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The Struggle Of The Black Yogi

in YD News, Yogitorials

chioko-yd-postby Chioko Grevious

I really want to practice yoga. God knows I do. I don’t want to practice to be super trendy, or the clothes provide a little slimming effect. I want to practice because yoga, for me, represents a connection between my mind and my body. Yoga represents peace, tranquility and concentration.

I have been in yoga classes that start off well enough. I walk in, a couple of people look at me like, “Oh God…she doesn’t know how to do yoga.  Bless her heart.” I sit on my blue mat and close my eyes. I breathe deeply and meditate, slightly. The instructor starts speaking in a hushed tone, giving complex instructions, and my confidence fades away.  At that exact moment I remember why it took me so long to join a class. I feel as if my body wasn’t designed to complete those complex poses that have been requested of me.

I am a black woman with some serious curves and a good handful of boobs. My body cannot easily manipulate itself the way that my yoga instructor wants it to.  I feel out of place, tired and frustrated.  I sit in the yoga studio covered with mirrors which makes me extremely self-conscious. I start second-guessing my outfit choice, which includes that cute purple yoga tank top that I purchased.  I can’t stand how flabby my arms look when I put them above my head or how my stomach protrudes when I am sitting down.

Not only am I the only person of color in these classes, I am the only one with a body like mine – thick thighs, a stomach, boobs and those flabby arms that are driving me crazy.  These classes heighten my negative thoughts about my body. Now I am beating myself up. Not only do I not look the part of a trendy yogi but also I physically cannot do the poses that my classmates are doing.

Two percent of Black women in the United States practice yoga. Out of 16 million women in the United States, only 30,400 Black women do yoga.

Yoga promotes physical, as well as mental wellness. Yoga helps reduce stress and chronic illnesses like hypertension and heart disease. It lowers blood sugar and increases flexibility and strength.

With all of the chronic diseases that are plaguing the Black community, the practice of yoga is beneficial. Black people need yoga. The community is having a tough time right now and yoga has the ability to improve your outlook on the world and yourself.

In my yoga classes there is always that one girl who came out of the womb doing the warrior II pose, meaning that she is clearly advanced for the super duper pre-beginner class (my class).  She has the unnecessary desire to show off all that she knows.  You know the one…she’s wearing the Lululemon Athletica pants and tank top, with a bun in her hair. She might even have her legs around her own neck when the rest of the class is struggling with the downward facing dog.  To top it off, she has the competitive look on her face that screams, “Top that, bitches!”

I just came to relax and she came to win a gold medal.

The word “yoga” means union, and connection.  Since the westernization of the practice, the inclusion aspect is no longer visible. Don’t get me wrong, westernization isn’t a bad thing, we have been introduced to something that has enlightened us, but it has also perpetuated the exclusion of groups of people who can definitely benefit from the practice.

How can folks of color with bigger bodies be included to practice in a safe, healthy and welcoming environment?

More yoga teachers could step outside of their swanky studios and head to the community. Meet the community where they are: at church, at community centers, and at schools. My hometown of Sacramento has yoga in the park on Saturdays and Sundays. It is free of cost and the community can borrow mats. This gives everyone the opportunity to participate in something that isn’t easily afforded or accessible without the stares of the elite and privileged.

Honestly, classes can be expensive. On average, a Black person’s income is less than a White person’s income and this factor can make attending a yoga class more difficult. But there are some yoga studios that offer scholarships to people who cannot afford the classes. Yoga is also about service. There are the rare studios that charge over $100 to attend but don’t discourage students because of the inability to pay.

Black women are not the face of yoga but that doesn’t mean that we are not meant for it.

Inclusion is necessary. We all need to feel welcomed and supported. I have returned to yoga, barely. I have returned because I know what yoga does for my mind and my spirit. I want those feelings to be the core of my practice. Nothing else.

