Yoga, Race, and My Fat Black Asana, My Journey to Diversify the Yoga Community

May 6, 2015

BY: DIANNE BONDY, edited by Amanda Huggins. An earlier version of this article, “Yoga and Race Conference University of California, Berkeley”, was published at Dianne Bondy Yoga.

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Photo: Tria Andrews, Dianne Bondy Yoga and Sabrina Strings at the Yoga (R)evolution: Interrogating Possibilities and Practices Conference in Berkeley, CA Friday, April 10, 2015. Photo credit: Dr. Blu Wakpa

Friday, April 10th, will forever be one of the most pivotal days of my yoga career: I was the opening keynote speaker at the Race and Yoga Conference at University of California, Berkeley.

I’ve always been deeply passionate about breaking down the walls surrounding yoga culture.  I wanted to be a part of the conversation. I wanted to lead by example and from experience. I wanted to be an advocate for change.

I had known about the conference for quite a while. I submitted an abstract for consideration the previous year, but much to my disappointment, it was turned down. Unfortunately, this rejection isn’t atypical: month after month, I tirelessly submitted my work to yoga conferences across the country, and each and every submission was met with rejection. My work, while interesting, isn’t what mainstream yoga culture is interested in. Rather than rallying together to push for a global shift in consciousness, mainstream yoga is comfortable with marginalizing diversity, sweeping it under the rug, ignoring it entirely. Why? Perhaps for aesthetic appeal, for comfort, for profit..the reasons matter little.

What matters is the need for change, for empowerment, diversity.

Diversity encompasses so much beyond race: disabilities, the LGBTQ community, older bodies, bigger bodies. The real, unique and authentic reflections of humanity that are so rarely celebrated on the covers of magazines. It’s everyone outside of mainstream culture, and right now, the yoga community is noticeably lacking in diversity.

While I was battling against the barrage of speaking rejections, the Yoga & Body Image Coalition was founded. Finally, I thought, an organization that validates my passion for shaping change in the yoga community. People do care!

I was contacted me to be part of the leadership team. Through this partnership, I began speaking at panels, sharing my stories of exclusion, and urging my fellow yogis to help create change. Off I went, on what would be the start of the next chapter of my yoga career. The more I spoke, the more I realized that I was not alone. So many of us have been left on the margins, and even more are as hungry for a revolution as I am.

In November of 2014, I received the email I had been waiting forFullSizeRender-1-300x225 my entire yoga career: “Will you be Keynote for the 2015 Race and Yoga Conference?”.

I was over the moon. I pushed aside my insecurities (Do they really want me? Will I really be able to share something so raw with a crowd of strangers? How will my life – my truth – be received?) and worked tirelessly on what would be the most important 90-minute speech I’d ever present.

When April 10th, 2015 arrived, I walked up the stage, stood at the podium, took a deep breath and looked out at my audience. I was emotional. I was excited. I was prepared. Sure, there were a few unforeseen hiccups – my PowerPoint presentation failed to work, the crowd was more vocal than anticipated – but I took these “hiccups” as more motivation for me to speak from my heart with confidence.

I talked openly and honestly about my experiences. About how it felt to leave the safety and acceptance of yoga in my home to walk into a yoga studio for the first time in my big brown body. About how I quickly learned that this place called the ‘yoga studio’ was really just another exclusive club, and that I was NOT invited. About cultural appropriation. About how the marginalized culture is truly treated and mainstream yoga culture.

There I was – officially a part of my tribe!  I  put my fat black asana out there in hopes that others would join me… and they did.  I spoke from my heart, and my words were met with affirmation by people who truly shared my passion for creating change. Through my experiences at Berkeley and through my work in the yoga and diversity movement, I know that this is – we are – where change starts. But the larger question still remains: how do we change mainstream yoga culture so that it is universally accessible, less complicated, more inclusive?

By any means necessary.11219152_635741029889922_2578965564893584777_n

We take yoga to the streets, flood social media and mainstream media with images of all bodies doing yoga. We empower people to be healthy at every size and to value their health through creating self-awareness. We befriend and celebrate those who are different from ourselves. We critically watch, interrupt and engage with mass media.

We think for ourselves to shift the existing yoga culture.

We must examine ourselves. An open mind, a compassionate heart and a strong belief in equality will open the door, and we must then boldly walk through it.

The Race and Yoga Conference illuminated to me how many amazing people are doing this work and truly care about making yoga truly universal. Join us. Take action. Together, we’ll rock this boat as hard as we can to create more positive and diverse representation of humanity within the existing yoga communities.

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