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What is yoga? Is yoga really as inclusive as they claim? ✨️

Throughout quarantine and this overwhelmingly, dangerous and terrifying pandemic, many souls are at the brink of desperation and many have lost their battle with their demons. The forced isolation and loss of social interaction has encouraged a movement towards self healing, meditation and yoga as we realize becoming intertwined with our souls may be the healthiest and sometimes, only form of escape. However, there is a cast upon the world of mind, body interventions and spirituality that many of us do not speak of: the colonization of yoga. Many minorities and people of color do not have access to yoga and simply do not value wellness. Why? Why are we more willing to pay for dinner, shopping, entertainment but not really yoga? Money can be the deterrent yes but I believe a lot of us see yoga as something that’s not for us, because of the lack of imagery [of people of color in yoga. It is changing, but the image of an affluent, thin, flexible person is still very entrenched.

Emerging some 5,000 years ago as a supplement to the Indian religious traditions and only accessible to Brahmins, yoga was a set of traditions that defined human suffering as the consequence of our ignorance, limited interconnectedness with other human beings and to the rest of nature, and unmindfulness about our place in the universe. Yoga addresses the issues of human imperfection and suffering, but also provides practical methods for achieving self-transformation. According to ancient masters, the goal of yoga is to achieve a better connection between the body and the mind, and the breath is viewed as the main instrument to achieve that connection. Awareness, particularly breath awareness, is the focal point in yoga. There are two important texts that are essential to understand better the meaning and scope of yoga; one is the Bhagavad-Gita and the other is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I am sure many of us who have read, followed or studied anything about yoga, know the imperativeness of teaching these texts and are familiar with them. Our goal at MH Studios, is not to base our teachings solely off of Patanjali’s texts, the yamas and niyamas or the koshas or to incorporate the Gita. We are here to rebirth yoga for all: BIPOC, LGBTIQ, and people of All religions, cultures and traditions.

Coming back to yoga during present times, let’s talk about yoga in NYC. Why are there only one or two studios in the Bronx? Why do we have to travel to the upper west side or the gentrified part of Harlem to attend a yoga class if you live in the Bronx? Prior to the pandemic, when you attended yoga classes in Manhattan or another affluent neighborhood, who were you surrounded by? Was there a feeling of actual inclusivity or did you see no bodies that look like your own, being in the minority, not seeing yourselves as possibly becoming an instructor? Feeling like an outcast—not centered—in a practice that’s supposed to bind like a connective thread between all people. Yoga has been accessible to those who live in prominent societies and the bar of paying thousands of dollars to achieve yoga training defeats the definition and purpose of yoga. It is the 21st century version of depicting between status and money in order to feel closer to enlightenment.

As a yoga instructor myself, I experienced this when there were only 5 People Of Color in my yoga training out of about 40-50 students and out of the 10-15 instructors only 2 were minorities. The classes were consumed with religious Hindu mantras, religious texts and sacred practices. As a Bengali, Muslim woman, I found myself asking if it even made sense for me to love yoga or if I had the right to become an instructor and teach because I was not Hindu.

I also saw those around me being divided into groups based on flexibility and experience. Yoga is something our bodies, breath and souls can learn but it takes time as does anything else. Setting this distinction causes insecurities and steals the purity of the moment we all crave when we walk on to our mats.

Building yoga solely for the purpose of healing our physical bodies and seeing the divinity of our souls, without so many financial barriers and demographic inequalities, is what I hope to provide to my classes. With all respect to my previous teachers, the history and current values of the practice, I am dedicated to having everyone experience a practice that we all have the right to experience.

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