In 2019 I started my journey to reclaim my ethnic identity as an Asian woman and began the personal work of dismantling my own internalized racism and white supremacy.
I decided to share my personal experience of discrimination in yoga communities as a woman of color (WOC) having been inspired and encouraged by the conversations happening at 90 Monkeys trainings in the United States.
So I took to social media and was overwhelmed by the responses I received. Not only of support, but of others sharing their own stories, not too different from my own.
Our communities are the reflection of our society, therefore racism and oppression are going to be reflected in our yoga and wellness spaces.
This conversation has at the forefront of the US yoga scene for a while, but this hasn’t been the case in my community in Montreal.
It’s powerful and heartening to witness the current global revolutionary movement of Black Lives Matter following the murder of George Floyd, and I hope this much needed reckoning can truly be a catalyst for change.
Yoga and wellness spaces claim to be a welcoming environment for all, however, I’ve often felt that I don’t fit into the culture because of how I look and sound.
As a woman of color, I’ve experienced countless comments and interactions in yoga spaces that reflected unconscious or implicit biases.
Some examples include:
- A studio manager told me that I needed to change the way I speak because I have an accent when I teach.
- A studio owner cavalierly mentioned that she/he is covered for diversity representation because they hired me and a Black yoga teacher on the schedule.
- I was mistaken for the studio cleaning staff, even though I was welcoming students to the studio as the teacher.
- When signing students in at the desk I’ve been asked, “Oh, you are the teacher?” and “Where is the teacher?”
- Someone commented, “I don’t see color. I treat people equally.”
It was that last one that fueled and inspired me to become an advocate for anti-racism.
That kind of comment can potentially make someone feel invisible or that their struggles as a Black, Indigenous, or person of color (BIPOC) are being dismissed.
Since my initial Instagram post, the support I received from friends and strangers across the city prompted me to host an event called “Yoga for Diversity and Inclusion”. The event garnered media attention, and I was invited for an interview on local TV to promote the event and speak about my story. People reached out and said, “I can’t believe this is happening in Canada!”
The event was successful but we only touched the tip of the iceberg. The conversation around equity in yoga needs to be ongoing.
Collectively and individually, studios and teachers must get educated, and become conscious of our implicit biases.
For example, often students and teachers of color internalize their oppression, thus feeling inferior when they walk in the room. And white folks may not feel or be overtly racist, but they can be “aversively” so, and change their behavior when interacting with a person of color.
When we start to unpack these issues, we might feel uncomfortable and defensive, however, yoga teaches us to do the hard work of self examination, and it’s vital that this work be done, especially in yoga spaces.
People have been asking about my motivations for starting this project and being more of an advocate for equity in yoga.
First, I realized that being discriminated against had been wearing me out more than I realized. I wanted to be seen and heard. My intention was personal, without knowing that my story would cause ripple effects.
Second, I want all of us to be well. I want to see every kind of person represented at yoga studios, conferences, and festivals. Because we all deserve to be well, regardless of our skin color, gender identification, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, and cultural background.
What kind of world could we create if we understood, accepted, and celebrated the inherent differences and similarities we have as humans?
What kind of world could we create if we made a conscious decision to love each other within the container of yoga philosophy and practice?
If these ideals are not part of our yoga practice, I don’t know what is. After all, yoga is a practice of svadyaya (self-study) and seva (service).
So I challenge you today when you step into a space, think about and answer these questions:
- Who do you see in the room? Are the teachers and students primarily white or are there also BIPOC?
- In your opinion, is this space more white-centric or are they making room for untapped populations to feel welcome? If not, what can they do to welcome all people and make their offerings accessible financially?
- Is there BIPOC representation in high level leadership positions in the space?
Here are suggestions on being actively anti-racist and to ensure representation in yoga spaces:
- Do the Work – There are hundreds of online courses, books, podcasts, documentaries, and other resources available, just one Google away, to do your own personal work to be anti-racist. This will help you make your wellness spaces safer and more welcoming for BIPOC. Refrain from asking BIPOC for advice – it’s not their job and they need a break right now.
- Hire an equity trainer for your yoga studio, organization, or business – It’s vital that this same inner work be a part of our institutions as well – this includes every employee, staff, and teacher in the studio has done the work, as a matter of policy.
- Form solidarity with your friends and colleagues to encourage them to hire BIPOC in their yoga studios, conferences, and festivals through writing, constructive feedback, and conversations. Let the leaders know that this sentiment is shared within the community.
- Be discerning – For example, decline invitations to teach at places where they are not making an effort to hire BIPOC, or if they are not doing the inner work, and tell them kindly why you are declining.
- Have tough conversations with white people – Unlearning racism in ourselves is not a neat and tidy process – you’re going to make mistakes, it can be painful, you’ll mess up, and be vulnerable. It’s important to normalize this!
- If you’re white, are you willing to sacrifice opportunities and ways in which you benefit from the system in order to make room for BIPOC to have similar opportunities?
I have hope in humanity, especially if you are immersed in a yoga practice that is unafraid of facing challenges, discomfort, reality, and difference.
Some Recommended Resources:
Books (Please purchase from Black-owned bookstores!):
- Skill in Action by Michelle Cassandra Johnson
- Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad
- Radical Dharma: Taking Race, Love and Liberation by Jasmine Syedullah, Lama Rod Owens, and Angel Kyodo Williams
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Awakening Together by Larry Yang
- Love and Rage by Lama Rod Owen
- See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur
- White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
- CTZN Well
- That’s Not How That Works
- Good Ancestor Podcast
- Interchangeable White Ladies Podcast
- Code Switch
Leaders in the yoga and wellness community to follow:
- Michelle Cassandra Johnson
- Angel Kyodo Williams
- Chelsea Jackson Roberts
- Dianne Bondy
- Layla Saad
- Julie Holly
- Reggie Hubbard
Yoga stumbled into Asami’s life when darkness had taken over her smile, and offered her refuge. After a regular period of practice, she quickly realized her love for Yoga. The practice helped Asami look deep inside of herself, face difficult challenges in her life, and made her realize the limitless potential within her body, mind and spirit. Needless to say, Asami attributes Yoga to shaping the person she is today, and has helped her accept her perfectly imperfect self through self-love.
Asami’s classes are creatively sequenced and use intelligent alignment instruction. She incorporates Yoga philosophy and storytelling to make her classes more than just a physical practice. Her aim is to make students realize that they also have limitless potential within their life to grow and shine their inner beauty. Her classes are challenging and aim to bring inner smile and joy to each of her students with her passion and love towards Yoga. Asami seeks to inspire and connect with others about Yoga through her blog and social media, helping students relate to the ups and downs of their own practice.
Born and raised in Japan, Asami currently lives in Montreal, Canada. She has also lived and taught Yoga in Sydney, Australia, and Singapore. Asami has been teaching Yoga since 2009, and holds two, 200 hour Teacher Trainings. She is also trained in Yin Yoga and Prenatal Yoga. Currently, Asami is studying under the guidance of senior teacher Amy Ippoliti and 90 Monkeys. Asami loves to travel around the world and experience new cultures.