Changa Bell created the Black Male Yoga Initiative in 2015 to create welcoming spaces to practice yoga, and provide avenues for preventative health.
During a recent conversation, he talked about how yoga can serve as a “stress intervention,” and play a role in reversing the effects of health conditions like hypertension and diabetes. “It can accentuate spirituality in ways that are unmatched,” he said.
Being a yoga teacher himself, Bell realized, “I’ve got to get on a soap box and announce what I know – not in a judgmental form or wagging my finger saying you’ve got to do this, but just, ‘Hey this is how it serves me. This is the science of it, maybe you want to do it. Here’s a welcoming space.'”
He founded it as a nonprofit to spread, and got $10,000 in funding from BMe. Last year, Bell was a member of the U.S. cohort of Red Bull Amaphiko Academy for social entrepreneurs, which was held in Baltimore last year. Red Bull Amaphiko returns to Baltimore this weekend for a festival spotlighting social entrepreneurship. Academy participants will be atthe storytelling event The Medicine Show on Friday night at Arena Players. Events also including Luv’s Block Party in Hollins Market on Saturday, and a Sunday Summit featuring panel discussions and other events in Station North on Sunday. Details here.
Bell said the Academy brought international connections. Already having a global view, he said it helped him to “let me think big and not small, act local but be global.”
When we met Bell was speaking at one of the welcoming spaces he’s established, in a room at Fells Point’s Living Classrooms Foundation where BMYI teaches yoga as part of the Fresh Start program. Being integrated as part of the job training program helps youth serves as another reflection of yoga’s benefits.
It’s also an example of how Bell wants to grow. A key part of the Black Male Yoga Initiative involves certifying participants as yoga teachers. At Fresh Start, he’s trained other instructors, who can in turn spread what they know. He’s been traveling outside of Baltimore more lately, and has a curriculum that can help prepare others, as well.
“I have a goal to certify 1,000 black men as yoga teachers, ages 16-65,” he said. To do this, he’s taking an “open source” approach, providing the basics to teachers and letting each space evolve on its own. As long as the practice is there, the results will remain the same.
“Why should I be dictating from afar or through a book that you have to do it this way in a space that looks like this…we want to invite you to do it anyway you can,” he said.
In fact, he’s comfortable putting himself out of work.
“I’m just here to seed it, let the garden grow and then walk away,” he said.