Why are Black Women Lacking Visibility in Yoga Spaces?
Because the wellness community has a diversity issue.
In all of my 21 years, I honestly thought yoga wasn’t something we do. With the lack of representation of Black Yogis and instructors in the space, I’m not really sure if I can fault myself for having this perspective.
In the digital age, we all look to social media for the latest fads and trending stories happening all around us. Just about five years ago, I’m pretty sure I couldn’t tell you what the term wellness means or what exactly it encompasses. Today, the word is highlighted in almost all conversations with friends and colleagues and its even the topic for largely held conferences all over the world. But, I am beginning to notice that the most importance voices are being left out of these conversations — Black Women.
In an interview with Shape Magazine, founder of Black Girl In Om, Lauren Ash sides with my notion in stating, “What you see in the world, is what you believe you can do. If you don’t see a lot of Black women teaching yoga, you’re not going to think its an opportunity for you.” This statement precisely holds truth to the many opportunities that we’ve denied ourselves mostly because we don’t see anyone like us to connect with in these spaces.
The literal definition of ‘yoga’ is to unite or be in union and create a connection. Yoga is the practice that bridges the connection between our mind, body and spirit. While being the only Black woman in my yoga classes and never once seeing a Black yoga instructor, I easily notice how difficult it is for me to find my inner balance and flow through yoga poses. While not being able to physically and spiritually connection with the women around me, this does in fact alter how deeply I can engage with the practice.
Being the only Black girl on the mat creates discomfort and self-doubt.
One of my most uncomfortable experiences in the yoga space has been scaling the room and noticing the vast difference in my figure compared to everyone around me. Indeed no one woman is the same, but as a beginner trying to learn new poses and guide my breath-work, I find that I often re-shift or alter my pace and body movements to match others in the room. It’s the idea that because I am surrounded by white women, they must know what they’re doing, and they must be regulars of the practice.
There is an exclusion of body positivity and women of color in the online yoga community.
I believe that the discomfort in my experiences goes hand in hand with the media constantly perpetuating the ideal yogi — slim, slender, affluent and a white woman. The media has normalized and engrained in our minds that the practice of yoga is only exclusive to those that fit the description. Where is the representation for our plus size women? Or even women with disabilities? Within the online wellness community, you will also notice the lack of women of color yogis and wellness advocates engaging in the practice. Again, if we don’t actually see women like us on a medium that is most familiar to us, its hard to believe that its for us.
Yoga courses can cost you a pretty-penny, ultimately making the practice less accessible.
Aside from the lack of visibility through media, majority of yoga studios and classes are held in wealthy, affluent communities. The number of black owned yoga studios and yoga instructors based in our own communities are strikingly low. The practice alone can cost you a pretty-penny as a single course can rack up to about $12-$25. While some fitness facilities include yoga courses within their membership fees, there is still a great inaccessibility for some communities. Not to mention, most fitness facilities are also in affluent communities, leaving others having to find means transportation, which is also another added expense.
I cannot undermine the benefits of yoga as it has been a wonderful peace practice for me. But, I can only imagine how much my experience can change if I were surrounded by women who have all connection to my roots. Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to experience this at Lauren Ash’s Spiritual Downloads in NYC (at a beautiful black owned yoga studio I now call home — Heal Haus in Brooklyn, New York). It is truly amazing to notice the vast difference in how easy it was for me to find my inner balance and connect with my most inner self through meditation. There is magic in creating shared energy with the women who feel you, without having to know everything about you. This is the same energy that brought me to tears knowing that every woman around me has experienced some of the same pains that I have. And this is also the same energy that helped reshape my perspective on how important it is for Black women to be at the core of these wellness conversations.
Yoga was made for women of color to help us all heal from traditional and generational trauma. While so many of us feel a disconnect in being the only Black women in the work place, what a revolutionary act it would be to create a community of spiritual healing and well-being amongst one another.
I will also add, although many of us are excluded from bringing our mat to the studio, I still see the importance of creating an understanding amongst those who are not like us. Being able to see the beauty of many different body shapes and skin tones, while engaging in a practice to help deepen your own self-awareness… Yeah, there is magic in that. There is an opportunity to develop deeper connections amongst one another and also engage in conversations that highlight the many different cultural healing practices and experiences that we all carry with us. Diversifying the yoga community both online and in real life, can only help us learn and increase compassion that we share for one another. Yoga does not only have to be a personal peace practice, but one for the community to bridge better inclusion for everyone.
This piece was originally written for Medium