The Yoga Diversity Dilemma

Published: July 12, 2016

If you knew nothing about yoga other than what you saw in popular culture, it would be easy to assume that yoga is only for certain people.

Different body types, abilities and ethnicities are not always represented in the yoga community. This lack of representation can deter potential practitioners from starting their yoga practice in the first place. In a world fraught with chronic health problems, mental illness and stress, the world needs yoga more than ever. We can’t afford to turn people away from yoga, even if it’s completely unintentional.

As an organization committed to promoting and supporting the diversity and integrity of yoga, we want to start a national—if not international—dialogue about bringing more diverse populations to yoga. And we don’t just mean racial diversity—diversity includes all genders, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations and abilities.

We know yoga teachers and schools in our communities are continually encouraging all types of people to share in the joy of yoga. We’ve listed some potential ways schools and yogis are doing this and how you can get involved in bringing more diversity into the yoga world.

  1. Move Beyond the Studio
    Although studios are great for creating a Zen atmosphere, they’re often expensive and inaccessible to low-income/fixed-income families. Consider starting a neighborhood yoga class at a park or your local community center.
  2. Recognize the Need
    Each community is different, and when you invite your neighbors to join you on the mat, it’s important to make your invitation relevant. Promoting expensive yoga retreats doesn’t make sense if much of your community lives paycheck to paycheck. Understand the pressing needs of your community, and approach your yoga teaching from that angle.
  3. Use Inclusive Language and Images
    Always ensure your language is inclusive and encouraging. When you are using images in your promotions, make sure your images include a diverse group of people. If people “see” themselves in your class, they will be more comfortable about attending.
  4. Promote the Ideas, Not the Poses
    Yoga is about unity and self-awareness. Yoga teachers have a special opportunity to not only share their asana practice with students, but also to invite them to check in with themselves about where they can be more loving and open with others.

It is imperative that members of the yoga community work to change the narrative about who yoga is for. This is only the beginning of a lasting conversation, and we want to hear from you. Share this post on social media and add your thoughts to the conversation. How do you think we can bring more diversity into yoga?

Now through August 5, the Yoga Alliance Foundation is offering six scholarships to aspiring yoga teachers of $1,500 each to yogis who want to become yoga teachers in order to bring yoga to more diverse populations. Learn more and apply today; applications close August 5.

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