~

Chioko Grevious is a mommy, wife, daughter and friend. A Black yogi. A blogger at Juliette Health Organization www.thejuliettehealthorganization.wordpress.com

image via tumblr

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62 comments… add one
  • Carli M

    I enjoyed reading your article and wanted to offer you some support. I, too, have struggled with not “looking” like a yogi. But, we all know, that doesn’t truly matter. Yoga is for EVERYbody. Really! Some poses may be difficult, but they will come. I remember not being able to do child’s pose because of my belly & breasts.. widen those knees and it will be more comfortable. There’s always a modification. Don’t judge yourself or others. Keep your eyes on your own mat, so to speak. And.. don’t practice in a studio with mirrors!!
    ps. I’m in Sac too if you ever want to meet for yoga!

    • Thank you so much for the support and encouragement! Being able to be in a class with a teacher who shows his or her class modifications would be awesome. I have been to several classes where I have just sat there stuck because I didn’t know what the modification for a particular pose is. I would love to take yoga with you! Maybe you can give me some direction on where to go to get the most out of my experience 🙂

  • Lucky you live in the California Central Valley, many options to choose from… sadly the notion of African Yoga styles are not mentioned, it exists in Sacramento… if you expect European style and flavored yoga to embrace thick, curvy, big boned, Black… good luck…

  • James

    A few things came to mind while I read this piece.

    -“Face” of yoga? Unless the “face” of yoga is a person who has a serious skin condition, that person’s face is going to be a single color. I’m not really sure if you’re complaining that black women (nice how you seem to consider yoga a woman thing) are not the “face” of yoga but even if they were it would be to the exclusion of any other skin color. It sounds like you’re more concerned that the “face” of yoga is not a face that meets your approval. I’m going to err on the side of caution and assume it was just poor word choice and not indicative that you, given the chance, would be just as exclusive as you perceive the current yoga community.

    -I can relate to the author. Sorta. Women do not have a monopoly on poor body image. Y’see, I’m a rather skinny guy. I’m never going to be a body builder. I’ve made peace with that. When I go to the gym I’m surrounded by big muscle-y bros in sleeveless tanks. Lots of mirrors to remind me that I’m slimmer and weaker than them. There’s usually a “grunter” who wants everybody to know that he’s actually moving the Earth with every rep. It’s easy to understand how the author could be embarrassed by comparing herself to a more advanced practitioner. Hell, I still get a little self-conscious at the yoga studio because I’m positive that everyone is looking at me (examples from my actual brain: does my hair look stupid, did I see a pimple on my back this morning, oh God I need to get a tan, can people see the outline of my dick in my shorts, should i be worried about that, do girls find guys’ armpit hairs gross, should i trim my armpit hair so it’s not so long, is my butt-crack showing). I have to remind myself constantly that they are probably focused on their practice and have no interest in me. When I started yoga I wasn’t really all that good. I kept going and I got better. The important difference between me and the author is that I deal with it and take care of my shit. That’s what guys do. We keep at it until we figure it out. Fucking man-up and get back to class. Losers give up when things get tough. Don’t be a loser.

    -See [ http://yogadork.com/2015/04/02/when-i-look-at-this-my-first-reaction-is-of-disgust-i-didnt-see-what-my-yoga-teacher-saw/ ] and tell me that this guy is not embarrassed about his body image. He got over it and got on the mat and is making progress. This guy is awesome.

    -Buy a dvd. “Yoga for Beginners” is $10 on Amazon. I’m sure there are others but that’s the first “yoga dvd” search result. I’ve used these when I travel and want a quick session in the hotel room. It’s going to take some self-control to maintain a schedule but you can get a pretty solid session in the comfort of your home free from all the mirrors and scary skinny bitches.

    • James

      And another thing. There is a large number of people out there who think that they are special little snowflakes and that the world should bend to their will. These people think we shouldn’t keep score at kids’ games and that we shouldn’t hold back dumbasses who fail to perform in school. I suspect the author is one of these people. Maybe the girl you’re fixated on did not come out of the womb in warrior 2. Maybe she busted her ass for years and she’s proud of what she accomplished. I think the author should do some serious inward-thinking.

