Yoga And Diversity


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On Friday, September 19, five teachers gathered at Laughing Lotus to address the elephant in the room: yoga and diversity (or lack thereof). The panel included Jyll Hubbard-Salk of Urban Asanas, Leslie Booker (aka Booker) the Director of Teacher Training at The Lineage Project, Laughing Lotus’ own Dana Flynn, and Will Duprey of Hathavidya. This marked YogaCity NYC’s seventh Deeper Learning series and YogaCity NYC's Publisher/Founder Brette Popper moderated the discussion.

Flynn opened with a harmonium-accompanied recitation of lohkah samastah that set an upbeat tone for the evening’s material. Then Popper plunged right to the point and asked, “why don’t NYC yoga classes represent the City’s diversity?”

Jyll Hubbard-Salk said she understood that her “fellow brothers and sisters” didn’t feel comfortable or embraced in the yoga community, “but I personally couldn’t care less because no one can stop me from getting my yoga on.”

Booker thought that Caucasian people came to the mat “because they usually want that cute yoga body,” but believed many folks of color didn’t have body issues. “We don’t need the physical workout to prove our self-worth, and we already have spirituality ingrained in our lives.”

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She commented on how yoga businesses lower prices to attract wider populations, “but that’s assuming that all people of color don’t have money…we just allocate our funds differently.” Agreeing, Hubbard-Salk noted that African-Americans are some of the biggest consumers today. “It’s not like we don’t have money, we’re just selective about how we spend it.”

She commented on how yoga businesses lower prices to attract wider populations, “but that’s assuming that all people of color don’t have money…we just allocate our funds differently.” Agreeing, Hubbard-Salk noted that African-Americans are some of the biggest consumers today. “It’s not like we don’t have money, we’re just selective about how we spend it.”

Popper addressed yoga’s lack of men and wondered if separate programs and classes for gender and/or race worked. “You can’t force a populace into spirituality,” Will Duprey said, and found it hairy to assume what men and women should be doing. “Men tend to internalize things and maybe guys just don’t want to do yoga…or maybe we need an authoritative leader to inspire us…who knows?”

Ironically, male teachers “pack the house,” Flynn noted and found that good male teachers usually have huge followings, while extraordinary female teachers have smaller followings. “But even women flock to the male teachers, so there’s a market for them.”

Booker was torn about separate spaces, but found it important to see oneself represented in a population. “While ‘specialty classes’ aren’t places to live, they are places to start,” she said.

On the other hand, Hubbard-Salk wasn’t a fan. “I would never go to an all black yoga class…I feel like it’s segregation.” On the flipside “I know some people who need that welcoming environment, so I’m in support of whatever works.”

“How do we make teachers more aware of these issues?” Popper asked.

“We do harm when we talk like we ‘know’…let’s talk about these issues and refine our words so they don’t come exploding out,” said Booker. She recalled a past training she attended where a racial incident was silenced and avoided. “It was a perfect moment for a learning experience, and the director swept it under the rug…we need to start with the details.” All the panelists agreed.

Popper wondered how the yoga community could diversify its media. “As students and teachers, we have purchasing power,” Duprey said. “We have the ability to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and can choose to not support certain corners of the yoga industry.” Booker nodded and noted that there were alternatives out there. “We don’t need to just buy Yoga Journal and Lululemon…everyone keeps saying ‘yoga community, yoga community,’ but what community are people talking about?”

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“We’re such an image-driven culture,” said Flynn. “Nowadays, we have ‘yoga-lebrities’…but all these popular yoga fests just create more separation…I’d like to see the faces of teachers I don’t know, but I don’t see that happening in magazines.”

An audience member asked what the next steps were.

YogaCity NYC’s Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Kling brought her twenty-plus years of publishing experience to the table. She encouraged people to write letters to magazines like Yoga Journal. “It’s unbelievable how seriously magazines take them,” she said. “Most people are lazy, so if you see something, say something…they believe each letter is worth twenty opinions.” Progress may be glacial and publications may not acknowledge your comments, but they definitely pay attention to them – these days, they can’t afford to lose any readers.

Popper added that YogaCity NYC is dedicated to diversifying it’s content, a rarity on the mind/body publishing circuit. “Cynthia and I are making efforts to highlight different types of voices and studios to best represent our City,” she said. Hopefully, more publications will follow suit.

“I need to see more people like me, but I also need to see more people like you,” Hubbard-Salk chimed. “This issue is so much bigger than me, but I’m wide open. Let’s make this happen.” She continued: “yoga is indicative of what’s going on in the world. No one wants to talk about race and diversity in general, but today, we did just that, so it’s a step in the right direction.”

-Michael Laskaris

#yogaweekly

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