By Stephanie Rehor
Anyone who is a yogi probably knows the difference between being in a yoga community and being a part of the “yoga scene.” For me, I was forced to learn the hard way. After 6 years of practicing yoga, I found myself attending more mainstream yoga events, purchasing overpriced yoga equipment, exclusively participating in vigorous classes and doing all I could to shove myself into the role of a western yogi. The ego took over as I became obsessed with the physicality of the poses. I pushed my body to the extreme and no matter what I did my skill level was still not up to par with any of the images the media fed me. While my physical practice wasn’t quite up to standards, my emotional practice never came close. When I expressed any sort of emotion to the world, any sort of intensity, it was met with resistance because “I thought you did yoga?” and “chill out, go do yoga” and “I’m surprised you would react that way because you do yoga”. These statements are not only emotionally manipulative but it becomes draining and invalidating to be constantly shoved into a box. All of these experiences led me to the realization that yoga stereotypes create exclusivity that harms this community.
The way things are now, we can be yogis as long as we are not overweight, have no mental illness, not disabled, not queer, trans, poor, black, or anything else that deviates from the “norm”. Western yoga stereotypes keep this community from being diverse and steers people away from something that could be life-changing for them. The danger of the yoga brand is that it creates an idea that being a yogi has less to do with how someone is experiencing life and more to do with how they look, what they are wearing or their level of flexibility. Yoga is a birthright. Every person who is alive should be able to experience yoga. Whether someone is doing a physical practice or not is irrelevant to the fact that they are worthy of peace.
Peacefulness is a wonderful effect that the poses have on the body but it doesn’t end there. Yoga is more than just asana. Yoga is reflective self-care. This type of self-care not only offers relaxation but a deeper look into one’s patterns and inner experiences. It works to rewire our thoughts and actions so that we may live in a more positive, honest, and fulfilling way. People who are oppressed and have trauma are in desperate need of reflective self-care. However, we are fed images that lead us to believe that yoga is only for white, able-bodied, privileged individuals. As yogis we need to be mindful about who is absent from the space. We need to look around to see who is missing and start creating a space that is inclusive. How do we do this? Awareness is the first step, but after that we start with ourselves. Begin inviting a little more ease into the practice and drop the idea that we have to look, act, or be a certain way to feel included. If we want to experience growth we must reject the falsehood and pressure of societal expectations and live in truth. Through self-love, understanding, and presence we can create a community that not only welcomes diversity – but also celebrates it.