      • The point of this blog was to bring attention to the yoga practice and how it should be inclusive to everyone. As I stated, yoga has a lot of health benefits and no one should be frightened to participate because they do not meet the current yoga beauty standard. I am sorry that you are the skinny white guy surrounded by muscular men but I don’t have that experience. I can only write from my experience and how I have felt going to yoga class. Have I stopped going because the girl who came out of the womb doing her warrior 2 pose? Absolutely not. Is it uncomfortable? Sure. Am I empowered when I am able to do the poses? Yes. I want everyone who is like me to enjoy the practice and find a class and instructor that fits to their needs.

        And I am all for keeping score at kids games. I don’t believe that every kid should get a trophy for participating. I do believe that they should work hard. I intend to work hard to succeed in the yoga practice. The serious inward-thinking has happened. That is why the article was written. Thank you for your comments.

        Another thing…you should check out this article.
        http://www.xojane.com/it-happened-to-me/it-happened-to-me-there-are-no-black-people-in-my-yoga-classes-and-im-uncomfortable-with-it

      • Shaun Adrian

        James:

        Everyone’s story has personal truth as it speaks to that particular individual’s experience. As a qualitative researcher, I have learned that there are truths, rather than a truth. I hear her truth and get a sense of yours. Your story is different than hers and is different than mine, but all true for us as individuals.

        From my view, a blog is a glimpse of an individual’s truth, based on their individualized experience. I did not get the sense that the author wanted anyone to bend to her will, but rather wishes to feel accepted and included.

        It seems your response is, regretfully, more of a personal attack than a constructive sharing of your differing views/truths and ironically illustrates her point that some spaces are not inclusive and safe.

      • Holly

        Suggest you do some inward thinking, too, James. You can disagree with the writer without making personal attacks.

    • NJacana

      Advanced Warrior 2 in a pre-beginner’s class…I have seen people with need for performance. But, James, I am wondering your take on the men sporting their nipples, a cultural privilege, in a predominantly female class where it is likely illegal for them. What’s your take on that?

  • Has the author considered creating a space she describes?

  • Rebecca

    Chioko,
    I applaud you for writing this. I am a Black woman who is has face and continues to face the very same situation as you have so eloquently described in your article. In February if this year I completed my 200RYT training. My reason? because I was tired of being “othered” within a space that was supposed to support my practice of yoga. I was tired of feeling like not belonging within my practice that made me feel a sense of belonging.
    I felt scared but since there so many “sistas” have approached me telling me that they are interested and wanted to try yogs and attend my classes. Keep making your presence be seen and felt.
    Kudos to Kudos!

    • You’re absolutely wonderful! Keep it up! I am hoping to practice more to be able to offer the space to others who wish to practice and feel a sense of belonging.

    • Tonya

      I’m going to start a 200 RYT course in January. I want to create that space as well!

  • Several things come to mind while reading this article. I’ve certainly struggled with the not being the most advanced person in a class, but I’ve also spent most of my life being the only person of color, and most of the time, it doesn’t really seem to matter. In fact, I have always been proud to contribute to the diversity of the yoga community. And as more black women gravitate to the practice of yoga, I believe the yoga community will become more accommodating to those needs.

    But then we get to this idea of offering classes for free. Lots of teachers are already stretched super thin and just like some people might not be able to afford yoga, not many yoga teachers can afford to offer free classes. Sure there’s powerfully humbling about being generous but yoga teachers pay for their own training, carry many of their own expenses and still have to maintain some other form of income to make ends meet. I just don’t think it’s a reasonable expectation.

    As far as yoga meeting the black community (a phrase I hate, BTW, because in my experience African Americans all have varying experiences and are parts of a wide range of communities), specifically to churches, there’s a huge hurdle to overcome there, and it’s religiosity. In other words, the challenge is one of education and convincing African Americans that practicing yoga doesn’t make you Hindu and doesn’t have to conflict with the Christian values that so many black people share. It’s certainly not impossible and I agree that black Americans can definitely benefit from the practice of yoga. But yoga requires an open mind and the ability to see beyond the dogma.

    Still, yoga would be such a powerful way to help people in poor inner city communities heal from some of the trauma that comes from inner city living, and this article has some great food for thought.

