Yoga Isn't Just For Skinny, Flexible, White Women
In June 2012, I was a first-year yogi, and my enthusiasm for the practice led me to attend the Solstice in Times Square.
Held on the first day of summer, it's a huge outdoor event with corporate sponsors, and said to be one of the largest yoga classes in the world.
The energy of being there was invigorating. However, I couldn't help but notice how the media covered the event: they selected only thin, white, and very flexible people to feature in their coverage, even though many women of color and people of all ages, shapes, and sizes were there.
It was disheartening, to say the least.
Already there are perceptions among many women of color that yoga is not for them—that it's for white women. This is due largely to our Westernized pop culture, the images yoga companies use in marketing, and the way yoga is covered in the media. Most people don't know that yoga was originally created by and for men in India.
The Solstice media coverage only exacerbated this misunderstanding.
I, too, not only once held these beliefs, but I also thought yoga wouldn't be effective enough exercise. (Go figure, given all the celebrities who practice it!)
I had reached a plateau in my weight loss and my vitalist (my go-to person for fitness training, nutritional guidance, and motivation), Yves Bony, recommended an intro class at Bikram Yoga Park Slope in Brooklyn, NY.
There, I learned that in any posture "100% of your body's best effort is 100% benefit." This physical control, plus the breath synchrony of yoga, have lessened the effects of both my mild scoliosis and asthma. My spine strength and aerobic stamina have improved greatly, and I have recaptured some of the flexibility of my youth.
And so, inspired by the profound impact of Bikram on my health and wellbeing, plus the experience of being at the monumental event in Times Square, and motivated by negative feelings about how it was reported, I was inspired to create Yoga to the Curvy Curly (YTTCC).
This grassroots movement addresses two misconceptions about yoga that I hear all the time, particularly from women of color:
- I'm not flexible enough, not in good enough shape, and it's only for certain types of people.
- I have naturally curly hair, styled straight, and sweat makes it difficult to maintain.
At YTTCC, we aim to inspire women from all backgrounds and all fitness levels to practice yoga. We try to spread knowledge about wellness, positive body image, and hair care for an active lifestyle. Our mission is to help all women understand that yoga isn't an intimidating lifestyle, it's an accepting one.
The core inspiration for YTTCC is women of color, but the movement is all-inclusive. It's similar to how the Civil Rights was triggered for African-Americans, yet has emerged to represent an overarching umbrella for equality among diverse groups of people.
The YTTCC effort is not the first nor only to expose the benefits of yoga to communities of color. The preeminent are the Yoga Retreat for Women of Color at the Kripalu Center in Massachusetts and the Africa Yoga Project. Yet, YTTCC transcends race and ethnicity with a focus on attracting diverse body and hair types.
We held our first event in Brooklyn in September 2012, with more than 200 attendees. I hope you'll follow the movement and share the energy with friends at Facebook.com/YogatotheCurvyCurly and Twitter.com/YTTCC.