Jaimee Ratliff started practicing yoga in high school at the recommendation of her doctor. She has scoliosis and had to have a spinal fusion in her back, so practicing yoga kept her spine fluid. Having a physical outlet proved beneficial for her, but she didn’t have the money to do it consistently until she became a young adult and was living in Texas. But a year and a half ago, she became a yoga teacher, and her practice became deeper than just physical. Now she shares the many benefits of yoga with people all over through her hip-hop yoga classes.
Yoga was a way for Jaimee to build strength both within and externally.
“When I stepped on the mat, I felt strong and beautiful,” she says, “I felt more self-love. It’s been a very special experience for me. It’s where I deepened my practice. When I got out of training, I wanted to share all the benefits of the mat to me.”
Yoga can completely transform how you feel about yourself. It’s an act of self-care, and although that’s a buzzword, Jaimee believes that it’s an important thing to focus on, seeing as we were taught, especially as black women, to take care of everyone else first and then ourselves last.
“I wanted to share this practice with people of color because yoga is a tool that helps me,” she says, “I felt like the best way to do that was to throw in some hip-hop. The goal is to get them in the class. You might not think you’re flexible enough, you don’t see people who look like you, but if you see this young black girl teaching, they might check it out.”
For Jaimee’s students, the presence of hip-hop music eases that barrier of entry. And although she likes the genre, she also loves pop and listens to R&B and jazz. She’s even started a Soulscapes Sunday yoga class because she wanted to offer students something other than hip-hop. They’ve had classes set to the sounds of Sade, Maxwell, Bob Marley, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé and more.
But even in her hip-hop classes, she’s sure to have some variety in the sounds depending on which part of the class it is.
“I love starting out my playlist with some slow music, peaking with beat-bumping sounds and then mellowing out toward the end,” she says.
Some of her favorites include A Tribe Called Quest, Jay-Z, and maybe some Solange and Jhene Aiko for the slower tempo songs.
And although she’s not the only one doing hip-hop yoga in the country, she has attracted a major following in Atlanta for her classes because of how it helps people to connect and explore the act of self-care through yoga. Feedback has been very positive.
The way she structures her class allows students to turn up, but they still get the benefits of the practice.
“I’ve had women and men who have told me that they’ve cried in Shevasana because it’s the first time they’ve actually hugged themselves (we hug knees into chest to show your body love),” she says, “Black men thank me for sharing my struggle with self-love and depression, now they’re going to therapy. My students are like, ‘what are we gonna do without you?’ when I’m going to be traveling.”
Yoga is not just the physical poses, but learning about the philosophy, meditation, staying in the moment and detaching with the physical.
“For one, I think it brings more people to yoga,” she says of hip-hop yoga, “We as a community need to take care of ourselves more, it incorporates that into our daily routines. That’s not something we’re taught to do, especially when it comes to the stigma of mental health in the black community. This is one way that can help you find inner peace, clarity, and the help you need to stay in the moment. But for students who need help beyond that, there’s therapy, spirituality, etc. that can help with mental health.”
A lot of people get to class and want to immediately do all of the advanced poses like the forearm stand and crow pose, but Jaimee wants people to know that it’s an eight-limb path, and poses are just one limb.
“It’s important to remember that even when you’re just breathing, you’re doing yoga,” Ratliff says, “When you’re meditating and staying with the breath, focusing on your breath, you’re not worrying about the past or the future.”
She tells beginners that if you lay in childs pose for 75 minutes but focus on breathing, you’re doing yoga. You might not be able to do the cool poses tomorrow, but appreciate your journey and where you are. Everyone’s journey is different. So she emphasizes the importance of honoring where you are and being mindful.
Look out for Jaimee Ratliff and her powerful classes in a city near you. Although she’s ATL-based, she’s done events in other cities like New York, Nashville, Boston and Chicago. Her current tour completely sold out in less than two months! If you can’t make it to a class this time around, follow her on Instagram @jaimeeratliff to get inspiration, stay in touch and be prepared to snag a ticket to the next tour!