Last week, I wrote about the importance of going with the flow. By that, I mean being in touch with your emotions, physical body, sensations, thoughts, and the promptings of the Divine Spirit that dwells within you. The Spirit lets you know what the next best step is in every situation. When you decide to take a nap in the middle of the afternoon, apologize for your harsh words to a loved one, or take a casserole to a friend who has four children under the age of four—including two-month-old twin girls—that’s going with the flow. Afterwards, you often feel a deep sense of calm and contentment, knowing you are in step with the Spirit. But that isn’t always the case when you go with the flow.
Right now, my Spirit is telling me to RAGE—rage against the small-minded, patriarchal, discriminatory, and racist tendencies that are a part of the American yoga scene today. These negative tendencies were on full display at the Yoga Journal LIVE conference I attended in New York City recently. After taking a six-month sabbatical from teaching, I went to #YJLIVE seeking inspiration and reminders of why I decided four years ago to share this practice with the world. Because of my personal self-reflection practice, I had lots of time to think about why I teach during the weekend and got the inspiration I sought. But what I received from the sessions I attended was rage.
I was ENRAGED by the racial patterns I observed throughout the event. Almost all of the conference presenters, who were featured on the Yoga Journal LIVE website and appeared in the event guide, were young… and thin… and White… and women. The audiences of the sessions I attended mirrored the presenters—young, thin, White women. In one workshop I attended for teachers, mine was the only Black face in a room of 40 people. There were also five other women of color (probably Asian, Latina or multi-racial; it was hard to be certain just from their appearances). There was not a single man in the room!
The Yoga Journal LIVE organizers know that they should think about diversity when planning these annual events, which have become large profit generators for the multimedia company. After catching hell from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition two years ago for the lack of diverse yogis in their magazines in general and on the covers in particular, YJ knows that they have to think of ways to make their media and events accessible to all. So, they hosted free community classes and demonstrations in the Sangha Marketplace during Yoga Journal LIVE (Sangha means community in Sanskrit, by the way). The vendor fees covered the costs of hosting the free classes, so I had no issue with providing them with the opportunity to market their goods and services to potential customers. I was ENRAGED by the end result—the creation of a yoga ghetto.
Most people associate the term ghetto with the impoverished, crime-ridden urban communities filled with poor Black folks that were depicted in movies and on television in the 1980s and 1990s during our national, so-called “War on Drugs.” The term predates that time period, however. It came into international usage several decades earlier to describe the segregated communities in which Hitler forced the Jews of Europe—before he grew bold enough to send them off to concentration camps and their early deaths.
The fact is, ghetto is a term that goes all the way back to the 16th century. According to NPR,
… the word's original meaning was clear: the quarter in a city, chiefly in Italy, to which the Jews were restricted, as the OED puts it. In the 16th and 17th centuries, cities like Venice, Frankfurt, Prague and Rome forcibly segregated their Jewish populations, often walling them off and submitting them to onerous restrictions. [emphases mine]
The term ghetto came to mind as I walked through the Sangha Marketplace during one of the free community classes. Here I saw yogis of various ages, body sizes, genders, races, and shapes practicing and interacting with vendors. But when I returned to my (rather expensive) paid conference sessions, the diversity disappeared. YJ chose to create a separate location within the conference to which low-income people of color were restricted. That’s the definition of ghetto as far as I can tell.
I REFUSE to go with the flow of ghettoized, free yoga classes for low-income people, men, minorities, and others who rarely appear on the covers or within the pages of the leading industry publication. I also refuse to stop reading YJ or only attend events that explicitly appeal to diverse populations. No, I have decided to engage with Yoga Journal on this issue and use the strongest weapon I possess. In this blog, I am going to keep talking about diversity and discrimination in yoga especially within Yoga Journal.
“Those to whom much is given, much is due” is the message of one of my favorite Bible passages (Matthew 25:14-3). I have been given a great deal—intelligence, education, opportunity, income, great friendships, and good health as well as the ability to learn, grow, and transform into a better representation of the Divine. I am blessed to have a really well paying career that affords me the hundreds of dollars it costs to attend a #YJLIVE event.
Crystal’s Wellness Quest is part of how I share my blessings with the world. I talk about my personal journey of transformation to inspire others to follow the 8-limbed path of yoga (if you click on this link, you’ll see a photo of my first teacher Faith, one of the few African Americans that YJ has allowed to grace its pages). Moving forward, I also am going to keep engaging with Yoga Journal and the rest of the yoga community to make sure we create diverse, welcoming spaces for all to practice. There are tons of ways in which Yoga Journal can make its events accessible to all, and still generate plenty of money. I’ll be sharing those suggestions in a separate post.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.