Corporate Responsibility with Yoga International
TWO BLACK GIRLS TALK ABOUT EVERYTHING PODCAST: EPISODE 2
In this episode, Dianne and Dee talk to Todd Wolfenberg, CEO of Yoga International, and Kat Heagberg, Editor in Chief of Yoga International, about the Black Lives Matter movement, the insurrection at the Capitol and the steps they’ve taken to be good corporate citizens and stand up for what is right.
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Welcome to The Two Black Girls Talk About Everything Podcast. I’m Dianne.
And I’m Dee, and we’re going to be talking about everything.
We’re going to talk about yoga, and fashion, and just everything Black girls talk about. Hey everyone. In this episode, we talk to Todd Wolfenberg, CEO of Yoga International, and Kat Heagberg, editor-in-chief of yolk international. As we discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, the insurrection at the Capitol, and the steps they’ve taken to be good corporate citizens and stand up for what is right. They have set an example for what we can do in our yoga culture to help ensure equity for all of us. We are two Black girls who talk about everything.
Today we are super excited because two of my most favorite yoga people in the world are on the podcast today. This was a company, an institution, that reached out to me six years ago and invited me to be on their platform in a time where I didn’t see a lot of people of color on large yoga platforms. Today I’m talking to Todd Wolfenberg and Kat Heagberg from Yoga International. Yay.
We are so excited to have you guys.
I know. I know. It feels really special to have you here. Let me read your bio,Todd. Todd is the CEO of Yoga International which is a global digital media company that serves a million plus members with exclusive content on yoga, ayurveda, meditation, and mindful living on a subscription basis. Yoga International’s entire mission is centered around helping people live happier, healthier lives by making yoga more inclusive, available, and accessible to all. As chief executive, he’s led the organization through tremendous growth.
I would opt to say that you are the number one place. The number one place to get reliable sourced yoga information, and that’s what I hear from my followers. That’s what I hear from people who are around me. You’ve done a great job of being at the forefront of making yoga accessible and equitable for all of us. I have editor-in-chief and author, Kat Heagberg. We both have a book together that just came out last month called Yoga Where You Are: Customize Your Practice. Look, I even got it on shelf behind me. Customize Your Practice For Your Body and Your Life, and that’s on Shambala 2000.
Kat is the co-editor of Embodied Resilience Through Yoga: 30 Mindful Essays About Finding Empowerment After Addiction, Trauma, Grief and Loss. That’s with Welland 2020. Kat has been teaching yoga since 2005. Though she initially trained at Alignment Based Yoga Styles which she continues to inform in her practice and teaching, she likes Vinyasa flow best of all. I feel you on that in her editorial life, she writes about how to make challenging poses more accessible and the power of language in yoga culture. You can read her work and take her yoga classes, and mine too, and hopefully Dee soon, on Young International. Sorry, Dee, I had to give you a little plug. Hey everybody, how are you doing?
Thanks for having us.
Super excited to be here. Yeah.
I was inspired to do this podcast with a conversation I had with Kat last week. She was talking about how you crafted a statement. I believe it was Todd, it was yo,u and who else crafted the statement for your Instagram?
Janessa, that’s right. I had forgotten. Had crafted a statement around what was going on in the Capitol almost 10 days ago now. Kat was really surprised at the reaction you got on Instagram versus the reaction you got on Facebook. That led me to start thinking about what it is we want from powerful yoga cultures and platforms. How do we want those platforms to show up in the world? Why did you think it was important as a yoga platform to make a statement about what happened in the Capitol?
I can start with that, Todd.
Yeah, go for it.
On a personal level, I was deeply, deeply disturbed with what went on as I think most of us, and I would venture to guess all of your listeners are and were. I really believe that as an organization, particularly a yoga organization, one that stands on the values of yoga which include non-violence, and truthfulness, and equity, that it’s our responsibility to speak out first and foremost against something like this. We have this platform. We should use it in every way that we can for good. I felt a personal responsibility, a professional responsibility to do that. I think when I brought it up to everyone, everybody was on board with it and felt similarly.
