Who would have ever considered combining yoga and hip-hop? Atlanta native Jaimee Ratliff did and the result has been incredible. The certified yoga instructor has boldly infused the 5,000-year-old spiritual practice with hip-hop and created a class that has students twerking during down-ward facing dog and pop locking into child pose.
Ratliff, who has been practicing yoga since 2008 and is also a travel writer, decided to ramp up her practice in 2015 after being robbed at gunpoint while backpacking with a friend through Colombia. She suffered from posttraumatic stress syndrome after the robbery all while dealing a bad breakup. Ratliff went to therapy and began deepening her yoga practice to help her get through the emotional pain she was experiencing. “I turned to yoga to heal from the inside out, to develop more self love for myself, and to show more gratitude toward myself.” She began going to classes three to four times a week and eventually became a certified yoga teaching. Although she loved the studios and classes she was attending, she couldn’t help but notice something.
There were hardly any Black people.
“The whole time I was practicing yoga, trying out different studios and styles, I was always the token Black girl in the class,” Ratliff says. “Yoga is supposed to be for everyone, but there is not a lot of diversity, whether it’s a class, a yoga magazine, or an ad for a yoga apparel company.”
Ratliff decided it was time to change that.
“I wanted to share the mental and spiritual benefits that I was receiving from my own practice with my people—people who looked like me. Especially since there is this mental health stigma in the Black community where we don’t tend to our mental issues,” she says. “Yoga has been integral in helping me with my state of mind and I wanted to share that.” So Ratliff set out to create a class where she could reach more people in her community. What better way to do that than to pair a yoga class with hip hop music? “We like good music, we like rhythm, we like to move, we like to dance. I felt like we needed a class where you can come, have fun, and not feel judged if it’s your first time practicing yoga.” And she created just that with a 60-minute yoga class that includes mat work and a little dancing in between.
Yes, blending the two seems odd at first, especially with yoga being focused on stillness, meditation, and breath control, while hip-hop is energetic and driven by bass-filled beats. But the recipe has managed to fill Ratliff’s classes to the brim and bring out of a large amount of African-Americans—many in which had never taken a yoga class before or been interested in getting on the mat. “I had about 40 people in one of my classes recently,” Ratliff says. “And out of those 40, about 25 of them were yogis of color. I have never seen that in my life. After class they were coming up to me saying ‘This is my amazing! I never knew yoga was like this.’ The energy was so beautiful.”
Ratliff’s classes consist of the conventional breath work and yoga poses you’d find in any yoga class, the only difference is a Jay Z or Young Thug song is playing in the background. She plays everything from old-school hip-hop to today’s trap music, and makes sure they are the clean versions, of course. “My classes still have all of the elements of a regular yoga class, but if people want to dance, that’s fine. There have been times when we’re going through a really intense standing sequence and a song will come on and someone will say ‘That’s my jam!’” says Ratliff. “Folks will start dancing for a few seconds, but then we’ll go right back to focusing on our practice. We let loose but for the majority of the time it’s still a yoga class with the traditional poses.”
The feedback from Ratliff’s students have been extremely positive and her classes have been growing in size every week. Right now she is based in Atlanta, but she eventually wants to do pop-up hip-hop yoga classes across the country. She says that her eclectic, fun, non-judgmental style of yoga is bringing newbies to the mat. “There may be studios out there that teach yoga to good music, but there is nothing like a black teacher teaching yoga to hip-hop music,” she says. “I think that’s what makes it very special.”