Telling Stories, Changing the Conversation

To heal a people: an intersection of yoga and activism

in Health & Wellness by

Kali Alexander, a yogini who grew up next door to Compton, says she makes the “woo woo” of yoga.

For years, Alexander gives a free class in the Crenshaw Baldwin Hills Mall every Saturday. The area of Los Angeles is a yoga desert that also deals with a plethora of fast-food and liquor stores. Bringing health and wellness to one of the last remaining African American pockets in the city is more than a passion for Kali. It is her calling.

 Classes for the Masses

The concept for “classes for the masses” is to hold yoga classes in non-traditional spaces. It is one of the most diverse yoga classes in Los Angeles, and definitely the funkiest. Alexander is hands-on, as she moves through rows of black, paled and brown bodies, realigning positions, encouraging people in their stretches and greeting those who trickle in after the session starts.

Says Kali, “I often tell participants to make sure that they make room for anyone who comes in during class. It is important to me that everyone is welcomed and acknowledged because my classes are about creating community.”

Learning Her Power

The 46-year-old mother of three who grew up in Lynwood — a modest municipality bordering Compton — has been in-and-out of yoga studios since adolescence, but her preferred classroom is the grass, in a park or at a farmer’s market. For her, making yoga accessible and creating spaces where everyone acknowledges each other while actively participating in community is the definition of the perfect yoga practice.

It is not about how well you bend or how many poses you can carry out, for Alexander, it is the intention in the movements of practitioners; and how a person implements into their daily lives, the revelations and lessons that emerge during yoga sessions. But, in sunny Los Angeles, that is not always been the case.

“Fully operational studios are more racialized than southern churches in L.A. There is a sense of propriety that I have not found in any other space in the city. People think that just because they say peace and Namaste that they are elevated. But a lot of these yoga spaces are places where I find that white privilege and entitlement run rampant and unchecked. They think that they can hide behind their yoga, but that is not the case.”

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