I think that’s an excellent summary of sort of everything that we were feeling at a personal and professional level. I think it’s always a challenging thing to look at how do you include people that might be of very different political ideologies and backgrounds, making sure that you balance left, right, center, all of those things as you’re putting this together and thinking about it. At what point do things cross certain lines, right? This is no longer a political issue. We’re an inclusive organization. We have people of all of these different backgrounds, of different faiths, of different ideologies so we want to preserve that. At the same time, there are certain things that happen in the world that are extraordinary events and those don’t happen all of the time. Whether it’s the George Floyd situation or this, there are specific events that really transcend the sense of politics. We felt like this was one of those things.
What I’ve always been impressed about with Yoga International is your dedication to step out into the forefront. Very often in the yoga community we hear nothing but silence, especially around things like Black Lives Matter. I remember when George Floyd died back in the late summer or late spring, early summer, that you were among the first to step out in the yoga community and say, “Look at this. This is wrong.” I remember you created those equity shirts and you were helping to create awareness around what we should be doing as people who practice yoga. Often, you are the first and the only with such a large platform to speak out about these events. Why do you think that is?
I think that was one of the things that was so shocking for me, is especially with these past events, the silence from the yoga community as a whole. Even Starbucks released a statement condemning the violence that the Capitol. Axe body spray released quite a strong statement on Twitter. If Starbucks and Axe body spray are saying this, this transcends politics.
That’s 100% right. If Ben and Jerry’s, mainstream brands are doing this well, what’s going on? I don’t even see it as just yoga but wellness brands and the wellness community, what role do they have to play in this? It’s one of those things where it’s additive, right? It’s not like so-and-so has a huge following and is going to move the needle on this. But the fact that multiple brands, lots of brands are able to stand up and support something makes a difference at the end of the day, even if they’re small. I feel like that’s where there’s missed opportunity in this. I don’t know. I think that’s an open question about why there, wasn’t more of a direct response to this.
It kind of scares me and aligns, I think even with large brands and even maybe large influencers with their platform, that they were afraid that if they take a stance one way or the other, that they’re somehow going to lose popularity and following. My question to them would be, do you really want to have people following you who believe that it’s okay to mount an insurrection against a fairly elected official? That they’re more apt that they’ve missed the point of what Satya tells us, which is truthfulness. They missed the idea for self-study. What do I believe, why do I believe it, and why am I so scared that if I say what I truly believe even when it is on the right side of history, that I’m going to lose this following or that I’m going to somehow lose my status.
Way back before any of this ever happened, before Black Lives Matter was trending with the death of George Floyd, I could often put up on my own personal platform, which is all about equity and all about diversity and all about inclusivity, I could put up a post about Black Lives Matter and clear out thousands of people from my feed. Lots of people would unfollow me. The last 200-hour teacher training I ran, my last 200-hour teacher training that I’m interested in doing, I had pushback from a few of the people who were in my teacher training when I was teaching about equity. When I was talking about the responsibility of those of us who have the most privilege, those of us who have always been in charge, those of us who’ve always had access to justice, to speak up and to speak out.
When I spoke about that or spoke about feeling unsafe in certain situations or feeling marginalized based on my my skin color, was quickly bypassed that whole, “We are all one,” or gas lit. “Is it really as bad as you say it is? Why are you always talking about race?” I wonder why in the yoga community, that’s such a sore spot.
I think that this goes back to the old saying, you can talk the talk but are you going to walk the walk? I feel as though people are afraid that if they take a stance on either side, like Kat said, you’re either on the side of right or you’re on the side of wrong in this situation. I think that if people want to take a stance, I think they’re also afraid that they’re going to be held accountable with what their stance is. I think that’s where it gets a little murky for people. They get afraid to be held accountable.
It’s a totally valid point because if you’re willing to take a stand on some things, are you going to be able to continue to support that longer term?
Going back to earlier in the year when we put forward some bigger initiatives around race, equity, and inclusivity, around the same time that the whole George Floyd Black Lives Matter movement was really growing and becoming galvanized, that was something we internally talked about. We don’t want to just do something that’s placating the short term. How do we do something that’s meaningful for the long term? How do we set ourselves up so that this isn’t a, “Hey, we’re going to do something for a month or two months or Black History Month and then just forget about it the other 11 months of the year.”
