Although yoga is rooted in Indian tradition, it has become rather whitewashed in the United States. The typical image of a yoga practitioner in the U.S. or in the Western world is a privileged Caucasian person. However, yoga is a tradition which predates technology and does not require any special equipment in order to be performed properly. So there is no reason for it to be seen as a privilege exclusively reserved for the, well, privileged.
People wanting change
Anne Phyfe Palmer, the owner of 8 Limbs Yoga in Seattle, says that her classes are majority white, both in terms of students and teachers. Palmer believes this is something that needs to be discussed.
“Many people have said that’s because we’re Seattle,” Palmer said. “But that’s not a valid answer. We need a knockdown of the liberal construct and revisit the conversation on race.”
Another Seattle studio, Rainier Beach Yoga, faced significant backlash when its owner offered space for class called “POC Yoga” meant exclusively for people of color. The class description specifically asked for white people to not attend. In response to the backlash, Rainier’s owner apologized and closed her studio for a week.
Nonetheless, Palmer understands the intention behind the class.
Palmer opened 8 Limbs Yoga 20 years ago. She has offered a wide variety of yoga programs, including yoga designed for women before, during and after pregnancy, yoga for families and meditation. Now, Palmer is taking a hands-on approach to address the lack of diversity with the yoga community.
Starting a conversation
Palmer has introduced training designed to help instructor’s deal with cultural sensitivity issues. In what she is calling “cultural competency trainings,” Palmer is teaching yoga instructors all around Seattle to address the stigmas surrounding yoga, such as its reputation as being culturally co-opted by Caucasians and how it might affect how instructors view those of different races.
“Yoga instructors will be able to unpack their unconscious ways of seeing other people,” Palmer said.
Palmer admits that she is not an expert in regard to issues of race and prejudices, but she wants to use her yoga expertise to inspire positive changes in her own community. According to Palmer, she aims to serve a lasting, impactful purpose on her students.
“Some people see me as a workout teacher,” Palmer said. “But I feel like I’m someone who is trying to help people become more at ease through their body.”
White privilege understood
Palmer has become well aware of the contentious, racially-based events that have occurred over the last few years, such as the waves of police shootings of minorities. She also reads diverse authors, such as Ta-Nehisi Coates. As a white woman herself, she says it must be understood how much easier white people have it than minorities. According to Palmer, white people essentially have a “welcome card” which affords them privileges which are all but inaccessible to minorities.
“A person of color may have to do 200 percent to be seen in the same light,” Palmer said, referring to the amount of effort that minorities have to put in compared to whites.
A new future?
With Palmer’s effort, the face of yoga might be changed in Seattle and elsewhere. If the training she is offering at 8 Limbs proves effective, it could very well spread elsewhere and have a dramatic effect. There might no longer be scrutinizing of matters like women’s and men’s yoga clothing styles but instead, a realization of the cultural bonds that can be made through yoga.
For Palmer, she wants yoga to be an inclusive practice and use her effort to avoid “supporting the status quo.”