The fact that yoga in the western world is about fitness and image is nothing new. Yoga studios are normally filled with young, thin, white, middle to upper class women wearing tight spandex. The lack of diversity in age, size, race, social-economic status, and gender in people practicing yoga in the western world is a huge problem, and not one we are oblivious to. This is not to mention the lack of diversity in the styles of yoga offered as well as the lack of education about what yoga even is.
I am a “typical” western yogi in many ways. I am white, young-ish, middle class, and female. Additionally, I practice yoga and meditate every day. And yet, somehow, I still don’t feel like even I belong in a typical yoga studio. My body is curvy, not what I associate with a “yoga body.” My yoga clothes are usually baggy and comfortable. I am flexible, but there are many, many poses that I cannot do, either because I’m lacking the flexibility or the strength or because I’m very tall and my center of gravity is different…or something. Also, I practice types of yoga that are largely out of the main stream and sometimes seen as strange, even by other yogis. If an experienced yoga teacher who mostly fits the “typical” mold and practices yoga at home every. single. day. feels out of place in the yoga world, what hope is there for everyBODY else to feel included?
I wish I had answers. I know there are studios, like 21st Yoga, that are making efforts to reach out, break stereotypes, be deliberately inclusive, and offer a wide-variety of classes. I know, too, that there are teachers teaching yoga in low-income schools, in hospitals, in rehab facilities, in prisons, and many other places where people may not normally have access to yoga. As for my part, for now, please know that you are welcome in my classes exactly as you are. Come in a tattered t-shirt or sweatpants. Come with your perfect yoga body, because if your body is in a yoga class, it IS a yoga body. Do my yoga classes from a chair, if you like. Take what poses and exercises and meditations work for you and leave the rest. Talk with me if yoga interests you, but the costs are prohibitive.
It’s really no surprise that I’m drawn to classes (Yin, Nidra, Kundalini)where everyone keeps their eyes closed the whole time (but only if they want to!). Whatever kind of yoga classes you are drawn to, physically or metaphorically practice closing your eyes and I’ll do the same. Let’s make the experience what it’s meant to be–a way to reconnect and integrate all of the parts of ourselves. Flexibility and strength are just awesome side effects, real yoga is internal.