It goes to are you really willing to make substantive long term changes that are actually meaningful or do you just want to put out a statement? I think probably from a lot of larger company perspectives, it is about PR and it’s about publicity and feeling like they need to do something. They may or may not be willing to do the actual work which is an entirely different part of the equation.
Yeah. That’s a really good point, Todd. I think when we were crafting our statement this summer, that was a big thing that we all talked about was we don’t just want to say thing bad. We want to say, “This is our responsibility to do something and this is what we’re going to do.” What is it that we’re doing right now? What is it that we can do better? What are we going to commit to do better in this moment so it’s not just, “Okay, here’s a statement.” It’s, “This is what we’re doing. This is how we’re going to move forward.” That’s the hard part.
The yoga word for that is karma, right? Karma literally means action. So much of what I see in the yoga community and right around the time of George Floyd and that rise of Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter has been on the ground dOing this work for a long time. It only really came to light and I only saw a shift in White culture going, “Oh really? W never thought it was that bad,” until that moment. Until we watched him die in real time. I wonder if we weren’t in a pandemic, when we were all glued to our computer screens because there was nothing else to do, or you were working from home, you weren’t going to work, you weren’t distracted by everything else, would we be where we are now in terms of understanding the plight of others?
To that point, back when we did a poll, there was a poll done — I can’t remember the publication but I’ll look it up and I’ll share it in the show notes — around how many people were on board with Black Lives Matter back in the beginning where I was seeing marches in the tiniest of towns. Dee and I live here in Southwestern, Ontario in Essex County, and the tiniest little town in Essex County of 700 people would have a Black Lives Matter March. No Black people living in that neighborhood or in that county but there would be Black Lives Matter marches and little kids having marches on the street.
There was this surge in understanding, or there was some surge in support. We move ahead six months later and I can see it waning. I can see people unfollowing me on my Instagram posts, I can see pushbacks when we post certain things. You had a lot of pushback on Facebook around the statement you put out. Was that shocking to you?
I would say it was shocking to me. I think part of it is because I do live in Los Angeles and I think that sometimes it’s really easy to get in my little LA bubble where I go to my spin class in the morning and they’re telling us to take political action. I don’t interact with a lot of people who hold those extreme right wing viewpoints. I especially like to think that the yoga community does value Ahimsa. Does value Saucha. Does Value Satya. Hopefully they wash their hands too.
Saucha, for anybody who doesn’t know, is cleanliness. I guess maybe I had a little bit of a rose-colored glasses thing going on where I was expecting maybe a little bit of disagreement but not right away the vitriol and hatred that came up in the comments. I think my first thought was, like you said Dee is, if people have hateful viewpoints like that, that’s not the sort of person that we want on our platform anyway. It’s not about creating division. It’s not about politics. It’s about right and wrong at this point.
Yeah. As you were alluding to earlier, huge difference between what was happening on Instagram and what was happening on Facebook.
Yeah. That was shocking.
Facebook just shows how toxic that community aspect of what Facebook has really turned into and how opposed it’s made people. The knee jerk reaction of just saying, “No, this is wrong,” and regurgitating talking points of one side or the other. I think it’s true on all sides, right? Because there was a lot of non-constructive discussion happening, right, left, center, all over the place. It’s easy on Facebook too for people to find a post, have somebody to link to a post in groups or things like that and then all of a sudden you’ve got a bunch of QAnon people that are coming in, and those weren’t really our customers anyways.
It’s people that are looking for a fight more or less than looking to espouse some sort of position on something, and certainly have an agenda. It was, I think, a little bit surprising. At the same time we’ve seen Facebook go around this way a few times before so it wasn’t overly shocking. Even a lot of the BLM racial equality posts that we had earlier in the year didn’t have this level of charged anger associated with them. A little bit surprising there but at the same time, it really does show where the Facebook decorum is at these days.
Dee, do have any questions before I jump in? I don’t want to dominate everything.
No, go ahead, Dianne. I think it’s going to lead into something that I want to say.
