Diversifying Yoga

Every now and again, I come across an article which seeks to address diversity issues in modern-day mainstream yoga.  For me, it calls into question many things about yoga, American social conditioning, and perhaps a tendency we may each have to imagine a so-called truth.  Don't get me wrong, I believe that anyone who seeks to address equality, diversity, accessibility issues should be commended for their good intention.  There have been two recent articles that have garnered a bit of attention: (The Atlantic: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2014/07/why-your-yoga-class-is-so-white/374002/and a follow-up on Decolonizing Yoga: http://www.decolonizingyoga.com/reasons-yoga-class-white/).  Check them out.

Articles such as these suggest that yoga studios are inherently inhospitable and that the lack of diversity is caused in part, by the studio's lackluster effort to invite, promote, and embrace people of color (POC).  Let's expand the argument a bit to include LGBTQ, POC, and people who are overweight.  The statement that I have a problem, or better yet- that I AM the problem when there's a general lack of diversity in my classes seems to be void of key considerations.  Considering the history and evolution of today's yoga, paralleled with the history and evolution of the US, combined with one's own ever evolving self-awareness, it seems to me somewhat illogical to play the game of blame and shame.

At some point, don't we have to simply take some responsibility for our attachment to our thoughts about how things should be, or how we wish they were?  Let's keep it real, nobody is asking me to use the rear entrance or to use a separate shower. And of course, if there's an incident of discrimination/oppression, it should be taken very seriously.  At some point, don't we have to see our own preoccupations, hesitations, biases, and fears for what they are?  If you're a person of color, or LGBTQ, or overweight, or a man for that matter- do you really want your ego catered to? or do you show up to do yoga?

It's as though we need to establish a theoretical starting point.  With that starting point, Yoga would hold 3 principles at its foundation:  1) Acknowledge the practice for what it is: holistic, spiritual, and universally beneficial.  Stick to the script, leaving ego at the door.  2) Sincere offerings of the practice inherently accept all who come through the doors.  3)  The spread of yoga happens when we lead by example, sharing what we can with whomever is in the space to bear witness.

As a person of color, I have certainly been faced with issues here and there.  I have been on my mat, waiting for class to start, noticing how one after another, people would come in and avoid placing their mat down next to mine.  I have practiced with a room full of people, and an open space beside me.  I had a choice.  I could take it personally, be all up in my headspace about it.  I could go on about how racist yogis are at this particular studio. OR I could handle my bidness.

I could recognize that none of the thoughts or judgements about how I perceived that I was being treated have anything to do with why was actually there.  One could argue that this type of so-called treatment is a barrier to me getting what I came for.  To that I say, meh, I'm not convinced.  By the same logic, would I then refuse to go to work because nobody sits next to me on the subway?  I say: Handle. Your. Business.  Stay responsible for the energy that you bring to the studio, as teacher or student.

From personal hot buttons to marketing schemes, isn't it time we realize our own insecurities and susceptibilities?  Yoga Co. XYZ says: "Come practice here, we'll accept you as you are"???  (News flash: the practice already has!)  So then, what does it say about Yoga Co. XYZ that wants to use your ego preoccupations as fuel for their marketing, while the practice has already, and continues to teach loving-kindness, non-judgment, compassion, etc?  What are you learning there?  What is being reinforced and is it yogic?

It's as though the yoga practice has a life of it's own.  Born far away from here, growing in scope and influence over the years, it has its foundation as a spiritual practice.  It has its history, one that truly lacked diversity, I might add.    Morphing and expanding, not to fit your ego, but to offer a way out from it.  It seems that we are impatient, lacking vision and wisdom enough to see that the spread of yoga is happening in this moment.  The spread of yoga amongst minorities and others is happening in various ways, and is defined beyond the snapshot of today.

What would be the real message if I stood in front of my class this morning and suggested that I'd like to have more people present that look like me?  That I'm personally not satisfied with the current pace of expansion of the practice? That I'm uncomfortable or insecure, or uncomfortably insecure?  Would it not be a message in opposition with a principle teaching of the practice?   That principle teaching: "Leave your ego at the door".

Teachers may create special classes, and studios may start outreach programs.  That's all well and good, and good intentioned.  Perhaps the most important and most logical way that we take responsibility for the spread of yoga into diverse populations is that we do our best to lead by example.  This can mean multiple different things for different people.  For me, this may mean that I try to live the practice in a way such that if one of the hundreds of my friends, relatives, colleagues, and acquaintances of various backgrounds have the urge or impulse to try yoga, they are perhaps more open to the follow through.   For me, supporting the growth of the practice lies not only in teaching, but also in writing, offering a space where calling into question any and everything is welcome.  For me, supporting the expansion of yoga lies in my willingness to call bullshit when warranted and be the one who reminds you to stick to the script.

Beyond diversity, there's Onenesss.