Why Yoga? Why Me?
My name is Marcus Stanback and I'm from Baltimore City,MD. I grew up in this city a young black man searching for guidance in a world that told me I didn't belong. At some point in my life I believed this lie of the world; I believed I was not enough and I did not belong.
Yoga is what saved me from that view of the world. Yoga gave me a safe space to be myself when my experiences were too unique for others to hold space for me. Yoga gave me permission to participate in the world as myself and since embracing yoga, I've come to embrace who I am in totality. That's why Yoga. That's why Me.
Growing up, welcoming emotional awareness was not an active topic of conversation in my mom's house. It was more like a subtle silent lesson I picked up watching my mother continue to grow, love, and welcome change over the years. In a single parent household there are gaps in parenting when communication styles don't match up or even more-so when puberty hits and hormones begin to play a role in shaping perspective. In my case a gap was created when I began to seek a male-figure to demonstrate emotional processing in real time because my mother's subtle method seemingly went over my head.
My father was around during my childhood and I saw him often. He definitely does not land in your typical "absent father" category and we have an active relationship even currently. However, the complications of not living with my father took a role in my development of emotional awareness. I copied my father's emotional habits vehemently as a way to feel more connected to him. I learned to compress and file my emotions away so that they didn't effect my decision making hardly at all, as he did. It seemed like a logical and effective method at the time for navigating all the feelings flooding in when I experienced things like racism, sexualization, or extreme bias against my favor. It kept the questions of "Why would they say that?" or "Why would they do that to me?" at bay for the moment.
I will skip most of the details on how that method of emotional processing worked out for the earlier part of my life for now. That is its own story for another day with a lot more plant medicine (IYKYK). The point at which it became problematic likely occurred earlier than I noticed. But I vividly remember the time period when it all began to change and that begins with my first day on a yoga mat.
One day in February of 2016, during dinner a good friend of mine mentioned a yoga class they had tried on Youtube . They raved about how challenging it was, knowing I was former college athlete at our alma mater Hampton University, and encouraged me to try it. I remember mistaking the intensity level and trying an intermediate video first instead of the more appropriate beginner yoga video. I also vividly remember the moment when 25 minutes into a 45 minute yoga class video I paused the video and looked down at a growing pool of sweat on my brand new bright yellow-orange yoga mat in awe. I literally asked myself "What the hell have I gotten into?" It was the most invigorating physical activity I had every participated in and I knew from that first time on a yoga mat that something had changed in me and I liked it. I needed more.
As my journey into yoga gained pace I began to wonder why I was a 25 year old man just now falling in love with this practice for the first time as if it had not existed in my world before that point. Where was this practice when I was a teenager learning to process emotions and cope with the world? Where was it when I needed a safe space free of judgement to live out my truth as a younger man? Why is this new on my radar...? The questions continued until I had a very sudden epiphany: I had never seen myself, or anyone who looks like me practice yoga or embrace the idea that we could practice yoga. Everything I have been exposed to in the realm of physical movement has always sparked my interest and yoga was no different in that aspect. It was different in the sense that it was the first movement style or activity for that matter that I I could feel would be change of the remainder of my life.
Why did I connect so deeply? That is a question that I still ponder even today as I write this story. One of the recurring answers is that I recognized what yoga gave me as valuable and I felt obligated to seek ways to share that value with other people from my community on purpose. I knew that my connection to yoga and subsequently myself was delayed by a lack of access and exposure to any sort of inspiration to welcome the benefits of such a practice. I think often about my time as a serious athlete and consider what a benefit it would have been to have seen an older male coach or role model practicing yoga. The inspiration alone could have altered the trajectory of my track career and added some tools to my set for navigating life. These thoughts led me to an obvious decision for an intentional career shift. I decided early on in my journey that I would become a yoga instructor and be the example that I wanted to see as a young man.
Now as a full-time instructor and business owner my journey has led me to be more than an example to young black children in communities like mine. I have been led to hold space for children in my own community of Baltimore City as their yoga instructor. For many of them I am their first yoga instructor and for most of them I have been the first black man showing young black males that they too are welcome in the yoga community. I find myself making it loud and clear that this practice was made for them too as frequent reassurance. As a black man I intimately know the challenge of navigating the limitations the world attempts to place on us. This is my personal form of resistance.
That's why Yoga. That's why Me.