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Yoga is a Privilege

It shouldn’t be only for the privileged.

When I was growing up in the 1990s, I noticed that there were differences between the races that no one talked about. I saw it in my school, in the neighborhood I lived in, and in the TV shows I watched. It had me thinking that white people were the lucky ones because they always came from homes that had two healthy parents, went to great schools that offered the best education, and lived in neighborhoods that were clean and quiet. Meanwhile, Black people lived in broken homes, in impoverished neighborhoods with couldn’t-care-less school systems. This was my reality and the reality of my family and friends, so I had no reason not to believe this is what had been and what would be.

In 2016, I started looking for some wellness practice besides just working out at the gym. I wanted something where I could find peace and center myself. I wanted a different outlet where I could learn more about the movement in my body. Yoga fit that, but on the surface, it seemed like you had to be flexible and have a thin body type to be a part of it. Still, I wanted to see what it was about. When I embarked into the yoga world, I was in complete awe of everything it offered. I wondered why no one else I knew had ever tried this, because it provided a kind of healing that I didn’t know was possible.

But the more I went to classes, the more I understood why. The first few classes I attended were completely white—white teachers, white students–and did not resonate with me. Classes grew larger, but I continued to be the only black woman, often the only person of color. In class, I was the center of attention. Yoga instructors concentrated on my every move, waiting to correct me so that I could be reminded of how “new” I was to the class. After class, I always left feeling alone—like I should have never come in the first place. The loud silence said, “You do not belong here.”

But I wanted the benefits that yoga could give me—the power to be in my body, learn the ways I can be free, and have a choice in seeking my own healing. That is when I decided to start practicing in the comfort of my home. The more I continued to learn about yoga, the more I wanted to learn. Then one day I met a black woman who was a yoga instructor—the first teacher of color I had ever met. I attended her classes for weeks until she created her own yoga teacher training. It was then that I decided that I wanted to go deeper on this journey.  

The face of yoga in America is white. The field is predominated by white teachers and seems to be made just for white people—their thin body types, their neighborhoods, their view of the world.  The yoga lifestyle was always presented as a privilege for the ones who could afford the classes, understand the terminology, and had already mastered a happy life. The lucky ones.

But if yoga was to create a safe space for healing—a space of understanding, a space of learning one’s purpose, and a space that allowed a person to just be—then I knew it had to extend to the people who looked like me as well. It had to welcome people who never get the opportunity for that kind of peace and healing in other areas of life and who suffer greatly for it. People of color who deal with generational trauma and who experience toxic states of living especially need yoga. Yoga gives people the right to feel all of their emotions and it provides an endless opening for letting go. We all deserve to find a gateway into becoming healthier mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Everyone deserves to find peace and light into their lives—and guidance to help them get there.

I made the choice to become a yoga teacher because I hope to see more Black and Brown yoga instructors not only teaching classes but also in positions to train others as well. I want to see websites, magazines, and local communities promoting yogis of different body types, ages, and skin tones—and to see them be embraced in the yoga world. Yoga should show up in community centers, in parks, in backyards, in living rooms. It should be wherever we are.

There is power in knowing that yoga can reach beyond a person’s finances, where they come from, or the way they look. The power of yoga is within our very own existence and we are all lucky to have it.

• • •

Sharde’ Salters is a yoga teacher of three years based in Rochester, NY, where she specializes in R&B Flow vinyasa. She received her 200-hour teacher training in 2017 at Yoga 4 a Good Hood, a Black-owned yoga teacher training school. She is also a sensual movement instructor and an advocate for body positivity.

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