Photo Credit: Simone Renee Photography
Yoga instructor Jaimee Ratliff is putting a new and improved spin on modern yoga. After noticing students of color were absent in the yoga classes she attended, Ratliff decided to steer her own yoga practice in a new direction. She chose to use hip-hop music to include people of color, so they would also reap the benefits that yoga produced.
Ratliff has accomplished many feats in her life and yoga has become an aid in overcoming difficult barriers. Ratliff battled scoliosis at a young age and had to undergo spinal fusion surgery to straighten her spine. Following the surgery, she struggled to keep her spirits high during challenging times. Later, doctors recommended that she try yoga to safely maintain the flexibility in her back and improve her overall wellness. She has since been practicing yoga for over 15 years and is now a certified yoga instructor bringing her unique pop-up yoga classes to various US cities. The pop-up yoga class allows people of all backgrounds, genders, and sizes to take advantage of the creative and fun space. While Ratliff is creating tools to help others achieve liberation, she is also leading more people of color to physical and mental prosperity through her yoga practice.
Ratliff was able to discuss with rolling out why hip-hop is helping her yoga classes become a prevalent factor among people of color, how she plans on bringing her pop-up yoga classes to new cities and when she plans to incorporate her international travel with her yogi students. Check out the story below.
When did you start practicing yoga? What motivated you to continue practicing your yoga skills?
I started practicing yoga several years ago, back when I was entering high school. The reason I started practicing yoga was because I had a surgery from scoliosis. I had a spinal fusion the summer before [entering] into high school to straighten out my back. After the surgery, my surgeon told me that I would have limited mobility with my spine because I have metal rods along my spine. So, he suggested yoga to create some motion and to keep my spine as fluid as possible. Back then I looked at it like a physical [sport] but, as I progressed in my practice throughout the years I have learned that [yoga] is more than that; [yoga is] mental, spiritual and overall well-being benefits as well.
Photo Credit: Loyall Hart
You’re a certified yoga trainer and well-experienced in a variety of yoga practices. What made you go into the direction of incorporating hip-hop into your yoga flows?
Normally, when you think of yoga you see a lot of images of the Caucasian thin woman. Those images are very prevalent inside [yoga] studios so, whenever I would go practice I would rarely see people that looked like me. I was mostly one out of three, if not the only Black girl in the yoga classes. I wanted to share the emotional, spiritual and physical benefits that I was experiencing with people of color. I decided that I would throw in some hip-hop music [because] we have rhythm and we like creative expression. Once I did that, classes were selling out and my student base is 90% people of color today.
The goal of most instructors is to have one space of their own. Why do you choose to do pop-ups? Do you plan to take your yoga pop-ups out of the country?
Instead of going out to try [to] own my own space I was able to rent studios and make a bit more money as yoga teacher versus having to pay [for] rent, lights and heat. I am grateful to have built up a following and student based that will pretty much go where I am. As far as taking [pop-ups] internationally, I am planning on hosting my first yoga retreat this year. So, that will be a fun way to merge my passion of yoga and travel together.
Photo Credit: Ross Oscar Knight
What sparked your love for travel? Have any pivotal moments in your travel experience shaped the way you approach or practice yoga?
My interests in travel was sparked several years ago. In high school and college, I travelled a lot domestically, New York, Texas, Los Angeles and all over. I took my first trip abroad to Spain for my 26th birthday and I went alone. A pivotal moment that shaped the way I practice and look at yoga was October of 2015. I was in the country of Columbia with another travel writer and friend and we were on a bus that was hijacked. We were robbed at gunpoint and that was a moment in my life where I started experiencing anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder. I turned to my yoga practice in a whole new way to literally heal my body and my mind.
Photo Credit: Loyall Hart
You are going on your hip-hop yoga tour soon and will be teaching in various cities. With your demanding schedule and new events in the works, how do you manage to keep your tranquility intact?
It is so important that you ‘drink before you pour,’ so, there are times when my anxiety is at an all-time high and I have so many things going on, so I have started to implement this thing where I preserve my mornings to take care of myself. If that means journaling, drinking some tea, getting on my yoga mat and reading something inspirational. Most of us have a code before unlocking [our] phone, but [before I] turn on my phone I have to meditate for 5 minutes or get in touch with something that serves myself.
You often teach self-care and self-love in your yoga classes. Is there any other advice that you frequently give to your yogi students?
I always remind my students to just breathe and stay in the moment as much as you can. A lot of times we go through life and we get stuck in the things that happened in the past or we’ll worry about the future. Essentially, the anchor of yoga is breathing. Constantly reinforcing that breath and staying in the moment is what keeps us in that state of joy and living our best lives.
How can the readers keep in touch with you?
Facebook: jaimee ratliff