The online yoga class starts like many others you’ve seen. There’s an exposed brick wall and a yoga mat stretched across a solid-surface floor. The instructor welcomes the guests and eases her way into the first poses.
Only, this isn’t like any other yoga class.
Sacramento’s Afro Yoga, led by founder Angie Franklin, is a welcoming space for women of color. Franklin says she wants to spread the goal of wellness into communities that haven’t had access.
“It’s about internal revolution,” said Franklin.
The Afro Yoga Studio welcomes “womxn,” a word used to celebrate the intersectional identities of women everywhere. The word was added to dictionary.com last year. Franklin uses the word frequently and emphatically when talking about herself, her identity and the women who are joining Afro Yoga’s global movement.
Franklin is a certified Vinyasa, kemetic and yin yoga teacher. She says she’s using her story to ensure women of color are leveraging, cultivating and honing their gifts.
Franklin premiered Afro Yoga’s online studio in April amid coronavirus stay-at-home orders. Afro Yoga is expanding access beyond the walls of the traditional brick-and-mortar studio to ensure women of color are at ease. Many yoga studios, Franklin says, aren’t located in areas that are “geographically accessible, financially accessible or culturally accessible.”
A self-taught graphic designer, Franklin opened Afro Yoga to extend a hand to other wellness entrepreneurs. Classes have been online-only as the state and county’s stay-at-home orders prevent workouts indoors.
In her self-paced mentorship program, she offers services like her Canva master class. Franklin is a Lululemon ambassador and an Instagram presence with thousands of followers.
People are beginning to hear her message of wellness for women of color.
“It’s a change in mindset. This isn’t just about breathing and doing yoga,” she said.
Afro Yoga unapologetically creates space for the self care of women of color. The studio calls women to “be in a space where you don’t have to adjust or change anything about yourself in order to be accepted.”
Born to a biracial family in Madrid, Spain, before migrating to the U.S., Franklin had her own set of questions about how to be whole, free and joyful in a world of racial inequity. She says Afro Yoga has helped give her and others purpose.
“A unique joy for me has been understanding who I am as a black womxn by engaging with a community of black womxn and womxn of color,” she said. “It’s like I have found myself in such a deeper, more meaningful way by engaging in these relationships.”
The yoga studio is a change and a breath of fresh air for women of color. Many of the women attending Afro Yoga classes online have never been in a workout group for women of color, Franklin said. But the classes are just the start of the studio’s offerings.
From yoga retreats to donation-based yoga classes for people of color, Afro Yoga is taking a deep breath in this moment of pause prompted by COVID-19. The Afro Yoga Online Studio offers a library of yoga videos by Franklin, a list of plant-based recipes, access to two live classes a month and more.
Afro Yoga invites women to say, “You’re well. This matters. You matter.”
This is radical wellbeing. This is sisterhood.
“This is about community,” Franklin said. “This is about true connection with ourselves first and foremost, and then a harmonious connection with the world around us”
It takes a community to keep this yoga studio going. Franklin said Afro Yoga received an outpouring of support following civil unrest in the wake of the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on Memorial Day. In response, Afro Yoga created a separate space for allies to curate resources. Afro Yoga Allies is a digital community that raises money for the yoga studio. Donations provide aspiring people of color with scholarships to become yoga teachers.
While there has been social media outcry about white people taking control of groups geared toward people of color, Franklin says all Afro Yoga Allies content is still led, reviewed and approved by Black female leadership.
“They are not at the front. They don’t get paid. They are completely volunteer,” Franklin said.
Franklin’s studio doesn’t lack for ambition. Visitors to her website will find podcasts focusing on topics like power, grace and tackling adversity. It’s all part of the studio’s mission to keep practitioners elevated. And short daily meditations can help start the day with a bit of thoughtful intention.
How’s that for an exhale?