Yes, Yoga Is For Black Men

Black men in the U.S. die younger and experience higher rates of chronic pain and mental health struggles compared to other demographics. These initiatives are encouraging more Black men to pursue the healing powers of yoga. (Credit: RDNE Stock project/Pexels)

This post was originally published on Defender Network

By Laura Onyeneho

A near-death experience was the turning point that led James Lynn to the world of Yoga.

Lynn, a Houston-area breath coach, suffered a left lung collapse in 2018. As a nutrition coach and personal trainer, he was in healthy shape. He was boxing in a gym at the time the doctors diagnosed him with spontaneous pneumothorax, a condition where air gets inside your chest cavity and creates pressure against your lung, causing it to collapse partially or fully. A condition that happens normally with car accident survivors or athletes in high-impact sports, which was his reality.

“I’ve never been hit hard enough to experience this. The recovery process, however, was four weeks long, and I spent five days in the hospital,” he said. “I could no longer lift weights or do cardio; I could only walk or do yoga, and so I embraced my transition of a different lifestyle.”

James Lynn (Courtesy photo)

That is when he began to truly understand the teachings of breath work and yoga and how the power of breathing and being in a state of calm has improved his mental and physical strength.

Black men are defying stereotypes and finding deep healing on the yoga mat. While the image of yoga studios might still conjure rows of women in designer athleisure, a growing movement is challenging that perception. This movement emphasizes yoga’s profound impact on Black men, addressing a critical need in a community facing significant health disparities.

“As a Black Man, I saw yoga as being a woman-dominated activity, that’s until you get on the mat to attempt extremely difficult poses that most men aren’t flexible enough to do off the bat,” Lynn said. “Yoga is challenging and there are a lot of life lessons to learn from this.”

Studies paint a concerning picture. Black men in the US die younger and experience higher rates of chronic pain and mental health struggles compared to other demographics. The National Institutes of Health, however, point to yoga as a powerful solution. This ancient practice, focusing on physical well-being, breathwork, and stress management, can be a game-changer for Black men’s health.

Breaking Down Barriers

Black men don’t see themselves reflected in the yoga world. The classes, the instructors, the marketing—it all feels foreign. More Black instructors are needed to create spaces that feel authentic and cater to the specific needs of Black men.

Lynn said there are several challenges Black men experience.

“Not only do we deal with systemic racism, but there is pressure to be hyper-masculine,” he says. “It’s difficult to be in a space where you can be vulnerable in front of people.”

When he interacts with other Black men, he uses a strategy to put things into perspective for them. Working out in the gym puts more stress on the body to get physical results, but yoga helps with flexibility, strength, balance, and stress relief. Lynn is hosting a class this summer called “Real Men Real Talk” to introduce men to holistic practices.

“You have to speak to men in a language they understand. If you know a man prefers to go to the gym, you have to pitch yoga in a way that will benefit them,” Lynn said. “Yoga after an intense workout improves your heart health recovery time, cools the body, and boosts your mood. That would convince me enough to try.”

Building Culturally-Relevant Spaces

Sydney Alexandria created a safe space for Black men to be vulnerable after a traumatic domestic violence experience.

The Breathe Lounge and Wellness Spa founder almost lost her life after a violent altercation with her ex-husband, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

“He had a manic episode and strangled me with an extension cord. I was going through my divorce and trying to heal,” she said. “I relied on yoga, meditation, massage therapy, and journaling.”

She realized there are a lot of people, including men, who need alternative options outside of just seeking a traditional therapist.

“I believed that people like my ex-husband who suffers from mental illness, sometimes they’re not always open to going to a therapist, but they’ll go to the gym,” Alexandria said. “Sometimes it’s easier to get them to do holistic therapy than some of the more traditional psychotherapy methods like talk therapy.”

The spa prioritizes inclusivity, and it includes female instructors to co-teach different classes. They network with other community organizations to amplify the yoga practice and offer free yoga classes at gyms where Black men may occasionally go.

Getting more Black men on the mat requires a multi-pronged approach. Culturally sensitive studios, affordable classes, and Black instructors are crucial starting points.

“The goal is to get Black men to take off their Superman cape and breathe. They are under stress to be providers and the protectors,” she said. “Yoga will help to regulate emotions. Small effort goes a very long way.”