Ari Talton August 2, 2018 Dallas Weekly
Yoga’s popularity has grown tremendously over the last decade. As society shifts toward a stronger consciousness of mental health and overall wellness – yoga has become a lifestyle for many Americans.
Dallas native Ebony Smith grew up in the Oak Cliff area and graduated from Lincoln High School in 2000. The self-described “Ghetto Guru” decided in 2013 that she didn’t want her community to miss out on all that yoga has to offer.
Smith became a certified Trauma Informed Yoga Instructor and Wellness Coach. In the same breath entered her non-profit organization, and community favorite – Yoga N Da Hood. Her organization was created to serve people in underserved communities and to teach them the art of self-healing, self-talk and self-love through the practice of yoga.
Very soon after registering her organization, Smith began offering free yoga classes. What started as casual Saturday mornings at Kiest Park soon grew into hour-long sessions with upwards of 250 people, spectators and camera crews. If you didn’t have a yoga mat, Smith still encouraged you to come out to the park and borrow one of hers.
On any given Saturday last summer, you could find children, teens, adult men and women – black, white, Hispanic and more all gathered together for yoga in the park.
When we first spoke with Smith in 2016, it wasn’t unusual to spot her around Dallas – standing on her head. Achieving a balanced headstand was so important to her back then that the practice of it became second nature. Her persistence has indeed propelled her to even more opportunities to educate people on yoga.
Today, Smith is traveling the world and singing the praises of yoga’s effectiveness. This year alone, she has participated in the Bali Spirit Festival in Indonesia, ESSENCE Festival in New Orleans, the Pure Action Conference at Harvard and the Well Springs Conference with Wanderlust in California. There are even weekends when she’ll drive to Houston or Austin to instruct a class, before returning to instruct a class in Dallas the next day.
While her audience has grown tremendously, Smith is determined to keep Dallas first when it concerns her yoga adventures.
It’s important to note that Smith’s journey is also about health, preservation, freedom and self-expression. With that always in mind, Smith is very transparent about her journey to becoming the Ghetto Guru.
(As shared with the Dallas Weekly in 2016)
In 2010 Smith was pregnant with her first child Zoe. Smith wanted a natural pregnancy and after much research, she decided that Yoga would help her to accomplish that. Two years after delivering Zoe naturally, Smith found herself at Parkland Hospital with Zoe in tow. She was pregnant with her second daughter Maya. On a random day of not feeling her best, Smith found herself bending down in a Parkland hallway.
“I caught Maya between my legs and grabbed her with my hands,” laughs Smith. “I remember yelling ‘baby coming out’ and all of the nurses ran to my aid.”
Practicing yoga made Smith more flexible, more resilient and protected her from many injuries. That day, before reaching Parkland – she had walked around in labor and had no idea. Both Zoe and Maya were born healthy and delivered naturally.
While successful pregnancies and healthy babies would be enough to convince most mothers that yoga is an effective life practice – Smith has so many other experiences to share with the community about how yoga has changed her life.
As a child and throughout her teenage years, Smith struggled with anxiety. She was molested more than once. She always tried to be something else, because she felt that all of the things happening to her wouldn’t be her fate if she were someone or something else. She began drinking.
“As a child I grew accustomed to walking with my head down – A shameful gesture, which illustrated my lack of self worth.”
“Yoga really did save me,” says Smith. “It helped me channel my feelings and change my thoughts.”
Smith acknowledges that so many young girls are dealing with the struggles that were constant during her teen years, and she truly wants to help. She doesn’t preach yoga’s powerful healing to others, but she definitely considers herself a living testament of the great progress that can be made when one explores what is weighing him/her down.
Once Smith allowed herself to entertain all that she has been through in life, she was able to make peace with many of her issues. She’s not ashamed of her trials and she’s definitely not shy about sharing her triumphs.
“I’ve been through what I’ve been through so that I can help other people,” says Smith. “In order to do that you have to be vulnerable.”
Smith is quick to acknowledge that she has had help along her journey.
The Guru Squad consists of Smith, three additional yoga instructors (Nicole Livingston, Kescia Moss, Kandice Middleton) and a drummer/deejay (Xavier Mitchell). This group visits four schools on a weekly basis, as part of The Mindful Movement After School Program. The instructional team spends an hour practicing yoga with students after school.
Statistics reflect that students have decreased in behavioral issues and made significant gains in classroom production.
One of Smith’s ultimate goals is to attain a school bus. She has already named this future gem “The Mindful School Bus.” She wants to transform the school bus into a mobile yoga studio for children, where they will have the opportunity to practice both yoga and mindfulness aboard.
At most of her classes, Smith’s two daughters Zoe and Maya are front and center. They practice yoga faithfully and are definitely Smith’s most constant sources of inspiration.
Last weekend, Smith hosted the largest youth yoga event ever. 294 young people participated. The St. Philip’s School and Community Center gymnasium was full of energetic young people, music, trained instructors and an array of supportive adults lining the walls and filling the bleachers. 350 pairs of new Adidas shoes were made available to the participants.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the community for embracing Yoga N Da Hood,” says Smith. “We still have so many amazing ventures ahead.”