    Thank you for sharing your story so openly. The more we share and come forward, the more we will draw others into our tribe. Ultimately that will push the yoga community to become more inclusive, as it becomes both ethnically and physically diverse. ~ Jai Ma

    • I am not sure what happens in a lot of communities but I can speak on what my community offers and what my experience is. In my community, there are studios that offer scholarships and they don’t turn anyone away if they want to practice. That same studio will allow people to practice if they want in the exchange for helping out around the studio. There is also free yoga on Saturdays and Sundays.

  • Scott

    For me the magic of yoga is that I often come to my mat with my head all full of the kinds of thoughts that you describe, Chioko. I’m a guy. I’m white. My chatter may have a little different flavor than folks who are different than me but I think it plays out in similar ways for everybody. The chatter keeps us from being present in our bodies and being present for one another.

    “Everybody’s better than me in down dog,” or “I came out of mom’s birth canal doing warrior and nobody in this class of noobs can hold a candle to my crow pose.” So it’s basically they’re better than me or I’m better than them. My head will go to both places. Traditional ruts in my thinking are about my strength (good) and my flexibility (bad).

    I love how my head slows down and the thoughts aren’t so engaging after I’ve been sweating and breathing through the warm up. And by final savasana, it’s like I’m a new person.

    Being the big bod in class, being the skinny guy, being the lone person of color, being the lone guy in a sea of women. I’m glad you’re not letting these things keep you from practicing. All the isms that are still a problem in our society can be found in the yoga class. We need everybody showing up on the mat,, transforming themselves, transforming their classes, so we can take the transformation out into the community.

    • I continue to show up and practice with the hope of getting better. I wrote this blog to bring attention to the feeling that a lot of people of color may have or people who are a little bigger. Are all classes like the ones that I described? No. Do people of color with bigger bodies benefit from the practice? Absolutely. Yoga classes should be inclusive and the problem that I am seeing is that they are not always inclusive.

      Thank you for your comment.

    • michelle

      i really appreciate this comment about the role of mind chatter, and focusing less on the content of the chatter than on its existence. my first thought when reading the description of the (apparently) competitive yogi in the class was that this is a person who is also struggling with . . . something. and how much of a relief it is to recognize that and let go of it.

      it often seems to me that one of the great evils of social hierarchies is that they interfere with our access to this kind of relief. it’s hard to experience humility as a gift, when you are expected to be humble. it’s hard to recognize similarity of suffering, when your suffering is never recognized. it’s hard to let go of mind chatter, when hyperawareness has literally been a tool for physical survival.

      on another note, i wonder if Kundalini might be worth a try? i think one of the reasons it appeals to me is that it’s always seemed like the oddball cousin in the yoga community.

  • marina

    It’s sad to read articles like that. Thankfully I’ve never experienced any feelings of exclusion. I attend a studio where teachers are a diverse representation of race, culture and size. Is it her struggle of size, colour, inexperience, or all combined that lead to such a negative yoga experience? It’s deeper than the yoga class… her negative self image wasn’t created in her yoga studio. Her article is kind of similar to the offensive article written in Jane Magazine except she’s the large black woman criticizing the skinny white girl with comments like “You know the one…she’s wearing the Lululemon Athletica pants and tank top, with a bun in her hair.” and “swanky studios”. We don’t have to buy into the image. Nothing is stopping us from changing the ‘face’ of yoga.

    • I am glad that you have never experienced feelings like the ones I have experienced. That is awesome. Just because you didn’t experience it, doesn’t mean that it isn’t valid. I wasn’t criticizing the woman in my class with the bun in her hair. She worked hard to be able to perfect her poses. However, she was the same one who was visibly uncomfortable when I came into the room with my mat. Describing her and the studios added into the descriptiveness of the post. I am hoping that more and more people, regardless of size and color participate in the yoga practice for all of the reasons that I stated.

      • m

        “She was the same one who was visibly uncomfortable” or were you projecting that on to her because you felt uncomfortable. You are right, my experience is not your experience but it is just as valid to share it. I am a black woman. It has just never bothered me if I walked into a class and found myself to be the only black person there..it in no way diminishes or tarnishes my experience. Is it something I notice..of course. Is it going to take away from my experience…no one bit.

