With the availability and ease of online yoga classes, why do students continue to frequent yoga studios?
Some say they prefer the personal attention and individual adjustments from instructors, but most answer--without hesitation--that it’s the sense of community. Online yoga subscriptions fail to provide the camaraderie of fellow yoga students and the energy of a class moving together.
However, if we are completely honest, many yoga studios across the country are not inclusive. Likely the studios do not intend to ostracize students of different colors, shapes, and abilities, but that is undeniably the case.
We’ve all been to yoga classes where the class makeup looks exactly like the instructor: white, thin, and flexible. It is not the instructor’s fault s/he fits the yoga stereotype, but how s/he teaches and interacts with students, as well as the vocabulary /she uses, can either include or exclude those that may not fit the yoga “mold.”
Dianne Bondy, who held a workshop at Yogaja Yoga last year, adamantly argues that “yoga is for all of us.”
She calls herself the “fat, black yogini,” and she is honest about her experiences in yoga studios across the country. From teachers assuming she’s new to yoga because of her size to blatantly prejudiced comments, Dianne has endured it all. She now advocates for yogis of all colors, shapes, and abilities.
@Dianne sums up her body-positive outlook by writing, “All bodies are good bodies, and we all deserve beautiful things that help us appreciate the skin we live in!”
Dianne has one suggestion to studios who desire to be more inclusive: hire diverse instructors. Hiring a variety of teachers shows the community that you wish to embrace people of all sizes and colors, and a relatable teacher provides some comfort to those new students who walk into your studio for the first time. Once that student feels comfortable, they may branch out to other instructors--including the stereotypical teacher--but they need to first feel welcome and understood.
Yogaja Yoga has made concerted efforts to follow Dianne’s advice. Our yoga instructors are all shapes, ages, and colors, and students and teachers agree this makes a difference in our sense of community.
Gena Collier, Yogaja yoga instructor, shares, “I do think being a yoga teacher and student of color makes a difference. From a student perspective, I always get so excited when I see other brown complexions in the room--it puts me at ease. In general, I'm always aware of the lack of diversity wherever I go. That's just something I've dealt with growing up in predominantly white areas.”
“I believe our practice mirrors our lives, so it's necessary to see and appreciate all the different shapes, sizes, colors, and textures the world has to offer,” @Gena continues. “I think any teacher who brings diversity [to a yoga class] creates an environment of acceptance and awareness.”
Dina Sobhan, a regular yoga student at Yogaja, expresses a similar view: “I love [Erin’s class] because it is attended by people of all colors, shapes and sizes. Having an instructor who does not fit the stereotypical image of a yogi inspires me to look beyond my limitations and just enjoy the practice.”
Ann Heckler, who teaches an Adaptive Yoga class at Yogaja for teens and young adults with high-functioning autism and related challenges, asserts, “The benefits of yoga are not reserved for those with the ‘typical’ physique we see in yoga ads.”
“Our Monday Adaptive Yoga class exemplifies a strong yoga community--we accept one another as the unique individuals we are,” adds Ann. “The many challenges and judgments the class participants may face out in the greater community are minimized by the supportive, non-competitive vibe that we share during our session. Students leave the class feeling calm and centered with a stronger sense of self and a closer connection to their classmates.”
If you’re hesitant to step into a yoga studio for the first time, perhaps for the very reasons mentioned above, check out the first united Toledo area yoga festival, ONE Yoga Festival presented by Promedica.
The annual festival is a great opportunity to be a part of the local yoga community, spend some time outdoors, and check out some of the teachers and classes available in the Toledo area. Ann Heckler will be teaching a free Adaptive Yoga class that day as well.
Photos by Mary Wyar Photography.