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.