    • Kalintje

      Thank you for your comment.
      You express perfectly what I felt during reading the article.

      Shall the skinny girl not share her yoga because the author feels uncomfortable of herself?
      Never compare yourself with somebody else in a yoga class. You never know if the girl is a professional ballet dancer, has done Yoga for years or is in teacher training. She is better, so what? Why not focus on the own body, the own practice and listen to yourself instead looking around to look at others. It is bad for the energy of a Yoga class if people behave as the author.

  • Cyn

    i am not black but I’m big, curvy, a senior citizen and I love yoga. I’ve tried classes and many times left in tears because of the very same issues raised by the writer. Now I practice at home with great videos. I wear my jams, sweats, yoga gear or birthday suit if I want. I’m happy practicing at home. I’ve not missed a day since the first of the year. Oh and when I started I had to sit in a chair I couldn’t do a downward dog if I had too. Now, I make it through the entire session without having to modify very much. I’m not as fast but I get through it. I feel better look better .

    • That is great! Keep practicing! I will too! I have also found other alternatives to attending traditional yoga studio classes.

    • Cyn, seniors don’t need to go as fast as when we were younger to get good or even optimum effects (physical or spiritual, emotionally or mentally). That’s one of the nice things about aging gracefully. 🙂

      And is universally true, I believe, actually across all ages, ethnic groups, and genders.

      Keep practicing, at home or class, and enjoy, best wishes 🙂

  • Glorious Day! Wow! As I read this eloquent and timely article, I can hear the hundreds of women of color in my community who may want to try yoga but feel apprehensive for many of the reason mentioned in your article. I started teaching yoga in Trenton NJ in 2009 to urban youth. I woild hear comments like, “Yoga’s for white people” or “i’m to big to bend up like that”, and the like. Little by little, however, the children began to enjoy the practice and find a place for unique expression. Then parents began attending classes. Now more women of color attending our classes which are still community based. My philosophy is to help every student see her/his own potential through the yoga practice. As Yogis of color I believe we have to create practices that are relevent to our communities. Show people of all shapes and sizes the beauty of adopting yogi kriya and how this transforms their lives. I teach my students that it’s not about her size, level of flexibility, or the clothes for God’s sake. It’s about connection, mindfulness, self regulation and discovering peace with in. The asanas are merely a means, a pathway to self discovery.
    Thank you for sharing your experience. You’ve added kindling to my fire of determination to share yoga with as many communities of curves and color as possible! Sa Mut/ Mama Yoga’s Wellness

    • Beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I am so happy that you are sharing yoga with children who need it. We need more teachers like you. Thank you!

  • Hana

    Thank you for sharing your experience here. I think it takes a lot of courage to be so candid, especially if that story involves struggle or feeling disconnected. This article should have done nothing else but open people’s eyes that we can all work to be more inclusive in our yoga studios, whether you’re a student or teacher. Are we welcoming to all new yogis? Are we saying hi to the new students? Are we being encouraging to all who enter our yoga studios? The first few yoga classes are intimidating for anyone, but it is especially intimidating if you don’t see anyone else like you, whether that means skin color, body type, athletic ability, etc. A simple smile and hello to all of our fellow yogis can go a long way in beginning to soften an experience like this, and I think that’s something all of us can offer up.

  • Gail

    “I want to practice because yoga, for me, represents a connection between my mind and my body. Yoga represents peace, tranquility and concentration.”
    You are sooo right, this is what it is about. It should not be about anything else. It is not a sport, or a competition.
    I really hope you can found a yoga class that can welcome you, and where you can feel that connection.

  • I want to bring up the definition of Yoga according to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which is the foremost text on Yoga. “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.” Patanjali then goes on to mention 5 vrittis or fluctuations. That stuff that goes through your head when you get on your mat and everyone looks different from you is a vritti. The fact that it is coming up means that the yoga is starting to do its work. The answer is not to start a separate class. The answer is to not run from it. The answer is to look at it head on and in the face. To silence the voice and rise above it.

