"A decolonized yoga works toward justice and liberation for all living beings. A decolonized yoga centers marginal bodies, voices and groups – particularly Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) folks – in accessing healing and the healer within."
– Sheena Sood, Towards a Critical Embodiment of Decolonizing Yoga, 2020.
What does representation mean and why does it matter?
It means seeing oneself as belonging to any given space, because there are others in that space that look like you and thrive. Representation is embracing the unique nature of each human body, spirit and mind in their diverse forms, and portraying each so that members of the audience can relate and share into the common good. It is encouraging individuals from diverse backgrounds to live freely, just as the people they look up to – the teachers, the role models, the leaders who look just like them, with similar lived experiences – live freely and vibrantly, too.
In a world fraught with chronic health problems, mental illness and stress, the world needs yoga now more than ever.
Yoga is and should be for every body.
Do a quick Google search or social media search for “yoga” and you’d be forgiven for thinking that yoga is (for the most part) for White people only. Our Ottawa Yoga sphere is no better: if one scrolls through the teacher roster of most yoga studios, it’s beautiful humans looking graceful in a variety of poses against a lovely brick background, from the simplest seated pose to advanced arm balances and back bends.
Predominantly white bodies.
A recent conversation with a fellow yoga teacher led to the issue of the lack of visibility of Black persons, Indigenous Peoples and People of Colour in the yoga sphere and how it may affect their access to the yoga practice in general. Putting aside the cost-prohibitive issue of practicing at a studio, she asked what more could be done to attract this diverse group of people. I suggested that should she reach out to multicultural community centers across Ottawa and offer her yoga classes and workshops there.
“But I’m White,” she responded awkwardly, expressing that she might be intimidated and not fit in. There was a pause. Then we laughed. “When was the last time that you were the only White person somewhere? That’s my all day, every day, girl,” I said.
How many of us have looked up from the four corners of our yoga mats at our neighbours, our teachers, our students, our studios, and asked:
· Who is present in this space, and who is not?
· If yoga is for every body, why is every body not present in this space?
· What can be done to actively and intentionally invite those who have not felt welcome?
· How truly diverse and inclusive is this space?
· Are there policies in place to create a safer space for minority groups?
· Who shapes and implements these policies?
We need to demand more of the Business of Yoga. We need to be actively anti-racist and shift the center of Western yoga away from the whitewashed colonial narrative. We need to be bold and proactive in creating welcoming, brave, safer places for minority groups.
If yoga is so good for everyone – if yoga is for everybody, we should all see ourselves in this space. So that we can all belong.
That is how this photo project was born. Out of the need to see more non-white bodies practicing yoga – people who also deserve to be seen and heard. Multiculturally diverse humans striving, struggling – full of life, hopes and dream. Photos of Indigenous People, Black People and other People of Colour as they move, breathe and live through their yoga journeys.
Here, we share stories of the BIPOC community’s yoga experience in the Ottawa.
We hope this will breathe courage into the hearts and lungs of our readers to act.
Onwards and Upwards only.