It’s not my fault. I’m a victim.
Since I was a child, my musculature has been as rigid as a slightly inebriated white man trying to learn the kick-pivot part of the electric slide at his co-worker’s daughter’s wedding. To say I’m not flexible is an understatement. Although I am a card-carrying member of the rhythm nation, I was never able to touch my toes. I pop-lock like an ironing board. In 1994, I was elated when the 69 Boyz informed me that the butterfly was old, only to be disappointed again when they asked to see me Tootsee Roll.
I blame my education. I sincerely believe my inflexibility stems from the fact that I didn’t attend kindergarten and was therefore deprived of the opportunity to learn how to sit “crisscross applesauce.” So, when I volunteered to visit Level3 Yoga, Atlanta’s newest black-owned yoga studio, I hoped that with a few sessions of Trap Yoga I could begin my long, arduous journey toward touching my toes.
While the closest I have ever been to a Yogi was when I visited my favorite chicken restaurant, Yogi Bear, I wasn’t worried. I see white women traipsing around with styrofoam mats all the time, so it couldn’t be that hard. Shit, I played football, basketball and was a perennial favorite in my sixth-grade dodgeball competitions. I’ve never met her, but if Lulu Lemon could do wypipo yoga in wide-leg jogging pants, I figured Trap Yoga would be a cinch.
Why didn’t y’all tell me yoga was this hard?
It’s Audrey Cash’s fault.
When I entered her Level3 studio in Atlanta’s East Village, she greeted me with a warm smile and a voice reminiscent of how my imaginary kindergarten teacher would have sounded before naptime. Now I know that she was hiding the fact that she was about to make my body do things it wasn’t designed to do, like...bending.
Cash’s quietly modest demeanor belied the fact that she was one of the black women slowly changing the centuries-old discipline of mind, body and soul into something more twerk-worthy (you know how we do). After training in the practice for a decade, Cash became a licensed yoga instructor and worked in a “corporate” yoga studio for four years before she decided to open her own business.
“I would go to classes and I would literally be the only person of color in the room,” Cash explained. “I started my teacher training journey just as a way of telling more people of color about yoga and it just blossomed into so much more.”
What the hell was “trap yoga” anyway? I lived next to a trap house and trust me, those guys weren’t the yoga types.
“Trap yoga for me is soul,” Cash explained. “Yes, I want you to do yoga poses, but I’m also okay if you’re translating that trap energy through yoga. When I say trap, I personally mean [more] down South than EDM [Electronic Dance Music] style of trap. You feel the bass. There’s something within that that allows you to sort of let go.”
If you’re anything like me, you probably thought you were supposed to listen to gongs and wind chimes during yoga. But Level3 is changing the game. Cash might start out with a light Outkast workout during beginner classes or crank Megan Thee Stallion during her Twerk Yoga sessions. Power Yoga classes incorporate weights while Young Thug thugs youthfully in the background. “Yoga and Chill” sessions usher in the weekend with Usher and The Weeknd.
Here’s Audrey Cash’s sample Trap Yoga playlist:
Trap Yoga isn’t simply regular yoga with Migos in the background. Level3 is reimagining the form and style of the discipline and would probably make the Ancient yogis turn over in their newly reincarnated bodies…and then they would make it clap. Cash explained that her version is meditative and concentrates on breathing (she believes “most people don’t really know how to breathe correctly) but the pace is more rhythmic and flowing.
“People tell me I teach almost like I’m singing; not on purpose but it is, for me, more of a feeling,” she said. “I don’t have background music; I have an extra teacher. The music informs the movement.”
“Ultimately, it’s all of our own interpretations because you know yoga was started in India a very long time [ago] and it has grown from that,” said Cash. “It’s no longer literally sitting in poses for hours. It’s also no longer like who can actually do yoga. Yoga used to be only for young men. Of course, we have written documentation, so when we go through training, you have to learn the history and lineage of yoga. But it’s all just us bringing our own fire to it. And I feel like that is the beauty of a practice that allows you to be you and understand that anybody—and I mean any physical body—can do it.”
Well, I have a physical body, so I decided to try Trap Yoga.
First of all, did you know that you have to take off your shoes and socks to do yoga?
I knew about the shoe thing but I was taken aback when she suggested that I take off my socks for better grip. Now, I have the feet of a sixty-year-old factory worker who wears steel-toed boots five days a week and kicks field goals for an arena league, semi-pro football team on the weekends. I wanted to warn her that I hadn’t switched to my winter lotion with a higher viscosity for thermal protection, but I just quietly complied.
We started out with a pose commonly called the “police is about to arrest you” position where she just instructed me on how to breathe. Cash wanted me to take long, deep breaths, apparently unaware that my lungs may have been affected by pollution, air quality and a certain time in my youth when I “experimented” with the inhalation of certain herbal products. When we moved fluidly to the downward Snoop Doggy-style position, I could see that I couldn’t quite flex my back like she could. I was doing more of a downward coffee table pose while she was in the position of a cursive U. I still couldn’t breathe right.
Then Audrey Cash attacked me.
First, she asked me to get on my toes and fold myself up like an envelope. I wanted to say “nigga how?” but then she did it herself! Then, she told me to stand up in a pose that was a mix between a referee signaling a touchdown and a Simone Biles dismount. Now, this wasn’t very hard, until she told me to hold the pose.
That holding shit, hurts, bruh.
First of all, she was right, I don’t know how to breathe. I breathe like a fucking amateur. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I really need to work on my breathing. And, although she walked me through a very rudimentary session, I realized that yoga is a physically challenging activity that requires strength and flexibility. I couldn’t imagine doing it while placid music played in the background. Andre 3000 is the only person who could possibly help me survive such a harrowing experience. I was sweating. I was wondering if I could buy an over-the-counter hamstring in Walgreens or if I needed a prescription. I was tired.
But the funny thing is, I wanted to do more.
“It can be addictive,” Cash explained, not even acknowledging that she had just finished muscle-shaming me.
Even though I still can’t touch my toes, I’ve vowed to include yoga in my exercise routine. The next time I’m in Atlanta, I’m gonna drop in at Level3 Yoga. Hopefully, by then, I’ll be able to make my knees touch my elbows.
And if I can’t, I still blame kindergarten.