Owner Of Embody Yoga Works To Bring More Diversity To Milwaukee's Yoga Scene
According to a 2017 national survey, about one in seven U.S. adults had practiced yoga in the previous year. The pandemic has potentially increased that number, as people look to the ancient practice for its physical, mental and spiritual benefits.
Joanna Brooks started doing yoga as a kid. But it wasn’t until she took up Bikram, also known as hot yoga, as an adult that she really started her yoga journey. She now runs Embody Yoga, a Milwaukee studio she gears towards yoginis of color and focuses on the practice of vinyasa yoga — a style that involves a flow between yoga postures.
Brooks, who is Black, says she was inspired to create Embody Yoga by an overwhelmingly positive experience with Bikram teacher she had in Milwaukee. The teacher, who was also Black woman, made Brooks feel comfortable in a space that is often dominated by affluent, white individuals. So, she wanted to recreate that feeling for others.
“I’ve always been driven towards career paths or work that put me in a position to serve other people, and so that’s when I started to think about becoming a yoga teacher,” she says.
Brooks got to work and in 2015, she founded Embody Yoga. At the beginning she knew that to make yoga more accessible, she needed to give people an opportunity to see the benefits that the practice can have and saw that high class prices were turning many people away before they even tried a single class. So, she committed to keeping prices low. A single class costs $12 and Brooks offers full scholarships for people unable to afford the cost.
“When I thought about who I wanted to serve, or who I thought needed access to the practice of yoga and considering that I knew that there weren’t a lot of Black people, especially in the city of Milwaukee who were practicing yoga, I can’t start out offering a yoga class at $15 or $20 per class,” she says.
Along with trying to bring more racial representation to yoga in Milwaukee, Brooks says she wants to make sure people with all different sized bodies feel welcome in her studio. Often yoga is portrayed as only for skinny people, a notion that Brooks works to dispel.
Her ultimate goal is to make sure that any person who comes into her studio for a class feels at home. Something she says students often voice a sense of relief after finding Embody Yoga.
“I had newer students who come in like, ‘I’ve been look for, you know like, a Black yoga teacher. I didn’t even know you existed or that there were Black yoga teachers in Milwaukee.’ So when they find us, it’s almost like this sense of disbelief and relief that we exist,” she says.
Embody Yoga has begun offering limited classes in person, something that Brooks says will expand over the summer. She has also partnered with the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) to offer free outdoor classes at the MAM every Saturday at 11 a.m. this summer, except holiday weekends.