By CHANDRA THOMAS WHITFIELD
Kaiser Health News
DENVER (AP)—Beverly Grant spent years juggling many roles before yoga helped her restore her balance.
When not doting over her three children, she hosted her public affairs talk radio show, attended community meetings or handed out cups of juice at her roving Mo’ Betta Green MarketPlace farmers market.
Her busy schedule came to an abrupt halt on July 1, 2018, when her youngest son, Reese, 17, was fatally stabbed outside a Denver restaurant.
“It’s literally a shock to your system,’’ Grant, 58, said of the grief that flooded her. “You feel physical pain and it affects your conscious and unconscious functioning. Your ability to breathe is impaired. Focus and concentration are sporadic at best. You are not the same person that you were before.’’
In the midst of debilitating loss, Grant said it was practicing yoga and meditation daily that helped provide some semblance of peace and balance. She had previously done yoga videos at home but didn’t get certified as an instructor until just before her son’s death.
Yoga then continued to be a grounding force when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March. The lockdown orders in Colorado sent her back to long days of isolation at home, where she was the sole caregiver for her special-needs daughter and father. Then, in April, her 84-year-old mother died unexpectedly of natural causes. “I’ve been doing the best that I can with facing my new reality,’’ said Grant.
As a Black woman, she believes yoga can help other people of color, who she said disproportionately share the experience of debilitating trauma and grief — exacerbated today by such disparities as who’s most at risk of COVID-19 and the racialized distress from ongoing police brutality such as the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
While the country still needs much work to heal itself, she wants more people of color to try yoga to help their health. She said the ancient practice is the perfect platform to help cope with the unique stressors caused by daily microaggressions and discrimination.
“It helps you feel more empowered to deal with many situations that are beyond your control,’’ said Grant.
She teaches yoga with Satya Yoga Cooperative, a Denver-based group operated by people of color that was launched in June 2019, inspired partly by the Black Lives Matter and (hash)MeToo movements. The co-op’s mission: Offer yoga to members of diverse communities to help them deal with trauma and grief before it shows up in their bodies as mental health conditions, pain and chronic disease.
“When I think about racism, I think about stress and how much stress causes illness in the body,’’ said Satya founder Lakshmi Nair, who grew up in a Hindu family in Aurora. “We believe that yoga is medicine that has the power to heal.’’
Satya’s efforts are part of a growing movement to diversify yoga nationwide. From the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance to new Trap Yoga classes that incorporate the popular Southern hip-hop music style to the Yoga Green Book online directory that helps Black yoga-seekers find classes, change appears to be happening. According to National Health Interview Survey data, the percentage of non-Hispanic Black adults who reported practicing yoga jumped from 2.5% in 2002 to 9.3% in 2017.
Blacks and Latinos consistently top national health disparities lists, with elevated risks for obesity and chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and some forms of cancer, which has made them more susceptible to contracting and dying of COVID-19. They also face an elevated risk for depression and other mental health conditions.
Yoga is obviously not a panacea for racism, but it has shown positive results in helping people manage stress, and as a complement to therapeutic work on trauma.