South LA

The Tree Yoga Cooperative celebrates Black History Month with ‘Decolonization of History Module’

A virtual mindfulness workshop creates space for inclusive representation within the yoga community.

The Tree Yoga Cooperative is hosting a special two-day Yoga Teacher Training workshop over Zoom this weekend in South Los Angeles to expand on their celebration of Black history this month. The “Decolonization of History Module” will focus on the practices and philosophies of mindfulness tools developed by great civilizations.

The Tree’s mission, as a worker-owned cooperative, is to be a hub of holistic wellness and community support for people of color, according to the group’s website. The Cooperative works to create a safe space for the education, exploration, and expression of individuality.

The training session will discuss history and yoga based on DNA studies, archaeology, and geology. The lecture will also cover world history, spirituality and philosophy from a shared human perspective.

“As a person who is already practicing yoga, you want to connect more to your culture, to your roots,” said the Tree’s Director of Operations and teacher, Rita Ortiz-Contreras. “You want to share your history and part of that is learning and educating yourself on the colonization of not just the yoga culture, but of Black culture and, in general, Black people in America and across the world.”

The Tree makes these yoga practices accessible to the South L.A. community and expands its reach by certifying passionate instructors who want to spark social change.

Ortiz-Contreras said that the yoga community in California is predominantly made up of “thin white people doing poses that sometimes seem really unachievable to the normal person.”

“You rarely see any Black people, you know, any people of color, specifically Black people,” said Ortiz-Contreras. “I think as this yoga practice has become accessible, at least in our community with the studio starting off as a nonprofit, we got to see how involved Black people across the Southland were in a type of yoga practice.”

During the pandemic, the Tree Yoga Cooperative has adapted to hosting both virtual and socially distanced events. Co-owner and teacher trainer Jonié Cole Thomas II, who is set to facilitate the weekend event, said the Tree has been able to reach more people outside of the South L.A. community through Zoom classes and events.

The upcoming virtual yoga training is meant to engage aspiring yogis and yoga instructors in mindfulness workshops and discussions to make the practice more inclusive. Thomas said that it is important to view yoga as a collective “philosophy” and acknowledge the founding of civilization itself by examining early civilizations, “or a culture of spirituality.”

“There is no Black history, there is no white history. There is just history,” said Thomas. “We have Black history, white history, that’s caused by colonization and so something that’s required that we do within our yoga teacher training is that we teach the history of yoga.”

Tessie Kercado, a yoga instructor who has worked with the Tree Yoga Cooperative since 2019, said the studio strives to celebrate being Black more than just one month a year.

“They celebrate and value each and every person 365 days of the year,” Kercado said. “Every person that’s a part of the Tree pushes for mindfulness, social justice, and sustainability within their community; and to anybody who is open for a positive change, as it should be.”

At this weekend’s event, Kercado said she hopes to learn what decolonization means as a person living through societal changes and a pandemic.

“I look forward to the educational tools I will acquire so that I can continue to share knowledge and truth with others,” Kercado said.

Thomas said he hopes that the weekend event will be informative for participants and bring light to the “shared responsibility” people have in shifting their perspectives of the world.

“It’s easy to blame other people and point the finger, but when you understand that you’re part of a world tribe, now you understand that it’s your job to also stand up and just simply talk about what is,” said Thomas.

The Tree Yoga Cooperative’s “Decolonization of History Module” will be held this weekend from 1 - 4 p.m. PST over Zoom. Registration for the module can be found on their website.