I was grateful six years ago when you reached out to me. I think Kat sent me an email and I couldn’t believe it, that I could be part of a platform. I had always had Yoga International materials in my teacher training so a lot of the articles that my yoga teacher had referenced was from your magazine. We did a lot of work with Doug Keller and he had written a lot of content for Yoga International. Yoga International for me, has always been at the forefront of providing yoga content that is truthful, that is authentic, more so lately that is diversified. I noticed that change happening and I actually relatively quickly. The first time you reached out to me it was huge because I thought for once, I’m getting seen by a platform that is actually going to work in bringing forth diversity and equity and not being performative with it.
I appreciate what Kat said and what you said about what are our actions? It can’t be a performative post. That’s a lot of what we saw with the aftermath of George Floyd and the rise of BLM, is a lot of really performative things. Putting up that Black square on your Instagram, not knowing what that Black square meant, not commenting about that Black square often, or just doing it because it was really, really trendy. What is your role you feel in creating long term and sustainable allyship among all of us in the yoga community? How, with a platform as large as yours, do you move that conversation forward?
It’s a big question.
I think it’s a challenge for everybody to tackle to some degree. The way that we have thought about it over the course of time has been we started really in 2015 with just a handful of employees and starting to produce digital content and try to find our way in that. Early on, we set forth an intention that we wanted to be more inclusive, that we wanted to bring forward different — Inclusivity meaning body types and a variety of things that we really didn’t see in the other community happening. We hired our own photographer early on you say, “The stock photos that are out there are not getting the job done. There’s not good representation there. We need to do something.”
But of course, you have to have some success in order to be able to fund that. It’s always a little bit of a cart and horse type of thing that you have to have some momentum behind it. We’ve been able to kind of carry that forward each year and try to expand out. We’re based here in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. We have a pretty small footprint. This is not a very racially diverse area so our model pool was like very limited. We weren’t able to have all of the representation there and then as we’ve grown and expanded, okay, now we can do things that we wanted to do initially, we just didn’t have the resources to be able to do that.
As you’ve seen that over the course of years, it’s because we branched out and our growth has allowed us to do things that really we wanted to do early on, we just didn’t have the capacity to really fully do. Then just partnering. Right? Partnering with people like you two to show people that this is possible, right? You can and wait for somebody else to do it, or you can do it yourself. We’ve just always been like, “We’re going to dive in head first and figure it out.” We don’t know how all of it’s going to fit together. You have to start somewhere and realize that it’s going to be somewhat imperfect, right?
There are things that we all wish we could’ve done better two years ago, or three years ago, or five years ago, but we’re doing the best we can and we’re going to continue to just move the bar and set the bar higher and higher for ourselves. In the past year, as Kat was mentioning earlier, we hired Janessa and Dustin to be our Director of People and Culture, to hold us more accountable internally and externally to making sure that these are real long term initiatives. That we’re not just looking at short term things. How do we diversify our hiring practices?
With COVID and everything, we’ve really reshaped the way that we work with — We’ve got employees now all over the country and internationally, and we can hire from a much broader pool of people than looking at the few thousand people that are around our local area. We totally transformed that. We’ve looked at more diversity in that. It’s been a big initiative for us in the last six to nine months. Then of course working with more diverse teachers across the board. We’ve looked at where have we historically not been as strong as we could’ve been?
It’s an internal reflection point that, yeah, there’s some things that we could have done better. We started where we started and we grew in the ways that we could grow, and now we’re able to do things that we couldn’t do before. We’re going to just continue to make this a priority and focus on it long term. That’s really been our continual improvement type of approach to looking at these things and being very open and transparent about these issues and the progress that we’re trying to make on these areas. Kat, anything to add?
No, I think you said it, Todd. I think we’re always just looking at ways where we can continue to grow. We know that there’s always more to do. That we always have more to learn. That we’re not going to get it right the first time but that we have to keep being better. We have to keep doing better. I think we’re all driven by that. Another thing that I really appreciate, it makes me proud to work with Yoga International, is that I think all of us really prioritize our values above all. That those values are more important than anything else and that that’s what leads us going forward. If we have that, then sometimes it means we have to be a little bit fearless. Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision that maybe isn’t easier, isn’t the safest decision, but we’re driven, I would say all of us by, “If it’s the right thing to do, it’s the right thing to do and that’s the most important thing.”
