Fitness Fridays: Carla Christine Left Her Career To Found Yoga Green Book, A Streaming Service For Us, By Us
As I talked to Carla Christine about all things wellness this week, I was sitting in the corner of a chilly apartment in New York while she was enjoying 60-degree weather in Medellín, Colombia. She isn’t visiting there for vacation. In fact, she’s living there — for now.
“We really like the cost of living and the weather is amazing here,” she said, noting that she and her husband would be in the country for another three months. “But more than that, it’s about wanting to really connect with the Afro-Colombian community here. And then also, to continue to grow a business here.”
Christine classifies herself and her husband as “nomads.” And while picking up and moving around every few months wouldn’t work for most people with a growing business, Christine, yoga instructor and the creator of the Yoga Green Book, has found it to be anything but a hindrance.
“I really feel like wellness is location independent,” she said. And that is one of a few reasons she decided to start the site. Yoga Green Book is an online streaming service that offers yoga and meditation teachings in video form created by and created for the Black community. The name is inspired by the Negro Motorist Green Book, that helped Black travelers during the segregation era find safe lodging options. It is the first Black yoga streaming service of its kind, made in the hopes of helping people of color find a space that is welcoming and comforting for them as they improve their practice, which isn’t always the case when entering overpriced and often high-brow yoga studios filled with white faces. At just $19 a month, Christine is seeking to improve the mental, physical and emotional health of Black folks, one video at a time.
So how did a woman who started out as a successful electrical engineer leave all of that behind to help expose Black women and men to the great benefits of yoga while simultaneously picking up and seeing the world? Allow her to explain.
MadameNoire: How did you come up with the idea for the Yoga Green Book, providing a safe space for POC to feel comfortable broadening their practice of yoga?
Carla Christine: After going through a dark period with anxiety and having yoga to help me to heal with that and just other aspects of my life, I just felt there were so many benefits physically and mentally. So I started getting deeper into yoga to the point that I took teacher training and started teaching when I was living in Chicago. I was still working at that time and started teaching yoga as well. I noticed that number one, there are not many teachers of color that I was coming into contact with, even during my teacher training program. But also, generally, classes were still lacking people of color. It’s something so instrumental in my life that I started reaching out to other teachers of color just researching on the Internet, Instagram, no matter where they were located just to see what their perspective and experiences were from being a teacher and being practitioners as well. We had some of the same experiences, no matter what city or state we were located in and I found the need to create something that could break down any barriers so that people of color knew that yoga was for them. Sometimes in the media, with yoga, it just doesn’t seem as if we’re represented. I think as time goes on, it’s showing a little bit more through the media and Instagram and things like that. I think that’s great. But I think there’s still work to be done. So from seeing that and hearing that from other teachers, I just thought it was something that would be beneficial to implement. But to be able to reach as many as possible, we wanted to bring it online so that anybody who had access to Wi-Fi, they could access these teachings and start transforming their physical and mental health but with their image reflected. So that’s how it really came about, just really wanting to reach as many people as possible.
Would you say you were an active person before you picked up yoga? What’s your fitness background like?
I’ve always been athletic to some extent, but I’ve never been in organized sports. Growing up, in high school and in college I was not in any organized sports but I was just dibbling and dabbling in fitness throughout my life. But what I was noticing when I was in Atlanta and experiencing anxiety was that I started doing high-intensity activities and just other things that I thought would help. But it ended up, just for me personally, making me feel a little bit more aggressive. So when I discovered yoga after the recommendation of a friend, it really helped counter some of that aggression just by taking the time to breathe and I didn’t realize that I wasn’t even doing that before. I would go from work and be in shift or have these different emotions that were just circling within me, and then I would go do something high intensity and it seemed like I would just feed that in a way. And I know that for some of my friends, it could be the opposite, but that was the reaction I was having. So taking the time for stillness and learning the techniques of starting a meditation practice, that actually really helped me to have that full release of tension and aggression and just trauma that I was holding in my body.
How did you not let the experience of not being in culturally-affirmative yoga classes keep you from pursuing teaching and growing as a yogi? How did you get past those types of hurdles? For many of us, if we don’t feel welcome or like we belong, we move on to something else.
One of my first experiences with a community that was actually welcoming was when I was getting started. And still, in a welcoming community, I didn’t see my likeness, so it was really hard and it was something I did have inner conflicts about. Just being in a space and wondering, is this for me? And with my friends and family, there was a hesitation there. They were not ready to attend a class and felt like it wasn’t something that was for them. But I personally kept pushing through because the benefits I was receiving were obvious in my life. It was a really uncomfortable period with still pushing through and just wanting to continue to reap the benefits and have the feelings of reduced anxiety, seeing my body transform, and even of looking younger from practicing yoga. But I just continued to push through, knowing that there was the potential for this to be something that could transform more people and wanting to bring that information back to other people. So yeah, it was definitely uncomfortable. And I think one of the biggest things that helped was connecting with other people who shared the same experiences even though they weren’t in the same city as me. But just discovering other people through the Internet, and finding other yogis that were talking about the same experiences, that was the thing I found to be the most instrumental in my journey, including the teachers who are on Yoga Green Book right now. Just those initial connections made me realize there is so much possible for us to unite, and also that our experiences are shared.
How did doing yoga change your life outside of physical and emotional changes? You were at one point a successful engineer, and now you’re enjoying nomad living with a yoga practice online.
I feel like one of the most transformational ways I’ve changed is by just having the added self-awareness. The self-awareness and self-study was transformational in the way that it started to redirect my path. So I was on this path of being an electrical engineer. I knew exactly where I wanted to be next year, five years from then, 10 years from then — on the career path. Really, the only thing I was thinking about was the next thing to do. Whereas with yoga, it’s empowering and helped me rediscover myself. Or maybe even just discover myself for the first time. I started to realize that the path that I was on was not the path that was the best thing for me. I didn’t even feel like it was aligning with my purpose. I hadn’t taken the time before to think about that. I was just on this path that I’d studied for, everything was going well and I was getting promoted. Well, I guess it was going well from an outsider’s perspective. I just wanted to, on some levels, get off the side of expectations. Through self-awareness, I started to let go of the societal expectations and just focus on what was right for me. And most of that came from just unleashing and having an outlet like yoga to discover. And the teachers who were on my journey helped along with that. I ended up completely following my passion, which was sharing yoga with others. And then, also being able to experience other cultures, which I think is helping with Yoga Green Book in a way, has allowed me to be able to see things through even more perspectives. So all of that was initiated by this transformation through yoga.
Where do you see yourself and Yoga Green Book in the next five, or maybe 10 years?
I really did not see this coming five years ago when I was just still working. It wasn’t anywhere near the plan. But now that I’m here, I want to continue to reach as many people as possible and continue to break down any barriers for someone to access information for their health, whether it’s physical, whether it’s mental, whether it’s just wanting a spiritual connection. I want to break those barriers and reach as many as possible. And as another layer, right now we’re teaching virtually, but I would like to bring a physical aspect to Yoga Green Book. So whether that’s in retreat form or a sponsorship event that’s local in different cities and different states, having teachers spread out throughout the nation to bring that physical connection I think can be important too. So, all of that said and done, just continuing to reach as many people as possible and continuing to grow. And as far as the online platform, for the immediate future, continuing to add different classes for different needs. Classes right now, they range from five minutes to 60 minutes. They focus on different levels, different areas, whether it’s a physical part of your body or something specifically for self-care. I want to continue to grow that and have classes that are specific to some of the issues that we’re going through that stem from the current presidency, that stem from different issues that are happening within the world and within the community. I want to tackle those with a class.