Peloton’s Chelsea Jackson Roberts Embodies #BlackGirlMagic On and Off the Mat
Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD, is no stranger to breaking barriers. In 2018, she became the first Black global ambassador for lululemon. Earlier this year, she joined the ranks of internationally-recognized Peloton instructors as the fitness company’s first Black yoga instructor.
“It was my Juneteenth class with Peloton where I said this emphasis on acknowledging the first Black doctor or graduate or scientist is not to create separation, but to acknowledge there were barriers that were in the way and stopping us from seeing the reflection that I hope I’m contributing to now,” Jackson Roberts said. “To be the first Black person to represent a global yoga apparel brand and now to be on this platform, it means the world to me.” We spoke to Roberts about yoga and activism, what brings her joy, and more.
When we first met at the Starshine & Clay yoga retreat, you were living in Atlanta. How have you adjusted to living in New York and during a pandemic, no less?
At Starshine & Clay, led by Octavia [Raheem], we were talking about forced stillness. And that’s what this is—the yoga begins now. So what is this for? This is for me to feel grounded in any experience that I may be going through, whether that’s chaos, joy, or pain, and to be able to be grounded, aware, and have compassion and patience with myself. That’s all I have to practice and call on in this transition. This is the reason that I practice yoga. This is one of the most impactful moments of my life where I’ve had to put the yoga to work.
And you’ve done that so beautifully with the Juneteenth class and the Speak Up meditation in honor of #BlackLivesMatter. What has the transition been like going from in-person classes and yoga festivals to teaching virtually?
I’ve taught in China where there were 5,000 people and I could absorb that energy. So I have to take all of those experiences that I absorbed and bring them in the room with me. I can connect with people digitally and on social media. There are people who tell me I cried on the mat today, or someone else is like, that’s a fire playlist. I have access to share a practice that has certainly saved my life in many ways, and to be able to share that with folks during this challenging time is truly a blessing. It’s what I’ve been practicing for.
Your playlists are fire. In no other yoga class have I gone from Mahalia Jackson to Drake to Anita Baker. What role does music play in your classes?
When I was teaching yoga for the first time in Atlanta at a community center with my friend Cynthia, we were charging $7 for a class. A lot of people in our community [had] never practiced yoga before and we drew them in with our playlists. It was the music that brought them in. To be here at Peloton is like going back to my roots. To be able to call on all the things that have influenced and impacted me, especially my community, my culture—all those things—to be able to be encouraged to share that and yoga is a dream come true.
This has been a heavy year for many of us. How can yoga be used as a tool for social change?
Many people are being called to activism right now. My yoga practice supports me in making informed decisions in how I move. It’s a routine and practice for me to always be aware. It’s a perfect component to what we’re experiencing now as we move through activism and uprising and people using platforms to voice how they feel. We have to have these practices to remind us to breathe.
What advice do you have for people who may be new to yoga or curious about it?
Be kind to yourself. It is a tall order. Yoga is not easy. I’m not talking about the balancing and the handstands. I’m talking about the actual practice of carving out time for yourself—that’s a commitment. It’s worth giving it a try, especially because it’s a practice that’s so centered on understanding yourself in order to understand the world. Take your time, be patient, and call a friend. Have someone partner with you as you embark on this journey and enjoy the ride.
What is bringing you joy off the mat these days?
Joy in my life looks like seeing and working with the girls at Yoga, Literature, & Art camp. We went completely digital. We have a small cohort of leaders and they’ve been documenting their experiences through COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter—it’s the perspective of young women between the ages of 13 and 17. And that’s bringing me joy to know they’re being historians right now.
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