What I have noticed by Yoga International being on the forefront of this and always stepping up. It was always incredible to me to be heard. Whenever I stepped into yoga spaces and Dee and I talked about this earlier today when we were prepping for the podcast, in our little piece of the world here, there’s not a lot of diversity. I would say, you and I are maybe one of a handful of teachers of color that are in our community. There’s a community board where people share what they’re doing in the community and a lot of it looks like, for lack of a better term, White women wellness. There’s not a lot of attention given to diversity and wondering why spaces here in my town are more diverse, which I think is really strange given the history of where we live.
Dee’s got a very interesting history. She’s an original Canadian. You’ve got a pedigree that’s pretty amazing in having your family be indigenous to this part of the country, and having a connection to Africa, and having a connection to all those things, yet having a super diverse space here or a super diverse population here in Windsor, Essex County, we still are seeing very limited diversity. I love that you, as a huge platform, are putting that out there so at least when people aren’t seeing it in their communities, they are able to see it broadcast on social media.
I love what you said, Dianne. I also want to ask Todd and Kat, with you coming into so many homes online, what do you think yogis can do — What can they work on if they’re riding that line of right and wrong? What are the things that you think that yogis that call themselves the yogis, what can they do for personal development to move forward? Take a stand.
I would say being open to learn and being open to change your mind. That’s so much about what yoga practice is. It’s not just about learning how to do a crow pose. It’s about being okay with changing your opinion. One of the most encouraging things that I’ve seen over the past couple of years is that people that I grew up with and not just people my age but like people my parents’ age, really having a change of heart and having a change of mind. Growing up, I heard a lot of, in school, the value of colorblindness being taught. Adults would always say, “Don’t see color. Don’t see people as a color.”
We know now of course, that erases people and erases their experience and doesn’t bring important voices to the table. To be able to see like my teachers, my parents, their friends, people who taught me say, “Yeah, that was wrong. I don’t think that way anymore. I see that maybe it was coming from the best place but that ultimately, there was something missing there.” To see others who are able to grow and change and evolve in that way has been really encouraging. To me, that’s more the yoga than anything that you’ll ever do in your physical practice.
Yeah. I totally agree with that. That’s exactly what I would say too, in terms of expanding. Learn from a variety of different sources, whether it’s a book or study with a different teacher maybe online than you would’ve normally studied with in your local studio. That’s certainly one of the advantages of the online space is that you can study with teachers all over the world and get a diversity of teaching perspectives on things. Be open to that, and that can transform the way that you might think about something or see something from a slightly different angle than you saw it before.
Having that openness really helps broaden your perspective. You might get something out of that, that you can then share that tidbit with somebody else and help spread that message. I think that’s really important right now. Obviously, a lot the in-studio stuff isn’t happening I think in the US and Canada. But in the online space, whether it’s free on Instagram or YouTube or wherever, whatever, study with somebody maybe you wouldn’t have studied with normally, taking that information and really be open about that.
I love that. I get a lot of people in my DMs and I don’t know, you might get this as well too Dee, what can I do? A lot of people who aren’t people of color are paralyzed around what they can do to create equitable spaces. I always think the first thing to do is yes, look at yourself, look at what you believe. I know that there was a few yoga teachers who were a part of that insurrection. Right when that whole thing was happening, I had people in the yoga community DM-ing me pictures of yoga teachers who were storming the Capitol. A yoga teacher actually doing a hand stand in front of the Capitol before they ran in to storm the Capitol, which I don’t know how as a yoga teacher, those ideas aligned with the philosophy of yoga.
Dee and I talked about this earlier, is because in some cases, yoga has been reduced to just the exercise and reduced to just the Asana. That we’ve forgotten all the things that yoga teaches us besides that. So when I tell people who feel paralyzed about what do we do, you know, we get into that cycle of, “Oh my gosh, that’s so terrible. I’m not doing that. Okay. What else should I do? What other things could I be looking at? How do I distract myself from this discomfort?” The first thing I ask people to do is just really start looking at themselves and what they believe and ask themselves if they’re actually practicing yoga, if they are separating the yoga, the Asana, the physical postures, from the actual philosophy, because then you’re not actually practicing yoga.
