written by Black Women Healing Retreats
Black women are underrepresented in yoga. When we look at yoga publications and settings, there is an undeniable gap that has been created. Diversity and inclusion is not a complicated problem; there are decisions that are intentionally made which exclude Black women from being represented. For example, if there is a yoga magazine and there are 12 magazines published per year, then for each month there should be someone on the cover of a different nationality or culture. However, if the cover of the magazine predominantly showcases white people or constantly excludes Black women and people of various complexions, body types and backgrounds, things become problematic. Yoga, in terms of diversity and inclusion, has been poorly represented by yoga studios and yoga publications. The dangers of this is that if Black women do not see themselves being represented in the practice, little Black girls will grow up to believe that something incredibly healing and transformational, like yoga, is not for them. The reality is that the lack of inclusion of Black women stems from capitalism.
Publications don’t represent Black women, because in a capitalistic society, their target audience is white people. This form of systemic oppression erases the healing of Black people, which then affects the entire Black community. When Black women are represented in white publications about yoga, it becomes a spectacle, almost as if the publication wants an award for finally seeing Black women. Black women are tired of being docile and underrepresented. Not only does systemic racism affect Black folks’ healing; it also creates frictions amongst Black women, who begin competing for visibility from corporations that do not really see or respect them.
Ironically, yoga is a practice created by people of color, so it is mind-boggling to see the lack of representation of people of color within yoga and meditation settings and platforms. This lack of representation perpetuates the narrative of colonization--colonizing something and then dismissing the original people from their own indigenous practice. It’s a dangerous game. There comes a point where Black women and people must stop asking for a seat at the table and must begin to create their own tables.
This week we spoke with Shelby, a Black yoga teacher and yogi who is challenging the idea that Black women don’t practice yoga. Shelby influences Black women to practice yoga through her inspiring work. You can find Shelby on Instagram practicing yoga in nature and in her most natural element, encouraging people to open up their minds and hearts about the way Black people are collectively treated. Here is what Shelby had to say about the lack of representation of Black people in yoga, what inspired her to become a yoga teacher, and more:
1. What inspired you to start practicing yoga? What kind of yoga do you practice and teach?
I got inspired to practice when I was attending the Maharishi school, back in 2011. TM (Transcendental Meditation) and yoga were both big there. So it was a course requirement. Once I realized how much I enjoyed it during class, I decided to take things a step further and practice at home. At home is where I learned how little Black women and men participated. I went online to do some research and look for videos or tutorials (classes and private lessons were out of the question since I was a broke college student at the time) to help further my practice--anything I could get my hands on (books, magazines, flash cards, etc). Upon turning to social media to find inspiration, I was extremely disappointed to see the blatant lack of representation for Black women, in yoga. As mentioned numerous other times, I literally had to type in “Black women doing yoga” in the google search just to see someone of color showcased. Even then, the first two rows had images of Black women and after that it was back to all white. This was the final straw for me and this was when I got serious about the physical aspect of yoga. I wanted to be an inspiration for other Black girls who were interested in practicing but possibly felt as though they had no one who looked like them to look up to. I practice based off of how my body is feeling, or what I feel I need at the time. Anything that best benefits me. I do like advanced Vinyasa flows! I teach my students different flows depending on their individual needs and wants, which tends to be beginner’s level flows.
2. How do you feel about the lack of inclusion of Black and brown people in yoga settings?
How I feel about the lack of Black and brown people represented in Americanized yoga, is very strong. I am so disappointed and at this point it has turned more into annoyance and irritation. The fact that yoga originated in India (I’ve also had conversation around it potentially starting in Egypt) BY people of color, should say a lot. How is it that once yoga became popular in the US, we (or they) managed to write out and discourage people of color from participating in the practice? I currently live in Boulder, Colorado and continuously find the clear disconnect when it comes to inclusivity. When yoga apparel companies advertise their clothing on billboards, in the windows of their shops, on social media or in magazines, you rarely ever (if at all) see Black women used as models. I’ve reached out to many yoga magazines in hopes of being heard! Yoga Journal (YJ) is based out of Boulder, Colorado. I’ve had friends who worked directly with YJ, recommend me for a photo shoot or interview. Not to mention, I emailed the owner personally. Never even got as much as a two sentence response back. They will throw a person of color on the cover every now and then, but it’s much harder for women of color to get a platform from these companies. I could name tons of yoga brands, companies, magazines, studios and Instagram accounts that DO NOT INCLUDE BLACK PEOPLE! And if they do, they’ll sprinkle a person of color into the mix just so they can say they aren’t racist. I’m over it, if we are being frank. So my thoughts are, we as Black people, need to come up with our own brands, magazines and companies! If they don’t want to include us, f--- ‘em.
3. What motivated you to start sharing your nude practice? How can other women become more comfortable in their bodies to practice yoga naked or without restrictions, even in the comfort of their own homes?
I became motivated to share my nude yoga work the longer I practiced. As time went by, I grew more comfortable and confident in my skin. Which made me feel less uptight about nudity. Just do it. There isn’t much more to it than that. The journey can be different for everyone when it comes to learning how to love your body for what it is. I recommend starting at home (perfect for those who live alone, but still open to those who have roommates) in your bra and underwear. Or just your underwear! You’ll either love it, or dislike it. Let your guard down and stop worrying about your body shape, what you look like stretching without clothes on, what others would think of you if they knew what you were doing, etc. Close your eyes and allow yourself to fully immerse into the experience.
4.How does yoga help you to navigate a world built on systemic racism?
Yoga helps me deal with racism the same way meditation does. It puts me at peace. I allow my mind a certain amount of time each day to focus solely on my practice and nothing else. But, it isn’t enough for the time being to help me forget about racism all together.
5. What is your favorite mantra and why?
My favorite mantra has to be a mantra I found a handful of months back while doing some digging online. It is geared towards manifesting money and unlimited financial abundance. It’s kind of special to me, so I won’t share what it is. But it was reported that the Egyptians used it to gain wealth as well.
6. How has yoga provided you a deeper connection to your mind, body and spirit?
Yoga has opened up my eyes to a new way of life, aided in my knowledge of health and wellness, helped me gain comfort and security in my own skin, and introduced me to some ridiculously amazing people in the yoga community.
Keep up with Shelby on Instagram here @chocoloate_yoga