Black-owned yoga studios are few and far between. But once one is found, it is truly a pleasure and a gift to practice with and to be taught by someone that looks like you. Urban Asanas is that treasure in a sea of gentrification and quickly fading diversity in the yoga community.
Urban Asanas is a one-year-old sanctuary away from the chaos of New York City's hustle and bustle, fearlessly lead by its passionate and dedicated owner, Jyll Hubbard-Salk. "I’m here to make a difference,” says the longtime yoga teacher and founder of the Crown Heights, Brooklyn, New York yoga studio. With her more than 15 years of teaching diverse students of all levels of ability, she says, “I’m here to educate, teach a couple of elders to touch their toes and to help lighten someone’s heart through the practice."
We caught up with Hubbard-Salk to hear her thoughts on the importance of yoga for our community, the reasons why she opened Urban Asanas and its mission and spirit.
EBONY: Given the various stories about diversity issues or lack thereof in yoga studios, why was it important to you and what was your motivation in opening your studio?
JYLL HUBBARD-SALK: I wanted to open the studio for many reasons. I had grown mentally out of the studio where I worked. The new owner wanted to "brand" me. I realized I own me, and I do me! I wanted a space that was inviting and welcoming to all. There is something that is warming to see a little bit of everything in your studio. Urban Asanas definitely has that. I know this is my purpose, because there is so much love in this space. It's crazy, but it's real!
EBONY: Are their challenges in attracting students of color?
JHS: [Laughs] Attracting students of color, in a community that is dealing with gentrification, that is my on-going struggle. I heard through students, they didn't feel comfortable in other studios. I have heard some disturbing accounts. Recently, I spoke at a community meeting in the area. I was well received. I have to say I have had several new faces from the meeting. Outreach is the key. It has been awesome! I have been open for a year, and it is growing nicely.
EBONY: Do you see a difference in how your students respond to being taught by a person color?
JHS: Actually I can't tell, because I have not experienced that. I come in with such a big heart and persona. If you can't get with it, there are other studios and teachers.
EBONY: Were there any challenges in opening Urban Asanas?
JHS: I left the old studio (where I previously worked) the week Hurricane Sandy hit, and I opened (Urban Asanas) on December 1st. It took a lot of exhaling. Workers, contractors, building owners… Sometimes it's a challenge to get them in sync, but we pulled a rabbit out of a hat. That is how UA was born.
EBONY: What is the mission, philosophy and spirit of Urban Asanas?
JHS: This is a studio for this community. We welcome all practitioners of all levels and socio-economical backgrounds. We have some donation-based classes (pay what you can). No one will be turned away. All is welcome. There are free mat rentals and free filtered water. There is no judgment here. When you walk through Urban Asanas’ doors, you feel our welcoming energy!
EBONY; What type of yoga / upcoming workshops / collaborations are offered at Urban Asanas?
JHS: We have a monthly Breath & Beats, a 2-hour yoga class with food and drinks afterwards. Coming soon is a skateboarding workshop (for adults) a runner's club and a book club. We also partner with (local Brooklyn based and Black-owned juice company) Juice Hugger for a wonderful juice cleanse with yoga and meditation.
Our newest workshop is Urban Wellness Fridays. We have a wonderful healer/body-worker who is gracing us with his amazing hands. It’s life changing!
EBONY: Why is yoga important for people of color?
JHS: Yoga has so many benefits. It helps you mentally and physically. Our (African-American) community is struggling right now. Yoga helps you "take it down a notch". Your prana (breath) cools the flames. It helps take the pressure down. There is plenty of pressure in our life. A bit of yoga will help adjust your perceptions of the world and even yourself. It's powerful! Once you slow down and exhale, you’re able to stop and smell the roses. You might come across a thorn, but yoga will give you the tools on how to deal with those thorns. You will also get physically fit.
Crystal Whaley is a multiple Emmy award winning & Peabody nominated film and tv producer and activist. Follow her on Twitter @CrystalAWhaley .