Then speaking up in sharing what you can share in places where your peers can see it. That’s what I love about the digital space. You put up a very bold statement, a very clear statement on what you feel and how moving forward, you’re going to change the world, and that’s what we all have to do. We all have to let go of this fear of not doing anything or being paralyzed into staying still because it’s not serving us and we’re never going to move forward as an evolved society unless we start to step. We’ve spent a lot of time navel gazing. We’ve spent a lot of time meditating on it and thinking about it. We are past that now. Now we’re at critical mass where we need to actually hold people accountable and we need to actually take action.
Karma, take action. You have to do something. You have to say something. As a kid, I’d always be like, “How come people are doing anything about this?” Then my mother would turn to me and say, “That means you have to do something about it.” If that’s what comes up for you as a yoga person, or as a person who’s in a space of spiritual healing, “Why isn’t somebody else doing something about this?” then it means that you need to do something about it. That’s just my arrogant opinion.
I think it’s a really good starting place. Maybe it’s even more true for Americans perhaps, but we have this ‘fix it’ culture type of thing too. I need to do something and we’re just going to fix it right away. Obviously, we’re talking about shifting things gradually over time. As you were mentioning before, if you look at some of the statistics around the whole BLM movement and racial equality,it got momentum and then it started to wane. How do we make this sustainable? It can’t be that way. For it to actually get changed, it has to be a sustainable movement.
I think for a lot of us collectively, we can’t check in and check out of it in those kinds of ways. It has to be sustainable, long term change. I think that’s not always sexy or exciting, but that’s what actually moves the needle over the course of time. I think people have to also see their individual contribution. Okay. Yoga International is not Chevron, right? We’re not Ben and Jerry’s. We don’t have that type of type of following but we can do our part and each individual person can do their part. Collectively, that does begin to change things over the course of time and that’s what historically has worked. If we can just continue to move the needle, it’s going to move us in a more positive direction.
I believe it has to be honest change as well. I don’t know if you guys would agree. It has to be an honest, deep down focusing, like we were saying, not on the physical part of yoga but on that inner work. Because that’s the only thing that is going to propel forward and stay consistent and incline upwards into making change.
There’s often this new jerk reaction and I think we all suffer for this a little bit like this is right and this is wrong. There’s a lot of people that just haven’t really examined their thoughts and, especially in small town areas like this. There’s a lot of ignorance around it and a lack of exposure because we don’t have a lot of diversity here. We really have a construct for understanding all of the complexity around that. We have to meet people where they’re at. We can’t come at them from an angry perspective and try and expect that to shift the needle. I think the cancel everybody that doesn’t think like I do is going to only lead to more pushback on the other side of that. We have to figure out more ways to bridge those gaps and meet people where they’re at.
That’s a good point.
That’s an excellent point, and also that people change. That people change. If you notice right now, sometimes if you’re a celebrity and you’ve said something 35 years ago or 20 years ago that somehow gets recycled back into the current conversation, that people cancel you really quickly. Not giving people the opportunity to say, “I believed that when I was 20. I don’t believe that, that I’m 50.” Or, “I believed that when I lived in this very limited space in the world where I didn’t have access to, like you said, seeing other cultures and having other experiences, and now I’ve traveled the world and I have a completely different experience on that.” That’s where I think we need to have a little bit more compassion and a little bit more space for people to change their minds.
On the flip side of that, if I’ve had to continually have a conversation with you over and over and over again about why when you say these types of things, they’re problematic, or hurtful, or discriminatory and you’re not hearing that, then I’m not interested. Right now, the conversation that’s been going on in the Capitol is we have to have healing. Can we just look past this moment of insurrection and all come together? I’m going to be 100% honest here. I’m not interested in meeting toe to toe with the people who stormed the Capitol. I am not interested in hearing the perspective of people who want me dead. You know what I’m saying? I’m exhausted around that. I’m interested in the people who’ve learned from this experience and are moving forward. I’m not interested in batting back and forth with somebody who has a very limited idea and trying to change that idea.
There’s a wide SWAT there, right? You’ve got people that are full-blown extremists, and the odds of moving and having them find some common ground and coming to terms with certain things, pretty unlikely. There could be all sorts of trauma and things wrapped up in that, that you’re not likely to overcome. Then there are a lot of people that just haven’t really examined it and haven’t done that self-reflection. How do you bring some of those people. We have to fundamentally believe that people can change, otherwise what are we doing? There’s no point in any of this if we don’t think we can get people to change their viewpoints on things and have some more holistic understanding of some of the more complex issues.
