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Oprah does it. So does Beyoncé and Halle Berry. Even Shaq and LeBron James. Russell Simmons reportedly does 1.5 hours of it every day. So why hasn’t the yoga bug bitten the rest of the Black community?

In America, yoga as a form of fitness remains a predominately White and elitist practice for individuals with disposable incomes and trim bodies. YogaCity NYC, an online resource for the New York City yoga community, recently published a “Minority Report” that reveals the sometimes blatant discrimination and inadvertent ostracization experienced by many minority yoga instructors and potential yoga attendees.

Yoga instructors of color were either mistaken for someone else (like the receptionist), or students were surprised to learn that they were teaching the classes. One teacher, who was certified over 10 years ago, had a student enter the class, see her, then leave. “Race, class, gender and age are very much embedded in our society, whether we agree with those views or not, even on the mat,” Leah Matthews, founder of Lila Yoga, told YogaCity NYC.

Others may not even make it onto a yoga mat, or set foot into a yoga studio, because of the stigma that still exists in our communities—a stigma that is primarily grounded in misinformation and misconceptions. One YWCA parent refused to allow his son to practice yoga because he thought it was a religion.

While the term “yoga” also refers to the spiritual discipline that originated in India, yoga, itself, is not a religion. Yoga as a form of exercise solely promotes physical and mental wellness. It improves flexibility, strength, and posture, and reduces stress. There is no deity worshiped or rituals performed.

Often times, the interest in joining a yoga class is there, but the means are not. Many people are simply unaware that there are donation-based and inexpensive classes. And even when the means and opportunities are available, some still feel like they don’t belong there. Latham Thomas, founder of Tender Shoots, noted that some of the pregnant teens she works with are intimidated about taking yoga classes at a large studio because their mats aren’t trendy. “I think it’s our responsibility to make yoga accessible to all backgrounds,” Latham added.

With instructors of all shades volunteering at recreational centers, organizations bringing yoga to public schools, and studios opening up in underserved communities, the often unspoken barriers within yoga will hopefully be broken.

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  • Namaste!

    I’m a black New Yorker, and I do yoga in my apartment, watching instructive videos on YouTube. I also have agoraphobia – which may be another factor keeping potential yoga students indoors and away from the studios.

    Before agoraphobia started, I used to go to a trendy Atlanta studio for my yoga. What bothered me there was not other students’ race at all; I find yoga classes inclusive and welcoming – instead I was intimidated by the presence of the Yoga Rock Stars. Their race or color doesn’t matter. Though they’re often of Nordic background and have Germanic surnames, they can be any race. I’ve met some black ones. Most are male and have dreadlocks. You know who they are. Once an instructor spots one in a potential Rock Star in class, class for the rest of us is over, lol…

    That and the yoga butt/Gaiam mat cult/whose mats and blocks are better/yoga snobbery ruined the joy of social yoga classes for me. So I stay at home. I can do downward dog in complete privacy all I want in my undies in my apartment’s living room, and do them over and over again, and do weak, wobbly sun salutations without any critical yoga rock star eyes on my quivering arms, and so far that’s working for me. Namaste!