The scent of burning sage filled the air and smooth instrumental music echoed through a South LA yoga studio, as women of all shapes and sizes entered the room. Christina Wherry, the class instructor, spoke softly, directing the women to release tension and stress while they inhaled in unison.
This was the scene at Dorian's Live Neosoul & Yoga, an event that featured Thick Girl Yoga L.A., a yoga experience started by Wherry that centers around promoting body-positivity. During the event, Dorian Baucum, a singer professionally known by only his first name, serenaded attendees with live neo soul music while Wherry guided them through various poses.
Dorian, the soul-singing event organizer, has been bringing similar yoga-based events to South LA for years. He says the events provide a needed service to those who attend.
“Although modern medicine is amazing, people need so much more than medicine for overall health to deal with life. People need yoga, community, information about how to stay healthy...They need live music,” Dorian said. “I began to fuse my music with yoga events. Live music, yoga and community serve as that vital ‘more’ that people need to complement modern medicine and maintain overall health.”
Saturday's event, which took place at the Tree South L.A. Yoga & Meditation Foundation, brought Wherry back to the very studio that kick-started her passion project. She now teaches her own classes, which aim to celebrate all people and body types through meditation and other practices that allow yoga-lovers to stretch and move based on their personal comfort level. She said she started this circle of self-love and exercise because she didn’t see much representation for plus-size women, specifically black women, in the yoga industry.
“I wanted to make a place for women who looked like me and, also, I’m dealing with my own healing journey,” Wherry said. “I didn’t grow up with the privilege of having yoga and meditation, so reaching back out for the youth is big in the sense of them knowing that they can do it as well.”
On Saturday, Wherry had the opportunity to guide women from her own community in breathing deeply, cherishing their bodies and creating the representation that she feels she and so many others deserve, she said.
“We’re making these healing tools accessible to everyone no matter what you look like, no matter how old you are,” Wherry said. “Yoga is for every body, and that’s what I thought I needed to share.”
For Dorian, the benefits of yoga go beyond the studio. The singer says the practice’s focus on self-improvement sticks with him throughout his daily life, even allowing him to come to grips with who he is.
“For me, a non-judgemental space really helped me bring myself as a gay man to the mat. Even when I leave this space, I’ll always be in a place of mindfulness and liberating myself and healing myself.”
Wherry and Dorian connected with one another through yoga two years ago and have since combined their life’s passions. Dorian’s soulful lyrics and calming melodies matched Wherry’s body-positive messages as she guided participants through an hour-long yoga flow.
“This studio is definitely about social justice, a place for people of color in the world,” he said. “It’s about your own personal body and welcoming yourself onto the mat in a peaceful way.”
Halfway through the session, Dorian lead the class by encouraging participants to sing and groove along with him to release their stress and connect with the rhythm of the music. This, he believes, is a form of therapy within itself.
“I was looking for something deeper and the music and yoga became that,” Dorian said. “Yoga is more. Live music is more. Community is more.”
Multiple times throughout the class, Wherry demonstrated various positions on the mat — everything from Downward Dog to Warrior Pose, constantly reminding the group of women to do what felt right for them.
“Too many times we’re told what to do with our body,” she explained to the class. “But no one knows your body better than you.”
Inglewood resident and yoga-lover Allie Maxwell discovered The Tree three years ago and she’s attended classes ever since, but this was her first class with Wherry and Dorian.
“I live in Inglewood and there’s not a lot of yoga in my area,” she said. “Yoga just connects you back to yourself. It’s energizing and grounding and to have it here in this community — in my community — it’s such a blessing.”
After the yoga portion of the event, At The Playground, a group that works to promote physical activity in the community, took the class outside of the studio and onto the sidewalk where they swung two long jump ropes. Representatives of the double-dutch group, Gina Mariposa and Serena Jenell, showed off their moves and invited members of the class to jump with them and showcase some of their own tricks.
Mariposa said the At The Playground goes to various parks and other local places to unite the community. “We would just pop up anywhere,” she said. “All of a sudden we see a crowd, OK let’s just start turning the ropes.”
The event drew passersby, who pulled over and hopped out of their cars to join. Laughter and cheers rose from the group as participants of all ages took turns jumping rope.
Wherry said that there is an underlying idea that everyone in L.A. has to fight in order to “survive” and that by hosting more community events, people can learn to thrive through interconnection.
“[Yoga and mental wellness] are practices that we should be teaching each other,” she said. “It’s something that we can do so it doesn’t fall off anywhere, just because someone doesn’t have a certain amount of money.”
Dorian echoed Wherry’s sentiment, stating that providing yoga experiences to communities that might not otherwise have them was part of why he began organizing these events.
“We’re trying to bring health and wellness to everyone, including underserved communities,” Dorian said.
Correction made Jan. 31, 11:43 p.m.: a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Christina Wherry was the event organizer. Dorian Baucum was the organizer, Wherry lead the yoga class.