Peace in Practice is fostering a collective of Black and brown yoga practitioners and programs in the Twin Cities, starting in North Minneapolis. Founded by longtime yoga teachers Jaina Portwood and Chance York, the two say they joined together to build up BIPOC representation in the Twin Cities wellness scene.
“It's important to remember that yoga doesn't have to look a certain way,” said Portwood. “And in the past 10-20 years, it’s looked a certain way in the Twin Cities.”
Portwood says mindfulness yoga connects with many aspects of health and wellness. The Peace in Practice program offers participants the opportunity to complete their yoga teacher certification, earn transferable college credits, and land employment opportunities with North Minneapolis businesses. Portwood said she hopes this will help streamline the neighborhood’s access to wellness and expand its career opportunities, while also strengthening its culture.
“We are not just practicing yoga shapes or stretching,” she said. “Particularly in the teacher training program, we are exploring meditation and mindfulness and trauma informed practices and mind science. It asks you to explore the self that you are beyond your physical shape. So instead of ‘I need to become this type of body in order to have this experience with yoga,’ it's this courageous and beautiful acceptance of what's present now, whether it's your physical form or what you're dealing with in your life, and how to fall in love with your life, exactly as it is, and use that as a catalyst for self transcendence. It's really profound and beautiful.”
Portwood has been a yoga teacher for the past 25 years and hosts international yoga retreats through her company, Beloved Retreats. She is headed to India February 6 on a woman-centered excursion to revisit ancient philosophy. She is also a yoga professor at MCTC, which has evolved into a partnership with Peace in Practice. MCTC now offers high school students at North High the opportunity to earn transferable college credits through the program.
Portwood, who lives over North, says the neighborhood's overlooked beauty and potential inspired the program. She says the whole purpose of yoga is to reclaim one’s narrative.
“Yoga has changed my life in profound ways. Not just because of physical fitness, but the deeper mind science of self liberation and self realization. As well as ways in which we can bring more peace and calm into our lives through the practice.” Says Portwood.
The new program just kicked off its first yoga teacher training program this past December. And the male presence is a dominant force, thanks to Peace in Practice cofounder Chance York.
Over half of the teachers in this session’s group are men. York says they are familiar faces, coming from the no-cost weekly yoga class curated for Black men he’s held for the last couple years at One Yoga in Minneapolis.
“I've known a lot of these guys for a long time… They've been practicing with me for years. So to see all these men representing, and to see them taking their next step in their practice, it's very rewarding,” said York. “This is my purpose, like this is my job with a capital ‘J’ – to let everybody know these ancient practices are for everybody. Whatever happened in the past 100 years of westernization, commodification, and commercialization of these practices – they still are valuable to everybody.”
York, who received his certification through Portwood about a decade ago, says he experienced a similar transformation in his own life.
“It gave me a new way of relating to myself – the recognition of my self-destructive habits and thoughts and beliefs and cycles – and the tools or the lens to start seeing it differently and start showing up differently. It’s pretty much nothing short of magic as far as where I was to where I am, and how I feel from day to day,” said York. “I just couldn't think of anything more interesting and valuable to teach and spread in this world.”
York says this program is filling a much needed gap. As one of the few Black male leaders, he says he is always in demand. He says brands that he works with, such as Lululemon, are eager to diversify their staff.
V3, a new North Minneapolis health and wellness facility which purchased the 701 Plymouth Avenue North building in 2017, is wrapping up its renovations and preparing for launch within the next couple months. Portwood says merging Peace in Practice’s programming with other North Minneapolis businesses is a part of generating communal wealth. She says the Twin Cities should watch out for the current ecosystem being built, because change is happening, and she says it's going to be powerful.
“It's a domino effect,” she said. “The moment that we are establishing inner equilibrium, and inner peace within ourselves, every interaction reflects that and amplifies that. No matter what's transpiring out there – whether it's economic disparities, or an impoverished situation, or traumatic violence on the street, or addictions within families – all the things that people in our community are dealing with every single day, everything will follow the skill of moving into more peaceful frequencies.”