Yoga is not just for skinny white women
Updated: Oct 8
By Indira Das-Gupta
Right from the start of my career as a Yoga teacher I knew I wanted to make Yoga as inclusive as possible. What do I mean by inclusive? I mean that I honestly believe that literally anyone can do Yoga. Black, white, mixed-race, fat, thin, male, female, stiff, bendy, disabled or not - I’ve yet to meet someone who couldn’t do Yoga.
I often say in my Yoga classes that as long as you can breathe, you can do Yoga, but some people need assistance to breathe - and yes they too can do Yoga. I’ve met someone who needed a ventilator to breathe following a serious spinal cord injury who was more of a Yogi than many people you might see on your Instagram feed. He couldn’t move at all from the neck down but he had made peace with an incredibly challenging situation. If learning to accept your lot and find contentment isn’t what Yoga is all about, then I don’t know what is. Contrary to what you might see on social media, Yoga is not just about doing a perfect handstand in designer leggings and a tiny crop top on a beautiful beach. It’s a mindset. Yoga is a way of life for me, but that doesn’t mean I do three hours of Yoga every day, or that I’m vegan and teetotal, none of those things apply to me. The reason I practise Yoga every single day (for considerably less than three hours I might add) is because it helps me to feel so much better than I would if I didn’t. When you do Yoga regularly you become more self-aware, more responsive, less reactive. I really don’t believe it’s an exaggeration to say you want to try and be the best version of yourself.
You can only start investing in your own self-care if you value yourself. We all know that when we feel happy, we want to share our happiness, when you feel like sh** you feel envious of everyone’s happiness and maybe even hatred towards others - is that hatred really directed outwards or does it reflect an inner self-hatred? When we see people, whatever their race, suppressing people of another race, I think we can all agree that the perpetrators are not individuals who have found inner peace and contentment. The Dalai Lama once said: “If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.” I couldn’t agree more. Meditation is an intrinsic part of Yoga, if you are only practising asanas (the poses) then you are missing out big time. If those police officers responsible for George Floyd’s death meditated every day, I honestly believe that he would still be alive today. Yes I know, there will be people out there rolling their eyes, I get it. The idea that Yoga is the answer to world peace probably does just sound like a hippy pipe dream. But ask yourself, could anyone who really feels peace within themselves be capable of of murder? It’s such a shame to me that so many people still believe that Yoga is not for them. I know how much Yoga has improved my quality of life and I want everyone to be able to experience that. I totally get that Yoga might not be everyone’s cup of tea, although I do think this has a lot to do with the prevalent stereotypes. But if you experience just a bit of that Yoga high for yourself, I don’t think you would ever want to quit. So why don’t more people do Yoga? Unfortunately in The West the images of people doing Yoga that we are so used to seeing always seem to be of super bendy, white skinny women. Now I am a woman, and some might say I’m pretty slim, although I do have an unmistakeable mum tum, definitely not a washboard stomach. I’m much bendier than I used to be, but I can’t do the splits and I’m mixed-race, not white. So I don’t fit the stereotype myself. Maybe this is why I always strive to use imagery in my social media posts that is inclusive, not just in terms of colour, but also gender, body size and age.
I teach kids all the way up to people in their 70s and beyond. I teach people of every colour. I’ve taught people who are paralysed and women who wear hijabs during their practice. My studio happens to be in a pretty middle-class part of London but I have taught many classes in disadvantaged areas too. I’ve taught SENCO children at a rough comprehensive that wanted to beat each other up at the start but then just wanted to have a blanket put over them for relaxation. To me, when I look out into a class and see a group of people from many different backgrounds, it makes my heart soar. Why should Yoga just be the preserve of one privileged minority? Maybe it’s because I’m not naturally bendy myself that I’m always conscious of making the physical practice of Yoga accessible to people who have told themselves they simply can’t do it. The truth is that Yoga attracts people who are hypermobile and naturally flexible. If that applies to you then your practice might look more obviously impressive but it doesn’t mean that you are a more advanced Yogi than someone who struggles to sit cross-legged for five minutes. If we have this idea in our heads of what a Yogi and their practice should look like and that doesn’t match our experience then of course it’s going to put us off. If you are a stiff, middle-aged guy, maybe with a bit of a beer belly, maybe black, maybe not, and you rock up to a class and everyone else is female, white, female, skinny and looks like they were born to do Yoga, it’s intimidating to say the least. While you’re there puffing and panting they barely break into a sweat so, feeling embarrassed you decide never to return. If you can find five minutes a day to take a break from everything and just sit in quiet contemplation then that’s Yoga. You don’t have to sit on the floor, you can lie down, or go for a mindful walk round the block, without headphones or distractions. Maybe you can start with five minutes and build up to ten minutes. Maybe if you feel like it you can do a few stretches so it’s easier to keep still because you are not uncomfortable. You don’t need to go to a studio to enjoy Yoga if you can’t afford one (although within the constraints of renting a space in London I have always strived to make my classes affordable), there are plenty of free resources on YouTube (check out my channel). You don’t have to work towards doing a handstand or the splits and you don’t have to invest in pricey leggings or a fancy mat. Yoga doesn’t care if you are black, white, mixed-race, fat, thin, male, female, stiff, bendy, disabled or not. If we all had Yoga in our lives and had a daily mindful or meditation practice, whatever you prefer to call it, then I have no doubt that the Dalai Lama’s prediction would come true. We already know violence doesn’t solve anything so why don’t we give it a go? We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. Yoga welcomes you with open arms.
If my blog resonates with you or got you thinking then please follow me @indiranorthlondonyoga on Instagram