Inviting diversity into our yoga classes is so important. When Vivekananda came to the United States his intention was to spread Yoga. He was a non-dual teacher and believed the key to reducing or ending suffering altogether was the realization that there is no separation. This realization, Vivekananda believed, came through Yoga.
Yoga originated from the fertile crescent, not necessarily India per se, but from the region that does include India, Tibet, Egypt, the Middle East, and Asia. We have to recognize that humans were practicing forms of Yoga all over the globe and that over time Yoga became concentrated in India. All of this is to say that Yoga did not originate in Europe or White America and perpetuating the idea that Yoga is what you see on social media is a disservice to the teachers who brought the practice to North America.
With great power comes great responsibility, and we have to see that North American influence, followed closely by European Influence, dominates the aspirational mass media marketplace. Clothing, jewelry, accessories, and lifestyles are all sold on the idea that thin, white, beautiful people dominate society, but that is fundamentally not true. If Yoga is to be truly inclusive then it is important to ask ourselves how we invite diverse voices into our communities.
It starts by making yoga and yoga teacher training accessible. If we are not creating authentic, accessible, and affordable yoga offerings that are in alignment with the ancient wisdom teachings then we are doing nothing more than capitalizing on a fitness trend. To authentically represent Yoga we must invite diversity and embrace the multifaceted nature of the human experience.
When we invite others outside of our direct race, socio-economic group, aesthetic, or friend group we are shifting the in-group/out-group dynamics. This is key to inviting diversity. If you are a black woman who only has black friends but is upset about the division and lack of diversity you have to ask yourself why you’re upset. If you’re a white woman who is heartbroken because black men are being killed at routine traffic stops, but you don’t have any friends who are black you have to ask yourself how you can be heartbroken. If you’re a straight man who says they support LGBTQAI+ but doesn’t know anyone personally who falls within that spectrum ask yourself how you are actually supporting that community. Thoughts and prayers don’t go anywhere anymore. Action is the only thing that speaks the truth as we move forward in society.
The pandemic taught us a lot about the way our culture responds to trauma. We have our patterns and our patterns are excellent tools for self-study. Don’t get angry with yourself or the messenger who prompted you to ask yourself these deeper questions. Meet yourself with mindfulness; observation without judgment is the definition of mindfulness. When we meet ourselves with mindfulness we are capable of getting to the root, which is usually fear. Fear of rejection, fear of being outside of our comfort zone, fear of having to be with the feelings that might come up. All of these feelings, these fears, are valid, but they shouldn’t keep us from diversifying our community.
This is true even when we look at weight. Look at the friend groups in your community. Look at in-group and out-group dynamics. Usually, individuals who have similar lifestyles hang out together, befriend each other, and they support each other. Ask yourself why? Is there someone in your circle of friends that you love and extend compassion to yet who puts you outside of your comfort zone? How often does that happen? Why? These exercises help us to get real with ourselves and our intentions as teachers and potentially studio managers or owners.
When we hire teachers or hang out with teachers or students who actually represent the population rather than an aspiration we are fostering diversity in our communities. Our yoga communities need this. Everyone needs to feel welcome. Everyone needs to feel seen, heard, and connected to. Creating relationships with teachers who look different from you will help, and working with students who look different than you and have different interests than you will help too. We can’t just hang out with people who look and act like us if we want to invite diversity. We have to invite diverse faces, races, and preferences to the table if we want to grow as a diverse community.