Broadening Yoga’s Reach

As discussed in Part One, despite traditional yoga’s humble
origins, transnational yoga culture often appeals to the comparatively
affluent. In perspective, yoga is not alone in its lagged adoption among less
privileged populations; exercise, healthy eating, and self-care are also
relative luxuries for those short on resources. Yoga culture’s exclusivity is
merely cemented by homogenous media representations, which fail to represent
the diversity of actual (and potential) practitioners. Here we discuss some
common barriers to adopting a yoga practice, and how to expand yoga’s practitioner

While the
preponderance of female yoga practitioners is often cited as being in need of
correction, it may also be viewed as a strength. Women are the primary
consumers/shoppers and caregivers; thus, their lifestyle choices impact their
families in quantifiable ways. For the majority of middle- to upper-class Caucasian
female yoga practitioners this is a positive feedback loop; they have the
resources necessary to shop, cook healthy meals, exercise, and practice yoga.
This includes time, money, childcare, supportive partnerships, and education.

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Yet, for
working-class or single-parent families where women must take on extra hours or
jobs in addition to their caregiving roles, these resources are harder to come
by, inhibiting self-care behaviors. Consequentially, stress and stress-related
illnesses increase, compounded by economic and relationship insecurity. As a
ripple effect, other family members are less likely to internalize healthy
models of functioning.

Add to this
transnational yoga culture’s flashy, flexy, youthful, and exotic media persona,
which screams exclusivity and wealth, and it’s easy to see why yoga might feel
inaccessible. Like weekly massages or shopping at Whole Foods, the culture of yoga
has become an identity for the elite, largely prohibitive for the

Yet, this doesn’t
mean we should give up. Drilling beneath yoga culture to the roots—to the
teachings themselves—conveys a richness that transcends socioeconomic status
and the trappings of yoga consumerism. True, in today’s society it’s easier to
engage in yoga, other self-care strategies, and the yoga subculture with more
resources. But yoga doesn’t require $100 yoga mats or pants, eating organic only, attending
exclusive retreats/trainings, trips to India, or regular studio classes.

Many yoga classes
are available for free online, as well as lectures describing
techniques such as mindfulness and breathing; these can be practiced anytime,
anywhere. In many cities there are also donation-based or free community classes offered at
yoga studios, churches, and in other settings. Gyms and YMCAs often include
yoga in the membership, and feature a more diverse constituency. Kripalu Center
offers need-based scholarships for attendance at workshops and
trainings. And tips abound for developing and sticking to a home-based
yoga practice
, which preliminary research suggests may confer the greatest benefits.

To broaden yoga’s
practitioner base, it’s important to train instructors—men, and those from
lower-income and diverse populations—who will bring these practices back to
their communities. While some organizations focus actively in this area, more
widespread and active efforts are needed. Finally, we would all benefit from
wider exposure to those who don’t fit into transnational yoga culture’s cookie
cutter mold. For example, Kripalu has made the case for a yoga
that serves everyone
which the larger community could stand to learn from.

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What are your
thoughts about diversity and yoga, and what are some ways to expand yoga’s
accessibility into broader populations?

Editor’s Note: This is Part Two of a two-part series. Read Part One here.

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