    I am a Black yogi with a beautiful but light curvy body. I didn’t run. I practiced 4-6 days a week for 12 years. I am a Third Series Ashtanga Yoga practitioner. Look up third series Ashtanga. The stuff I can do with my body is crazy but I love it. I studied the Sutras and the Gita. The world does not need another “separate but equal”. Our grandmothers and grandfathers fought hard to get rid of that so why are people fighting so hard to bring it back?

    • It isn’t about a separate but equal practice. It is about everyone embracing everyone. The more practiced yogis embracing the newer yogis. It is about instructors being culturally sensitive and designing a comfortable environment. I didn’t say that we should have Black yoga classes and white yoga classes.

  • k4k

    Dear Chioko,

    I am white, female, 58 and have been practicing yoga for about 3 years after taking a beginners class around 8 years ago. I love it! I think you should too. Just find a teacher that you like and trust, then ignore the rest because it doesn’t matter. The phrase “you will be the change you want” (or something like that) is what matters. I prefer a room with no mirrors but that’s me. Just don’t look at them or, for that matter, at anyone else. You are there for yourself.

  • TR

    To me, the teacher is the class. If you attend a yoga class being led by an insecure twenty-something who is right out of the gate from a teacher training mill whose program exists only to keep the doors open, that will be the tone and the quality of the class..

    We need to take responsibility for our own yoga experiences. There will always be Lulu Lemon chicks. There will always be bendy show-offs. We need to stay on our own mats. Otherwise, we hand over the control of our inner experience to a stranger through our emotional triggers.

    The professional yoga community is scrambling for every penny that can be scraped off the sidewalk. The industry is top heavy, and there are too many teachers and studios to serve too few students. It’s a classic example of buyer beware. So shop studios, teachers and community-based programs. Keep looking until you find a good fit. And once you do, remember that nobody can control your inner experience unless you allow it. So stay on your own mat, and let yoga guide you on your journey to meet yourself.

  • Yoga girl

    There are diverse spaces to practice yoga! Seek them out and support them! I am black women who teaches in a black owned studio within a diverse neighborhood. But guess what? The members of our community don’t want to pay for these classes! They swarm the free classes I teach at a local community center but they are very hesitant to spend money and patronize an environment created for them! This is what you should be writing about! Why don’t more black people with disposable income want to spend money on health?

    Also, black women are not all large. Please let go of that antiquated image of the black women.

    • Of course there are diverse places to practice yoga. I am speaking from my experience and what is around me. There isn’t a lot of diverse yoga studios around me. “They” probably swarm the free classes because there are many people who cannot afford to pay $175 per month to attend classes. If they are swarming the community centers that means they must want to practice, right? I make a decent living and I am able to afford the classes that are offered at the studios. A lot of the people in my community cannot.

      As for spending disposable income on health that is a bigger issue and that is something that a lot of public health practitioners, like myself are working on. As for black women all being large, I am aware of that. I am speaking from MY experience. That is what blogs are….an experience. You may not share it and that is fine.

  • Ira

    Well, this isn’t a black woman issue, this is a fat girl issue. Stop trying to make it seem like there’ some special struggle just for black women in this regard. Please.

    • Once again…this isn’t an every black woman issue. It is an issue that belongs to me. That is why I wrote the blog because I wanted to bring awareness and to speak for some who feel the same way. You may not identify and that is fine.

  • paul

    it’s pretty amazing that yoga is designed to deal with our misperceptions and bigotries, but so easily becomes an excuse to reinforce them. peace! glad to read this, and greatly appreciate sa mut’s comment.. and looking forward to more from the author.

  • Carol

    There are usually some lower cost alternatives around. I have had classes at my local recreation center (gentle yoga), at a commercial studio and one essentially free one at a senior centet. The last one is full of older, less fit individuals and about 30% of the class is people of color. This last class is essentially free and is far and away the best class I have had in my life. I go 3 times a week and have made new friends. Until 3 months ago, we had a 102 year old member. So keep looking for suitable, less expensive, mire welcoming classes.

