“You can't be what you can't see," ~ Marian Wright Edelman, American civil rights activist.
I’m often greeted in my DMs with messages from women around the world sharing their stories with me; women telling me that I inspired them to do yoga because they saw someone who was built like them, a woman who was a reflection of them, doing it already. It might sound cliche but not seeing yourself reflected in certain spaces can make it more difficult for you to even garner the strength to enter into the arena.
“It is easier to relate and feel like I can tap into a similar strength to power through the flow.” ~Britney Bouie, Yoga Student
I speak of this often, but when I began my yoga journey over 10 years ago there were very few people in the space who looked like me. However, what I don’t discuss is the fact I often felt like I didn’t belong in this space, and that I felt like my practice and alignment were horrible. As the years progressed and I began to understand more about anatomy and the body I realized I wasn’t out of alignment, but because of my body — a big butt — I often appeared to be.
Though it was an enlightening epiphany for me, it also pushed me even harder to share this practice with other communities that produced people who weren’t rail-thin. As my journey continued I began to meet other Black and Latina yogis who were built like me and could do things with their bodies I never envisioned mine could achieve. The simple visual of seeing someone who was built like me stand on their head made me get out of mine and see what strength I truly had.
“Having yoga instructors that look like me has been crucial in my yoga journey. It is like having an invisible hand pushing me along to try new things. Seeing these instructors gives me the space to be brave and challenge my body because I feel a sense of belonging on my mat and it doesn’t matter what the person next to me looks like.” ~Nije Capri Lane, Yoga Student
“It encourages me. I feel that I can push myself past my comfort level. I trust you to be able to guide me into an area that I’m not used to it because I feel like you can relate to me.” ~ Terasha Johnson-Byrd, Yoga Student
“As a student, it’s refreshing to walk into spaces and see people who look like me. Whether it’s body type or a POC it makes me feel like I belong and it’s safe for me to be in that space.” ~ Leana Marie Marshall, MHA, RHIA | E-RYT 200, RYT 500 | YACEP
Once I let go of my own fears and inhibitions I was able to harness the power I gained and use it to inspire others. The first three quotes above are from friends and students of mine, and the fourth is from a fellow yoga instructor. Since I began my yoga journey I’ve been on a mission to educate and encourage other women of color to join me on their mats. I want to create a space in my classes where everyone feels welcome and earnestly included.
I always tell people that yoga is a practice and everyone can do it, but I think the cherry on top of that narrative is when they actually SEE me do it. There are many people who truly believe in their hearts that yoga isn’t for Black people, or that it isn’t for “big” people, but then they come across my Instagram page or the profiles of Black Girl Yoga and Sisters of Yoga and they’re inspired immediately to try it because they see themselves doing it.
In a nutshell, this is why representation is important. Yoga as a practice and lifestyle is a beautiful thing. It is healing, empowering, and uplifting. Minorities and disenfranchised communities across the globe need this type of outlet, and the fact that our industry isn’t doing more to showcase the diversity and advance inclusivity is often disheartening.
“As a black woman in corporate America (who now also lives in a very white city), my day is filled with interacting with people who don’t look like me, and some days it’s really tough! The fact that my hour of self-care is spent with someone I can relate to, means a lot. It’s a break from reality!” ~Dionna Sallis, Yoga Student & OTF enthusiast
“I guess culturally it just gives me a sense of validation that I can do yoga and fitness too.” ~ Ashley Smith- Purviance, OTF coach
“As an instructor, I can say it would make me more relatable. I can play what I want and say what I want without someone getting offended. I don’t have to shrink myself to fit into what people think I should be.” ~ Leana Marie Marshall, MHA, RHIA | E-RYT 200, RYT 500 | YACEP
The validation and inclusion the two women above are speaking on is not specific to racial minorities, but also those who exist and love in the space of the LGBTQ+ communities. The inclusion and representation I seek for the yoga and fitness industry is holistic. It is just as important for me to see myself as it is for everyone else. We all need to understand that our world is not a melting pot, but instead a beautiful salad where every aspect of someone can shine through without feeling as though conformity or assimilation is necessary. Sharing our identities and our experience only enhances the work we all bring to the table. As an instructor allowing others to embrace their true selves it the biggest gift I can give to my students and the world because in that space of authenticity is where true love, power, and purpose exist and flourish.
“Speaking from me and my mom right now it’s extremely important to have an instructor of the same cultural background and physical cultural traits. It helps ease the mind and ultimately the body, which in turn creates an amazingly uplifting spiritual experience.” ~ Brandon Eddins, Fitness Enthusiast.