Black-led Community Spotlight: Felicia Savage Friedman of YogaRoots On Location | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Black-led Community Spotlight: Felicia Savage Friedman of YogaRoots On Location

click to enlarge Black-led Community Spotlight: Felicia Savage Friedman of YogaRoots On Location
CP Photo: Jared Murphy
Felicia Savage Friedman teaches a chair yoga class at The Kingsley Association in July 2019.
For many, the word “yoga” conjures images of watercolor sunsets and people sitting with their legs crossed, hands extended with palms up toward the sky. Yoga itself started as an ancient Indian cultural and religious practice, and as it became popular in the Western world, teachers began to alter and add on to traditional principles. For Felicia Savage Friedman of YogaRoots On Location, the practice still holds some of its spiritual roots, but she also adds social justice elements to it. For Friedman, yoga is an embodied practice that has roots in the self and in the greater community a person resides in. This is why she has combined the traditions of Raja yoga with anti-racism and anti-oppression frameworks.

Friedman came to yoga as a practice 32 years ago. She was a member of the East End Food Co-op, followed a vegan lifestyle, and prided herself on being healthy. She met her first yoga teacher at the co-op and studied under her for six years. She says her main focus was taking care of her body, and her family. She has two children (Maya and Cleveland) who were young when she started her yoga and meditation practice. Friedman didn’t start to teach until after those six years of study.

“I didn't get into yoga planning to be a teacher at all. I would look at and compare myself to my colleagues who were also studying,” says Friedman. “We were studying at the same time. I wasn’t as flexible as them. It took me longer to understand and conceptualize the concepts.”

YogaRoots On Location, a roaming yoga practice serving the Pittsburgh area, started 11 years ago after Friedman had originally been teaching yoga for the Healthy Black Family Project out of the Kingsley Center in Larimer. Friedman says in addition to being a part of the HBFP, she was a part of a research endeavor from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, in which she was asked to travel around the city and teach. With all these things on her plate, she decided it was time to make her business “legitimate” and YogaRoots On Location was born.

Friedman has taught at the Allegheny County Jail, Schuman Juvenile Detention Center, and most fitness facilities in the city. Naming her business was easy, she says. “I was like ‘yoga roots,’ this is my roots, me going back to my roots in terms of being healthy,” she says. “And it's me reclaiming my healthiness, but then also taking it out. And that's why I was ‘on location.’ Because I didn't want to have a physical building. I wanted to take yoga to other people at their locations.”

Meeting people where they are is a part of her philosophy as a teacher. Friedman says you don’t need to have a background in yoga to attend one of her classes. She calls herself the “queen of modification” in that regard. She reiterates that before she started teaching, she had a fear that she wasn’t flexible enough to teach, or not familiar enough with the tenets of Raja yoga. For her classes, creating a space where everybody feels their needs are being met and their strengths being highlighted is central. Friedman emphasizes the importance of “practice,” remarking that we all have daily practices like exercise or writing. As long as you bring that energy into the yoga space, you are successful, she says.

And she adds that during COVID times, YogaRoots On Location has blossomed, despite loss on multiple levels. Part of her mission is to empower people through employment at a living wage along with the physical movement and spiritual practice of yoga.

YogaRoots On Location is also a place that is friendly for those new to anti-racism and anti-oppression work. One might wonder how these two topics overlap, but Friedman says there are many tenets of each that complement each other.

One of the precepts is nonviolence, and the promise to do no harm. As a part of their practice, yogis take a vow to do no harm and to practice nonviolence in their daily lives. Friedman says the nonviolence aspect is crucial to both yoga and anti-racism work. “Oppression is about people not seeing their own power, you know, if people really see their power and see their worth and are encouraged to their best selves, then we won't oppress each other,” says Friedman. “We won't feel that level of competition. We'll see each other's gifts and, and we'll cooperate.”
click to enlarge Black-led Community Spotlight: Felicia Savage Friedman of YogaRoots On Location
Felicia Savage Friedman (top left) and members of the AntiRacist Raja Yoga group, including Shelly Regner, Antiracist Raja Yoga Teacher and Facilitator and social worker (top right); Sheba Gittens, Antiracist Raja Yoga Practitioner, Healing Mother, and Teacher/Facilitator (middle left); Naomi Ritter, Marketing Specialist and Yoga Teacher in Training (middle right); and, Lori Crawford, Grant Fairy and Creativity Curator (bottom) pose for a Zoom portrait on Thu., April 22.
She says part of her job as a yoga teacher is to help people live their most incredible lives, and that can’t happen in an oppressive society, so she combines the two to create a more equitable experience. She says just as we see animals out in nature that come together to cooperate for the sake of the home base, we as humans must do the same.

Friedman focuses her teachings on the eight limbs of Raja yoga she practices: intrapersonal restraints like purity, contentment, self-study, self-discipline, surrender to higher power; interpersonal observances: non-violence, moderation/celibacy, non-possessiveness, non-hoarding; movement practice; breathing techniques; sensory withdrawal; concentration; universal meditation; and purposeful life.

She says the seventh limb — universal meditation — has to do with being single-minded in focus.

“So if I'm present with you right now, me being single-minded and focused, then you get energetically from me that you're important to me because I'm sharing my time and my energy with you,” says Friedman. “So I feel that's the antithesis of racism or patriarchy because oppression doesn't recognize us. It's about power over. It's not about sharing and honoring.”

YogaRoots On Location.
This community feature is made possible by the financial support of
Peoples, an Essential Utilities Company

Disability Pride
22 images

Disability Pride

By Mars Johnson