Have you ever ever googled key words searching for images? For example, if searching for images of people practicing yoga try terms like, “woman doing yoga” or simply the term “yoga” and observe the images you see. This week’s Yogi in the Community is Robin Rollan founder of Black Yogis on Tumblr ! I encountered Robin’s page during my creation of Chelsea Loves Yoga and immediately became a fan. Take a moment to learn why spaces like Black Yogis on Tumblr and Chelsea Loves Yoga exist and the intention behind these communities.
Name: Robin Rollan
Location: New York City
What led you to the practice of yoga?
I became interested in yoga because I heard it was great for flexibility. I had lots of formal dance training in the past and continued taking dance classes for fun and exercise. Yet the idea of yoga always seemed “wishy-washy,” not intense enough for me. However my first class showed me that yoga was anything but “wishy-washy.” Among other things I discovered I was lacking big time in upper body strength; I hadn’t really connected with my core strength; I was never significantly aware of my breathing and there were a whole bunch of thoughts going in my head that I never gave any real attention. Today 3 years later I’m still discovering new things about my body and mind through this practice.
What inspired you to begin the Black Yogis Tumblr page?
After practicing for a year I became more interested in reading about yoga and becoming familiar with the yoga community at large. I quickly noticed that there were barely any images online or in magazines of yogis of color and in particular Black yogis. This is by no means a unique situation but just a symptom of a larger issue of how images of people of color are handled in the main stream. Aside from Russell Simmons and the amazing Faith Hunter, there was virtually a ‘black-out.’ For the most part, ‘blackouts’ are the norm in the media except when it comes to the ills of society, in which case images of black people are ridiculously overrepresented.
Were there any other black yogis out there? There had to be. And since yoga has such a profound potential for healing the mind and body, encouraging black people to consider yoga is essential considering the overwhelming need for healing in many of our communities.
I wanted to present a gallery of images of black yogis young, old, slim, thick…beginner, advanced etc. The overall message being, “this can be you, this IS you.” You don’t have to look like the person on the cover of the popular yoga magazine to be a yogi or yogini. And by the way, experience the sheer beauty of these images!
What has been your most rewarding experience since starting the Black Yogis tumblr page?
There have been many rewarding experiences since starting the Black Yogis tumblr page. To begin with, it has been heartwarming to see the blog grow without much effort and virtually no expectations. Although I don’t advertise the page, within a year I have reach nearly 2K tumbler followers and about 700+ twitter followers. Another of the many rewarding experiences is connecting with the community of yogis all over the world. I have connected with a number of interesting and inspiring individuals who are doing amazing things in their communities. Having a forum to showcase these people to a larger audience is even more satisfying. I have encountered enough black yogis who are teachers, studio owners, activists, bloggers, etc to prove that the lack of representation in the mainstream is neither due to lack of interest or involvement. And finally I’m always touched when I receive messages from yogis expressing their gratitude for the existence of the site as well as their appreciation for the beauty of the images which has encouraged them to practice. Overall the experience has both tremendously humbling and inspiring.
I want to thank you for creating the tumblr page, seeing the images that we don’t typically see in advertisements and yoga studios is really inspiring for those who do not feel as though their images are reflected. However, I want to know how you respond to the critics that say terms like “Black Yogis”, or spaces like Chelsea Loves Yoga and your tumblr page create division?
Thank you so much for your appreciation of the Black Yogis site. For me Chelsea Loves Yoga is a huge source of inspiration as well.
I can see how some might see sites like the Black Yogis and Chelsea Loves Yoga as divisive. When I mentioned my blog to a white friend his immediate response (with bit of sarcasm) was, “Why do black people need ‘black’ yoga?” Then I asked him, “When you see advertisements or images about yoga do you generally see black people or people of color for that matter?” He paused for a moment then responded “No.” His tone had softened and he became interested in hearing more about the blog. The lack of diverse images in yoga apparently was something he hadn’t actually thought about. But here’s where Black Yogis comes in to shine a light.
Rather than being divisive spaces like Chelsea Loves Yoga and Black Yogis serve to broaden the view of yoga and who practices. My followers on Tumblr and twitter are racially diverse and are actively engaged in sharing posts and information. I am aware of at least one popular yoga blog for full-figured yogis and a couple just for men. These blogs also seek to expand the view of yoga and encourage participation by those who do not see themselves represented in the media’s current narrow view. When the community of yogis is expanded there is greater opportunity for mutual understanding and connection.