By Sharron Mendel Swain
When we wrote about yoga studios in Birmingham, recently we learned about the growth of Black women yoga teachers in Birmingham. Nancy Rhodes, co-owner of Abundance Yoga, which offers free restorative yoga classes to Black women, introduced us to this vibrant community of teachers who are devoted to bringing the healing energy of yoga to all bodies.
Here are six:
- Mama Sanovia Muhammad
Mama Sanovia Muhammad’s name came up again and again as a respected elder in the community of Black women yoga teachers and practitioners.
Originally from Birmingham, she went to New York at age 16, then returned 20 years later. In 2009, after her retirement from a 30-year labor and delivery nursing career, she became certified as a yoga teacher. Also, she wrote a book called A Journey to Forgiveness, about how yoga helped her through the traumatic experience of losing her mother to violence.
Message: “Yoga covers so many different things. It’s not just about posture—it’s also about breath, meditation, prayer, posture and going inward. Yoga has a space for every body and all people.”
Muhammad teaches a number of different styles of yoga, including womb yoga and Kemetic yoga, and currently offers private lessons in her home.
- La-Shonda Spencer, the Yogi Doula
La-Shonda Spencer, also known as Shonda Faye, got into yoga because of tight hamstrings. At first, she was reluctant, because she didn’t see anyone her size in classes. When she found her way to Birmingham Yoga, where she was the only Black, plus-sized student, but she started to get into the practice.
Message: “I want my community to feel that you can do yoga. It doesn’t matter what your size is. As long as you have breath, you have a yoga body. I also want to tell people that if you are a Christian, you can do yoga.”
Spencer is passionate about making yoga accessible to all body shapes and sizes, and teaches a number of different styles, including restorative yoga.
- Gloria Buie
Gloria Buie was attracted to yoga because she needed something to help her slow down. She first took classes through an instructor at her workplace. She’d go religiously, and felt great after each class. Her teacher recommended yoga teacher training, which she did in 2018. “It was the best five months of my life,” said Buie. “It made a huge difference to me mentally, physically and spiritually, I wanted to share that with other people.”
Message: “I’m on a mission to get yoga into my community, with my people, my women. We bear so much. Taking the time to be with yourself, whether through breathing or postures, it’s available to the Black community as well. Self-care, self-love—we can all experience that.”
Where to find her: Facebook | In-person classes at the J. Craig Smith Community Center in Sylacauga, J.O.V.A.N.I. Dance Factory in Talladega and Abundance Yoga in Inverness
- Kim Richardson
Kim Richardson and I first spoke in 2019 for this piece on women in wellness in Birmingham. Since then, we’ve discovered that we’re neighbors, which is a random fun fact.
She first tried yoga at the Y, then did some DVDs at home on a quest for work/life balance and reduced stress. For a long time, she practiced at home with YouTube. In 2018, she completed her own yoga teacher training. Richardson want to see representation in the yoga community, both in terms of classes and teachers, diversity and body shapes and sizes.
Message: “I really want to see the expansion of yoga. To find ways to bring all that yoga offers to communities that traditionally have not had access is really important to me.”
Where to find her: Yes You, Yoga on Facebook
- Olori’fa Jacqueline J. Cockrell
Olori’fa Jacqueline J. Cockrell first got into yoga with Mama Sanovia at Kelly Ingram Park in May 2007. Once she started practicing, she never looked back. “I enjoyed how yoga made me feel, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally, and I got hooked,” she said.
“As a Black woman, it is perfectly fine if you need to heal, and it’s perfectly fine to feel. Now that we’ve been surviving this long, we need to thrive, fly, and find ways that allow us to be our beautiful black selves—unapologetically.”
Cockrell is a yoga instructor and Reiki practitioner who loves her work passionately. She is a Birmingham native and graduate of Woodlawn High School and student at Miles College, she spent much of her upbringing in creative endeavors such as poetry, music, theater and dance.
While attending a yoga class at Women Heart through the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Cockrell fell in love with the practice. She was also introduced to Kemetic Yoga by Mama Sister (Ma’ati) Sanovia Muhammad over 10 years ago.
She studied Yoni Steaming at the Yoni Steam Institute and became a Yoni Steam Practitioner and studied at Ka Vibrations under Ma’ati Sanovia, where she earned her Womb Yoga Certificate. She is also certified as a Reiki Practitioner through Sunny Graydon at Pura Vida Healing Arts and received her certification as a Restorative Yoga Instructor at Abundance Yoga Studio.
Cockrell currently instructs at the Unity Church in Highland out of the Reiki Clinic.
Message: “Your healing may be wanting to laugh. It might be dancing in the street, wearing funky clothes, or creating food. Whatever your healing is, let it be your healing. Everyone is not going to heal in the same way.”
Among other healing modalities, Cockrell teaches womb yoga, restorative yoga and practices reiki.
Where to find her: Facebook
- Bridgette Rene
Originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, Bridgette Rene was always into health and fitness. After her first yoga class, back in 2014, she was sold. Just two or three weeks later, she signed up for yoga teacher training, and has been in love with yoga ever since.
Message: “Ma’at is the Egyptian goddess of balance, truth and reciprocity. This is the perfect symbol for what I try to do and teach.”
Now she teaches private yoga classes, is an Ayurveda lifestyle consultant and a Thai yoga massage therapy practitioner.
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