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Inclusive Diversity: Making Yoga More Accessible

by Susanna Barkataki

We are at a time, as Sri Aurobindo foreshadowed, where “the practice of Yoga brings us face to face with the extraordinary complexity of our own being.”

We are in the heart of a big sea change in Western yoga. Change is rarely smooth. And this moment is no different. Where we are now in yoga, and perhaps also in ourselves, is more divided than we’ve been. Some of us are noticing things we’ve never noticed before. Such as the lack of diversity in our yoga classes. Many of us are finally being heard on things we’ve been saying a long time, such as, “we need more diversity in our yoga classes.”

2015 was the year yoga in the west got rocked. The sign went up, brakes squealed noisily on wanton cultural appropriation in yoga.

We’ve heard heated debates over yoga’s roots and over whether it is religious or secular. We’ve publicly begun a celebration of yoga in varied sizes, forms and abilities as well as embraced more possibilities for yoga and social change. We’ve seen, in a disturbing line that continues, one of the biggest names in Western Yoga, Bikram Choudhury, accused of misusing his position, sexual assault and rape. We saw a safe space POC yoga class in Seattle get shut down through disturbing threats and mob mentality. We saw many people ask and create safe spaces in response. We saw huge, complex controversy over the University of Ottawa yoga class shutdown connected to claims of cultural appropriation — as well as a huge backlash against this claim.

Where we are now is awakening to the perspectives and stories that haven’t been told. We are also in an exciting time. Through the breakdown comes breakthrough. 

Many movements to bring more unity in yoga emerged. The movement of embracing yoga for all bodies exploded across Instagram and the web. The work of folks like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition proliferated, as the call resonated, and more people started to feel comfortable practicing, despite stereotype threats that may keep them out of a yoga space.

We saw the movement of folks to share yoga and service and yoga and social justice spring up far and wide. The goal of making yoga accessible caught on. In today’s culture, the cost to practice is very expensive and that is a real barrier for many communities, especially for working class communities of color. These areas financial barriers and there is a perception of belonging or exclusion in that kind of yoga space that makes it exclusive. There are many organizations working to change this, and many forms of community yoga. The Yoga Service Council is one who is doing all they can to share yoga to as many communities as possible, making it accessible.

There’s a movement of safe space in yoga studios, where more and more teachers are seeking to be trauma-informed. More and more spaces are acknowledging the need for specific classes for different community groups.

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