Is Yoga Accessible to All? Thoughts from the Black Yogini

“In the practice of Yoga one can emphasize the body, the mind or the self and hence the effort can never be fruitless.”

– Tirumalai Krishnamacharya

My love affair of yoga began back in 2014 and it could not have come at a better time. I was struggling with the death of a family member, a crippling relationship with a parent, cold rejection from a man I had no business loving (lusting over), and an all-round sense of utter hopelessness in where my life was going. Who said a quarter-life crisis wasn’t real?

I had my doubts about it, wondering whether it was really for me? I didn’t know anyone that looked like me who did yoga and, whenever mentioned, it was often ridiculed or seen as something that others do. Surely it’s for the hippie vegans, the super conscious fit hipsters, for the atheists who secretly desire to follow some quasi-religion or the middleclass housewives with a lot of time on their hands. And yet I gave it a go because I simply wanted to improve my flexibility. I joined a gym which had numerous yoga classes and this was the start of a great love affair. Within the first year I probably attended over 200 classes not only in my gym but also yoga events around London to get a different feel for different teaching styles. It has been, and continues to be, a wonderful experience meeting people that I would not normally socialise with and being taught by people who are philosophically attuned, altruistic and have an impressive level of strength and flexibility.

Salone wheel pose

However as I entered deeper in the world of yoga I began to wonder, Is Yoga Accessible to All?

Instinctively I would say yes but yoga is seriously lacking in diversity, or so it would seem. As the practise continues to increase in popularity the face of it continues to remain very homogenous; conventionally beautiful, slender Californian-Dreaming looking men and women. Which of course means only slim, able-bodied White people.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, after all such people practise yoga too. However there is something wrong with it when that’s all we see. Why are the other avid participants of yoga who fall outside of this image not being represented in images and marketing associated with yoga? I can tell you now that yoga will not necessarily give you chiselled abs nor dramatically reduce your weight, make you taller or have shinier longer hair. I have come across many people of all body shapes and sizes that practise yoga and do it often. For instance, I once had the pleasure of going into a class where the instructor had one arm, and even though she was born that way, it had not prevented her from being a qualified yoga, dance and fitness instructor and all round performer. I’ve also been taught by much older individuals, people who would be written off as weak by the eyes of many. The more and more I practise yoga outside of a gym environment the more I see it in its intended state; participants of all sections of society willing to invest time in their physical (and in some cases spiritual) wellbeing in the practise of yoga. Yet the popular culture of  yoga and yogis is still very limiting and only  purport a glossy fallacy which can intimidate others from discovering it.

handstand

Even with its growing accessibility I fear that yoga is in danger of appearing to be yet another exclusive hobby for the hipsters and middle class (which itself is almost a racially and economically homogenous group of people in most western countries) which may prevent anyone outside that bracket from trying yoga. When I first started practising I would come in with my £3 leggings from Primark and basic H&M tank top; already I noticed that I looked out of place with my cheap apparel. I was, and in some cases still am, the only non-White person in the room, with a larger bust than everyone else that seemed to serve as a nuisance whilst in some poses. I even thought my body was vulgar in the context of yoga purely because the images of the people who practise it do not have breasts reaching DDs and further. I executed the moves with a lack of grace and strength and thought that I would never reach a level of flexibility demonstrated in the class.

But I still kept going, why? Because yoga, ultimately, is a solitary practise. You may be in a room with other people, but in that moment it is about having an appreciation for your body and discovering what it can do (which is a lot more than what we initially think it can). With that I began to see changes, I was becoming stronger, more flexible and somehow the impossible became easy. I grew an inner confidence that felt illustrious.

Now when I walk in a studio, no matter who is there or what I wear I know that I am entitled to be there.

Do you practice yoga or a hobby that is almost exclusively targeted to a specific race, gender, physical ability etc? Let me know your thoughts.

SIDENOTE: Yoga can be an expensive hobby, but it really doesn’t have to be. If you are interested in doing yoga, do some research to see what it really is about and how it can help you. I would also advise people to join a gym that offers yoga classes. If joining the gym is not something that you can do then I would say all you need is to purchase a yoga mat (an inexpensive one from Amazon should suffice for now), internet connection and commitment. Thankfully there are many people who have uploaded their practise on YouTube, which is essentially a free class. I follow on Instagram many advanced practitioners of yoga who are self-taught and never stepped in a class before. Commitment and patience is key. Yoga is an ancient gift from India that EVERYONE can benefit from. You can do it!

MG

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4 comments

  1. In western countries Yoga is spreading mainly through business.That is why Yoga business is rapidly expanding.The main reason is of course is the powerful impact of yoga in improving the human life. That is physical, mental and spiritual.

    But this is not the situation in India, even today, from where it has originated. The main purpose of yoga is spiritual improvement, that is to know the reality of life,that is is to discover the self and attain the supreme bliss. So it is natural that, when this condition is achieved, no disease can remain in the body and happiness bound to prevail.That means disease cure is a by-product of yoga. this is the reason why yoga is spreading in the west.

    So it never meant that any particular group can do yoga and others can not.

    I congratulate you for your yoga practice and also for this discussion.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hi Satyananda Jena, thank you so much for your comment and positive feedback. I totally agree that in different parts of the world yoga is appreciated differently. Thankfully, as you have mentioned, yoga had really improved both my mental and physical health and I really wished many people would try it! But I fear that the western glossy image of yoga alienates people who cannot relate to such images. I certainly endeavour to go to India and explore the origins of yoga!

    Thank you once again for your kind words, and I hope your practise continues to bring you physical and mental joy!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Kickrocs, yes do give it ago, and if you find that it’s not for you there’s no shame in it! It’s just another great way to take care of yourself, so don’t let anyone stop you 🙂

      Like

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