We have heard over the last few years that yoga and wellness have a diversity problem. Many spaces are dominated by white folks, particularly white cisgender women. Although yoga and mindfulness find their roots in South Asian and South East Asian cultures, many practitioners, teachers, and studio owners are not People of Color.
As we continue to explore the harmful effects of white supremacy and colonization on a macro-scale, we should also examine how these concepts affect the lives of Black, Indigenous and People of Color who come to white-centered spaces for healing and find more racism and trauma. As we explore the traumatic effects of this in yoga and mindfulness, we must realize how vital it is to have accessible healing spaces exclusively dedicated to the BIPOC community.
Part of anti-racism is learning that we carry biases and perceptions that influence our interactions with the BIPOC community. At times, we may engage in micro-aggressions, which are just as harmful as overt racism. In spaces where folks are the only Black, Indigenous or Person of Color, many express feeling judged or uncomfortable being in the room.
In addition to finding space that feels safer and judgment-free, the BIPOC community also experiences more nuanced micro-aggressions in yoga studies and wellness spaces. One concept that has surfaced is “Pet to Threat,” especially for Black women, who are brought into a space to checkmark diversity. Studios, like the corporate world, engage in tokenism of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. When BIPOC folks resist being the “pet” or token person, they immediately become a threat to the status quo.
In an article for The Cut, mindfulness and yoga teacher, Sara Clark, says,
Black women are hired, treated as a novelty in the beginning, and as soon as we advocate for ourselves or question anything, we quickly become a threat. Black women are brought on to support diversity only to be shut down. There is a price to pay for being a part of inclusive spaces, and I no longer think that it’s worth it.
Space dedicated exclusively for Black, Indigenous and People of Color is more than important — it’s vital to healing.
It’s important to understand that it is impossible for the BIPOC community to heal in spaces that are harmful. South Asian yoga teacher and freelancer, Indie Foolhea, like many others, has had to find healing from white-centered spaces. “I’ve had to accept and heal,” she Foolhea. “Because not all my interactions and kind of experience has been positive.
In addition, micro-aggressions and racism are forms of trauma. Racial trauma is defined as “the mental and physical effects and consequences that Black, Indigenous and People of Color experience after being exposed to racism” according to Jillian Wilson’s article with the Huffington Post.
The message that is received when a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color walks into a white-dominated studio reflects the everyday racism that the BIPOC community receives. This space isn’t for you.
Therefore, it’s not even how non-BIPOC folks show up — even if it is in an anti-racist manner. It’s about having space for the BIPOC community that says: This space is for you — only you. Your healing and sense of safety matter.
We cannot expect the BIPOC community to heal in spaces that can still be harmful. That is like asking someone to heal while they are living in an abusive home. It is not impossible, but it is taxing, difficult, and inequitable, especially when the answer is simple: Dedicate spaces to the BIPOC community to heal in safety and without the threat of adding more racial trauma in white-centered spaces.
One of our founding teachers, Linda Lopes, shares that wellness has to create spaces with BIPOC folks in mind. “Intersectionality is part of wellness,” she says. “All the different ways we identify, marginalized, have privilege, don’t have privilege — wellness is working through all of those intersections.” When we create spaces to heal the intersectional pieces of our identity that require healing, we are honoring those pieces of ourselves that may have been oppressed, marginalized, or subdued through white supremacy and colonization.
In practice, we are at times asked to recognize how we are interconnected to others and the world around us. When we recognize this connection to each other, we can see how important it is that someone else experiences the feelings of safety, love, and compassion in spaces of healing.
Mindful activism asks us to put into practice tenants of anti-racism through mindfulness. When we consider the “pet to threat” concept, we should also consider how the yoga studios we frequent are addressing problems of diversity and inclusion in their spaces. As mindful activists, we can hold space to invite studio owners in conversation and bring attention to the harms of tokenism.
Most importantly, our mindful actions can be supporting mindfulness healing spaces that are BIPOC-centered or exclusively dedicated to the community. At GaneshSpace, we offer both a digital space and weekly classes that are exclusively dedicated to the BIPOC community. Making healing accessible and supporting our personal and collective liberation are important aspects of our mission at GaneshSpace. We’ve decided to create space exclusively for the BIPOC community to address access to safer spaces for healing and liberation from the harm of white supremacy and colonization. Other spaces are BIPOC-owned studios like Black Boys Om or find a Black yoga instructor with OM + Essence.
Do I feel any anger or resentment when I see that there are spaces exclusively dedicated to the BIPOC community?
What comes up for me? What biases or feelings surface when I meditate on this?
How can I support the BIPOC community’s access to safer healing spaces?
What are three things I can do regularly to support the BIPOC community’s spaces?