I was never supposed to be a yoga teacher. Forreal. And sometimes I’m still like, “That really just happened, I am a freaking YOGA teacher!” I still can’t sit still during a meditation and choose to lay down to literally disconnect from my thoughts; I still can’t touch my toes; I eat meat; I enjoy a strong cocktail; I definitely swear a lot and I do all the other things mainstream yoga tells us we can’t do in order to be an “enlightened yogi.” Yet, here I am on this path, not caring about what any of the “elite yogis” tell me I should and shouldn’t do. I’m here for myself to get better at this thing we call “life” and to simply feel connected to the universe around me, but more so to understand myself more intimately.
Where I grew up there was no yoga. Section 8 housing wasn’t exactly sprinkled with yoga studios around the hood. We didn’t have some Lululemon leggings-wearing teacher coming to our community center, ready to teach a bunch of black kids with no money how to do yoga. I’d never even heard of yoga until I got to college and my white friends introduced me to it. I dabbled in it off and on for years after that because I deemed yoga as just active recovery for all of my athletic endeavors. But looking back, I think I was hesitant to really dive into it because it felt like a world I didn’t belong in. I hardly saw anyone that looked like me in a yoga class. I certainly didn’t see me in the yoga magazines in the studio lounge areas. I didn’t think yoga was accessible to me because I wasn’t a skinny, well-off white woman; because my leggings come from Marshall’s not Lululemon; because I never heard people that looked like me even say “yoga.”
I never realized how deeply those experiences resonate with me as a teacher until recently, when Yoga Journal was challenged by the public over offering two covers of the same magazine — one with a white person and a one with a Person of Color (POC). That deep feeling of disappointment and not belonging resurfaced and I was forced to do some soul work.
As a woman of color, I don’t have all of the answers on “how” we do this nor do I want to be looked at as a spokesperson on the black experience because all experiences are different. The image of Western yoga is being challenged lately and it’s about time. While we’re making progress within this space, I believe we still have a long way to go. In my classes, I will always hold space to honor and celebrate inclusivity, diversity, compassion for ALL. My classes will always be a safe haven for you no matter what your race, gender identity, religion or spirituality, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status because you belong.
It’s that sense of belonging that brought me to Warriors at Ease. As a Marine spouse, when the idea of becoming a yoga teacher started to stir in my servant heart, I knew yoga was going to be the way I gave back to those who serve.
I was selected by Team RWB as one of their 2018 Eagle Leader Fellows, which helped me tremendously in my pursuit of yoga, including finding Warriors at Ease. Within a year I was not only 200RYT but also a Warriors At Ease Certified Teacher. I am wholly dedicated to helping our service members reconnect to themselves, each other and their loved ones in a holistic and sustainable way within the craziness of this lifestyle. As the spouse, daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter of service members, I know how the transient nature of the military lifestyle typically leaves service members and their families feeling unsettled. Living in a constant state of underlying anxiety, never knowing when the call for deployment will arrive, a change of orders, or where the next move is going to take us is a daily challenge. BUT the yoga mat is the one steady place, no matter where in the world your home is or household goods are, that anyone can come back to and feel grounded and connected to something bigger than themselves. Our warriors and their families make up a small percentage of the population that willingly raises their hand to serve our country. And it is with great pride, I raise my hand to serve them at my highest through yoga.
At the end of the day, all of us humans are a “sangha” — a community of people, a collective — just trying to be better at this thing called “life.” If we do a better job of changing the yoga narrative to be truly inclusive rather than exclusive I think…no…I KNOW we will open the doors for more people — no matter where they are in life — to find their way to a mat and get to know themselves, maybe for the first time, the same way we all have. Namaste
Tiffany Hendrick is a Marine Corps spouse currently stationed at Camp LeJeune. She’s a 200RYT, a Warriors at Ease Certified Teacher and a Team RWB Eagle Leader Fellow. She serves the Camp Lejeune community through yoga and meditation on a weekly basis. To learn more about her and see what she’s doing in her community, follow her on Instagram: @1standroots.