I think that’s really core to all of this, is that we have to believe that and we have to meet people and not come at them from a confrontational perspective. As you said, there are some folks that are going to bring compensation the other way, and that’s probably not worth your while to try to bring those people around. Just continue to share what is truthful to you and what feels right, and what feels balanced. I think ultimately, honesty around that resonates with most people and they at least will come to the point where they understand where you’re coming from if they’re really interested in learning and paying attention. I think it’s a super challenging time for everybody to try to grapple with those levels of everything from very extreme to middle of the road folks that are grappling with a lot of elements right now and a lot of, frankly, propaganda that’s happened over the last number of years.
Absolutely. Absolutely. I’m always interested to see how this takes, hold in the yoga community. I know we have a lot of holistic beliefs in the yoga community and a lot of non-backed beliefs in the yoga community, that becomes the slippery slope where it lends to all these QAnon conspiracies. I was never more shocked in the world to see that take hold in the wellness industry. Why do you think that is?
It’s interesting because I think people think about it being left and right. There’s an interesting thing here. It’s left and righ and then it folds over on itself. The far left and the far right are honestly hold like 90% of the same beliefs, right? It’s an overlapping segment. It’s an interesting thing. The extremists on both sides are equally dangerous in a lot of ways. I think the yoga and wellness industry is particularly prone to being a bit of anti-science, anti-knowledge and medicine sometimes, and rightfully so to some degree. An organization we worked with before was manufacturing the neti pot back in the 70s and people just laughed at it and said, “This is just completely ridiculous.”
Then guess what? 25 years later, modern medicine is like, “By the way, that actually did work. That works and everybody should do it because it helps with your allergies and it helps with your colds and flus. Please do that.” There’s blame to go around on some of that but at the same time, it’s led to this, “Well, we just don’t really know anything anymore. What can we possibly know?” People have been pushed further and further off to the extremes on these things. Then you’re the kind of subject to being prey to any kind of popula figure that comes about and tells you some things that you want to hear.
It’s a little bit of a dangerous time for the yoga industry to some degree, but certainly the wellness industry perhaps even more where it’s a little bit adrift right now and it’s full of people that are full-blown QAnon people to people that are trending in that direction. That is a slippery slope. That’s a a dangerous situation. As you mentioned before, we know some people that were right there at the Capitol, yoga teachers that were right there at the Capitol with everybody else as part of this movement. It’s a real thing.
We actually try to like minimize the amount we talk about that. I think it’s somewhat rare to some degree, but at the same time, you don’t want to give them a platform to increase their voice either so you don’t really even call them out. It’s almost like just ignoring that aspect of it because you don’t want to lend any credence or any kind of additional fire to their particular anger around some of these things. It’s a really touchy issue and I think something that a lot of wellness brands, wellness organizations, they’ve seeded some of this because they’ve seeded the distrust in science and distrust in information so much that it’s pushed people into the fringes quite a bit.
Yeah. We talked about that, my husband, Kyle and I, on our Yoga Talk podcast recently when we interviewed Anusha Wijeyakumar. She’s one of our teachers in Yoga International too. It is really interesting to see the correlation and the relationship between pseudoscience and between racism. It’s stronger than I would have ever thought. When I look at Yoga International’s values and when I look at our editorial guidelines or contributors guidelines that we have up on our site, those things are clearly stated. We fact check. We try our very best to not post things that are pseudo-scientific, or to not post things that are questionable or that could be untrue. I think that in retrospect, I’m really saying how that does inform our other values as well. It’s interesting to see how things that might not seemingly be so related really are much more related than we think.
I actually had somebody slide into my DMs yesterday because the commercial or the advertisements roaming through social media. I think it starts with me doing some yoga in the park, and then it cuts through a bunch of different people. I’m still trying to figure out whose voice was the voiceover because it sounds very much like a movie poster, his voice, like whenever you hear those movie trailers.
I don’t know who it was. I had somebody comment on that and they believed it was Neil deGrasse Tyson. I would be honored if he wanted to do it,but I’m pretty sure we don’t have that kind of reach right now.
