Updated: Oct 19, 2020
With the ongoing discussions about BIPOC's rights and representation, myself and some colleagues cannot help but also tackle the issue of lack of diversity in the yoga room.
In the West, we can easily see that yoga classes are predominantly white. Also predominantly young fit women. We can surely attest that this does not represent the population - whatever country you are in.
Yoga is supposed to be an accessible, comfortable practice for all. The acrobatic-super-flexible image of yoga does not represent the meaning of this practice. Even if you are unable to move, you can still practice. It all comes down to breath, to noticing. A popular old text explaining the practice of yoga is Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. They focus greatly on the noticing and calming of the wandering thoughts. The constant churning of the mind is the problem we all face, the practice of noticing it, focusing on it, and quieting it down is yoga (amongst other things, there are many Sutras we can study!).
The yoga asanas (the physical practice that is most popular) is merely a tool. We can describe it as "meditation in movement", as the practice of moving mindfully can help focus the mind with some more ease than sitting still.
The asanas are also a preparation for the body to be able to stay still in meditation for long periods of time. So really, the yoga classes that are so popular are more of a preparation for the yoga practice than the practice itself.
So...how to fix this?
First, some of us don't want or cannot join the "power vinyasa flow" class. It involves large ranges of motion and some strength that are not inclusive for the general population. But if this population is interested in starting a yoga practice for mindfulness, focus, and/or just to feel better in their bodies, we need more accessible yoga asana classes.
Why aren't there more "beginners' yoga series", or chair yoga, on studio schedules? It doesn't look as "good", it's not such a "shiny" product. But it's what we all need. A space to mindfully move, breathe and focus, within our own body's capabilities.
Second, if all the teachers are white able-bodied women, how will an Indian man or a black woman feel drawn to that class or studio? They cannot relate, they may not feel comfortable or safe expecting to be the odd one out, they may not even consider the possibility of that practice being for them, since they don't see anyone who looks like them in that environment.
How can we fix that?
Hire BIPOC yoga teachers.
Notice your discomfort facing white privilege (without throwing that discomfort on BIPOC - Do your own work and study)
READ! listen to BIPOC voices, learn.
Let yourself let go of old biases, of old points-of-view, and invite compassion in. Imagine yourself in other peoples' shoes. Consider everyone, truly everyone, as a person with rights, feelings, needs and desires, just like you.
Dismantle the old patterns and biases you grew up learning. Notice them, and work on breaking them down.
This is not a one day kind of work. We grew up learning things, embodying ideas, whether we like it or not, but it is our responsibility to dismantle them. It is not enough to think you are not racists, you need to act on it. Starting with yourself and your inner thoughts and actions.
One step at a time - but keep walking.
One step at a time. Look in, look out. Notice the people around you, and acknowledge them.
Right now, what matters in yoga is taking the time to notice your privilege, your biases, to truly feel your discomforts and unravel them....that's the practice. That's much harder than achieving Pincha Mayurasana or whatever.. Movement is a tool, but the work is in your mind, your words and your actions.
How are you practicing today?