Rosa Parks. Halle Berry. Tina Turner. These three black women and many others share a holistic approach to finding peace: practicing Yoga.

Holistic wellness in the black community dates back to before Africans were transported to the Americas by the slave trade, and one approach, yoga, has empowered black women for centuries.

Yoga is a spiritual discipline with Hindu roots that aims to achieve harmony in body and mind through physical movements and breathing techniques.

Tina Turner turned to the practice and famous Buddhist chant “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” to find peace after an abusive relationship with her ex-husband, Ike Turner. In 2020, Halle Berry wrote in Women’s Health magazine that she uses Yoga to release negative energy.


“Although I’ve been working with my energy for years, this work feels very relevant and important right now. The current state of our country – and the world – makes it easy to feel scared, lost, and depressed,” she wrote.

Rosa Parks in the bow pose

Many know the story of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger during the early civil rights movement, but few knew she practiced Yoga in her later years.

A photo of her practicing Dhanurasana or Bow Pose in March 1973 began circulating on social media after photographs were exhibited in the Library of Congress exhibit “Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words” in December 2019.

Stephanie Evans, a professor at Georgia State University and author of “Black Women’s Yoga History: Memoirs of Inner Peace,” learned of the previously unpublished photos in the library’s digital archive, according to the Association of Black Women Historians.

She learned from family stories and papers there that Parks learned Yoga with her nieces and nephews in 1965 and practiced it for three decades.

“I recognized it to be a poignant illustration of how black women’s healing traditions are historically, spiritually, creatively and politically,” Evans said, according to the association’s website.

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Evans told USA TODAY via email that while the discovery of Rosa Parks practicing Yoga was a turning point in her research journey, understanding the practice’s historical movement over decades took more than one person.

“I was equally surprised and impressed by the sheer number of references I found in mainstream black culture,” she wrote. “Resources such as digital archives from Howard University, Library of Congress, Emory University, and Ebony Magazine showed me how common yoga was for black people in the 1970s, alongside wider American culture.”

Practicing Yoga in the 1970s

Jana Long, the founder of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, started Yoga in 1972.

“Yoga did me before I did, which means I think yoga in the physical approach is such an authentic way of moving,” Long told USA TODAY. “We move that way when we’re younger, but life gets in the way.”

When Long was in school, she participated in physical education and learned callisthenic exercises such as the cycling pose and the shoulder stands in Yoga.

One day in the early 1970s, she was watching TV and came across a program called “Lilias, Yoga and You,” broadcast on PBS. Long saw the same pose as in high school.

“When I discovered this thing called yoga, I started looking for more information about yoga, and at the time, there weren’t many books like there are now,” she said.

Long said Yoga was viewed unfavorably in the 1970s and considered “too different.”

“You didn’t want to bring it up because people thought you were some weirdo, crazy, or in a cult.”

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It would be 30 years before Long met another black person who practiced Yoga, and she didn’t hear about Parks practicing Yoga until Evans wrote her book.

“It would be fitting that we wouldn’t know,” Long said. “Rosa Parks’ yoga practice was a very small community. Now that we’re entering the 60s era, we’re coming out of the Red Scare and McCarthy era, and all that stuff went underground.”

Long understands why the “mother of the civil rights movement” would have kept Yoga private, as she would have learned from Parks in the early days that it was a personal practice.

“The way we see Yoga now, everyone is in handstand and bikini girls with their legs up. That’s not Yoga, a form of acrobatics or gymnastics,” she said.

In its teachings, long-learned Yoga was a personal development exercise and something to consider sacred, not the traded and commercialized version plastered on social media.

“It’s not something to say that way, but it’s something for the community. It’s something to build yourself in connection with others from a place of your heart, your hands, and your head.”

Black people come to Yoga for peace

Since the early 21st century, black people have been more open to practicing Yoga, Long said.

There may still be some resistance in some communities because some believe it conflicts with their religious beliefs, Long said.

But with the comorbidities and health disparities in the black community, Long said the physical practice of Yoga could be a tool, not a cure, to help manage fitness and the stresses that come with life.

“Like a black person, the African descendant, the African diaspora, there is something we know about spirit,” she said. “It takes place in our music, dance, poetry, and being. We can tap into that and express that through Yoga in communion with each other and get that healing and nurturing that we need and that empowers us to see the world.” to face.”

With what black people face today and how it affects mental health, Long said now is the right time to add Yoga to the toolbox.

“Yoga teaches how to be still, how to be still and let go of some of your judgment, and how to lower your ego so that you can be at peace with yourself first so that when you meet others, you can be with them. Be as they are and be quiet and at peace with yourself,” she said.

“Yoga is a peace exercise, which is why we need it now more than ever because we are not at peace like that.”

Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: [email protected].


I have been blogging since August 2011. I have had over 10,000 visitors to my blog! My goal is to help people, and I have the knowledge and the passion to do this. I love to travel, dance, and play volleyball. I also enjoy hanging out with my friends and family. I started writing my blogs when I lived in California. I would wake up in the middle of the night and write something while listening to music and looking at the ocean. When I moved to Texas, I found a new place to write. I would sit in my backyard while everyone else was at work, and I could write all day.