Black Yoga Teachers Alliance

Posted on in Healthy Living by Maya Breuer

Yoga as a Peace Practice


Cleora O’Connor’s life changed one evening when she and her husband received the call that no parent wants to get—something had happened to their child. While their son was riding in a borrowed car, someone pulled up alongside and began firing into the car where their son sat. His injuries were fatal. Devastated and broken, Cleora’s world stopped. Months passed, and she was hardly able to work or be a part of life. She had thought about trying yoga in the past, and after several months a few of her friends suggested she try a yoga class; the loss of her son had opened her to seek something to soothe her soul.

“The loss of a child is a tragedy that has become all too common an occurrence in the lives of black women throughout the United States. Yoga is a tool for our survival as well as individual and community empowerment,” says Cleora. She became a yoga teacher in 2002, and she uses her skill and perspective to help others cope with the aftermath of violence. She also serves as part of a community effort to abate domestic violence.

John Gillard had no idea he would become a yoga teacher. He joined the army at 20 and became a combat veteran in Afghanistan, where he quickly rose in the ranks. Though engaged in combat overseas, John said that he “experienced more violence at home.” John grew up in a community where violence was prevalent. He began exploring yoga while on active military duty. “As a man of color from an urban setting, the messages about violence were extremely ambiguous,” he said. “Yoga is a practice that clarifies this ambiguity; it centers me.” Today, John teaches veterans suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, military sexual trauma, and substance abuse. John hopes in years to come to see the practice of yoga become more available in urban settings.

These are just two examples of the lives and service of black yoga teachers.

Jana Long and I met at the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers (IABYT) conference in Chicago. We both felt excited to be among other black yoga teachers from all over the world. This was the beginning of a friendship that would ultimately also become a working partnership. In 2005, we met again at the IABYT conference in Los Angeles. We realized that we shared many of the same activist ideals, love of yoga, and commitment to our communities. We volunteered to create the next year’s IABYT conference in New England, and we’ve been working together ever since.

The conference was held in Rhode Island at the Providence Zen Center in 2006. By 2009 the IABYT had folded, and we realized there was a definite need for another black yoga teachers organization, and the idea of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance (BYTA) was born. It began as a Facebook group, initially to see how many black yoga teachers would be interested in a new organization. Slowly, it grew from fewer than 50 teachers to 1,500 group members. The mission of BYTA is to support the professional and educational development of black yoga teachers. Our goals also include becoming a community to support black yoga teachers on their path.

This year BYTA will launch its first national initiative, Yoga As A Peace Practice, an activist movement and a call to service for black yoga teachers to reach out within urban communities and neighborhoods and offer yoga classes and other wellness-based practices to help abate and manage the impact of violence in our communities. The initiative will motivate and support black yoga teachers to offer classes, meditation, and other integrative practices as tools to help individuals families and communities heal and renew body, mind, and spirit.

The initiative launched at the inaugural conference of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in August 2016. The theme, “Revival—Evolution of Spirit,” brought together black yoga teachers, practitioners, and others to look within, engage, connect, and envision a world where the sacred and the spirit can be our guide. Learn more about this initiative at

Celebrated as one of America’s distinguished black yogis by Black Enterprise magazine, Maya Breuer is a yoga instructor, author, community activist, and consultant, with a career spanning over three decades. She is president and cofounder of BYTA and founder of the Santosha School of Yoga.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Join our once-monthly newsletter to get all the latest news & resources

No spam. Unsubscribe any time.