Yoga is still sometimes not seen as something for the black community. With Instagram, representation has gotten a lot better (I follow a series of amazing black yogis myself), but still, in ads, clothing-store posters, photo shoots and what have you, the yoga community, like everything else in the United States, is mostly represented by white bodies.
This is something for which Carla Christine, a Chicago-based yogi, was determined to find a resolution. And as it has always been in the black community, when there seems to be no space for us, we create our own.
Christine is the founder of Yoga Greenbook, a subscription-based “online wellness studio,” as she likes to refer to it, that offers yoga and meditation classes in a way that is meant to be a safe space and a healing space for black people.
“I just started to see that there really needed to be safe spaces for people of color just to transform their mental and physical health,” Christine told The Root. “[I wanted] to have a safe space that could be accessible for everyone, regardless of their location.”
If the name and mission sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because the studio’s name was inspired by The Negro Motorist Green Book, often simply known as The Green Book. The Green Book was a guide used by black travelers during the Jim Crow era that let them know where they could get safe lodging, or stop safely to get gas, or shop, or so much more, without fear of violence or humiliation or discrimination.
“Hearing the story, just knowing how The Negro Motorist Green Book was a directory of safe spaces [for] black travelers during Jim Crow era ... it just sparked the idea of Yoga Greenbook and just wanting to create a safe space, but in a different way, in a digital way, that yogis or anybody that was interested in [yoga] could come to a safe space and transform their health,” Christine explained.
Initially, way back in November 2015, Yoga Greenbook started as just a directory listing culturally affirming and diverse teachers, a site that just showcased that yoga is diverse, despite images that may suggest the contrary. By May 2016, Christine started offering online classes. By August of that same year, it became a subscription-based platform with a membership fee of $19 per month.
Christine detailed that in her experience practicing yoga, whether alone or with other yogis of color, sometimes the vibe could be just-not-quite-right.
“Sometimes, it would just be an overall feeling of not being welcome, even though there had been yoga communities where we have felt welcome and that yoga is just about uniting in a lot of different ways,” she explained. “I started to realize that there needed to be a safe space that was created, at least until inclusion became the standard.”
And the holistic-health benefits of yoga are something Christine was very adamant about bringing back to her community, i.e., the black community.
After all, Christine knew firsthand the positives the practice could bring to someone’s life.
As a successful electrical engineer who was working in the Department of Defense, Christine had a five-year plan, a 10-year plan, all her ducks lined neatly in a row.
And then it all came crashing down about five years into all those plans, when she started suffering from crippling anxiety.
“I started just drinking alcohol more, even smoking, and really just anything to self-medicate,” she explained. “So ... one of my friends, she recommended yoga as just something that I could try.”
That suggestion came at a time when a doctor she had seen randomly prescribed her an anti-depressant during a walk-in visit, without even really looking into other alternatives like therapy. Questioning the prescription, Christine started practicing yoga in 2011, and her life just opened from there.
Christine’s practice with yoga led her to some deep soul-searching, with her eventually coming to the realization that there was a separation regarding her purpose and the path she was currently on.
Some three years into her practice, in late 2014, she entered into a nine-month teacher-training program. By the end of 2015, after she had completed teacher training, she quit her electrical engineering job and went into teaching full time.
“I wanted to ... make it my life’s mission to share yoga with other people that could be going through the same thing and not realizing that yoga could have so many transformational powers,” she mused.
“There’s just so much that goes on specific to our community, and I think just having a space of people that collectively understand without it having to be explained can just go a long way, and we can just get to the part of transformation without a lot of explanation needed in the beginning,” Christine added.
All the teachers on Yoga Greenbook are people of color—showcasing the wonderful diversity in the practice—though, of course, not all members are people of color.
“Image representation is one thing … but … I believe in the power of cooperative economics, and the teachers are paid for their content, and I think that there’s just power in the money cycling with the community,” Christine said. “There are donations that are given on behalf of each membership sale. The donations that are given [go] to individuals and organizations that are dedicated to promoting health and wellness through yoga and meditation within their local communities.”
As for the future, Christine is looking forward to building her instructor database and, through that, creating more content and bringing on more classes that cater to specific areas, whether that be yoga texts and anatomy or issues facing the black community.
Christine tells me there will be classes in the future that are “specific to trauma and specific to race.”
She also hopes to have local offerings, with teachers from different areas hosting classes.
Her big, big goal, however, is a retreat, preferably outside the U.S.
“I love online offerings, and I’m really a believer in wellness being location-independent,” she said. “But at the same time, I think there is power in us being in a community and face-to-face and coming together and having yoga in talks and sharing other things [like] wellness in the community and just being together.”