By Candace Tyler
On Saturday mornings I teach a free community class at a yoga studio around the corner from my apartment. I always joke and call this class my “church” because teaching it fills me up for the rest of the week. There is a special kind of magic about this class. The vibe is always fun and colorful, a great way to start the weekend. After one very full class a student approached me, a black woman with locs (like me). She said, “I’ve never been to a community class that was actually free. I feel like I should give you a donation or something.” I assured her that the class was indeed free and joked that if she wanted to give me money that I wouldn’t stop her! We both laughed. She took my hand, looked directly into my eyes and told me she appreciated me. This small interaction touched me deeply and made me remember why I practice seva through my teaching practice.
Seva is a sanskrit term that means “selfless service.” Seva includes works and/or actions performed without wanting a reward or payment in return. The services usually help to bring people together and uplift each individual. Practicing seva is believed to bring about peace and spiritual enlightenment because you are acting from a desire-less place. Seva can be incorporated into every aspect of our lives. Imagine how society would change if we all practiced seva and were of service without the expectation of a pat on the back.
Yoga and meditation can be a benefit to many people. Unfortunately, taking classes at yoga studios and gyms can be expensive. Couple this with the fact that there aren’t many studios or gyms in Black neighborhoods, low-income communities or rural areas. This creates a barrier for people who are living on fixed incomes or can not travel far distances to take a yoga class. These material barriers also send the message that yoga isn’t for everyone, specifically people belonging marginalized groups.
This lack of access is what motivates me to teach free, community yoga classes in my community. I’ve taught yoga and meditation classes at free clinics, senior centers, and yoga studios. I teach these classes in a way that makes everyone, regardless of ability, ethnicity, religion, etc. feel welcome. I believe everyone should to the healing properties of yoga and meditation. I want folks to know that you don’t need special clothes or gear to do a sun salutation and that meditation can be as easy as lowering your eyelids and focusing on your breath, wherever you are.
We need each other’s help. We are here to be of service to one another. Teaching free classes in community settings has opened my eyes to how yoga, meditation can help reconnect us to each other in profound ways. Practicing asana within a community of like-minded people nurtures us and reminds us of our purpose. We have so much to learn from one another.
Now that teaching yoga has become part of my supplemental income, I still teach weekly community classes and am always looking to partner with organizations in my community. The students who wander into my free classes are first-timers, seasoned yogis, men, women, gender non-conforming, people of color, people who don’t own “yoga clothes” and every other type of person you could think of. Seva is not a discriminatory practice. I am there to offer my teaching to everyone in the class. We laugh. We sweat. We get through the tough poses and then we rest in savasana.
In these uncertain times, and really the times are always uncertain, I urge all healers to make an offering to their community through acts of seva. Whether you are a Reiki practitioner, doula, massage therapist or a yoga teacher, now is the time to be of service to your community. Take on a client who may not be able to afford your services. Volunteer with organizations in your community where people need access to healers. In order for us to able to face what’s ahead we are going to have to care for each other and ourselves. We are going to have to show up for our communities in radical, vibrant, selfless ways and through this practice we will also cultivate our own healing.
Candace Tyler contributes to BGIO because she believes in supporting organizations and media outlets that uplift the voices of black women. Candace resides in Washington, D.C. with her magical daughter. Her self-care/love practices include yoga, being of service and ancient beauty rituals. She can be found on Twitter (@candaceloves_) and Instagram (@candace_loves).