From the COVID-19 pandemic that has forced many people into quarantine to the country’s fraught political divide, 2020 is the year of stress. And now, perhaps more than ever, people need to breathe.
“But most people don’t breathe properly,” said Daryl Satcher, 44, of Oak Park. “We’re born breathing the right way. We come into this world inhaling through our nose and exhaling through our diaphragm. Watch a baby breathe and you can see it clearly. It’s inhaling and exhaling through the nose.”
Eventually, however, the world changes people and they start breathing from the chest up, in a fight-or-flight state, Satcher said.
“A lot of the violence and anger like incidents of road rage are mini-mental breakdowns and they happen, because people don’t know how to find stillness,” he said.
Satcher teaches yoga through A Leading Man, a business he founded that merges the arts and wellness. He said he wants to persuade more African Americans to take advantage of yoga for its mental and physical benefits.
By pure serendipity, Satcher found a fellow African American yoga enthusiast to help him in that mission. After teaching on Facebook for a while, Satcher put out a call for other yoga teachers to accompany him during an outdoor class.
Batya Emunaw Walker, 41, who owns EmunawB Yoga, was the only yoga instructor who responded, he said. The two instructors gelled instantly.
“Batya’s mother was at that class and afterward, she walked up to the both of us and said, ‘You all don’t know what you just did,” Satcher recalled. “She gave us permission to keep teaching together. She said, ‘Where else can you find a Black man and Black woman working together and teaching yoga?”
In the several months since that first class, Satcher and Walker have taught together all over the west suburbs, including in Oak Park. They now both teach regular classes at Urban Pioneer Group in Forest Park.
Walker said she wants to cultivate an atmosphere in her yoga classes that is more welcoming than the ones she entered when she was just getting into yoga seven years ago.
“I started back in 2013,” she said. “My employer at the time offered it up to us for a health and wellness month. At the time, I was going through a divorce, along with a whole bunch of stuff we, as humans go through, and yoga taught me how to calm my mind, because I was doing too much and carrying weight that wasn’t mine.”
Walker said it wasn’t always comfortable being a Black person in a yoga studio.
“When I was first getting into yoga, I practiced at a known yoga studio that was majority white,” she said. “Of course, I’m eye-balled as soon as I walk in the door. But yoga, to me, is being able to be comfortable in uncomfortable spaces. Allow yourself to feel whatever you feel in whatever space you’re in. Yoga is finding that stillness in me. Nothing else matters outside of that. If I can provide my students that stillness for that hour, then I’ve done my job.”
Walker said she hadn’t imagined herself becoming an instructor when she started out, but in 2018, someone suggested the possibility.
“Never in a million years did I think I’d be teaching yoga,” she said.
Now, Walker teaches yoga full-time and has even provided instruction for the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun.
Satcher, an actor with an MFA in theatre, said when he started doing yoga, he was 275 pounds “and I needed a spark, something different. I was in a stage reading and a couple of my cast members were yogis. So, I went to a class with one of my castmates and from then on yoga became something that was part of my lifestyle.”
Satcher said that his interest in yoga got more serious four years ago. He’s been teaching yoga for roughly a year, he said. Now, his mission is to see more Black people realize the benefits of yoga.
“My vision is to see Black people practicing yoga,” Satcher said. “It’s a mental and spiritual benefit for all. So, we’d like to bring yoga to places you don’t normally see yoga, with people you don’t normally see practicing yoga. We know there’s a soccer mom stigma with yoga — this notion that it’s only for soccer moms — but it’s really for all people.”
For more information on Satcher’s A Leading Man, visit: aleadingmanproductions.com. For more information on EmunawB Yoga, visit: emunawbyoga.com.