  • Dee

    Fellow black girl here: My issue with this article is that two separate parts of the authors identity, being large and being black, are described as one, as if they’re synonymous.

  • Ben

    so interesting reading how you feel entering a yoga class. I’m glad you that you are continuing with the practice. I think that you are worrying way too much about everyone else in the room. The other yogis are most likely focusing on themselves, and are certainly not watching your practice. That being said, whether your feelings are based on reality or not doesn’t make them any less valid. I’m a skinny white male. What could I do if we were practicing in the same class to make you feel more accepted?

  • I enjoyed reading this article, where I am from yoga is not all that common. However, I now think I would like to try it either on my own or with a class – plus yoga has the benefit of making you stronger and more flexible 🙂 something I could really do with.

    Thank you

  • Kyle

    Yoga is not here to coddle your ego.

    If you’re fat its your fault. The lady with the great body isn’t comparing herself to you, why are you doing it to her? In fact, she probably doesn’t even notice you. She got there with hard work. You envy her at that point in time, but I bet you wouldn’t envy the sacrifices she’s made to get there.

    Yoga is about having the difficult conversations with yourself. Face your fears head on.

    Don’t mean to come off as disrespectful, but these words needed to be said IMO.

    Namaste,

    Kyle

    • VQ2

      The way you write about yoga shows your value judgment—as if obesity’s ONLY causes are gluttony and/or sloth …

      Of course, yoga does not exist to coddle any but the “ideal” market-based practitioner. It either exists to coddle nobody or it exists to coddle its kyriarchy … Which is it?

  • Dwayne
    • VQ2

      Yes. As a student of gentle yoga now, finally. Ahhhh … this Instagram display still valorizes the body a little much for the #represent school of yoga selfies to be taken as “serious” yoga of the 8 limbed variety … at which all races, ages, sizes, abilities, etc. should be welcomed. At any stage of their life that they WANT to be included …

      Strong as an ox. Like a black, female John Friend.

  • Ellen

    I’m an older, heavy, busty, both-knees-replaced yogi. Absolutely have always hated child’s pose – my belly and boobs, plus now my knees, make it very uncomfortable. Plus, most of the classes near me are vinyasa flows, which do not work well for me. Found this website: http://www.curvyyoga.com/ and was planning to take the teacher training just to start a class for people who don’t feel comfy in more athletic classes but my mother fell ill and I was preoccupied with her. It is still on my “hope to do” list! The website might be able to steer you to classes taught by her grads plus she sends out an email with pose modifications regularly. Worth a shot? Best wishes on your journey!

  • Emma

    A question for you: what is the best way that skinny white yoga bitches can stop being bitches? What is the best way that skinny young white yoga instructors– that have never experienced being in a body that wouldn’t do anything that they wanted–can make their class inclusive and not hostile? Thank you.

    • VQ2

      Either teach their own kind … or emulate Sadie Nardini or Diamond Dallas Page or another “weight loss or get strong yoga coach”. Notice how the most charismatic teachers DO NOT TEACH TO THE MOST ADVANCED PEOPLE IN THE ROOM, and/or CALL OUT only ADVANCED PEOPLE AS EXAMPLES. Plus, they have some therapeutic bent.

      Sorry for using them as examples. But true empathy is really hard to find amongst the rank-and-file. And studying at Curvy Yoga is only one side of the equation …

      Sorry to say, we are not all gumbies to begin with. Many weight-challenged are met with the heaviest-researched, lowest-common-denominator out there … above all, get anatomy training and minor in Pilates.

      Tall order, and are you up to it?

  • I’m a yoga teacher and I appreciate this article. I’m white, but I worked for a non-profit that brought yoga to underserved communities and now teach one free class at a library and one class with a non-profit serving low income and homeless people. These are on a volunteer basis… I also teach 16-20 other classes a week at a yoga studio and two gym chains. I get a few people at the free classes, but one of the gyms I work for is in a community that is largely African American. The classes are very well attended (I like to credit myself but I think people everywhere just like yoga) and there is very little other yoga on offer in the area (ok, this could be the reason too). As a teacher who struggles to make ends meet, it sure is nice to be compensated for my work, and what gyms pay me pales in comparison to the number of people attending my classes.

