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Not too long ago, Beverly Grant visited a yoga studio in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver. “I immediately got pissed going in there, with the way I was received,” Grant says. “The way they were looking at me.” To Grant, the message was clear: The Front Range yoga community was white. At best, she was different; at worst, she was unwelcome.
Lakshmi Nair knows the feeling all too well. After moving to Denver in 2004, the veteran yoga instructor spent a decade searching for a studio where she felt comfortable. “I didn’t see a lot of people of color teaching yoga,” Nair says. “Not even practicing.” So, in 2018, Nair started Satya Yoga Cooperative, a Denver-based network of teachers focused on healing Black and brown bodies and minds. The group hosts lessons for those looking to practice but also organizes teacher trainings—the hope being that greater diversity among instructors will draw more people of color to yoga. “You want to learn from someone you think could understand, right?” Nair says.
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Students find more than a sense of belonging through Satya. Nair’s background is in South Asian yoga, a more traditional practice than its physical-fitness-focused Westernized offshoot. Alternatively, Satya teachers place more emphasis on breath work, meditation, and gentle postures in order to heal students’ bodies and spirits. By slowly homing in on different parts of the body, Grant says, people can release trauma manifesting itself through physiological tension.
That’s how Grant found peace following the most devastating ordeal of her life: her youngest son’s murder in 2018. Afterward, pain became a constant. “I just kept going to sleep and waking up and thinking, This shit ain’t going away,” Grant says. The month before her son’s death, Grant had become a Satya instructor, and eventually, she turned to that community for support. Every yoga sequence she completed under her colleagues’ guidance helped her work through a bit more of her heartbreak. “Mentally, I could organize,” Grant says. “Physically, I could feel a little relief in my back, neck, and core.”
Satya’s approach is especially beneficial for people of color, Grant says, who often battle both their own individual sorrows and angst emanating from the effects of systemic racism. Research from 2018 reveals that perceptions of discrimination lead to higher rates of “uncontrollable hyperarousal, feelings of alienation, worries about future negative events, and perceiving others as dangerous.” “Every Black person has some intergenerational trauma,” Grant says.
One way to build greater equity in the Front Range yoga scene, Grant says, would be for more white-owned studios to invite Satya, which doesn’t have a permanent home, to use their spaces. Satya currently has an alliance with Guided by Humanity, a nonprofit studio in Englewood, but its partnership with Better Buzz Yoga is on pause during the pandemic. “Access to resources is a problem that plagues communities of color,” Grant says. Although Satya’s classes have been moved online due to COVID-19, Grant says its outreach is more important than ever: “At this time when we’re living with lots of civil unrest and racial discourse, yoga is absolutely something that is needed.”