By Javacia Harris Bowser
For the Birmingham Times
Birmingham is known for its Civil Rights history, emerging restaurant scene, and beautiful parks. But Adi Devta Kaur wants the Magic City to be known for something else — yoga.
She dreams of starting a yoga studio and school focused on getting yoga into the communities that she believes need the practice most. “My mission is to empower marginalized communities, the overlooked and unappreciated,” said Kaur, who believes a Black-owned yoga studio and school would be the key to fulfilling this mission.
“What better place than Birmingham, Alabama—to be Black and strong and here,” she said.
Kaur, 29, is already doing what she can with what she has. She’s taught free yoga classes at local libraries and parks. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, she partnered with AIDS Alabama to offer classes at The Hub, a Birmingham-based resource program for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning and/or queer (LGBTQ) youth of color.
Currently, she teaches a free yoga class on Sundays at 1 p.m. at East Lake Park. And she strives to reach people in Birmingham and beyond through her YouTube channel, THE BLK YOGI.
“Yoga is more than Warrior Pose and doing the splits,” Kaur said. “It provides the outlet, the release, the space to not necessarily check out of reality but check in to reality and change the narrative.”
The practice of yoga is about more than what happens on the mat. It’s about how it can affect every area of life.
“It is the practice of moderation—not overeating, not overdoing anything,” Kaur said. “It’s the practice of nonviolence, meaning nonviolent thoughts, not thinking negatively or violently about yourself.”
People from marginalized communities need the outlet of yoga most, Kaur believes.
“It’s most important for them because it opens up an opportunity, a gateway for them to be peaceful within their own being,” she said.
“It Opened Me Up”
Kaur took her first yoga class in Tampa, Florida, in 2015 while on a date.
“It was a first date, and we had a private yoga instructor,” she explained. “That was my first time doing yoga, and it opened me up. From that day, I wanted to continue that feeling. I wanted to dig deeper into that feeling, that space.”
Yoga helped Kaur better understand herself.
“I realized that I wasn’t breathing, and I wasn’t really processing information,” she said. “Yoga gives you the space to process anything you’re dealing with. What I love most about yoga is that inner journey. It’s just you and you.”
Kaur was born in North Carolina, but both of her parents were in the military, so she never stayed in one place long. Growing up, she lived in Germany, Washington, D.C., Virginia, Georgia, and Florida.
Relocating so much made it hard for her to bond with others.
“It created these invisible walls,” Kaur said. “I didn’t want to get too close because I knew it wasn’t going to be permanent, and that carried on into my adult friendships and my romantic relationships.”
But yoga changed that.
“When I say yoga, I’m not speaking of just stretches,” Kaur said. “I’m thinking of the breathing, the mediation, and just sitting with yourself, sitting with your thoughts.”
Yoga also helped her cope with an even deeper pain—the trauma of being sexually assaulted as a child.
“Yoga helped me process those feelings, honor those feelings, name them, and speak my truth,” Kaur said. “I was able to acknowledge it and realize that, yes, this happened to me, but I don’t have to hold onto it in my body. I can free myself from it.”
She Who Learns Teaches
Kaur immediately knew that she wanted to not only be a student of yoga but also teach the practice: “I love it so much, so why not share it with more people?”
In 2019, Kaur started her teacher training at Birmingham Yoga to get the 200 hours she needed to become an instructor. She was able to pay the $3,000 tuition thanks to donations from family and friends and even strangers on Facebook. This generosity is yet another reason why Kaur wants to offer free yoga classes as much as she can.
“They didn’t have to help me, but they did,” she said. “They believed in me.”
Currently, Kaur teaches at Abundance Yoga. Owner Nancy Rhodes has watched Kaur blossom as an instructor since the early days of Kaur’s training.
“What stands out about her is her energy and acceptance,” Rhodes said of Kaur. “While she remains positive, she does not deny people the right to feel angry, frustrated, or sad. She validates people, she honors the different journeys and paths, and she offers a way to bring movement, meditation, and breath to daily life in a realistic way.”
Rhodes, who first met Kaur when she was teaching Fat Acceptance to the teachers in training at Birmingham Yoga, applauds Kaur’s dedication to serving all body types.
“In that class, I could see that she not only understood the marginalization of fat bodies that I was discussing but also connected to it and empathized with it even though that was not her experience,” Rhodes said. “She recognizes that all bodies are created differently and have had different experiences, so she knows how to offer everything from chair yoga to a power class with respect and kindness.”
Voyage to India
To qualify as a yoga teacher who can also train future instructors, Kaur needed an additional 500 hours of teacher training. For this training, she decided to take a voyage to India, the birthplace of yoga, in early 2020 to study Kundalini yoga, an “ancient healing practice [that] was the first yoga ever created,” according to yogajournal.com.
“Those teachers were magnificent,” Kaur said. “They opened up different portals in my being.”
The pandemic hit while Kaur was in India, and she had no idea how or when she’d be able to return to Birmingham. All flights were canceled. Even buses and trains were shut down. She was stuck in India indefinitely.
For a moment, Kaur panicked, but she quickly replaced that feeling with surrender.
“I just kept my mind in the present moment. I had to believe, ‘I’m here for a reason. I am here. I am safe. This is divine timing,’” Kaur said. “I made that my mantra.”
As unsettling as the situation was, Kaur found a way to settle in.
“I just became engulfed in the culture,” she said. “I bought the clothes, I went into the village, I learned some Hindi, and I learned how to cook Indian food.”
Thanks to friends and family and folks from Facebook sending money via PayPal, Kaur didn’t have to look for a job while she was in India. So, she spent her time volunteering.
“I did community service—helping with children, feeding cows, cleaning up trash,” she said.
Kaur was only supposed to be in India for one month. She was there for seven. She credits her yoga practice with giving her the strength to stay calm through that time.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do that five years ago,” Kaur said. “I would have been freaking out.”
Now back in Birmingham, Kaur continues to work toward starting her own studio and school. As she also continues to teach, she hopes to pass along the calmness and all the other gifts that yoga has given her. For anyone who feels intimidated by the practice of yoga, Kaur says she can relate.
“I was afraid of being the person in class who didn’t know what they were doing and was behind and wasn’t as flexible,” she said. “But progression happens when you come out of your comfort zone, when you step out of that shell. Trust yourself.”
To learn more about Adi Devta Kaur, visit her YouTube channel at YouTube.com/TheBlkYogi.