In January, a popular yoga company, Yogamatters, launched a new eco clothing line and invited me to be part of the campaign in an effort to break the mould when it comes to what model yogis look like - the big clue here - not like you see on instagram or glossy magazines!
They asked me some questions about why I agreed to help raise awareness of diversity in yoga and how I overcame self consciousness about my wobbly bits!
What does ‘yoga for everybody’ mean for you in your yoga practice/teaching?
The yoga world has become a corporate megalith – an industrial complex that is ‘euro-centric’ in its outlook and perpetuates an unattainable image of the Western ideal for most people – the flexible, super bendy, thin, affluent white woman who has privilege and currency to gain access to an exclusive space for wellness. This happens through corporate design, marketing and social media influence.
It is also an inevitable consequence of the centring narrative of the dominant, and conforming, identity – the power of which is sustained through the need to “other” - the non-conforming person, characteristic, identity or group which has less social and political value. For example – thin is only thin in relation to fat, wealth is relative to poverty, there is white and then there is non-white, a powerful elite is built upon an exploited powerless base. These deeply embedded systems of supremacy, race and racism, oppression and colonialism have led to, and continue to prop up, social, cultural and racial marginalisation.
This is the context within which “a yoga body” is viewed. If a person doesn’t see themselves represented on the yoga mat, in the yoga studio or the yoga platform – either practicing as a student or teaching as a yoga teacher - they may feel excluded, less than, not as good as, less worthy, less able… and yet yoga is supposed to be, or strives to become, a spiritual place of love, compassion, healing, harmony, balance and union.
As a British born yoga teacher of Indian heritage, I strive to bring harmony, balance and equity through my yoga teachings and social justice work. Yoga becomes more accessible and body positive by actively creating inclusive spaces and committing to diverse representation for people of colour, those with different sized bodies, of all ages and abilities, and including members of the LGBTQIA+ community. By collaborating, sharing, co-creating and practicing yoga together - yoga becomes a practice for EVERY BODY.
Why Yogamatters and what was it like to be part of a professional photoshoot?
I had never done a photoshoot for a professional yoga company before – as a womxn of colour approaching the ‘silver’ years with a body which tells the story of a life lived, joys and traumas experienced – I didn’t think a mainstream yoga company would consider that I represented them as a role model or that I was part of their story. I thought long and hard about whether our values and ethics aligned – and within a very short space of having met everyone at Yogamatters, learning more about them, their market model and the allyship offered – I was reassured that I would be a in a safe space in which I could share my vulnerabilities, celebrate my yoga body and step into my glorious power as a yoga role ‘model’.
The ethical sourcing of the eco yoga wear and the care taken to design and fit the clothes to every body shape and size demonstrated the commitment by Yogamatters to hold themselves to high ethical standards in two industries which have significant challenges in terms of market power and capital exploitation – yoga and clothes production. A balance not always achieved by manufacturers of yoga clothing - I can think of a few here who I won't mention but feel to drop them in...
Being surrounded by a diverse family – all feeling gorgeous, strong and beautiful was a rare experience in the yoga world and I loved every moment – this was exactly the kind of inclusive yoga space that I seek to create.
If you are a yoga studio or company, what else could you do to make yoga accessible and available to all?
The first step is to be committed as an ally by inviting, welcoming and including people of colour and by offering a platform to elevate and celebrate yoga teachers and students from diverse backgrounds. It is a real challenge to belong and manage the inner conflict, shame or anger which arises when one feels alienated from one’s own heritage in a white dominated space - a sense of internalised colonialism and racism. Ownership of yoga culture is co-opted and ancestral connections are erased or reduced by many in this field. Yoga companies can seek, and commit in the long term, to be beacons which shine a light on the beauty of diversity and the talent of black, Asian and minority ethnic teachers.
You can meet all the other amazing yoga teachers and diversity models here