Yoga touts benefits for people from all walks of life, and yet there's an lack of diversity in many yoga classes. This is one thing yoga teacher and professional dancer Leslie Salmon-Jones would like to see change. A few weeks ago, we told you about an event that aimed to make yoga more accessible to people of color by tackling the unique issue of hair care. Salmon-Jones is appealing to people of color through dance.
"Often people of color will shy away from yoga if they don't see themselves represented," she says. Afro Flow Yoga, a marriage of yoga and African dance created by Salmon-Jones, appeals to many who might not be interested in a traditional yoga class.
Salmon-Jones, a professional dancer who first experienced yoga as a student at the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, has found many similarities between yoga and African dance. Both can be moving meditations, she says. Yoga had been practiced in Africa thousands of years ago. In fact, some asanas are represented in Egyptian hieroglyphics. And since dance was such an integral part of the culture, it seemed natural to combine the two.
Her classes, which are accompanied by African music performed by her husband, start with meditation and yoga asanas and then move into an expression of dance. Afro Flow Yoga takes the asanas to the next level by moving in them. For example, Salmon-Jones might instruct her students to use the movement of Cat and Cow poses in a standing position (as opposed to on hands and knees) to the beat of the music. It's a continuation of the yoga practice and meditation off the mat.
There are physical benefits to the combination of yoga and African dance, too, she says. "In yoga you don't always get to explore the freedom of the hips. In African dance, it's all about the hips."
Salmon-Jones is quick to point out that everyone is welcome in her classes. "We have people of all ages, sizes, colors, races, and sexes," she says. "It's about celebrating diversity—that's the healing work that we're doing."
She teaches Afro Flow Yoga monthly in Cambridge, MA and travels to teach workshops. For her class schedule, visit afroflowyoga.com/.