Yoga and activist are 2 words not commonly seen together. Nonetheless, it is a title that Maya Breuer wears proudly and has built her business around that philosophy.
Breuer experienced the transformational benefits of yoga and wanted to share them with others. After not seeing many people of color in her classes, she decided to create programs to draw more diversity and a passion was born.The Women of Color Retreat happens multiple times a year in different parts of the country offering various holistic practices that nourish the mind, body and soul.
In addition to owning the Santosha School of Yoga in Rhode Island, she has successfully lobbied for for the creation of a scholarship program for people of color and later served on the board of Trustees at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health creating the Teaching for Diversity Program.
Breuer’s efforts to make yoga more colorful space, earns her a spot in this year’s Yogapreneur series.
What was the impetus behind venturing into the health and fitness industry as an entrepreneur?
After my Yoga Teacher Training certification at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, I traveled to Gujarat, India to deepen my knowledge of yoga and its intrinsic philosophies. When I started teaching yoga, I had full classes but no people of color. While studying in India I had asked one of my teachers how I could reach my people? She stated, “With the breath, use the breath”.
My first step into the health and fitness industry was to offer yoga classes to women of color in my community. These classes for emphasized learning how to breathe, self awareness and sharing circles where women of color could talk about their lives. In 2001, my classes were growing steadily. I had an epiphany and the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color was born.
How has business been going for you?
Like the rest of the country my business reflects our economy. Since the recession, I have been offering less international retreats and focusing more on offering Yoga Teacher Training & Certification programs and the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color. This month I will offer my third retreat in Atlanta GA. The requests [for more YRWOC] continue to come in.
What resources did you use to start and grow your business?
I had few resources when I started the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color. One of the things I did was invest the monies I had available in hiring a marketing person to help me. This enabled me to get articles about the retreat in Pathfinder, Essence and Heart and Soul Magazines that target women of color. The birth of social media has also been a boon to getting the word out to the world about the Yoga retreat for Women of Color. I also contributed articles to various magazines about yoga and the health benefits for people of color and especially African American’s who suffer from diabetes, hypertension and stroke.
Do you feel it’s necessary to diversify yourself to be a successful Yogapreneur?
To anyone considering leaving their job to start a yoga business – it’s important to keep your day job as you move into the yoga business. True, yoga is a flourishing business, but making a living “just teaching yoga” can still be difficult. If one decides to become a successful Yogapreneur it may not be necessary to include more than yoga as part of your business.
As a Yogapreneur consider diversifying what you offer within the context of teaching yoga. I recommend you assess your skills and qualifications and then create a variety of ways to offer your skills under the yoga umbrella, i.e. workshops, retreats, lectures, participation in Health and Wellness Fairs and festivals, offering stress management workshops for business and nonprofit organizations. Today yoga is incorporated into many aspects of our lives and one can be very creative with your offerings. However, you must have a plan and then work the plan.
What are some of the challenges you face being a woman of African descent in the Yoga space, if any?
Being Black in America is still difficult and being in the Yoga world is no different. Sponsorships for programming in yoga are difficult to obtain and this is especially true if you are not from the white (majority) culture in the yoga world. There is also the challenge of being accepted as an expert/master yoga teacher. Most of the opportunities to write books, lecture and contract with large companies are not offered to people of color. I have participated in national conferences throughout the years and it still is shocking to see hundreds of teachers and only one or two teachers of color on the roster.
How has yoga changed your life?
I was a divorced mother raising three children alone and the practice of yoga changed my life by enabling me to become more conscious and this consciousness led me to good health, clarity, and purpose.
I can breathe and move through my life with ease, and I am aging well; really!!!
Being that you are one of the few Black entrepreneurs in the yoga industry, do you feel that you have inspired other people of color to practice Yoga?
I hope so. Yes. I often respond to queries from women and men of color who are seeking support in their lives and they are considering yoga as a tool to help them. I am able to coach them with the philosophy of yoga [which] I call Yoga Life Coaching.
I have also personally trained and certified many women of color throughout the US and they are teaching yoga in their respective communities. I also believe that when people of color see a typical healthy, black woman who can move and breathe and be, it is inspiring because I look like them.
What are some ways you would suggest to get more people of color involved in yoga?
I suggest that people of color who practice yoga share their experience with others –members of their families, churches and communities. Providing first hand information about what yoga is and its’ many benefits may be the most effective way to get more people of color involved in the practice.
What are your plans for the future?
Plans are in the works to bring the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color™ to additional states in the US. In Rhode Island I will offer Yoga Therapy through a local physician’s office this fall; and I hope to have a favorable response to a proposal for a Breast Cancer Education & Outreach Program for Women of Color in RI.