Reflections on Race in Yoga

“Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about the divisive reality in which we live. When I go to yoga, why do I sometimes feel like an outsider? Is it race? I have to admit that when I go to yoga and see a lack of racial diversity, I question it. I ask myself why there aren’t more [BIPOC] in these yoga classes and why does that make me feel so uncomfortable (outsider-ish). Yes, there are [sometimes] one or two [BIPOC] per class, but overall, the homogeneity of the yoga classroom does not (usually) represent the demographics of the outside community.

After quite a bit of self-reflection, I am still trying to understand how this lack of diversity in my yoga classrooms (and perhaps yours too) affects me and how I can change it. Recently, I came to this strange realization that in the classes I teach (compared to the classes that I take), there is so much diversity …. Am I–as a teacher aware of my own discomfort with yoga’s exclusivity– now attracting [BIPOC]?” *

The above excerpt is from a blog post of mine from 2016. It’s been almost 4 years and not much has changed. I remember writing this post and feeling almost ashamed of my feelings. The yoga community had been so open and loving toward me…where were these feelings of “otherness” coming from?

Through conversations with friends of color, I have realized that these feelings are actually far from uncommon. The Western yoga space has been whitewashed. It is largely an exclusive club and often inaccessible to people of color. Yoga comes from India, yet it is mostly taught by white teachers in white-owned studios. It is also expensive and is more present in wealthy, white neighborhoods. I can acknowledge this while still firmly believing that yoga is a good, safe place for many and that yoga is powerful and has the ability to change so many lives. However, currently the safe space is often only safe for some and not all. Don’t get me wrong…I am so thankful for my mostly-white yoga community. I am grateful for my mentors/teachers (most of whom are white). But, I know something in the landscape of yoga needs to change. We cannot keep preaching love, unity, and acceptance when our own community is not a reflection of that.

What can we do to diversify the landscape of yoga (and wellness in general)? I have many ideas on this but here are a few…

  1. Acknowledge that there’s a problem. Have open discussions with your community.
  2. If you’re a white-owned studio: Diversify your studio. Hire teachers of color. Build meaningful relationships. Ask how you can create a safe space for BIPOC teachers and students.
  3. If you’re a BIPOC teacher, think about creating your own safe space where students of color can come together. You have a unique perspective and understanding.

I have started following more yoga teachers of color, specifically Black teachers, on instagram as well as studios that offer classes for BIPOC. While the landscape of yoga may look similar to that of 4 years ago, in these past few weeks there has been a major shift in the conversation. Although there has long been an awareness with yogis of color that there is something missing in the space of yoga, this awareness is now spreading to the general community.

This is just the beginning of what I hope is a long, continuing conversation and effort to build the inclusiveness and accessibility of yoga.

*I substituted the term “minority” for “BIPOC” which stands for “Black, Indigenous, People of Color.” The term minority is outdated as we are quickly becoming the majority.

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