Diversity has eluded the UK’s yoga sector despite the practice having its roots in India, even as black and minority ethnic practitioners are challenging racism in yoga organisations.
While the British Medical Journal found in 2020 that 91 per cent of British yoga practitioners were white, there are also reports of people of colour enduring racial stereotypes at yoga centres.
Many practitioners said they had experienced inappropriate comments about their bodies and hair in classes, such as Indians being ‘naturally bendy’, the Guardian reported.
The newspaper cited the experience of yoga teacher Amanda Evans from Brighton. She said she quit teaching yoga in commercial studios because some white students had walked out of classes when they saw a black or brown teacher.
“It happened to me a couple of times and with south Asian teachers I know as well,” Evans said.
Concerns were raised at Iyengar Yoga London in Maida Vale about racism. A diversity-focussed meeting of the institute heard that women of colour felt “unwelcome and uncomfortable” there and they did not return to the centre after visiting it a couple of times.
The institute admitted that people of colour were underrepresented in its classes but insisted there were several teachers of colour.
It has established a diversity advisory group which comprises a board member of the organisation to promote inclusiveness.
“As an organisation, we do not tolerate racist or discriminatory behaviour, bullying or harassment of any kind,” it said.
British Wheel of Yoga, a training body, said it also set up an equality, diversity and inclusion working group.
While there is a feeling that yoga centres generally do not reflect the diversity on the streets around them, teacher trainer Stacie Graham observed that images of white women who are “very skinny, bendy and blonde” have dominated the social media representations of the practice.
Graham also said in her book Yoga As Resistance that yoga is “commodified as fitness” in Europe and North America.