Practiced for more than 5,000 years, yoga has been a solution for mental and physical conditions, including depression, arthritis, and poor balance. According to Northwestern Medicine, more Black women are finding added health benefits to channeling their energy through yoga.

More Black women are finding that yoga leads to emotional, physical and health benefits. (Photo by Shantella Y. Sherman)

Throughout the District, but particularly in Wards 6,7, and 8, Black women are finding that mindfulness training – breathing, balance, and stretching techniques – are improving their overall mind and body functions.

“I used to hear those people with those mantras going ‘Ohm’ and thought it was devilment,” Kay-Ann Mitchell, a retired postal worker told the AFRO, laughingly.   “It was a new experience to walk into the class and see Black women from wall-to-wall and a Black instructor. Once I saw improvement in my mobility after just one class, I started Ohm-ing louder than anyone.”

She said that before joining a yoga class provided by the Hillcrest Department of Recreation, she experienced both the physical symptoms of joint pain from hip replacement surgery, and mental anxiety caused by the loss of income following her husband’s death.

Mitchell said that although race had a lot to do with accepting yoga as a mental health alternative to drugs because “some things Black people just ought not do,” she also had to get over the idea that yoga was designed for more affluent women.  A fact the Northwestern Medicine research found common among study participants.

“Many women are in need of help with their depression and coping with daily life, but they don’t seek it out because of limited access to high-quality mental health services and the stigma within their families and communities,” said Dr. Inger Burnett-Zeigler, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.  “Our study shows that there are alternatives to traditional mental health treatment, such as mind-body approaches, that effectively alleviate symptoms, and can be done autonomously in the comfort of their own home.”

For Tomiko Rainey, gaining more than 100 pounds carrying twins, brought weakened muscle tone, stressed joints, and a need to get rid of the baby fat quickly.  Living in the Petworth area of Northwest D.C., Rainey said the yoga classes she had taken during college in California were initially not available.

But, three months after her twin sons were born, a new studio opened just blocks from her home.

“I was depressed because my body was not mine anymore and it wasn’t just that I had gained weight, but that I also was out of breath and could not carry the weight very well,” Rainey told the AFRO.  “Once my doctor cleared me to start taking heated yoga, my weight went down quickly and my balance returned.”

At Waterside Fitness and Swim Club in Ward 6, Edith Hickman, Patricia Bennett, and Margarita Torres, are among a group of ladies who enjoy the benefits of yoga in an indoor pool with instructor Pamela Wilson.

“I needed the exercise after knee replacement surgery and found that the water was a pleasant experience.  My doctor said I would not have come this far along had I not joined this class,” Hickman told the AFRO.  “A lot of people want to exercise, but either don’t feel their bodies can tolerate jumping around, so they are inside watching television.  Yoga works for all body types, ages, and races, and if you can get into a class like this one where you do it in a pool, it is even better.”