Stacie Graham and the “warriors” of a more open yoga

Stacie Graham invites her students to take the so-called “warrior 2” yoga posture: one leg bent, the other stretched behind, and the arms firmly horizontal, like arrows.

“You want to be warriors of change, and yoga gives us what we need for this fight,” she adds in front of a dozen other yoga teachers, of all ages and cultural backgrounds.

Also a consultant in diversity policies for companies, the instructor campaigns for more inclusion in this discipline born in India but which, she says, has moved away from its essence in the West.

“It has become a form of hyper-commercial gymnastics”, far from the quest to liberate the soul from this form of ancestral spirituality, she explains to AFP.

According to the Global Wellness Institute, yoga and pilates — a form of exercise focused on postural alignment — account for nearly $30 billion a year in sales.

According to Ms. Graham, this success and ever-increasing popularity of yoga in the West, however, masks a lack of inclusion, which more generally affects the entire world of “fitness”, despite an image of benevolence.

“We are in London and if you go to any gym or yoga studio (…) you will probably not see a reflection of the population of this “ultra-cosmopolitan” conurbation, but “very likely very athletic, middle-class white women,” she notes.

A survey by medical research site BMJ Open of yoga teachers and practitioners in the UK found that 87% were women, 91% white.

– “Subtle exclusion” –

Ms. Graham has just published “Yoga as resistance”, to help professionals in the sector to diversify their audience.

Pam Sagoo, owner of Flow Space Yoga in the multicultural neighborhood of Dalston, came to take part in her workshop: she wants to make sure her studio, which opened six months ago, is “welcoming to everyone”. “Older people, LGBTQ people, black people, people who are more corpulent…”, she lists.

Ntathu Allen, a yoga teacher, confides that she is sometimes “asked if I’m really a teacher” when she arrives in a new studio.

She specialized in “breath and heal” sessions for women of color.

In the United States, the same situation: “there are not many black women in these spaces, and that does not encourage others to enter”, notes Raquel Horsford Best, professor in Los Angeles joined by AFP , whose classes merge Afro-Caribbean dance and fitness.

For these entrepreneurs, the problem stems in particular from economic factors, and the difficulty of making a studio profitable.

Pam Sagoo notes that she has “several instructors in (her) team who were trained in India but their classes”, more oriented on breathing, meditation, than on the physical practice of yoga, “are not always as popular than those who have been educated in the West”.

Studio owners may be tempted to stop this type of course for the benefit of those who make more sales.

To be profitable, the studios charge often high prices: 20 pounds per session per unit in London, 4 pounds per organic energy bar… Which de facto excludes many potential aspirants who do not have the means.

Stacie Graham points to other “more subtle exclusion” factors: a performance-oriented atmosphere that discourages those who are less flexible, less thin, less young, etc.

As a result, many “those who could really benefit from it, in particular many people who suffer from mental health problems, long covid …” feel like they have no place in a yoga room, deplores-t -she.

Today, despite an awareness that followed the Black Lives Matter movement in particular, Stacie Graham believes that economic constraints discourage studio owners from making the necessary efforts to make yoga more inclusive, such as diversifying the staff or even making ensure that the courses are affordable.

Pam Sagoo, for example, offers substantial reductions to recipients of social minima, or free courses to certain associations.

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Stacie Graham and the “warriors” of a more open yoga

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