What I learned about Juneteenth from yoga

June 19, 2023 0 Comments

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Juneteenty has always been a part of my reality as I am black and Texan. Unofficially called Black American Independence Day, it commemorates the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865. It is a celebration of our progress, our disruption and our resilience.

It took me 40-odd years to witness June 1st being recognized by people who don’t share my experience. And it took me almost as long to celebrate my own experiences, my abilities, my body and myself through the practice of yoga.

How yoga led to my personal liberation

Yoga and I met in the 90s at vocal lessons. I learned that I could control my then mezzo voice through breath hold, lengthening, and expressions. When I walked into a yoga studio in 2009, I found myself in a room full of people who weren’t my size, shape, or color. I couldn’t see myself in the room except for my reflection in the mirror.

In my solitary practice, I learned how to move my body and became more aware of my strength and resilience. Here I found myself, whom I could truly love. Here I learned to accept myself, which appeared on the mat every day. And here, through breathing and deepened self-awareness, I began to perceive how I appeared to the world around me.

How yoga can contribute to the liberation of society

Yoga has always existed within systems, and the systems that exist in the United States are deeply unfair. It’s no secret that yoga has its own troubled past due to troubled people who reinforce problematic stereotypes, thoughts, systems, and ways of being. In a world where black people were not considered equal and did not have equal opportunities for work, housing, education, health care and economic security, this practice was not available to them.

But in the two decades since I started practicing in a studio, I’ve noticed a distinct shift in who is visible in yoga. There are more people like me practicing, teaching, coaching others, even writing books. We see studios and communities of Black-owned yoga teachers supporting a practice that inspires, engages, and excites. Incredibly, yoga is taught by a diverse group of organizations and practitioners, even as we work to increase the visibility of teachers and practitioners from marginalized and oppressed communities around the world.

In that time, a holiday I once knew only as something black people celebrated in June has become a global celebration of black liberation. This includes Juneteenth yoga classes in the same studios where I have never seen any black students or teachers.

Black people still witness traumatic events in our intersectional communities. Although we also create a larger, more inclusive yoga community as we find our individual paths of liberation through its practice. The same skills of resilience, relaxation, and freedom that we have built for ourselves in response to complex systemic failures can be relied upon when we take action to change those systems.

My personal yoga practice continues to be a celebration of breaking free from cultural stories about what a yoga body should look like, how it should move, and what shapes it should bend into. But when I do yoga with others, I support a practice of release that wasn’t always an option for everyone, and still isn’t for many people.

It’s time to celebrate, move, engage and disrupt. It is time for a collective celebration of black resilience and liberation. And as more and more diverse people move into the forms and spaces of yoga, it’s time to engage our communities and our yoga in continuing to break down the sameness.

About our contributor

Tamika Keston-Miller, E-RYT 500, curates yoga experiences and trainings in service of collective healing and community restoration. Beginning her yoga journey in 2001 with a home practice, she is now certified and trained in trauma-informed yoga, somatics, yin yoga, restorative yoga, and yoga nidra. Tamika’s journey has been influenced by chronic pain and trauma, social justice for QTBIPOC communities, the struggle between shame and compassion, and the desire for ancestral healing, as well as a love for the practice and philosophy of yoga.

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