Yoga is about centering of the body and mind. Its power can be seen not just in the real world through various applications but also in stillness. One could cry on a mat and find healing and peace. Another person could find him or herself entangled in that competitive human emotion where embarrassment or being shown up is not an option. None of that should matter inside a yoga class. In that small room, everyone around you becomes white noise and it is you versus your mind and spirit.
The ideology and concepts can sound contorted to fit certain ideals, but that’s what lifelong Houstonians Alicia Tillman and Victoria Antoinette have said about what yoga does for them. Together, they’ve taken on a specific moniker, 2Dope Yogis, and have created an event, Trap Yoga and Tacos, where releasing toxins from the body and enjoying great music and tacos are the chief benefits. Two months ago, the first Trap Yoga took place at The Space and sold out. The event shifts to Warehouse Live tonight, where they’ve already sold out the Ballroom.
“Five hundred mats,” Tillman tells me, her long braids fixed into a honeycomb bun. It’s the day before the event and the self-proclaimed Awkward Yoga Girl has already pushed herself through a couple of meetings, a considerable knot in her shoulder and a bare face that is the perfect balance of relaxed yet serious. “We’re really about to see 500 mats in that one room.”
The support for Trap Yoga comes from a familiarity of both women, each having taken her own path to yoga. Tillman was known around circles as a sneaker plug working with Reebok as well as a familiar face within the music scene. Years of hearing people ask and not give eventually took a toll on her, to the point where one of her biggest identifiers, her hair, became a symbol of change. She was determined to find self. “I got tired of living this facade, of being the connect. Of being 'the sneaker chick,'” Tillman says. “Being this person I wanted people to see me as…rather than being real. Being too stand-offish. I didn’t want to seem too easy. I just wanted to be liked. So I went home — and cut my hair off.”
Antoinette interjects as only a best friend can. “When she sent me that pic? I died. I died!”
“It was the most vulnerable state of my entire life. ’Cause I saw me as who God made me as," she continues. "No makeup, no labels, no nothing. I had to realize because ‘I don’t know her, I don’t know who that is.’ It was the best thing that ever happened to me. Yoga reflects who you are as a person. It helps me deal with failure, with success and finding a balance in that.”
That was four or five years ago, Tillman estimates. Now she’s a yoga instructor who travels all over the city getting new clients and more. It sounds more like a natural revelation than anything else. Years prior, Dave Chappelle made a similar trek, albeit in a much different manner. Afraid of the label his show was creating in regards to what a mostly white audience chose to laugh at during a “racial pixie” sketch, Chappelle walked away. His highly touted departure from Chappelle’s Show has been brought up ad nauseam for 12 years, to the point where he riffs on it often during his current stand up specials.
Tillman pulled the plug on one aspect of her life and charged head first into another.
For Antoinette, yoga arrived in her life as anything else would: naturally. A flower child with a love for sneakers, music and womanhood, she can thank children for showing her that yoga works, not only for her. “It was a natural evolution for me,” she says. “When I was a pre-school teacher, it was hard to get my three-year-olds to settle down. And I had already done yoga by then, so to see them take to it and have an impact on their lives as it did mine? 'Cause it helps me keep centered and grounded. It helps me be in the moment but also look forward at the same time. It’s a trippy experience.”
She laughs, “It gives me life.”
In the last month after Harvey dumped historic rain on Houston and surrounding areas, Antoinette found yoga as another form of therapy. Remodeling her job, seeing people who had lost everything struggle at the various shelters across the city, it took a visible toll. “Yoga is the practice you do on the mat. The real practice? Is in the real-world. Everyday. Just to combat the things that keep you stuck.”
Tillman agrees, looking down at a tattoo on the inside of her wrist with the state outlined. The goal of creating something like Trap Yoga and Tacos came as a desire to be different from traditional yoga classes. Whereas one class could play songs by Enya and nature sounds and soothing music, Tillman and Antoinette could run through a cycle of songs from 2 Chainz to Lil Wayne to Too Short.
