While not new, yoga, the Indian-practice which has been around for more than 5,000 years, has become a wildly popular form of mental and physical exercise in the states over the last decade, with many touting its ability to slow them down and become more mindful.
Relaxation and meditation are two words commonly associated with the practice, but for many Black women, that's the exact opposite experience they have when visiting many Western-style studios for the first time. This discrepancy between what the practice could be and the negative experiences so many Black women have is what led Kendra Blackett-Dibinga to open BikramYogaWorks — a multi-location independently owned practice that aims to help people of color discover the amazing benefits, both physical and mental, of the ancient practice.
"We help people to change their bodies, their minds, and their lives through the healing practice of yoga," Blackett-Dibinga shares via email with ESSENCE. When she opened her first studio in D.C. with her husband back in 2014 they intentionally created a space that invited individuals who didn't feel so welcome in traditional studios.
Blackett-Dibinga goes on to explain that, "We are dedicated to providing our community with sustainable opportunities to enhance their total health and wellness so we offer other specialty classes including Yoga Nidra, Kids Yoga Foundation as well as workshops." Building this connection is what she loves most about having her own practice.
Before BikramYogaWorks Blackett-Dibinga worked as a senior director for Child Protection. However, chronic pain from running, attending a yoga teacher training in 2011, and giving birth to her third child helped Blackett-Dibinga discover a new passion.
"I was able to get on a daily basis what I yearned for: real connections, with real people whose lives were being changed as a result of them embracing yoga and the amazing community that developed at the yoga studio," she says.
The word community is often thrown around by white wellness studios desperate to form a connection, of any kind, with their members. But for Black women community is a papable and much-needed lifeline, especially in spaces where we are the minority. Being able to share an experience alongside other women who look like us, and won't ask questions about why we may "wear a scarf during class," allows us to relax and let down our guard.
Blackett-Dibinga has built and is continuing to build a very important community (BikramYogaWorks is slated to open its fourth location later this spring). "To me this is the best compliment we could have ever received, to have created a space where everyone and every BODY can feel welcome is truly an honor," she says.
As Blackett-Dibinga and other Black women fitness instructors, like Briana Owens founder of Spiked Spin, have shown true diversity, where any and everyone feels welcomed, is the key to success. "We welcome people of all shapes and sizes who are just trying to get healthier and I love that everyone can call our studio home," Blackett-Dibinga shares.
For women who may have reservations about heading to their first yoga class Blackett-Dibinga encourages them to just show up and don’t worry about being the super flexible student in the first row. She also wants people, especially women, to remember that self-care is not selfish. "It is actually necessary that we engage in self-care practices so that we model healthy coping mechanisms to our children and those who look up to us," she says.
The healthier we are, mentally and physically, the better we can be and to those around us. And that's the true definition of creating and sustaining community.