Updated: Mar 22
This post is a continuation of the “Diversifying Your Yoga Feed” initiative, an effort to uplift Black female voices in the yoga community as an ongoing response to the Black Lives Matter movement and racial injustice.
In high school, I would occasionally practice yoga with my cousin Kelsie, a Pilates extraordinaire. She decorated the top of her mat with flowery doodles in silver sharpie and, of course, I thought it was so cool because she was so cool. A few years later, I wrote my yoga mantra at the top of my mat: Come, Holy Spirit. It was now easier to focus my mind in my yoga practice by revisiting my visual mantra. Iman G. took that practice to the next level.
Iman G. and I connected through social media when she offered to send me the DevoMat. You can see the moment I instantly fell in love with it here. I loved this idea and wish I had known about the DevoMat long before I started my Christian-based yoga practice. The DevoMat has a prayer inscribed on all its sides (she talks more about this below). So now when I practice, no matter if I am in a downward-facing dog or wide-legged fold, I see God’s message inviting me back to his presence.
Iman G.’s grace and cadence illuminated this interview in more ways than one. I feel incredibly honored that she trusted Bethel Yogi with her precious vulnerability and her exceptional perspective. Read on for her thoughts involving her path as a Christian and a yogi, her inspirations in the yoga community, and her practice in conversation with the Black Lives Matter movement.
Bethel Yogi: When did your walk with Christ and yoga start?
Iman G.: My faith has always been a guiding force in my life. As the daughter, granddaughter, and niece of many family members in ministry, I grew up surrounded by the love and prayers of my church family. Over the years, life taught me that, if I truly wanted to know God, I had to experience Him for myself. This required me to develop and continuously work to strengthen my own personal relationship with God. Accomplishing this, demands stillness. Yoga allows me to create space to reflect on the astounding ways in which God protects, clarifies, uplifts, and makes burdens light.
Although skeptical of yoga initially, I decided to take my first class in 2013 after temporarily moving from New York City to Columbus, Ohio. With no car, family, or friends in the Buckeye State, I spent most of my free time practicing yoga at a local Columbus-based studio (Yoga on High). I had no idea this practice would become an invaluable way to get quiet, meditate, pray, and express gratitude. We know that our bodies are temples and that “in Him, we live, move and have our being.” When I step on my mat, I view it as an act of worship—a moment to thank God for the ability to move, the space to take deep, uninhibited breaths, and the opportunity to be still (which is hard for New Yorkers).
BY: What drives you to pick up the yoga mat and practice?
IG: There are certainly days when I don’t feel like practicing, especially as we navigate this global pandemic and reawakening to the racial injustices that have existed for hundreds of years and infected almost every institution in America from housing, employment, criminal justice, and education (to name a few). Though difficult at times, I never regret unrolling my mat and being intentional—with my breath, movements, and thoughts.
I love practicing on my Christian yoga mat, which is inscribed with a prayer my pastor (and father) often recites at the end of service:
Let God go before you; He will lead you.
Let God go beside you; He will befriend you.
Let God go beneath you; He will support you.
Let God go behind you; He will protect you. Go with God; don’t be afraid.
Whenever I hear and read these words, I feel enveloped by God’s presence and sure of Him, despite uncertainty everywhere else. The “DevoMat,” as I call it, represents an unwavering assurance that God completely surrounds us, ready to lead, befriend, support, and protect us. Many people find solace on their mats and retreat to this symbolic safe haven to connect to their center. For me, that center, the source, is God.
BY: How has your yoga practice changed as a result of the Black Lives Matter movement?
IG: Three foreboding words. “I can’t breathe.”
The New York Times recently reported that at least 70 people have died in law enforcement custody after gasping for air, then uttering the words—“I can’t breathe.”
Senselessly denying someone the right to breathe—a basic, elemental right—must not be tolerated, justified, downplayed, or, God forbid, ignored. Breath is life.
“The breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Job 33:4
The tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery have changed the way I teach and practice yoga. Now, when I invite my students to “take a deep breath,” “inhale through their nose and exhale through their mouth,” or simply “notice their breath,” I offer these cues while recognizing that for many people of color, breath is a luxury—something that can be snatched away based on color alone. I no longer take breath for granted.
BY: Who inspires you inside and outside of the yoga community?
IG: I am inspired by people who take their ministry outside of the four walls of the church. The world needs more connection and more opportunities to see Christians in action, living out their call to serve.
The practice of yoga also has an invitation to serve. I am amazed by yoga practitioners who develop innovative ways to share yoga with demographics who would benefit the most from classes. What does this look like in the real world? It means making the practice welcoming for everybody—people of color, those with physical impairments, the elderly, those incarcerated or formerly incarcerated, veterans, domestic violence survivors, mothers, mothers to be, students, and employees in high-stress occupations. For me, yoga transcends what happens on the mat—it’s about service, activism, and disrupting the status quo. I admire those who accept the challenge to do courageous work and share this gift with others.