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Deidra Demens has come a long way since her introductory days of yoga. After studying theater at DePaul University in Chicago, she doubled down on that mind-body connection through her work as an Iyengar yoga practitioner and teacher, building a life rooted in honor, art, and self-exploration. From her live, sliding scale classes to therapeutic sessions specifically for women, Demens is reshaping narratives on race and the body, getting us all back into alignment.
If you don’t already follow her on Instagram, you’re in for a treat. She’s made a ritual of pairing her own yoga poses alongside iconic imagery of the Black history-makers who inspired them. (Trust us, the results are as mind-bendingly beautiful as you might think.)
We chatted with Demens about the self-renewing ritual of stretching our minds, spirits, and bodies with intuition and intention.
Iyengar yoga is known for “alignment,” use of props, and often the word “structure” comes up. But the way I think of Iyengar yoga is that it’s a method that makes yoga available to everyone, no matter where you are. If you’re young and flexible, Iyengar yoga is going to keep you flexible and strong. If you are older and not so mobile, Iyengar yoga helps to increase mobility. If you’re recovering from injuries, if you’re pregnant, if you have certain things going on like back issues or shoulder tension, this method meets you there.
In the beginning, taking time for myself to practice soulcare was really tricky. When you’re starting out [as a practitioner] or in anything, you are starting from the bottom and trying to work your way up — so you take whatever teaching opportunities come up.
But that might mean teaching somewhere between 20 to 25 classes a week, when on average a [more seasoned] yoga teacher might teach 10 classes. Eventually, I had to make time for soulcare. I knew I had to study for the classes that I was teaching and planning, so in the spring and summer, I thought, if I’m doing this, I don’t need to always be in a coffee shop or at the studio, I can go to the park.
Now I have upped it. I think when you’re teaching so much, sometimes you have to be reminded to take a class yourself. Also, going to the gym has been really helpful. I try to do just the little things that make me feel good. It doesn’t feel like a chore. When I take a bath or get my new body care or bath products, it feels like I’m taking care of myself in the now.
I didn’t plan on starting the photo series, I had just been thinking about Josephine Baker. I saw this photo of her where she’s standing in what looks a lot like a tree pose. I put the two poses together and posted it on social media. I got a lot of likes and a lot of comments where people were like, “This is awesome.” I was like, Well, maybe I’ll do another one.
The first series was Black History in general. And the second series focused on leaders of today. I wanted to honor and show people [who] are doing great things today. Black women and men who are victims of police brutality, racism, and violence as well as a quote from their families with their photo [framed the] “Unsung Heroes” series.
My teaching has shifted and focused to specifically help people honor their bodies and see themselves. It’s not just that I teach the poses: it’s about finding freedom in that space, and how we learn to stand on our own two feet and not feel rigid, stuck, hard, or heavy, but instead open and light.
I’m never going to get to that place where everything is in perfect alignment — and that’s okay. I can work with what I have right now. I can give space and time for what I need right now. And, when that changes, I can adapt. I don’t have to be so hard on myself thinking that I have to have everything together or perfect.
I’m always inspired by the people who I honor or put into my photo series. (And, of course, Michelle Obama’s podcast.) I got a membership to the McBride Sisters Winery and got a bunch of their Black Girl Magic wines. I recently read Zora Neale Hurston’s book Barracoon: The Story of the Last Black Cargo. I’m also inspired by a lot of people in my community who are athletes or trainers, yogis, or artists. The Brooklyn Museum is also my favorite museum in New York. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it!
Have you tried Iyengar yoga as soulcare? Is it already a part of your ritual? Share your experience in the comments.