Racism in the yoga world – How you can take responsibility and create change.

Racism in the yoga world – How you can take responsibility and create change.

The Swedish yoga community is quite homogeneous, the majority of which is white and usually female. Those of us who fall into the category of ”white women” cannot, and should not, try to stop being who we are, but I think we must become aware of what racism in the yoga world looks like, especially if – like myself – you are a yoga teacher, educator, or some other kind of authority figure in the yoga world.

To help me give advice on how you can think and work with diversification and racism in the yoga world, I spoke to Fatou Sonko, the founder of Diversity Yoga i Borås. This text and below tips are based on her knowledge, thoughts, and experience.

Foto: Shay Perez

What do you think are important keys in raising the issue of so many people feeling excluded from the yoga world?

To get closer to a change here in Sweden, it would be valuable to try to bring that discussion even closer to the yoga world; I am thinking of famous yoga teachers in Sweden. To really dare to lift that stone and ask ourselves “how are we doing today?”. What if more people would dare to think about how to act and think? And not only stay there, but actually move forward in a different way. The first step is to dare to talk about these issues and not to blame it on “not talking politics”. After all, equality must be the interest of all of us. It’s being addressed all the time in yoga philosophy, so let’s do it… let’s spread yoga for real, for more people than just the privileged group that gets access to this today.

What can we as whites and established ones do to create a more inviting climate of conversation?

A very important issue is silence. To be quiet and to listen. At the same time, silence can also mean not contradicting or taking a clear position. It is a way of maintaining structures where people continue to be offended and subjected to racism.

If you want to be a part of changing and making yoga (and the whole spiritual world) more inclusive, really more inclusive, then listen, read and try to understand. It’s not enough to just say that “everyone is welcome to join”. It needs to permeate in everything that is done and seen, and you need to take responsibility as an individual to familiarise yourself with the issue.

Do you have any more concrete points on things we can do now to take responsibility for the change ourselves?

  • To Yoga Teachers
    • Do not shift responsibility to those who are in the minority or vulnerable to educate themselves on the issues, it is a very vulnerable situation. Take responsibility for training yourself: listen to podcasts, read books, listen to lectures. This way, you can listen to and understand the target group in question without putting anyone on the spot, as in asking one of the participants, who may not want to be responsible to explain, for example structural racism.
    • Read up on white privilege and racism. Try to understand the messages. Not to shame or blame, but because it is together that we can make a change.
    • Raise the issue – perhaps that you bring it up when you review yourself (review sounds harsh, but rather: that you deeply care and want to be involved in learning and changing).
    • Review your business; what can you do to become more inclusive? (Everything from images that you use in marketing, to how you act if someone is exposed to racism)
  • To yoga studios
    • Hire yoga teachers who represent all sorts of people in society – representation matters!
    • Get help and team up with organisations such as the Afrosvenskan National Association.
    • Have conversations about minority stress and microaggressions – What it is? What does it do to people? And what connection is there to the yoga world? We say: “everyone is welcome”, but we need to think about why “everyone” doesn’t come to the yoga studio.
  • To the yoga communities
    • Arrange lectures on white privileged and racism linked to yoga, and tips on how to think and do differently.
    • Start and host conversations about why there is such resistance around the question, why are you so afraid to examine yourself?
    • Start and invite conversations about minority stress and micro-aggressions – what is it, what does it do to people and what connection can there be to the yoga world? We say that everyone is welcome, but we need to think about why not everyone comes to the yoga room.
  • To major organisers
    • Host lectures, workshops, conversations and discussions about white privilege and racism in yoga, what it means, and what you can do differently. It can be included as a class/workshop at the festival/event, or segments in a magazine or as an illuminated topic in one’s channels. Then the question is raised, and you reach out to many.
    • Actually write about this and change imagery and other things that maintain the current structures.
  • To those who arrange yoga teacher trainings
    • Consider why the majority of those who train as yoga teachers are white and what can be done to get more non-white people to attend.
    • Include a short educational segment in white privilege and racism and minority stress. Talk about inclusion, what does it really mean? What does that mean in practice? It is not enough to say or write that everyone is welcome.

In conclusion, I want to say that a point that is valuable regardless of whether it concerns an individual yoga teacher, studio, organizer of events, etc., is to listen to the target group that you want to improve for.

Thank you Fatou for sharing your thoughts and experiences.
And to those who read the post; thank you for taking part in this and working to contribute to a more conscious and inclusive yoga community – but also a more conscious and inclusive society.

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