Yoga is meant to be inclusive, said Mikita Burton, even if that sentiment stretches the modern American picture of who practices yoga.
“I’m a curvier girl. I’m African American — that’s just not the typical demographic for yoga,” explained Burton, who has been a certified yoga instructor for the past five years. “My hope is to show that yoga is really for everybody. No matter what you look like, no matter your body type, everyone can do some form of yoga.”
With many people cooped up at home since spring 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Burton and her friend, Natasha Dawn, had an idea to bring yoga back to the masses.
“It wouldn’t have happened without Natasha. A few months into the pandemic, she suggested that we host a yoga class outside where people can be distanced and safe,” Burton recalled. “She’s not a yoga teacher; so when she asked if I wanted to teach it, I was totally on board.”
Loving the area and history of the historically Black 18th and Vine neighborhood, the two women chose a nearby park as the perfect place to offer classes, Burton shared. They debuted Yoga on the Vine in June.
The plan: Host a free yoga class Sunday mornings at an accessible location. They would provide mats and teach beginner level classes. They hoped to remove barriers preventing people from practicing yoga. During the first couple classes, a small handful of individuals showed up.
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Then KCMO Mayor Quinton Lucas made an appearance.
“Unfortunately that area [of 18th and Vine] had a shooting last year [in June],” Burton said. “We reached out to Mayor Lucas — who was already fielding some publicity for that area — and said, ‘We know this tragedy happened, but there’s also this positive thing happening in the area too.’”
To Burton’s surprise, Lucas received their message and decided to come check it out for himself. Afterward, he tweeted about Yoga on Vine, and class sizes rapidly expanded, she noted.
“We’ve had upwards of 50 people when the weather is nice,” Burton said. “We ended up doing both Saturday and Sunday morning yoga classes. We meet under the pavilion where there’s lots of space and grass to spread out.”
Click here to learn more about Mikita Burton.
Go with the flow
The most important piece of Yoga on the Vine: creating a diverse community where everyone is welcome — especially if they’ve never tried yoga before, Burton said.
“Hopefully by seeing myself, who is a nontraditional yoga teacher, it would encourage people to come out and not feel intimidated,” she shared, adding that she teaches one class every weekend with the other class rotating instructors.
Yoga on the Vine instructors teach “slow flow,” which in the yoga community means a slow, deep stretch, she explained — noting that yoga can always be modified for the individual.
“It’s not about those hardcore poses that take years of experience to learn,” Burton said. “There’s other teachers, and we all make so many modifications. As a yoga teacher, it’s important to assess your class and provide what they need.
“… Just the deep breathing alone is something that everyone needs,” she continued. “We always start with a deep breath and push our shoulders down away from our ears. The whole class just lets out this huge sigh.”
The classes have also sparked new relationships between people who might not otherwise have met or come to 18th and Vine, Burton said.
“We are all there meeting new people and building new friendships,” she shared. “And for some, they’re getting to see a piece of the history from the [American] Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum for the first time. It’s also where one of the Black Lives Matter murals can be found on the street.”
Taking a short hiatus from November to March, the second season of Yoga on the Vine has kicked off on a positive note, Burton said.
“Mayor Lucas came to do a promo video for us, which was so sweet. He totally did not have to, but it is touching when people truly believe in our mission,” she said. “A student brought us a card, sharing her appreciation and how much it helps her to do yoga. … We’re not just doing yoga. There’s a bigger impact here.”
In the future, Burton and Dawn hope to add an indoor yoga space in the 18th and Vine area where individuals of all races and genders are invited to practice, Burton said, adding that it would allow them to continue classes in the winter.
“This is just our second year, so we have figured out exactly what that [indoor space] looks like,” she noted. “Of course, it’s going to take money; but people are loving that it’s free, and that’s important to us to not have cost be a barrier.”
For Burton, her goal is to continue sharing why she loves yoga with as many people as possible, she said.
“I love teaching classes and sharing my kind of practice; because it feels like I’m practicing with them, not like I’m instructing,” Burton said. “It is the perfect start to my weekend or the needed end to my stressful week. I hope that I’ve shown some people who have never tried yoga that they can do it.”
Yoga on the Vine meets 9 a.m. every Saturday and Sunday, barring inclement weather at 1616 East 18th St. Kansas City, MO 64108.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.