. He came into class, instructed us to take a comfortable seat, put on Mary J. Blige’s “My Life” and led us through breathing exercises. Today Borden is co-director of Laughing Lotus Center in San Francisco; his workshops are among the most popular on the West Coast. On his website he writes, “I am consistently turned on by the stillness within movement, the silence hidden in sound and the esoteric in the everyday.”

  • Rolf Gates

    Rolf Gates

    A former marathon runner, long-distance cyclist and wrestler, Gates has practiced meditation for 20 years. Author of the renowned book Meditations From the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga, he has taught yoga to members of the military and their families.