Say the word yoga and most people think of calm, accepting environments, places where all are welcomed and embraced as they explore spiritual understanding through a series of poses and meditation. It’s a definition that works, but not for everyone. For people of color, yoga is still a place where they can often feel like outsiders looking in.

Vern Montoute knows this experience firsthand. A certified yoga instructor in Bridgeport, Montoute works with Yoga in Our City, an organization that offers free yoga in cities across Connecticut. The organization’s intent is to reach populations who might otherwise never experience yoga and who might not realize that yoga is, indeed, for everyone. 

Montoute first began exploring yoga about 10 years ago after serving in the Army for 10 years and realizing she needed a more balanced form of exercise. “My body had gone through so much physical challenge,” she says of her military service. “I felt like I needed something less invigorating.”

She loved it and decided to become a certified yoga instructor and form her own wellness organization, Peace of Royalty. In addition to teaching yoga, Montoute is a Reiki II practitioner, sound bowl healer and mindfulness coach. She also sells health and wellness products, such as essential oils and crystals.

“When I first began to practice, most of the time I was the only black woman there,” she says. “It got a little uncomfortable at times. Maybe I’m not in the right space.” Some might have given up. Montoute only became more determined—both in developing her own yoga practice and in driving her desire to bring the benefits of yoga to a broader community.

“In the beginning of my career, it was definitely hard to get people of color to see the benefit of it. Yoga is not the image that came to their mind. It was skinny white women. People didn’t think it was for them,” she says. “It influenced me to create spaces for people who look like me. That it’s for everybody, not just a particular group of people. With that goal in mind, I had to shift the narrative. That was a stigma I dealt with in the beginning of my career.”

With special training in trauma informed yoga, early childhood yoga and chair yoga, Montoute hopes to continue to expand people’s misunderstanding that yoga may not be for them. “My work is important for everybody, not just the black community. Everybody is deserving of this healing,” Montoute says. “I hope people realize there’s a space for you, too. You don’t have to be a certain age or have a certain body type. You don’t have to be flexible or athletic or whatever is holding them back from trying.”

“It’s okay to take a risk,” she adds. “You can be the only person in the room because you never know how it will transpire into something else.”

Each day in May, you will meet a new face and a new lived experience, because #LetsFaceIt there is no one-sized fits all when it comes to our wellbeing. View past posts here.

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