March 24, 2014

Yoga & Inclusivity: Are We Ready to Act?

yoga outside arms up practice class

The more I study and teach yoga, the more I want to share it with the world.

It’s such an amazing practice that has evolved over centuries. The yoga that began in the east is not the yoga we see today in the west. Yoga has transformed in the west to suit our society and culture, and this is not necessarily a bad thing.

I believe western culture has added lots of positive elements to the practice, but we have missed a lot of the important teachings. Here in the west, our focus on the body beautiful aspects of the asana practice has created an ideal image of yoga as a function of beauty as opposed to a tool of transformation and enlightenment. We focus so much on what we see and what we can do in the physical practice that we forget about the spiritual connection. In the west, we put very little value on the spiritual practices. This is unfortunate because those practices are the ones that really sustain us.

My vision of yoga is to have everyone who wants to practice yoga, to be able to practice in a compassionate, supportive and inclusive environment.

One of most influential texts in my practice is the Bhavagad Gita. For me it’s most powerful message is to take action.

My life’s passion and work is to make yoga available and accessible to all, but I am not sure we live in a yoga culture that really wants that.

We say it, we preach it, and we talk about it but very few of us really take action. We are resistant to making changes that can help create a more inclusive yoga culture. I want to take action and help inspire teachers, yoga educators, and studio owner to create spaces, classes, and workshops that help everyone get to the mat.  We need to make changes to help take the scariness out of yoga. People say they are interested in doing this, but they don’t action.

They don’t really want to change their spaces or their classes. Most studios in the west cater to, and market to, an elite group of highly educated, financially successful, physically flexible Caucasian women and men. This is the largest demographic group of people who do yoga in the west. They are people we see in popular yoga publications and yoga marketing. Of course the people you market to are the people who are going to show up in your studio. Why are we so scared to open the door to everyone else? We say we want to transform the world but we don’t take action.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Yogahands.jpgAs a Yoga Teacher Trainer, yoga student and a bigger bodied person of colour, I have created my own Teacher Training Program to serve as many diverse populations as I can. The teachers who have graduated from our program teach to a wide range of students confidentially and successfully.

I am still learning and evolving. I have compiled everything I have learned and want to share it with the world. I have petitioned popular yoga magazines to open the doors to diversity with their advertising and articles but of my words fall on deaf ears. I have sent out hundreds proposals for workshops to all the major yoga studios in my region and beyond and only one invited to share what I learned. Those who bothered to respond to me thought it was a great idea but didn’t want to offer it at their space.

I was thrilled to be welcomed to Rama Lotus Yoga Centre in the heart of Canada’s capital, to talk and to share about yoga and diversity. I was thrilled at the participants who came from as far as Toledo Ohio to learn about sharing yoga with everyone. I was blessed that the manager of the yoga centre was excited and supported this vision. She actively participated in the workshop and wanted concrete ways make her space friendlier to diversity. It will be hard to do because you will have to make changes and not everyone wants that.

Most of us are resistant to change because it can be uncomfortable and unfamiliar. Yoga teaches us to sit with our discomfort. As yoga teachers we encourage our students in classes all the time to breathe through discomfort, but when it comes to dealing with people who are different then us, or people who make uncomfortable, then we seem to politely ignore the message. We even politely ignore students in our classes who are different.

One of my biggest pet peeves is going into a new studio and being ignored by the teacher because I am bigger or perhaps because I am brown or both. My suggestion is if you have a new student in class, introduce yourself and acknowledge them, it goes a long way to creating a safe space for all.

I want to thank Jen and the beautiful souls who attended my workshop at Rama Lotus Centre for being people of action. You are fearless and spirits for change and inclusiveness. I want to thank them for stepping forward and wanting to be the change they see on the mat.  I know it’s hard for some of us to truly understand what it’s like to marginalized, ignored or discriminated against. I think unless it has happened to you personally, it’s hard to truly understand it.  As a society, unless it directly affects us, we tend to ignore it.

I hope one day that yoga in west will be fully realized by all shapes, genders, cultures and ethnicities. Yoga, inclusion and diversity will only work if we all participate.

We all have the power to unite the world with compassion and love. Will you take action?


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Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Wikimedia Commons 

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