Blacks in yoga an oxymoron? Depends on what you call “yoga”

Nadine McNeil has a beautiful article on Elephant Journal asking “Is yoga for people of color an oxymoron?”. She relates the various discussion sessions that occurred during the recently ended Yoga Journal conference in New York:

“I’m tired of going into yoga studios in New York city and being the only person of color,” lamented this exquisitely petite and radiant woman whom I met while attending Maya Breuer’s workshop […].

Nadine goes on to explain how and when she encountered yoga and gives her thoughts on the oneness of the practice, a much-needed reminder of how yoga is for all, no matter your cultural background.

Although I completely agree with Nadine’s views, I think the overall discussion about the presence of blacks in yoga should start with defining what yoga is and what concept we’re looking for our presence in.

Yoga a la West

Yoga, as most of the us the West – and especially in the US – define it, is a series of postures practiced on a special rubber or cloth mat in a studio. Usually the movements are led by a teacher. Some of us attend to better our health, while some of us attend to quiet our minds or find strength and courage to forge ahead on our daily paths.

In this case, no, there isn’t a strong African American presence. Many times we are the only person of color in class or at a workshop. We are the most unique in a crowd of uniques.

Yoga a la Patanjali

For others, yoga is an eight-limbed path, prescribed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. The asanas (the movements) are just one part.

Depending on which yoga tradition you follow, examining and adhering to these paths will lead to enlightenment and all of that good stuff that comes with it. Yoga is the Great Connector.

Hi, my name is yoga… and so is yours

I believe that through this enlightenment, this connecting with the Great Connector, we realize that we are all part of this ‘oneness’ by default. This helps us understand concepts such as cause and effect and achieve some semblance of balance.

If we use the definition of yoga above, is the question “Why aren’t more blacks in yoga” valid? If this system is a path that gives us the tools to realize how we all are connected, then asking about our presence in yoga doesn’t make sense.

Therefore, depending on how you view yoga, we don’t have to look for ourselves in yoga.

We’re already here.

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