Love, Health, Interviews

Jaimee Ratliff is championing inclusive yoga through hip hop

"If it's not organic and authentic then it will show. You truly need to be passionate about what you want to do."

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Jaimee Ratliff, is an Atlanta based Yoga instructor, who teaches yoga with a twist. Her students flow through challenging poses with hip-hop and R&B tunes in the background. Yoga is not just a form of exercise, but a tool used for self-care that has helped Jaimee get through difficult times. Jaimee teaches yoga through pop-up classes and out of different venues throughout Atlanta, with the goal of making yoga accessible to everyone, regardless of age, race, and gender.

Jaimee sat down with The Tempest to discuss her love of yoga, self-care and what it means to be a woman of color teaching yoga.

The Tempest: On your website, it details your mission, which is to make yoga accessible to all people regardless of race, gender etc. How have you achieved that so far?

Jaimee Ratliff: I have achieved my mission by making my class open and welcoming. When people come into my class they don’t have that same feeling that I did when I first went into studios. It makes people feel more comfortable when you walk into a place and you see people that look like you.

I would say that about 85% of my students are people of color. It’s not a typical yoga class, it’s very diverse. You don’t just come in seeing one race, which is typically Caucasian women. I have people of all shapes and sizes in my class.  And before we even start a class, I make my students introduce themselves to someone they don’t know. I would say that’s how I keep the diversity.

It's important that my students see someone that looks like them Click To Tweet

 Why did you choose hip-hop?

I choose hip-hop because I knew that I wanted to be able to get more people of color involved in the practice. And there are a hundred different studios that you can take classes in, but most of them aren’t playing music like that.

I thought, what way could I entice people to just come? Some have those initial barriers to entry because people are like, “I’m not flexible enough” or “yoga isn’t for me”. And they don’t really see images of people that look like them anyway.

I felt that the best way to get them in the studio is to create this hip-hop yoga, that invites movement and community. They can move how they want! That alone entices people. They can see that I’m relatable. I don’t sound like a lofty guru, I have a sense of humor and I encourage them to try new things. But I also include inspiring meditations at the end of class. So you’re getting both Tupac and the Depac.

The goal is to introduce people of color to yoga. Because I feel like we’re the ones who need it most. Self-care is a big buzzword in the wellness industry now but it’s not something that we always subscribe to. We are taught to work our asses off and never really take care of ourselves. Because if you take of yourself then you are seen as selfish. But self-care is important and I speak on that a lot. And I want to bring more people into yoga and then from then on they can decide if they like, vinyasa or maybe like the restorative or yin; there are so many different styles. I want them to see the benefits physically, mentally and emotionally that you can get from a regular practice and from there you’re free to go on and try out whatever works for you.

I don't sound like a lofty guru. Click To Tweet

 Do you find that yoga is an attractive way to encourage self-care in the black community?

I think it’s one of the many modalities of self-care. I wholeheartedly believe in therapists and seeking out others like spirituality or meditation. There are so many types of healing. Personally, I use it as one of the tools in my toolbox to keep myself mentally and emotionally sane. But it’s not a one size fits all. There are aspects of the practice that again if you’re a spiritual person, you may want to read scriptures or go to church. And I’m glad you mentioned therapy which is also another stigma in the black community, along with other communities as well.

What makes my classes unique is that I bring a real, raw part of myself and my own journey to my students. So I do talk to them about how therapy is something that I have integrated with yoga, through tough times. I also share a large part of my journey online. I believe we need more people who don’t just showcase their glamorous lives on social media, but also the tough parts because that’s what makes us human and feel connected.

Showcasing the difficult parts of our lives make us feel connected Click To Tweet

Are you currently on tour now?

The hip-hop tour kicks off February 24th in New York City which I’m very excited about. I just found out that it was sold out, along with a few other cities: Chicago, Atlanta, Boston, and Nashville. We had to open up two classes in Chicago because one class sold out in four days, and then the second one sold out in four hours. Out of about 840 tickets, we’re about 35 tickets from being sold out.

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Jaimee in front of a yoga class with her arms in the air Via Rebelle Agency

What advice do you have for women of color who want to create these spaces?

I would say a big part of that is bringing your authentic self. and I guess people have observed the success I have obtained with doing the hip-hop yoga and will try to throw these classes on to their schedule. You have to ask yourself, why am I doing this? Because if it’s not organic and authentic then it will show. You truly need to be passionate about what you want to do.

Before I became a yoga teacher, I was a travel writer and everyone would tell me that they wanted my life, when inside I struggled with personal issues. I don’t want people to look at me and want my life. Being authentic will attract the people in the audiences that you want to bring to whatever it is you want to create. With yoga, there are so many options. You can take a yoga class with anybody. But it’s more than the class, it’s the person, it’s the teacher it’s that connection that has people coming back.

If I were to share anything with the readers of The Tempest, I would say to stay open to all the experiences that you have in life. Everything we experience leads us closer and closer to who we are to become.

This piece has been edited for length and clarity

An earlier version of this article stated that Jaimee has her own studio. Jaimee does not have a stationary studio and focuses on only pop-ups.

An earlier version of this article stated that the tour only had 480 tickets. The total tickets for the tour was 840.

Yannise Jean

Yannise Jean

Yannise is the Assistant Pop Culture Editor. She is a writer and a Hunter College grad with a degree in Creative Writing. She loves writing about women of color and religion. You can find her in the streets of NYC eating pizza, buying too many books and discussing the importance of intersectionality in feminism.

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