What image do you consider when you think of a yoga student? The ” stereotype of a yoga student is often portrayed as an attractive, thin white woman performing a difficult yoga pose. You can check out the results of a Google Images search on “yoga.” You can also check out some yoga magazines or studio websites to see the images. Most, if they are not all, of the models featured are thin white women. These marketing materials could have the opposite effect, alienating those who do not look like the models. It’s no wonder that minorities and people of color feel excluded by the practice.
Carla Christine founded Yoga Green Book – an online streaming service for people of color. She was fed up with the lack of diversity in race and gender in the studios and tired of hearing people talk about it but not taking action. So she took matters into her hands. The Yoga Green Book was inspired by the Negro Motorist Green Book, a printed publication listing friendly businesses for African American travelers during the Jim Crow era. It is a culturally affirming space where people can access online yoga and meditation. The site offers more than 30 different classes and is priced reasonably. It is a welcome alternative to the stereotypes prevalent in the yoga community ( Yoga is only for wealthy white women).
Yoga Green Book’s message of inclusion, healing, and support is more relevant than ever in these times of increasing racism and intolerance towards minorities and people of color. Although mental health issues, physical and emotional trauma, and diseases are common in the US, they occur disproportionately among communities with a majority of minorities or African Americans. The high cost of yoga clothes and classes and the economic pressures accompanying them can make it difficult for people from all social backgrounds to access yoga.
Good news! More people are taking notice of this global disparity and taking steps to make yoga accessible and welcoming for everyone. The nonprofit Light a Path is based in Asheville. It was founded by a group of yoga teachers and professionals in the wellness field. They provide yoga services for underserved groups, such as youth at risk, those who are homeless, and those who are incarcerated. Light a Path’s teachers and staff are all volunteers. The demand for their services is growing, as yoga and wellness programs are now offered in area prisons and addiction recovery centers.
Street Yoga is a similar nonprofit based in Seattle offering trauma-informed yoga teacher training at studios nationwide. These organizations serve as bridges that connect teachers with those who may need yoga but not have the means to access it.
More students, teachers, and activists do not fit the stereotypical “yoga student” stereotype. They share their stories to help change the dominant narrative about what yoga is. Jessamyn Stanley is a well-known yoga teacher, writer, and body positivity advocate. She has gained popularity on social media by spreading her message of equality and self-love. Jacoby Ballard is another well-known activist and yoga teacher for LGBT rights. He offers LGBT- and queer-inclusive yoga classes, retreats, and workshops across the US.
Their honesty and authenticity remind us that yoga is about self-acceptance and connecting to your truth. It has nothing to do with race, gender, or economic status.