The Yoga Craze
Roquemore, Bobbi, Ebony
DR. Allyson Harris' life literally resembles a zoo at times, and she desperately needs a break. So when the stress becomes too much to handle, the Chicago veterinarian steps into her office, and breathes deeply.
But this isn't a simple sigh of relief. Harris is performing the exhilarating, tension-breaking skills she learned in yoga class, and she says the ancient exercise techniques have worked wonders for her since she began last February.
"I could definitely see a difference the very first day, from a stress standpoint," Harris said. "I was so relaxed when I finished class."
Harris and thousands of other Blacks are reaping the benefits of yoga, a system that incorporates meditation and exercise to achieve mental and physical well-being. The practice of yoga has exploded in recent years as more people, particularly Blacks, search for a natural yet sensible way to improve their health and their lives.
"The stress level in our society is reaching such a pitch that everyone is looking for a way to alleviate stress," says Krishna Kaur, a Los Angeles yoga instructor and president of the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers. "If you look at the advertisements of various drugs on TV, they have such tremendous side effects that you have to take a lot more drugs just to take care of the side effects. People are starting to say, `Wait a minute, there has got to be something better than this.' Yoga has been showing up as something that has proven itself over and over again."
In addition to being a stress-buster, yoga can be applied to a seemingly endless list of situations. Some doctors recommend yoga to curb common health ailments such as hypertension, diabetes, arthritis and liver problems, and Kaur leads a yoga class to help juvenile offenders deal with anger management.
The yoga explosion has won over the entertainment industry. Robin Downes of Los Angeles spent 20 years in television and movie production before becoming a yoga instructor in 1995. Now she guides yoga sessions that include stars such as hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons.
"He stretches, his focus is clear, and his whole meditation practice is amazing to me," Downes says of Simmons. "In the process of watching him evolve, he has become a role model. The fact that Russell, the godfather of the whole hip-hop generation, embraces yoga makes me feel like, `OK ,it's cool.'"
The roots of Yoga, experts say, can be traced to Africa, thousands of years ago. As African civilizations migrated to India, the science of yoga was adopted and popularized by the people and became a key component of the Hindu religion.
Confusion about the religious aspect stops some people from getting involved. Kaur stresses that yoga is not religious and should not conflict with Christian beliefs. "Yoga is not a religion, it is an art and a science," she explains. "It is guided by universal laws of nature."
There are hundreds of yoga styles, but all have the same basic aim of strengthening the mind and body.
Kemetic Yoga performs movements and postures that are pictured on the wall paintings and hieroglyphics found in ancient Egypt, according to Yirser Ra Hotep, a Chicago yoga instructor and owner of Yoga Skills. The Kemetic style incorporates movements associated with India and Egypt, which is sometimes called Kemet. "Kemetic Yoga is dynamic," says Hotep, whose given name is Elvrid Lawrence. "We flow from one movement into the next using continuous motion."
Kaur, president of the Black yoga teachers group, practices Kundalini Yoga, which is one of the original forms of yoga. "It uses traditional postures and movement and a repetition of those postures, but it also brings a lot of the breath into it," Kaur says. "This is something that a lot of the other styles are beginning to do more. …