Yoga Journal: You were running a successful PR business when you started OMNoire. What made you want to be a yoga teacher and retreat leader?
Christina Rice: I attended yoga teacher training because I wanted to go deeper into my practice. I actually wasn’t sure if I wanted to teach, because I was afraid of public speaking! But by the third week, I thought, I’m going to teach. There were very few people of color in my classes, and once I started teaching, a lot of black women would reach out to ask for my class schedule. Women of color felt more comfortable being taught by a woman of color. That’s where the idea of OMNoire came from.
YJ: That was at the start of 2016. How did you get OMNoire up and running—and gain such popularity—in such a short amount of time?
CR: The lack of representation for people of color in the yoga and wellness space means we are really hungry for it. That’s where OMNoire's success and growth have come from. I started it as a simple social media page to highlight women of color practicing wellness in different cities. I came up with the name, started the Instagram account, and attracted a lot of followers right out of the gate. In November 2016, someone approached me about leading a wellness retreat, which I officially announced in March of the following year—and OMNoire as we know it was born.
YJ: What dream destination did you choose for your first retreat?
CR: Grenada, and it was our largest retreat to date! More than 50 women attended from all over the world—the UK, US, Canada, and Nigeria.
YJ: Why Grenada?
CR: I took my first solo trip there in September 2015, three weeks before I started my 10-week yoga teacher training. There’s an amazing underwater sculpture park there. You can snorkel it, but I wanted to get over my fear of open bodies of water. So while I was there, I took my first scuba diving lesson. Many of our fears are rooted in physical actions or things: heights, swimming, standing or speaking in front of large crowds. If we conquer those types of fears through adventure—hiking up mountains, scuba diving, etc.—we can conquer anything.
When I did my first dive, in an extremely deep part of the ocean, I was terrified. I panicked at around 10 feet and shot back up to the surface. I took out my regulator—which you’re not supposed to do—and accidentally took in some water. So there I am, basically choking, trying to catch my breath, and I used my practice. I paused, taking deep breaths and quietly speaking confidence in myself, until I was ready to try again. That day I ended up doing two successful dives for a total of 89 minutes under water. Thanks to my yoga and meditation practice, I’ve continued to grow and stretch over the years. I’ve found my happy place internally—both under water and above ground.
For this, Grenada will always carry a special place in my heart, and it was an easy choice to host our first retreat there. Two years after my first dive—four days before the ladies arrived for the very first OMNoire retreat— I received my scuba certification with the same Grenada-based dive team I took my first dive with.
YJ: Back in January, we kicked off a conversation about new leadership in yoga. Since then, conquering fears has come up quite a bit. Do you consider yourself a leader in the evolving yoga space?
CR: It wasn’t until recently that someone told me I was a leader and I thought, Oh—I guess I am! Since then, I’ve embraced that title and responsibility. At OMNoire, we’re clear and direct with our messaging: You don’t have to fit in a certain box. Our work with the women in our community is helping them discover their own wellness journey, and to own it, and to be leaders themselves.
I consider it one of my biggest responsibilities to be transparent about my own journey. Anyone who follows me on social knows that I’m very transparent—about wins, losses, struggles, fears, and surviving a toxic relationship that brought me to yoga and OMNoire. It’s a leader’s responsibility to allow people in their particular community to understand that they don’t have to be perfect.