10 Black Yoga and Meditation Teachers Who Are Changing the World

We kick off Black History Month by recognizing 10 Black yoga and meditation teachers who are making an impact in their communities and beyond, and inspiring other teachers with their voices and their work. There are so many more who deserve recognition; we offer this list that includes recommendations from Kripalu faculty and presenters of color.

Maya Breuer: An Emerita Trustee of Kripalu, a Kripalu-trained yoga teacher, and the creator of the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color™—which she has brought to Kripalu every year since 1998—Maya Breuer, E-RYT 500, has been a powerful force for change and evolution in creating access to yoga in Black communities. As her student and now codirector of the Yoga Retreat, Kiesha Battles, puts it, Maya brings "the original black girl yoga magic." Vice President of Cross-Cultural Advancement for the Yoga Alliance and cofounder of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Maya and her work have sparked the growth of other retreats for women of color around the country.

In her words: "Yoga is a practice that opens its arms to all. It doesn’t matter where you come from, how you were raised, what you own or don’t own; yoga is an invitation to celebrate your own experience."

Krishna Kaur Khalsa: Kundalini teacher Krishna Kaur Khalsa opened the first yoga center in South Central Los Angeles, where she continues to teach and train yoga teachers, while also bringing yoga to underserved populations throughout the world. She is the founder of Y.O.G.A. for Youth, a nonprofit dedicated to training yoga teachers to work with at-risk youth and creating yoga programs in schools and juvenile facilities; and also the regional coordinator for 3HO Africa, bringing Kundalini Yoga to Africa.

In her words: "Our youth have every right to be healthy, happy, and productive in their lives. Yet many of them have inherited an environment that doesn’t support such longings. By teaching and training other yoga teachers to reach this very special population, I help plant seeds of greatness that will feed this country and the world, for many generations."

Larry Ward: A senior dharma teacher ordained by Thich Nhat Hanh, Larry Ward, PhD, was called to community service and spiritual growth after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He spent the next 25 years working in countries around the world, training leaders and corporations in diversity education and organizational change before becoming a lay minister and then a Dharma teacher in 2000. Larry has accompanied Thich Nhat Hanh on peacemaking missions in China, France, Korea, and Vietnam, as well as throughout the United States. His teaching integrates Buddhism with neuroscience, trauma/resiliency work, and indigenous wisdom. 

In his words: "The yogacharya tradition has clues and insights that can help us transform the seeds of racism and confusion and hatred and greed that lie in the base of our consciousness. These seeds, which all of us have, can be healed and can be transformed through our practice. More than ever before, we need to reimagine ourselves, our instituitions, our communities, and our capacities to be present with compassion and insight for one another." 

Rev. angel Kyodo williams: Author of Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living With Fearlessness and Grace and coauthor of Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love & Liberation, Rev. angel has been called “the most intriguing African-American Buddhist” by Library Journal, and “one of our wisest voices on social evolution” by Krista Tippett. The second black woman recognized as a teacher in the Japanese Zen lineage, she applies wisdom teachings and embodied practice to social issues at the intersections of race, climate, and economic justice. 

In her words: “Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.” 

Michelle Cassandra-Johnson: A yoga teacher and licensed clinical social worker, Michelle has more than 20 years of experience leading Dismantling Racism Trainings with large corporations, small nonprofits, and community groups, including the ACLU-WA, Google, The Center for Equity and Inclusion, Lululemon, and many others. Her book Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World defines power and privilege, and offers breath work, asana, meditation, and relational work  so that readers can put the wisdom gained from the book into action in their lives. 

In her words: “It’s important for me to recognize the way in which I’m connected to everyone and our humanity, our shared humanity.  It’s also important for me to know that we’re moving in very different ways based on our identities and how the culture and dominant culture responds to our identities. ... We can’t forget that the world isn’t set up for everyone to be free.”

Leslie Salmon Jones: Creator of Afro Flow Yoga®, a research-based technique for healing cultural and personal trauma, Leslie travels the world with her husband, musician Jeff W. Jones, bringing the practice to populations ranging from indigenous youth in northern Canada to parishioners at Roxbury Presbyterian Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts, through the Cory Johnson Program for Post-Traumatic Healing. Leslie is a professional dancer, certified holistic personal trainer, wellness coach, yoga instructor, and board member for the Yoga Alliance, where she is working to further diversity in the yoga space. 

In her words: "The colonization process cut us off from our roots and our history, and these practices—the drumming, the dance, the yoga—help to heal that. When the memory of our lineage and history begins to awaken in the DNA and the cells, it gives us agency and freedom."

Caroline Shola Arewa: A pioneer in the fields of spiritual and wellness coaching for more than 30 years, Shola trains and mentors wellness professionals worldwide. After emerging from a traumatic childhood to create a successful fashion business in London, she traveled to India, where she embarked on a journey of awakening and healing that led her to become a yoga teacher and humanistic pyschologist. She is the author of numerous books, including her best known, Energy 4 Life: High Energy Conscious Living. 

In her words: "We have the opportunity, more now than ever, to tap into a vast reservoir of spiritual intelligence. This powerful resource can help us redesign our lives. It can support us in developing greater compassion and love for all humans and other life forms. I believe we are welcoming in what I call an age of unity consciousness, a shift to heart-centered living."

Yirser Ra Hotep: A pivotal figure in the original research and documentation of Kemetic Yoga (Ancient Egyptian or African Yoga) in the 1970s, Yirser is now the most senior instructor of Kemetic Yoga in the United States. He has spent more than 40 years practicing and teaching, and has trained and certified over a thousand Kemetic Yoga instructors around the globe through his YogaSkills School. A social worker and therapist, Yirser has trained children, schoolteachers, and social workers in his Internal Self-Regulation system, incorporating deep breathing, focusing exercises, and movement to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, and has also applied the system to treatment for substance abuse. 

In his words: "My interest in yoga has always been from the perspective of liberation. Black people brought to America, or other countries in the diaspora, as enslaved Africans have been damaged psychologically and psychospiritually to some degree or another. To me, yoga, and Kemetic Yoga in particular, is a way of reclaiming our identity. When we are able to train ourselves to get into a state of deep relaxation, healing can take place on the deepest levels of our being."

Jana LongA yoga therapist, Kripalu-trained yoga teacher, and meditation facilitator, Jana is the cofounder and executive director of the Black Yoga Teachers Alliance, Inc. She is also the author and editor of Yoga as a Peace Practice, a curriculum and movement which brings contemplative practice to individuals and communities impacted by violence. As a member of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, she shares her wisdom and insights in global dialogues about the spiritual dimensions of climate change. 

In her words: "Somewhere I heard the phrase 'Millions of lives are changed by the power of one,' and it resonated deeply within me. One person can have a profound impact on the lives of many. The power of one resides in each of us. Yoga helped me to unlock mine; it can help you tap into yours."

Gaylon FergusonA senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition, Gaylon Ferguson, PhD, has been leading meditation retreats for 33 years, and holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology from Stanford. A core faculty member at Naropa University, in Boulder, Colorado, he teaches both religious and interdisciplinary studies. He is the author of Natural Wakefulness: Discovering the Wisdom We Were Born With.

In his words: "Trust in your own basic goodness and in the basic goodness of your communities and families. That trust will naturally invite you to engage in different ways, and you should not refuse those invitations. We often speak of the particular challenges of our time, the twenty-first century, but it’s also a time of incredible ferment and opening, globally and locally. So the basic goodness of life, or of our particular time, is also bubbling and encouraging us to step outside, engage, and live fully."