Black Women & Yoga: Famous Memoirs Reveal Commonality

Tennis legend Serena Williams strikes the 'Upward Bow' yoga pose for Fitness Magazine. (Photo: Google)

Tennis legend Serena Williams strikes the ‘Upward Bow’ yoga pose for Fitness Magazine.
(Photo: Google)

Women’s History Month is a great opportunity to celebrate women we know, but also to learn more about women we think we know. Many dynamic black women that have been celebrated for a myriad of accomplishments including excellence in social justice, civil rights, sports, business and entertainment share something else in common — yoga.

Famous black women that discuss yoga in their memoirs: Dana 'Queen Latifah' Owens, Diahann Carroll and Serena Williams. (Photos: Google Images)

Famous black women that discuss yoga in their memoirs: Dana ‘Queen Latifah’ Owens, Diahann Carroll and Serena Williams.
(Photos: Google Images)

Yoga is a great way to keep fit and take time out of your day to practice mindfulness. If you are a fan of yoga and have ever considered becoming a yoga teacher, then you’ll also know just how important it is to find excellent Yoga training courses that cover everything you need to know. However, did you know Rosa Parks practiced yoga regularly? Sadie and Bessie Delany, (sisters who both lived to be over 100 years old), practiced yoga every Monday through Friday for decades. Of course, yoga is also a recommended activity by another dynamic sister duo: Venus and Serena Williams. Diahann Carroll practiced yoga to keep her legs looking amazing and Dana “Queen Latifah” Owens turned to yoga to help her quit smoking. It was so effective that Queen Latifah even took her mother to her first yoga class for her 60th birthday. Several women who have faced a critical illness, including Robin Roberts, practiced yoga to beat cancer and Ann Petry, legendary author of The Street, journaled about her yoga practice starting in 1965, which she used to gain mobility after a long-term back injury.

A survey of 200 Black women’s published life stories reveals at least 42 memoirs where African American women talk about their knowledge and experience with yoga! Malcolm X’s daughter Ilyasa Shabazz wrote that yoga was one of the many ways her mother, Betty Shabazz, instilled a global, cultural education in their home studies.

Author Alice Walker, Yoga Instructor Robinn Alston, scholar-activist Dr. Layli Maparyan practice yoga. (Photos: Google Images)

Rosa Parks, Alice Walker, Yoga Instructor Robinn Alston, scholar-activist Dr. Layli Maparyan practice yoga.
(Photos: Google Images)

Writer Paule Marshall identified yoga breathing as a way to clear her mind for the creative process and one of Alice Walker’s essays in We Are the One’s We’ve been Waiting For, is a 2003 address at a Yoga Summit & Retreat for the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers. Opera singer Shirley Verrett even taught Luciano Pavarotti yoga stretches to improve his voice before performances! Several Black women have taken yoga to another level by becoming instructors (Robbin Alston, The Art of Feeling Good: The Power of Àse Yoga), activist-scholars (Layli Maparyan, The Womanist Idea), or religion professors (Jan Wills, Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist, and Buddhist). In the great words of Fannie Lou Hamer, for those of us who are “sick and tired of being sick and tired,” these women’s stories show us how to begin to take care of ourselves.

The Delany Sisters, Ann Petry, Robin Roberts and Shirley Verett.  (Photos: Google Images)

The Delany Sisters, Ann Petry, Robin Roberts and Shirley Verett.
(Photos: Google Images)

Reading Black women’s writing for hints on health can satisfy our mind, body, and spirit and expand our appreciation of world culture. I am researching memoirs for a forthcoming book on Black women’s mental health and my journey into life stories led me to these amazing hidden treasures about Black women’s little-known work with yoga.

Let’s make this women’s history month an opportunity to uncover beautiful stories of Black women’s health history! For the full list of forty-two women’s books, visit the “feature narratives” page at www.sesheta.net. Share your yoga stories on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.

This post was written by Dr. Stephanie Y. Evans, Department Chair of African American Studies, Africana Women’s Studies, and History at Clark Atlanta University. She is author of Black Women in the Ivory Tower, 1850-1954, An Intellectual History (2007) and Black Passports: Travel Memoirs as a Tool for Youth Empowerment (2014). Her portfolio is online at www.professorevans.net.

Like the Burton Wire on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter @TheBurtonWire.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.