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Thoughts and Advice from a Black Yogi on Black History Month

Greetings Beautiful Humans of The River Yoga,

I was asked for my perspective and thoughts about Black History Month as a Black yogi. At first, I was hesitant to meet this request as feelings of tokenism bubbled to the surface, and how could I ever begin to speak for 37,144,530 Black Americans of which 5.6% practice yoga? According to a 2015 National Health Statistics Report. I would be willing to wager that the percentage of Black yogis has doubled or tripled since then, as more Black folxs find their ways onto yoga mats, or into spaces offering opportunities to begin healing from racial traumas. So while my thoughts could never begin to speak for all of us, I hope that you receive them in the manner in which they are intended–born of love and an intense desire for white folxs in our River Yoga community and beyond to both be and do, well, better. (Performative Allyship is Deadly–Here’s What to Do Instead).

Like most things in life, there are more questions than answers. More opportunities for critical and embodied thinking, for personal growth and opportunities for discernment. While I do not personally affirm and no longer celebrate Black History Month (We’re Teaching Black HIstory Month All Wrong), I know many other Black folxs and Black yogis who do. Ultimately, this is a personal choice, and I believe this month also provides an entry-point opportunity for many well-intended white folxs to sit with themselves as they explore and listen for answers to the following questions:

  • Do your thoughts, words, or actions ever negatively impact Black people?
  • Are you doing daily work to become an anti-racist: through a process of examining and unlearning all racist, prejudiced, or biased views that you may hold about Black people?
  • Do you know and are you living the difference between Intent vs Impact, and do you have a process for attempting to repair harms that you inflict upon Black people? (Side note: white folxs you will cause harm, intentional or otherwise, because anti-racism work is messy. Therefore it is crucial to develop a “repair” tool. Sorry, there is no shortcut or bypass option, here).
  • Do you hold white peers, friends, family, and loved ones accountable for being anti-racist? By calling them both out/in when harm is caused (and not just on social media, in actual real life)? (Color Blind or Color Brave by Mellody Hobson). 
  • Do you lean-in to discomfort when having difficult conversations about race?
  • Do you acknowledge, accept and show appreciation for any feedback received from Black people with both humility and grace?

I could go on for a while asking white people tough, reflective questions, but bottom-line, it is up to every single white person to prioritize their own self-reflection and inner work to then be equipped for “outer” work – both on and off the mat. (Check out: Off the Mat, Into the World). It is my opinion that the ways in which white people show up in this world, which includes the energy that they bring into The River, truly matters–365 days a year, not just during Black History Month. Show up as true allies and not through temporal acts of solidarity, like some of what we witnessed last year. (Check out: Anti-Racism Daily). I also want you to know that I considered softening this message, making it a bit more palatable and digestible, however through silent reflection I knew I had to remain true to myself–unapologetically honest, direct, and speak from my heart. Through my engagement with The River community, I am encouraged by the many white yogis who have begun leaning-in to anti-racism and equity work. I also wholeheartedly believe that our collective is ready to go deeper down the path of racial and social justice work that is the embodiment of yoga.

So I’ll leave you with just one Black yogi’s heart’s desire: for more white people to get to know both Black struggles AND Black joys—minus the need for exploitation, bypassing or appropriation, but instead through genuine curiosity (96 Books Showing the Joys, Love and Adventures of Black Lives), authentic relationships, and through regular, consistent monetary support for our many and varied businesses and causes. (Check out: Blk + Grn).

That white people will actively choose to connect with us in ways that both honor and see our full humanity and absolute dopeness. My people are beautiful. We are fierce, resisting while at times resting, and we are thriving in spite of it all. So recognize this, honor and value all of the richness we bring to predominantly white yoga spaces, including The River. Please don’t simply “see” us. We are not yours to tokenize so that you can then point at/to us and feel good about the progress you make. (You do not get trophies white folxs for doing equity work. Periodt). But value us by valuing our bodies, our lives, and our lived experiences as resident experts within white yoga spaces, which includes paying us for our knowledge and time. Only then can we, collectively, begin moving forward towards a place of true inclusivity in the yoga world at large. A place that genuinely respects and advocates for Black yogis and all Black people, in all spaces

It is my belief that real joy can be found in anti-racism and equity work, and that it will take each of us working towards a racially and socially just society. Our collective action will take time and require deep wells of committed persistency, and while we might not see the fruits of our love-labor I choose to believe that the next generation will. This necessary and important work can start at The River. So instead of another superficial Black History Month chock-full of Black historic ‘figures and firsts,’ I invite the entire River family on a meaningful journey of learning, unlearning and relearning, self very much included. (Check out: Netflix Culture: Allyship and Allyship (& Accomplice): The What, Why, and How by Michelle Kim).

To my fellow Black yogis reading this, it is my greatest prayer that you give yourself permission to rest when needed–permission to lean out in order to lean back in. (Black bodies, white spaces, Denver’s yoga scene faces a reckoning). I hope that you are afforded an abundance of opportunities to take the absolute best care of you. I see you, I love you, I am you. 

With loving transparency from my heart to yours,

Ashlea Skiles


About Ashlea: she identifies as a Black, Indigenous, cisgender womxn who has practiced yoga for the last 15 years. She has a Journalism degree from Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey and a Master’s degree in Special Education. This former middle school English Language Arts and English Language Development teacher and Denver transplant (of 5-years) works for DPS in the Multilingual Education Department as a SE Denver and North Denver Innovation Zone Elementary Schools Regional Partner. Ashlea knows she is living her dharma when she is teaching, and thorough any opportunity to facilitate the empowerment of others as they discover their voice, grapple with life’s varied challenges through critical curiosity and wonder, and when she is invited to support, converse with and share in the collective human experience. Ashlea is a lifelong learner, and is concurrently enrolled in TWO separate yoga teacher training programs. She is the manifestation of and living testament to her ancestors wildest dreams. Ashlea strives to live a life of balance and gratitude to those who came before her, by existing in a way that honors them with her every breath. 

You can find Ashlea at The River Yoga, at Buffalo + Sparrow Yoga, in varied virtual yoga, health and wellness communities, and on Instagram. 

IG: @yogicmelanin


Website: coming soon!

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