Empowering people through yoga

Posted at 11:33 PM, Jun 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-21 23:34:41-04

Yoga has become a way of life for millions around the world. People swear by its healing and life-improving effects.  It's estimated that more than 36 million people in the United States practice yoga.
WMAR 2 News spoke to one Baltimore man who's using the ancient practice to help thousands of underserved people in the city. 

Changa Bell founded The Black Male Yoga Initiative to educate and empower black men ages 14 and up. For him, it's a labor of love that started with the influence of his yogi father. 

"I had him as a mentor and I still do.  He's 75 and you'll still find him in the winter, on the porch, with no shirt on, doing yoga.  Definitely, his modeling is very effective in me becoming a yogi." Bell said.

Bell is a father of six, a social activist and entrepreneur.  He also has a big following with his initiative. 

"We want to educate and support and encourage black men to be health leaders. We serve 16-65 but a segment that's real important here in Baltimore is the age 16-19. We work with juvenile offenders and try to keep them out of harms way," Bell told WMAR 2 News.

"If lived properly, life is yoga.  No matter what you do.  Kung Fu is yoga, golf is yoga.  It's a level of concentration and commitment and devotion and gratitude."

Those components can change and empower lives.

"By allowing yourself to experience that level of meditation you gain more focus, more discipline obviously strength, physical strength, but also mental strength," said Black Male Yoga Initiative student, Brian Furr.

Bell says yoga saved his life.

"I had a heart, some kind of weird cardiac situation about 16 years ago.  Doctor's didn't really know what was going on, they wanted to put a pacemaker in my heart," said Bell.

And that's when the ancient, healing exercise stepped in transformed him.

"I turned to yoga and healthy living and it saved my life and I figured it could save the lives of many other people."

Bell's students say his training has been life-changing.  

"Yoga has a great way of calming the spirit, calming the soul," said Corey Witherspoon, one of Bell's students.

Witherspoon is making his way through the program; and said he could've benefited from someone like bell growing up as a child in Baltimore.

"I grew up in an environment where me and my family were homeless several times.  We had to do whatever we could to make it. What the youth are going through, this will go ahead and give them a reset a calming an outlet away from the storm," Witherspoon said.

Bell has been selected to be a part of a special academy for social entrepreneurs put on by Red Bull called The Amaphiko Academy this year. He says his goal is to bring hope through yoga to those in Baltimore and across the globe.

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