It is a little-known fact, but according to historians, yoga was first found in Africa before it arrived in what is now known as India.
That is one fact that Krishna Caur, president of the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers, is trying to get out to more African Americans.
"We want to be able to let our people know that historically yoga goes back thousands and thousands of years . . . Egypt is one of the places where there is a lot of evidence in tombs, where you see hieroglyphs of people doing yoga postures," said Caur.
But it is not just the historical connection that her organization is pushing; there are health benefits that are particularly important to people of African descent.
"We have the highest statistical incidence of chronic illnesses and disease of any group on the planet--people of color, whether they're in the Caribbean, South America, Africa, or this country--and we also have the least access to healthcare," pointed out Caur, who has been doing yoga in the community since 1970. She first opened a center at 53rd and Broadway, which she operated for 15 years.
Caur contends that yoga can help change health.
"When you practice a very organic system like yoga which is an art and a science, people are able to elevate their base level of health," said the Los Angeles resident. "When you practice yoga on a regular basis, you create a level of health that is foundational to a good, healthy lifestyle. That means you don't need to go to the doctor as often; you don't need as much medication. You have another way to get healthy and keep the body in balance."
Caur said yoga can help with diabetes and elimination of hypertension and other illnesses. "Hypertension is basically stress related and dietary related. Worry and frustration, all these societal and personal pressures that overwhelm us."
The result is tense organs, poor circulation, and a tense body in which the systems (circulatory, respiratory etc.) don't function very well, Caur pointed out. Combined with our more sedentary lifestyle, all this can lead to hypertension.
"Yoga creates a sense of relaxation. You relax your muscles. It helps enhance the circulation. It opens up the lungs and breath, so you get more oxygen. Movement stimulates various organs and glands."
In her classes, Caur instructs her students in a series of movements and breathing exercises that are not necessarily physically taxing, but do give the muscles a workout. She couples this with gently voiced information on how each movement enhances body function.
In addition to offering classes to teachers and the public, the yoga organization does a lot of work with at-risk youths in detention centers locally and around the country through its Yoga for Youth program, and Caur recounts an incident that touches the core of what the group is trying to achieve.
"I had a kid come to me one day, when I was going into the detention center. He was a huge, gangling kid, and he said, 'Miss Caur, Miss Caur, I did it! I did it!' I said, 'What did you do?' He said, 'I didn't hit him! I did that that long, deep breath stuff you showed me, and I didn't hit him.'
Caur said the yoga helped this young man calm his anger so that instead of hitting someone, he could walk away. And this is critical in this day and age, when the yoga veteran said society forces people to operate on a fear level.
The association is also marking its 10th anniversary this year, and will celebrate during its annual summit, which this year will be held from July 30 to Aug. 3 at Temescal Canyon Retreat. The event will feature workshops on the different styles of yoga, as well as on nutrition, health, and more.
For more information about the association and its programs or to find a yoga teacher, visit www.blackyogateachers.com or call (323) 931-5040.