While grocery shopping one day, I struck up a conversation with a woman who complained of back pain and spine compression. I invited her to attend my yoga class, explaining to her that yoga elongates the spine and keeps if flexible, which I thought would be a great benefit to her.
She declined, saying something like, “My pastor says that we should stay away from yoga.”
I wasn’t really surprised. I live in the Bible belt where anything that has a reputation for being anti-Christian is feared and shunned. Many Christians believe that yoga is anti-Christian, so they’re unwilling to explore the practice. In Southwest Atlanta, my potential yoga clients are Black people who fit this description.
I saw this with a class that I began teaching shortly after receiving my certification. It was at a community center connected to a Seventh-day Adventist church. The center’s purpose is to provide services to the community, not necessarily to convert community members to becoming Seventh-day Adventists, so participants don’t have to adhere to the church’s doctrines.
The community members—mostly seniors—loved the class and the meditation. But the center’s manager (a woman who was also one of the church elders) didn’t like the meditation portion of my sessions. She reprimanded me and complained to the center’s administrator that I was practicing spiritualism. As a former Seventh-day Adventist member, I remember the term “spiritualism” to be associated with the worship of ungodly, deceptive, and demonic spirits. Yoga and meditation, as I remember it being mentioned by some, was a doorway to allowing unwanted spirits to attach themselves to you.
I countered that it was relaxation and that the students loved it. But to accommodate the manager’s concerns, we changed the name of the class to “Relax with Brooke” and I began to frame yoga in the context of relaxation and stretching. I excluded any form of chanting; we now listen to relaxing and familiar gospel music.
When encountering Christian opposition, I’ve learned not to mention that yoga means “oneness.” Because then we have to explain with whom we are becoming “One.” That term signals that yoga is connected to God. I definitely believe that yoga connects us to our God self, the inner part of us where we cannot tell the difference between us and God. But I never talk about that with my Christian yogis. Instead, I put emphasis on being present with one’s being, present with one’s body, and present in the moment. I also emphasize releasing any stress, strain, pent up emotions, concerns, and anxiety.
I am an ordained metaphysical minister, so my form of yoga will always be connected to God. But I’m not teaching to convert my students to my beliefs or to interfere with their religion. I am there to give them a moment to breathe, release, and get in touch with their bodies and inner environment.
My students are largely African-American women over the age of 50. This population will almost always be overwhelmingly Christian. I have written a book specifically for Black women Christian yogis, Love God Herself: Yoga and Mindfulness for Black Women Who Follow the Christ. I sell it at a discounted price to my students, so that they can get a better idea of what I am teaching. I want them to be informed, unafraid, and to keep coming to class.
I know that yoga can be a great benefit to black people, considering the kind of stress that we face in this sometimes hostile world. Therefore, I persist—even if I have to modify how I present it to my people. I am sure that my students appreciate me for that.
Brooke Brimm is a 200-hour yoga instructor, metaphysical practitioner and creator of a proprietary movement meditation program, Inner Beat Movement™. She is the author of Love God Herself: Yoga and Mindfulness for Black Women Who Follow the Christ. brookebrimm.com