By Coshandra Dillard
At least twice a week, you can find 35-year-old Ebony Smith in front of women and men stretching, bowing and perfecting sun salutations. The former fifth-grade science teacher is passionate about yoga and is motivated to get more people who look like her —including Tylerites—to embrace it.
Now a certified trauma-informed yoga instructor and wellness coach, she pops up at health fairs and other wellness events at the predominately black and low-income neighborhood in southwest Dallas where she lives. In Oakcliff, she’s known as the Ghetto Guru who operates her nonprofit company, Yoga N Da Hood.
Smith understands that the physical benefits of yoga—lowered blood pressure, flexibility, and improved circulation, among others— make up only one-third of wellness. She also promotes spiritual growth and advocates awareness about mental health. Yoga for her has been a life saver, so she passes on lessons learned from her most difficult challenges. Through her journey, she has gained a sense of self, gratitude and found purpose.
But it’s been a long journey.
YOGA FOR HEALING
Throughout her childhood, Smith struggled with a secret that was eating away at her soul. That secret created what she calls a turbulent childhood. She’d been molested by a woman in her neighborhood. The trauma of the event made her rebellious, as she was unable to express that pain.
As an adult, alcoholism was her therapy of choice to cope with the haunting secret.
Then at 29, she was introduced to yoga while pregnant with her first child, Zoe. Eager to have a natural birth, she accepted the suggestion of her doula to begin yoga to help the process.
She was hooked.
However, she felt like a fish out of water in the beginning. Statuesque and plus-sized with deep brown skin, there was no one around who looked like her.
“I learned to feel comfortable in being uncomfortable,” she says. “Nobody there looked like me—whether my size or my race— but I just had to keep coming back to the mat. It made me feel who I was and who I could be.”
Seeing a black, body-positive woman leading yoga classes was also new to her followers, but she encourages the students not to allow stereotypes stand in the way of wellness. She often incorporates Power Trap Yoga into her teachings—a type of yoga that blends the ancient practice with the form of rap music popular in the South.
Like many areas in East Texas, her community is considered a food desert, with limited healthy options. And there aren’t many fitness facilities nearby. To ensure South Dallas residents have an opportunity to improve their health, she makes her classes free.
Smith is part of a larger movement in South Dallas that has been promoting lifestyle changes. A community garden, a restaurant offering plant-based dishes, and wellness festivals are among the efforts to help improve residents’ health.
“It’s so important,” she says. “When health and wellness opportunities are not accessible, you don’t have a fighting chance.”
Smith travels to under-served communities that are interested in learning how to use yoga to develop compassion, mindfulness and healthier behaviors.
If interested in hosting Smith’s yoga class in Tyler, call 214-951-6002 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.