Fresh Take: Yoga should be for *every* body, and that's why I founded Daybreak Yoga

Our "Fresh Take" op-ed/essay series invites Clevelanders to share their insights and opinions on issues and topics that matter in their neighborhoods, professions, schools, and civic life. This installment is from Daybreak Yoga owner Dawn Rivers, who is working to make the yoga scene a more inclusive place to be. If you're interested in writing a Fresh Take, drop us a line here.

Daybreak Yoga began the summer of 2013 after I finished my yoga teacher training. I was floating on a high and thought I could change the world with my amazing yoga teaching! Ha. What I eventually realized was different people needed different types or styles of yoga.

At that time, my focus was strictly power vinyasa. I could make you sweat, get your heart rate up, and almost pass out during Shavasana (corpse pose), but that wasn’t what everyone wanted. Don’t get me wrong—I learned from the best power yoga teachers in Cleveland—but my teaching was all about me.

Then I got sick in the fall of 2016. My body started to change. I gained 30 pounds. I couldn’t do the power yoga moves I once prided myself on doing. I lost my strength and flexibility. I was easily winded but most of all, I didn't like how I looked. I was in a dark place. I had to learn how to modify the postures, love my body again, and let go of the image I had created for myself.

A part of my healing process was when I began to look for yogis who looked like me: skin color, body size, gender, and the like. Where I used to practice yoga, I didn’t see many yogis who looked like this “new” Dawn, so I turned to social media and began a purposeful search. In the spring of 2017, I found a yoga teacher in Atlanta who had a command of words like no other yoga teacher I had encountered. I began to follow Octavia Raheem, and when she posted a Women of Color Yoga Retreat in Atlanta, I decided that I had to go!

I had never thought about going on a yoga retreat. I didn’t think they were for me. Basically, I was limiting my own experiences with my narrow-minded views. But I went and came back changed. I heard stories of women who were shamed for their body types and skin color. When they entered a yoga studio, they would invariably receive comments from condescending yoga teachers or other yogis would move their mats away—and it almost turned these women off from practicing yoga. Other women talked about how difficult it is being the only one who looked like them in the room.

That was it. I had to make a change in how I teach, whom I teach for, and why I teach. It was then that I decided to revamp the vision and mission statement for Daybreak Yoga, and the universe opened its doors to me. It turned out Octavia was the spotlight editor for Mantra magazine and wanted to feature me in the special features section! I had no idea what it was going to look like until the magazine was delivered. I opened it and started to cry.

New class ideas started to come to me, and I adapted events I had seen or heard about elsewhere. The first event was Self Care Sunday in December 2017. Lauren Ash of Black Girl in Om has a similar class, but at Daybreak Yoga, we focus on yoga, journaling, and meditation to help heal and support women. I invite special guests to share their expertise as well as their self-care practices.

So far, we've had Siobhan Sudberry of The BeFree Project share her journal and the prompts she created to help women get unstuck, and Danielle Graham of Rooted Blossoms demystify meditation for the participants. Every month, Daybreak Yoga collaborates with other women in business as a way to show support for each other.

We also debuted events like Hustle & FLÖ: Trap Yoga (power yoga set to trap music) and Slowdown Sunday: Slow Flow Yoga (set to R&B music), which has been our biggest hit so far. This class is accessible to novice students because the class moves slower from pose to pose; each month, a different artist’s music is featured.

I am pleased with Daybreak Yoga’s partnership with LGBT Community Center of Greater Cleveland. The positive feedback from the all levels class held in April was affirming, and there will be more events over the next several months.

Daybreak Yoga will have our next Kids Yoga series in June. Kids deal with stress, depression, and anxiety just like adults. They need strategies to help them cope and yoga is a perfect resource for them. Children ages six to 11 learn the Sun Salutations, play games, meditate, and more.

Along this journey, I am becoming the teacher I need. At Daybreak Yoga, all are welcome. No matter one’s size, experience, race, gender, or sexual identity, we are a tribe who holds each other up. We are a group that cheers one another on when things seem too new or difficult. We are a yoga studio that lets you come as you are and never asks why. Every BODY can do yoga.

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