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Diversity & Inclusion in Yoga

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably had a direct experience of how powerfully healing, uplifting, and transformative yoga practice can be. Truly, this is a practice that should be available to everyone. However, for many reasons, there are very real but invisible barriers that prevent many folks from ever making it to the yoga studio, not to mention coming back regularly.

Diversity and inclusion is a hot topic in the greater yoga and meditation world these days. However, a lot of the ways people approach that issue, such as scholarships, simply try to bring people who are marginalized into the space, which often requires people to code-switch (assimilate into the dominant culture represented) in a yoga class. In order for our yoga environments to truly meet people where they’re at, a culture shift in the yoga space is needed.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna is asked to take action to fight injustice, because not taking action is in itself an action. This fight for justice is a foundation of Yoga often forgotten. Either we are shifting the system of oppression, or we are perpetuating it. (Often, both!) There are no “sidelines.”

In the second pada (book) of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali lays out how to begin yoga for the householder, for the novice. (That’s you, me, everyone we know!) The very first Sutra of this book (2.1) covers Kriya Yoga, which has three components: tapas— a burning purifying focus, svadhyaya– self study, and Ishvara pranidhana— devotion and absorption with the Divine. Svadhyaya is also one of the foundational niyamas, the ethical codes of conduct for the self laid out in the eight limb Yoga system. Looking at how our conditioning, privilege, and internalized oppression affect the space around us is a powerful form of svadhyaya. What are we creating, What are we perpetuating, through our thoughts words and actions?

External and internal liberation are deeply connected and inseparable. As we work to bring freedom, healing, and integration internally, how does this affect greater freedom, healing, and integration in the external world, and vice versa? Yoga includes asana, but it’s much more than doing physical poses, much more than a way to “feel good.” Yoga builds our capacity for real change, to see what before was hidden, so that we can do less harm: ahimsa, nonviolence.

This inner work is connected directly to the yoga environment, and who feels welcome in the space and who is missing from the space. How can our practice help us serve healing and justice in the external world, work which in turn also heals our own hearts? In what ways do we need to grow, what needs to be realized, felt fully, let go?

Diversity & Inclusion in Yoga

by Avery Kalapa

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