A few days ago I walked into the barbershop looking forward to getting a haircut from my barber, Charles. In barbershop tradition we laughed and interrupted each other as we discussed random topics like sports and television, (including my hometown Philadelphia Eagles and “The First 48 Hours”), along with current happenings in Baltimore.
I have spent my entire life in barbershops learning something new and nodding my head when a brother makes an important point about the Black community. My last visit was a perfect example. After sliding out of the barber’s chair, I was surprised by a comment by another brother on his way out the door. He told everyone he had to leave for yoga class. It was surprising because I have NEVER heard another Black man say he was on his way to yoga under any circumstances.
After everyone’s initial shock. No one asked for his “Black card.” Fortunately, he didn’t get asked obscure questions about “Power.” or “Atlanta” to ensure he was in the right place. People didn’t stop him mid sentence to begin a Blackness litmus test to see if he planned to binge watch “Luke Cage,” his thoughts on Colin Kaepernick or what happened in Tulsa. A few people in the shop chuckled, but I quickly jumped in to say I also attend yoga classes and highlighted the benefits.
Usually when people start to laugh at something you said in the shop it’s a sign that you are about to be: 1) Embarrassed; 2) Looked at strangely; 3) Asked to leave; 4) Asked to put that copy of EBONY back on the table; 5) Reminded why your team loses; or 6) All of the above.
I know when you think of yoga nobody imagines a brother with a mat. Most people think yoga is some hippie fad for people that don’t look like me. Unfortunately, I have experienced people looking at me strangely on my way to class.
My local YMCA offers several classes a week. I live just a few blocks away and enjoy the short walk. As I leisurely walk down the street with my mat on my shoulder (yes a brother has a yoga mat) people walking by me or in cars look at me strangely. They are probably asking themselves is that a Black man with a yoga mat? Or why does he have a yoga mat? Or is that my cousin? Or okay brother, I see you!
While I’m not a yoga expert I decided to add yoga to my weekly work out routine because of the benefits. The discipline has roots in India and has been around for a few thousand years. For men, particularly Black men, there are several pros to incorporating yoga in your daily life including: increasing stamina and balance, adding strength, losing weight, and lowering anxiety among other physical and psychological benefits. Personally, I wanted to work on my flexibility and learn to manage stress.
Yoga is challenging (I struggle with the breathing) but it is a great option for Black men. We encounter daily obstacles including racism, physical and mental health challenges that require an outlet.
Recently, there have been more articles written on Black men and yoga. This is important because we can begin to change the narrative within the Black community. Enrolling in a yoga class could give you the opportunity to do a few things including dropping a “you know, I’m into yoga” while out socializing; impress at the family reunion because of your weight loss; start something new among your circle of friends; and probably most importantly, live a healthier life.
A video posted on social media by Kyrie Irving and Iman Shumpert of the Cleveland Cavaliers highlight the benefits of yoga for athletes and non-athletes. The video is an example of Black men trying something outside the box while boldly embracing yoga (after playing Pokémon Go). Hopefully it inspired other brothers to try something new.
Interested in improving your physical and mental health? Try to find a yogi (expert) in the area to improve your overall well-being. You can learn how to properly get into a warrior or downward dog pose while changing the way you handle stressors that can negatively impact the lives of Black men.
Dr. Larry J. Walker is an HBCU mental health advocate and former Capitol Hill staffer. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming two volume set titled, “How the Obama Presidency Changed the Political Landscape.” Follow him on Twitter @LarryJWalker2.