    I know people tend to look down on gym yoga – it’s an unfortunate stereotype and I do not think in practice it is all that different from yoga in studios, in some cases it is much more welcoming and accessible – but I say, if there is a gym or community center in your neighborhood, get people to ask them to offer yoga!

    On another note, the fact that larger students or minority students might feel out of place in a class might not reflect something about the specific class or the girl doing warrior 2 … but it does reflect very real issues in our society. I think it’s a shame in general that some people who may not be larger, or minorities, refuse to acknowledge this, and also a shame for yoga itself, that people who practice it (and fit the stereotype that exists in the US) won’t acknowledge this as a problem. (That said, just because someone takes a deep expression of a pose does not mean that person is there to win a competition.)

  • Katrina

    I loved your post! I am a white woman & the good Lord didn’t decide to give me boobs, although he gave me plenty of hips & booty (: I often feel like I am being judged when I walk into a yoga studio. Your post made me realize that maybe it’s not that I’m being judged, maybe people are afraid I am judging them. I try to make eye contact & smile to each person in class. I also choose to introduce myself to at least 2 new people in each class. Often, I have found, that at least one of these 2 people will say “I’m so glad to know another person in class”. This can be challenging due to the fact that my instructor has a sign up that says “No talking in the studio. Please be mindful that other people may be meditating”. I try & whisper, but I always speak to a new person in class. Also, I don’t take the same spot in class each time. Moving helps me get to know those people who do choose to take the same spot. Please don’t give up on your journey. Yoga is the one form of exercise that is never about competing with another person. It’s about competing with the person YOU were the last time YOU were on the mat.
    Also, consider talking to your instructor about coming out into your community to meet people (: Maybe have a cook out & invite him/her.

  • Holly

    Loved your article. Thanks very much for sharing.
    Here is a great resource for you and others reading this:
    Dianne Bondy E-RYT500
    Founder of Yoga for All Yoga Teacher Training 200/500 level
    Founder of Yogasteya.com
    Team Leader Yoga and Body Image Coalition ybicoalition.com
    Practice with me online at Yogasteya.com and audibleyoga.com

  • GiGi

    Thanks for this article. I am not black, but have a curvy body and a desire to make it stronger and more flexible which is why I love yoga. I LOVE your ideas to have yoga available to those who can’t afford $30 classes. In Seattle, some meet up groups have classes for $5 or sometimes free. I suggest checking your local meet up groups too!

  • I honor your bravery in attending a public class. Sometimes it’s difficult to find the ideal class for our needs–it helps to get there a bit early and check in with the teacher. Not all yoga teachers know what to do with us fatties. My big yoga program offers resources for anyone who is challenged by weight, or stiffness, injury or even neglect. Best wishes for finding your own yoga niche!

  • I kind of gave up on yoga classes because the practice became very personal and private to me after many decades of on and off practice. I just do it at home by myself or with my wife. I’m a 61 year old white male and have found in the last year a wonderful community that meets many of my yoga ideals, but it is in a Zumba class with sneakers and not barefoot with a mat.

    In the class, I am a minority, first off for being male, secondly for being white, and thirdly, for my age. And yet, I feel quite at home. Most of my classmates are heavy to one degree or another, but have embraced their curves in the music and dance movements. It is really a joy to see such a positive and life affirming embrace of women (and men) who will never be in spandex on a magazine cover, yet radiate bliss and are in the moment.

    I can’t tell you just how much bliss (ananda) I experience listening to music whose lyrics are in languages I do not speak, dancing with people who for the most part are not on my radar and the privlege to witness others esteem their classmates for showing up and having fun.

    • VQ2

      @Morgan Montague, I predicted years ago, that the conscious dance community (and some T’ai Chi communities) would have the last laugh on all this yoga hoopla, and I may have been right.

  • Faith Roberts

    OMGee please email me! I’m currently putting together a film project to spread some awareness on this very subject!

    This was very well written.

    (I’m African American, a woman, and a yoga instructor in your city)
    faitharielle@gmail.com

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