A Curriculum for Our Times
By Jana Long, E-RYT, C-IAYT
Executive Director & Co-founder
Black Yoga Teachers, Alliance, Inc.
Yoga As A Peace Practice teaches ancient contemplative practices of yoga to help individuals impacted by violence improve their wellbeing and move toward self-love and wholeness
When the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance was co-founded in 2009 by me and my friend and business partner, Maya Breuer, a yoga teacher based in Rhode Island, we decided to engineer a national initiative that would launch BYTA with profound purpose and service to elevate the presence of black yoga teachers in the U.S.
The genesis of Yoga As A Peace Practice crystallized in 2012, when George Zimmerman, an armed civilian killed Trayvon Martin, a 17-year old unarmed African-American male. Travyon’s death was simply another on a long list of violent acts inflicted against black people in the U.S. Violence within and against black people has been a mainstay of our culture — police gun violence, gang violence, domestic violence, marginalization, discrimination and other forms of violence.
Motivated by our personal experiences as long time practitioners who had direct knowledge of the power of yoga to heal the body, mind and spirit, we were inspired to develop a curriculum of contemplative practices as tools to help individuals and communities suffering from the trauma of violence. We saw an opportunity to apply a practical and modern interpretation of the ancient practice of yoga to support the impact of violence that is pervasive and pandemic.
The Yoga As A Peace Practice initiative was created with the primary objective of teaching certified black yoga teachers how to facilitate contemplative practice. The goal was to encourage them to take this practice into their yoga classes and into the communities where they teach.
The Yoga As A Peace Practice curriculum offers a self-help intervention to address the impact of violence for individuals and communities living with the aftermath of trauma, dysfunction or chaos. This contemplative approach to yoga has been designed to illuminate new healthful and positive ways of being in the hearts, minds and souls for those survivors.
The Yoga As A Peace Practice curriculum is based on universal tenets found in yogic philosophy and will support the work of all yoga teachers. It offers teachers, already trained in the process of yoga asana, an opportunity to learn how to facilitate and share the deeper aspects of yoga to promote healing from violence and how to create a peaceful and balanced life.
We identified black yoga teachers as our first legion of foot soldiers because of their ability to reach into many diverse communities, and will engage in significant outreach to share and teach the Yoga As A Peace Practice curriculum. Black yoga teachers are uniquely positioned to serve as ambassadors in public schools, colleges, churches, prisons and detention centers, community and senior centers and other places where they teach.
However, violence, trauma and dysfunction are not solely consigned to individuals or communities of color; they permeate the lives of all people regardless of race, class or culture. In light of this, any certified yoga teacher may also be trained to integrate the principles of the Yoga As A Peace Practice curriculum into their yoga classes and communities.
The Yoga As A Peace Practice curriculum might also be useful to professionals in the areas of education, social work, and especially those who work directly with individuals who have been impacted by violence or have been the perpetrators of violence.
In May 2017, BYTA partnered with the Urban Family Foundation to launch Yoga As A Peace Practice, as a two-day pilot program at the Impact Hub in Oakland, CA. Yoga teachers from all regions of the U.S. attended the event, as well as representatives from Oakland’s local community. A second Yoga As A Peace Practice program was offered at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in July 2017.
Three teachers — Maya Breuer, Jana Long and Mark Whitwell, led both trainings. The feedback from surveys and evaluations after each event was illuminating for both participants and teachers. The participants acknowledged the high quality of the program and its applicability. The teachers received confirmation that Yoga As A Peace Practice is a program for our times to bring long lasting benefits to many individuals and communities.
The Black Yoga Teachers Alliance plans to bring Yoga As A Peace Practice to more cities in 2018, including New York, Charlotte, Baltimore, MD and a return to Oakland, CA, with more cities in its view moving forward.
Yoga As A Peace Practice is not a panacea for all the troubles of the world. Yet, we believe the contemplative yoga practices will be powerful catalysts for individuals who desire to recover from the trauma of violence and in the process are willing to shift their thinking and recharge their lives in positive ways.