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Yoga has a diversity problem. Here's how Embody Yoga puts POC at the forefront

When we experience stress, our bodies hold on to that tension. We might feel the pressure in the neck, grind our teeth throughout the day or have trouble breathing. Our subconscious carries it, but practices like meditation and yoga can help alleviate some of that tension. 

Joanna Brooks has always had a love for yoga. In 2015, she opened Embody Yoga, a studio space that aims to share the practice of yoga with People of Color. However, her story began in middle school when she came across a news report.

“I ended up seeing this older white woman on Channel 10 and she had a 15-minute yoga program,” said Brooks. “I ended up doing that most mornings before school. I would get up, go to the living room, turn on the TV and do yoga with this lady.”

Not only is yoga a natural anxiety relief, but it also can fundamentally improve your self-image. Perhaps you start to note physical differences such as having better flexibility and posture, but you start to develop gratitude for your body. Brooks said as a Black woman, her perception of herself has changed over time.

“Part of this is a conversation about how for young girls, young Black girls specifically, how our bodies grow and develop,” said Brooks. “The sexualization of young Black girls. When I was young, I started to grow hips and my butt got a little bit bigger. I was still a kid but I would get these looks from men that would make me feel really weird or uncomfortable. So I got into this habit of wrapping or tying jackets around my waist to kind of camouflage or hide. I’m 37 now so I can for sure say there came a point when I reached my thirties where you don’t really care anymore.” 

When Brooks started to go to yoga studios as an adult, she often noticed she was the only Black person there. It wasn’t until she attended Bikram Yoga Milwaukee in her late twenties where she had her first Black instructor. Brooks said cultivating a space with people of color in mind has always been intentional.

“I don't want Black people to be left out,” said Brooks. “I knew that part of it was, there wasn't space being intentionally created for black people and people of color to feel welcome in the practice. Once I became a yoga teacher, my goal was to change that. I thought just by me existing as a Black yoga teacher and offering my services that I could have an impact in some way.”

Brooks is a recent recipient of the 2021 Jrue and Lauren Holiday Social Impact Fund, allowing Embody Yoga to expand and open up a wellness center that caters to the African American community, a space where Black women can come take a yoga class, speak with a therapist or book a massage.

​​”I had this thought that one day Embody Yoga would just become Embody,” said Brooks. “Our goal is to be open in 2022. I'm really excited right now.”

Audio Storyteller / 88Nine On-Air Talent | Radio Milwaukee