Yoga teaching in North America today seems overwhelmingly led by twentysomething, uber-bendy former gymnasts with means and/or lifestyle options most of us don't have access to, and it seems they're setting the standards for what "yoga" is.
This isn't the full story, of course. Many excellent yoga teachers don't fit this description (and fitting this description doesn't mean you can't be an excellent teacher) but you'd almost never know there were non-white, non-twentyish yogis out there if you check out what's hot and trending in yoga media or walk into any yoga studio in North America that's enjoying booming success.
[There are awesome exceptions.]
The business of yoga in North America has built up extensively around this demographic. With yoga teacher trainings costing upwards of $5,000-$15,000 and requiring that students leave their lives for a month or more at a time, it's inevitable that the majority of people who will be able to participate are those with lives and means that allow such a sabbatical from daily life. Unfortunately, this tends to exclude single moms or people in full-time professions, people with limited finances or in many cases large swaths of cultural groups for whom such an excursion isn't realistic or welcoming.
And this has meant that the priorities and experiences of this set of people have set the tone and definition of yoga today: Increasingly complex postures indicating the "depth" of a practice, a focus on the physical with an absence or lack of understanding about the other seven limbs of the practice, the image of "yogi" as a fit little (usually female) package with perfect (usually white) skin and an "ohm" tattoo.
Now, before comment section shit starts to hit the fan, let me be clear: I *am* a fit, female package with white skin and my tattoo doesn't have an "ohm" but it does take up the entire upper half of my back. I *am* the stereotype, and I love the current energy of yoga spaces with these women and men consciously moving toward greater freedom and health through their own good sweat. I'm not looking to push these people out; I'm craving that more people be welcomed in.
I believe our yoga community isn't as great as it could be because we lack diverse leaders who in turn would draw in more diverse fellow practitioners.
So, I've set about to do my part by changing the parameters for becoming a yoga teacher, in hopes that we'll see our yoga community enriched by guides from a range of histories, cultures and experiences.
Pranalife Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) courses run on Saturdays and Wednesday nights in the spring and fall and as a nine-day intensive in the summer, in my home city of Waterloo, Ontario. Anyone with family obligations or a day job can more easily schedule in training that lets them stay near home and runs outside of standard work hours. Few people stick around for the entire summer, so a summer intensive lets them fit in the course and still be able to travel and/or spend time with family.
I've also done what I can to encourage an environment of inclusion. I offer two scholarships of 50% off tuition for every course in the program (i.e., two scholarships are awarded three times a year). My regular classes and private clients include high-demand kids and their families, 40+ bodies, LGBTQ, and most definitely geeks (I love my fellow geeks). Many people who sign up for YTT come from these classes and private/corporate sessions; hence, the Pranalife YTT crew is always a mix of young and experienced, university students and single moms, different cultures, sexual orientations and interests. We're a loving motley crew that become a loving motley family.
What happens when these people become certified? Well, for one, they're more aware of the issues facing different groups of people who may feel excluded by the current yoga environment, and are more able to make their own classes welcoming to everyone. Then there's the magic that happens when a 40something single mother of an autistic son decides to run a class for other parents of autistic kids. Suddenly, there's a passionate, authentic teacher creating a class for a group of people who could definitely use what yoga has to offer, and will now get it because they have a leader who sees and understands the need.
This kind of integration and inclusion is, I believe, vital to the future of our yoga community. It's important to me that Pranalife Yoga be a part of the solution, along with others in the community who've identified these issues and are also working towards greater inclusion and diversity.
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