Black History Month may be gone, but that doesn’t mean conversations about Blackness and the realities of being Black in America should stop, especially when it comes to mental health

The statistics are troubling. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 21% of Black people report having a mental illness, and suicide is the third leading cause of death of Black Americans 10 to 24 years old and among Black men 25 to 34. Mental health is a significant issue in the Black community. 

It seems like an insurmountable problem to fix, one that requires multiple methods and changes to improve. But it isn’t impossible, and there are steps forward. Yoga is one of them. 

“Yoga was like a big leap of faith for me,” Quamay Sams, a yoga instructor on Glo, a digital yoga and wellness platform, told Blavity in a recent interview. “Initially, I had very little knowledge about yoga philosophy and anything as far as the tradition. Then I went on a little social experiment one day, and decided that I wanted to dive deep. And I took a chance. I was like, ‘I’m gonna sign up for a teacher training just to get everything that I can get from this training and just really dive headfirst into the practice.’ And from that, I took a 200-hour training, and then I realized it was probably like the best thing I could ever have done for myself.” 

Yoga has completely transformed Sams’ life, and not just professionally. 

“I have ADHD, but also suffer from anxiety [and] depression. I’ve also have been diagnosed with bipolar II. So learning how to, I wouldn’t say quiet the noise, but just learning how to navigate the fact that I have to, something’s constantly going on in my mind, and being able to kind of create some space and separate from it for a moment to just realize that it doesn’t have to dictate everything that I do and feel has been a blessing,” Sams shared.

He explained that practicing yoga has given him the tools to be present and “assimilate myself to a lot of life that’s happening around me without going, you know, super crazy in my own mental and internal system.”

Though many may consider yoga an exclusionary practice for Black people, Sams is passionate about proving the opposite. He says that in his first month of teaching, he “created a series of classes dedicated towards a bunch of Black leaders,” intending to help them achieve what the practice was able to offer him. 

Photo: Courtesy of Glo

“I don’t think this tradition was ever intended to be just for one person or group of people,” he shared. “But I’ve been in spaces where a lot of my own people, my family friends, have such a hard stance on what it is from the outside. And I think that it takes for some people to really be on the inside to really understand and to make their own internal connections to say that, ‘OK, I like this, or I enjoyed this, or this can be for me too.”

If a yoga class still sounds daunting, that’s OK. Sams said you don’t need to be in a yoga studio to experiment with the practice.

“I am very passionate about pranayama, or you can think of it as breathing practices. Something that I implement, usually every morning if I can get to it, is just taking a moment to kind of breathe. Close your eyes, and match your inhales to the length of your exhale. Take a moment to just mindfully sense your breath, so that way, you can engage your mind with something other than just the running of like conversation of dogs; thoughts are like feelings, but that focusing on the breath is going to take you out of your mind.” 

Meditation is another practice Sams cosigns. 

“I’d say meditation or just like mindful sitting, in which you allow yourself to just watch. I think for a lot of us, when we take a seat and we do meditation, we think that it has to be some type of way. We think we shouldn’t be thinking anything. I think that’s opposite of what meditation is asking you for. Ultimately, you should be able to watch your mind and understand its behavior without feeling like you have to engage or attach yourself with every thought,” he said. 

Both pranayama and meditation only require a little time to feel their effects, which is why they’re a great place to start. Sams said practitioners can do both in five to 10 minutes.

“I feel like that’s another thing that keeps people from the yoga. We feel like we have to create this total different thing or have all the time in the world or go to a certain yoga studio to make a difference. That’s not true. You can start where you are, and if you got some space, you could always do this practice.”

Glo offers 29 different styles of all-level classes, including yoga, Pilates, meditation, HIIT and more, offering both on-demand and daily live instruction.