I pique both of them in regards to a certain random idea I had in mind. “Have you ever taught your yoga class to 'What These Women Want' while they’re in downward dog position?”
“Of course!” Tillman exclaims. Her time as a yoga instructor has only broadened her horizon in regards to how far Trap Yoga can go. Last week, she and musician Jack Freeman brought the event to New Orleans’ esteemed Ace Hotel, where a large crowd joined them. Antoinette smiles and recalls what brought her into helping spread the message of yoga through the event.
“I remember going to her classes and for other people it’s such a shock to their system,” Antoinette says of Tillman’s classes. “She doesn’t break from the traditions and rules of yoga [per se], but it’s delivered on such an urban, screw-head type platter that people are drawn to it.”
There are sequenced playlists that Tillman goes through as she instructs her class. One of them, entitled “Before I Paid Rent,” are littered with old school hip-hop songs centered around the time just before adulthood kicks in. Other pun heavy songs like Big Moe’s “Just a Dog” or more are littered in but Antoinette suggests that none of those song choices are corny. But there’s a few items from traditional yoga enthusiasts that annoy her, similar to the items and hearsay that gets lobbed at another popular hip-hop fused event: Trap Karaoke.
“It gets called “hip-hop yoga,” Tillman says dismissively. “I had a moment of taking offense to it because, if you like country music, is it called ‘country yoga'? If I played Enya, is it ‘Enya yoga'?
Antoinette deadpans, “Romanian monkey chant yoga.”
“Why does it have to be categorized, though?” Tillman asks. “I’m teaching the same yoga I teach everywhere. I pride myself on being a good teacher. I do a lot of teaching and learning and I take that very seriously. Everything else is aesthetics. You’re still doing the same thing from sanskrit chants to counting breaths as slow as possible.”
By calling it Trap Yoga, it invites a new crowd that wouldn’t normally attempt yoga. It’s a relatable catch; making people gravitate to yoga out of familiarity and respect. It also turns complete strangers into students. Tillman estimates that 75 percent of the crowd at the first Trap Yoga in July were people she did not even know. Getting a wide number of people to come out to a certain venue sheds a light to another one of Tillman’s fears: having a birthday party.
“You have never seen me have a birthday party,” she laughs. Antoinette ponders this for a moment before realizing that she’s exactly the same way. “That’s always the fear," she says. "Like you gotta make your best friends come. Or family.”
The organic growth of Trap Yoga and Tacos has been visible from the moment it was announced. Tillman overheard people in a meeting discussing it as they shared dates and plans in group messages. “We didn’t even tell anybody,” Tillman says. “We just had digital flyers.”
“I said, ‘Your mom and ‘nem bought all the tickets?’” Antoinette jokingly asks.
When the two of them originally thought about how many people would arrive to Warehouse for yoga, they expected a decent number. When they found out that they had sold out the Ballroom, in the back of their minds they let their hair down and laughed, big and proud.
“I’ve been to many, many events,” Tillman says. “And I’ve never heard of yoga selling that room out. I know concerts and Sneaker Summits, but not this. I had a girl hit me up after the first Trap Yoga on Instagram thanking me and to watch her growth and seeing her being able to do a handstand…that’s what makes it worth it.”
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The benefits of Trap Yoga and Tacos Vol. 2 go well beyond hearing the Chopstars play Houston music throughout the night. Partnering with The Hive Society ahead of their Houston Cares event Saturday at the Houston Food Bank, the 2Dope Yogis understand that community comes first for both of them.
“It’s such an integral part of who we are. The city literally raised us,” Antoinette says. “From these events to the music side of everything and having Warehouse hold us down, forever? To see our event on the marquee? It’s amazing to see that. It’s why yoga is such an amazing tool because people think they’ll be boxed out.”
“But life isn’t about you. Life is about all of us.”