“I want a black yoga teacher,” my friend Patia, who is black, said to me over lunch one day. It was a curious declaration, even though I kind of understood why before she even explained.
“I walk around in this world feeling unsafe in my body, for the most part,” she told me. “When I’m practicing yoga, my body and mind are doing vulnerable things. If I feel secure in this space with a teacher who looks like me, I can let all parts of myself show up to class—not just the parts that I think are supposed to align with yoga.”
I get it. Yoga's origins—and you don't have to be raised Hindu like I was to know this—are about exercise and mindfulness and nothing the hell else. It is a come-as-you-are sport. I first practiced in India with an old, soft, grandfather-like yogi who, thank sweet Jesus, was not wearing spandex/mesh yoga pants and a racerback crop top. Doing yoga unfettered by mainstream expectations of perfection (i.e.: whiteness, skinniness, temporarily able-bodiedness) is an incredible luxury—and something worth exploring.
Shout outs to the yoga studios who encourage humans of all types to come practice in a “safe space.” That’s cute.
Creating an actual safe space means making room for leaders from marginalized groups—ones who, just by existing, are actively fighting the unspoken rules that the whitewashed wellness world has imposed upon a ritual that was designed to be inclusive. It means allowing them the emotional and, hello, financial empowerment of teaching.
Another note on why we need more black, brown, male, gay, trans, thicc yoga teachers: There are mental health benefits in spending time with people who look like you and carry similar social stressors (as well as joys) that you do. Patia's feeling maps onto a real and widespread phenomenon.
Setu, a yoga community built as a platform for "elevating practitioners with different body types, skin colors, gender identities, and life stories." The site serves as a portal for people to check out and support teachers, as well as find classes, videos, and communities to join. Setu dropped a video this week to cement their message that yoga does not discriminate, and the people we see at the front of the yoga studio should reflect that.
So one more time for the people in the back: Yoga is for everyone. Let's start teaching like it is.
Video by Jacob Krupnick of Wild Combination for Setu Yoga
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