When Ebony Smith began practicing yoga, she couldn’t help but feel like an outsider.
“There was something about it that I absolutely loved,” she said. “But I didn’t like going to practice, because nobody ever looked like me and I just always kind of felt awkward.”
Smith, 35, picked up yoga about seven years ago as a way to help prepare her body for the birth of her first child. Along with the physical benefits, the discipline allowed her to be focused. But very few black women or people of color attended the same classes.
Sensing the need for affordable yoga classes in places like her native Oak Cliff, Smith founded Yoga N Da Hood in 2014. In addition to her job as a full-time yoga instructor, she hosts about four free classes a week for those who might otherwise not get exposure to the practice. But more important, she tries to help others understand what it means to love and care for themselves, comparing the difficulties of practicing yoga and keeping your balance to the difficulties of life. Even if you stumble.
“Will you get back up?” she said. “Just like off the mat, will you be compassionate and nice to yourself if you don’t make the grades that you want to or get the job that you want to or you make a mistake, you know?”
Every Thursday, Smith teaches free classes and compassion workshops for Girls Inc., helping to give back to the organization that gave so much to her. But that’s only part of her mission. She also teaches free classes for anyone who can make it to Fair Park and Kidd Springs Park in Oak Cliff.
Jennifer Lawson, who co-owns Sync Yoga and Wellbeing with her husband in West Dallas, helped mentor Smith when she started yoga. In the Western world, Lawson said, yoga has largely been available to just white women. Now, Smith’s work teaching in overlooked areas is helping to change that.
As Yoga N Da Hood continues to grow, Smith plans on diversifying the services she offers. Currently, she’s raising money to buy a used school bus, re-outfit it and turn it into a mobile yoga studio she can take around North Texas to teach children in. She’ll call it the Mindful School Bus. Her goal is to raise $6,000 for the project.
Smith may teach mostly women and girls, but Yoga N Da Hood isn’t exclusive to just one group. She’s looking for a football team to work with to help athletes understand just how much yoga can help with flexibility and agility.
But at the end of the day, Smith’s lessons aren’t about yoga. They’re about teaching people how to take care of themselves, no matter their skin color, body type or money situation.
Population of focus: Residents of North Texas
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