It’s difficult for me to be a yoga practitioner. Have you ever done a google search for yoga? Or taken a look at the covers of yoga magazines? Here. Let me help you out. When I googled “Bikram yoga students” this is the first image that popped up:
Here’s the second image I found:
All the other images are not that different. There is definitely a lack of diversity in yoga. That is not a secret. Confession: I, a fat brown woman in her 40s does not feel comfortable in a yoga room. I don’t like being surrounded by people who I can throw across the room by simply sneezing. It irks me to be surrounded by people who shop at lululemon so much that they likely own stock in the company. It’s not just yoga, though. It’s gym culture in general that makes me squirm. If there were more inclusive spaces to practice, I’d go. Sadly, such spaces are not readily available. Those that do exist are under attack. So what’s a bad-ass queen to do? Own your practice.
When I first started at BYT, I was skeptical. However, I was going to make sure I made the most of my one-month trial. Charles was the instructor that day. After signing me in and walking me through basic etiquette, he said that practitioners are very diverse. In the room, I’d see every age, every race, every body type. He assured me that no one would judge me once the practice got started. This is typical intro-to-yoga speak. I half bought it.
Turns out, he was right. BYT is as diverse as one can get for Arizona (sorry, I’m a California snob). Plus, I was so busy battling the heat that frankly, I just didn’t care about any other excess noise in the room. Don’t get me wrong. Every yoga place as the stereotypical yoga folks practicing. As someone who doesn’t have the luxury of finding safe, welcoming spaces to work out in, I’ve learned that you just have to buckle down and create your own safe space. Note: It takes a village to do this.
Owning your practice means creating a space that’s carved out just for you. For me, it means finding an ally or two (usually an instructor) and let them know what you need from the practice. It also means being honest about your insecurities and your strengths. Everyone has something to offer the practice, and everyone has something to work on. Honesty and perseverance are the best way to establish ownership.
I learned this YEARS ago when I did kickboxing in Goleta, CA. Most of the women in class were sorority-pageant-beauty queen types. My roomies and I were the anomalies. We were all brown. I was the only fat one. It sucked. However, when everyone dropped out of the practice, I stuck with it until I left Goleta. This is largely because I found an ally in my instructor Abel. He helped me own my practice by seeing my strengths (and wiping my sweat puddles… sorority-pageant-beauty queen types don’t sweat in kickboxing). An ally can make or break your practice.
When I started yoga years ago, it had nothing to do with an actual interest in yoga. It was that the instructor, Dolian, was unlike any Filipina I had ever met. That she reminded me of my mom and aunts (sans the damaging fat girl comments) drew me in. What made me stay, was how she helped me own my yoga practice. In owning my practice, I was reclaiming and cherishing my body – something that took me nearly thirty years to figure out.
A good ally can help you navigate your practice. In the end, it’s you and your desire to stick it through – regardless of the excess noise – is what will help you own your practice.
Celebrating every BODY,
the fierce fathlete