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Inclusivity and Diversity in Yoga and Wellness Spaces: Rethinking "For Every BODY" Approach'

Why I stopped saying my yoga class was for every BODY.

By Eva Rahman

 

When I first started teaching yoga, I was committed to ensuring my classes were accessible and inclusive. I regularly encouraged the use of props as an antidote to the ‘no pain, no gain’ mentality. I provided adaptations for all postures, used trauma-informed, and invitational language, acknowledging different experiences from my own. I charged affordable prices and offered discounts. My class description said, “suitable for everyBODY”. In short, I was doing everything I thought I could to promote inclusivity and diversity in my yoga class.

 

But I began to realise my yoga class is not for everyBODY and it is a disservice to efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity to use that statement. It ignores the fact that people have different body shapes, abilities, preferences, and lived experiences. On a basic physical level, even our skeletons are different! My thigh bone will not be angled in my hip socket the same as yours.

 

Inclusivity is not just a statement, using invitational language in class or being mindful of different bodies. It is not enough that I believe in the fundamental philosophy of yoga, based on the interconnectedness of all beings through universal consciousness (see the yogic philosophy of Panchakosha originating from the Vedic text, Taittiriya Upanishad). To be meaningfully inclusive requires that I acknowledge my own privilege and identity as a middle class, cisgender, bi-racial and dual citizen (British/ Bangladeshi) who was brought up in Bangladesh and India and has lived in the UK for the last 30 years, and what that might mean in terms of my perspectives. It means we work to honour people’s diverse lived experiences by creating space for acknowledging, understanding, and welcoming them and the inherent wisdom in those experiences.

 



Yoga class outdoors at Yoga Camp
Outdoor yoga at Yoga Camp

As facilitators in yoga, health and wellness spaces, it means we must challenge ourselves to lead through the lens of understanding how these identities and experiences overlap and weave together. This includes building an understanding of how systemic, collective, and generational trauma, such as racism and genocide, impacts those directly affected every day – in their emotions, behaviours, and perspectives.

 

I believe we can only be genuinely inclusive when we offer trauma-informed practices.  Most people have trauma, and people who are marginalised are likely to be more impacted by inequality, injustice, and discrimination. This is because of the way privilege and power marginalise them in the first place and then this is compounded further by the way multiple forms of bias and disadvantage intersect to shape their experience. Have a look around, these may be the people who are not in our yoga spaces, those who are NEVER there. It might be due to barriers to accessing these events like affordability, practicalities such as wheelchair access, as well as issues around feelings of belonging and safety.

 

Modern Western society, steeped in capitalism and individualism, is by nature non-inclusive. ‘Othering’ perspectives abound which serve to separate us from people who look, think, and behave differently from us and especially those that don’t fit into the dominant worldview of beauty, perfection, healthy, moral, heteronormative, or successful. And this othering echoes through wellness communities, specifically around beliefs of levels of consciousness, placing one above another in superiority, or beliefs around what an advanced yoga practitioner looks like and what postures they may be capable of doing. These are standards that are largely rooted in colonialist paradigms. 

 

Within this context, being in a larger curvy body currently, I and my teaching approach will not resonate with everyone. Not everyone will feel safe or welcome depending on whether the container I create matches their need at the time, how I show up on the day, and how they arrive in the space that day carrying their intersection of past, present, future. 

 

Diverse representation amongst yoga teachers at wellness events like Yoga Camp, an intimate annual gathering in Sussex, is a great step towards greater inclusivity. However, for it to be meaningful, it requires us to have the conversation around diversity and inclusivity, acknowledging that we may not have all the answers yet, and if we can make space for the wisdom of people from marginalised groups and begin to understand their lived experiences, then we can begin to expand our perspectives, vision and create a new world that is truly inclusive. If we awaken a loving space to recognise, allow, investigate and nurture (or RAIN, as Tara Brach puts it) our own trauma and tension, we can begin to open ourselves to understanding others. If we can meet people where they are, with a baseline of honouring of our shared humanness and lifeforce, then we can share in the privilege of being alive in the moment together, holding the frequency of unity in our diversity, and find opportunities to foster the repair in our society that is so needed. This is what spaces like Yoga Camp are all about. A space to allow feelings of safety to nourish us, build our trust and honour our full humanity. When we come together in community, we have the potential to amplify the impact of our yoga practice and we have the potential to strengthen a wider culture of care. Paraphrasing Albert Einstein, our solutions and social norms will need to be different from the mindsets that got us here, if we are to transform our global messes into collective liberation. And in the words of black feminist writer, Cole Arthur Riley, “Our struggle is distinct, but our liberation is intertwined.”




The author, Eva Rahman, and Janee Swann, founder of Yoga Camp smiling
The author, Eva Rahman, and Janee Swann, founder of Yoga Camp

For me, as a yoga facilitator, inclusivity is also about how I can be more intentional about how I occupy space as well as hold space for others. My practice is about slowing down to be more intentional around how I show up. Small moments of dropping into presence add up as does our work around our own shadows. As facilitators, we must have our own ongoing practice of examining our stuff - our prejudices, biases, our limiting beliefs - to be able to hold space for others who may be affected by trauma. We only have capacity to hold for others what we have capacity to hold for ourselves. We all have some kind of trauma and it’s important that as a facilitator I’m not causing further harm to someone. 

This year’s International Women’s Day theme referred to “inspiring inclusivity” and this can’t be limited to one day of the year. My reflection is about asking myself how can I do better to support inclusivity daily? Is this one next action going to support a wider culture of care that I want to be part of? How can we support each other in the creation of the world we want to see, one that is equitable, thriving and heart-centred?

 

 

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