The voice is a little Darth Vader-y yet that guy from the movie trailers. This person slid into my DMs and said to me, “Do you actually know them? Do you actually work with them? Do they have the right to use your image?” Because so many times I go to all these yoga apps and in their advertising they have people of color, or people with disabilities, or a bigger bodied person in their advertising then I get to the platform and everybody looks the same. Is this actually legit? That’s what they were saying to me. I go, “This is actually legit. I’ve worked for them for six years. I’m actually doing yoga. I have a ton of content on there.” She says, “Because I’m not spending my money anywhere where they just use it as tokenism.”
That’s one thing I appreciate about the path that Yoga International has taken is that they know the difference between tokenism, right? For those of you who are not familiar, if you go back to the 70s, the Kool-Aid man would always, “Hey, hey, hey,” and bust through a wall and there’d be 20 White kids and one Brown kid, and usually one Black kid. My mother would always point that out to me. She’d always go, “Oh, there’s the token Black kid,” in everything. Diversity is everyone, all the time, in different situations. Whether it’s body shape, sexual orientation, beliefs systems, skin, color, all those kinds of things. It’s important that we’re not tokenizing people who are different but we’re actually creating sustainable diversity. I had a hard time in the beginning, being on certain platforms, wondering if I’m participating in tokenism or am I opening the door for diversity? I’ve always felt like at Yoga International, that was the gateway in opening the door to diversity.
I think that’s one thing that we always ask ourselves too continually is there are so many people who have so many incredible insights to share about yoga. Just some amazing teachers who aren’t having their voices heard, who aren’t getting a seat at the table. We have to ask ourselves who isn’t getting a seat at the table right now, and why, and how can we give them a platform? Not because we want to get bonus points for featuring a person of color but because this is a person who has so much to share with us, so much wisdom, and they’re not getting to share that because of racism. Because of systemic racism and other factors as well, of course.
I know, Dianne, whenever your name comes up and people [00:47:00 inaudible] the opportunity to collaborate together so much, the first thing that I always say is, “Dianne is such an incredible yoga teacher. She just has so much experience.” Your knowledge and the way that your thinking has evolved and shaped the way we think about alignment and variations and things like that is just so innovative and so cool. You should have had a seat at the table much sooner. You should have been valued as an expert much sooner. That’s really going to just serve us all and it’s going to serve our whole community because we’re all going to get the chance to learn from wonderful teachers like you.
Thank you. I appreciate that. What is the future for Yoga International? Where do we go from here? What’s the path forward?
Good question. Good question. Our goal is to be more and more inclusive as we grow. How do we bring even more inclusivity to what we offer as a platform? As an organization, when we started with eight or nine employees, we could only work with four or five teachers. We literally just called people that we knew and were like, “Hey, would you film some classes with us?” It started just tiny and then we grew and we were able to work with different teachers all over the place. Now we want to really work with a huge variety of teachers and bring more of those voices to the table in different ways and be able to be supportive.
I think right now, with COVID and teachers being displaced, how do we play a role in helping with that from a platform perspective? How can we be relevant to helping teachers put quality content out, make some money off of it, which is really important for teachers right now. We’re really trying to evolve ourselves. Then really, how do we also create more positivity as a platform with so much negativity on Facebook and even Instagram to some degree, and these other social platforms? How do we create a safe space for people where they can be positive and uplifted by one another and uplifted by teachers in a way that they aren’t getting right now? I think it’s more critical now and probably will be even more critical going forward for those interactions to happen and for people to find community online and in-person once that can happen again, and feel like they have some support.
Right now, I think everybody is struggling with that on their own. I think that’s why people are listening to podcasts and people are looking to hook into things where they can feel more positivity and community. What we’re really keen on this year in particular is bringing more of that to the forefront of what we do. How do we support teachers and how do we really foster positive digital communities so that we can really have a positive impact on people’s lives day to day. Let them interact with one another and uplift each other. I think it’s a big initiative for us this year and there’ll be a lot more coming forward.
I love that. It’s so great.
I think you’ve said it all, Todd. I think that’s the perfect way to end our podcast. I want to say an extra huge thank you to Todd Wolfenberg and Kat Heagberg for talking to us as women trying to move forward to create a more diverse and equitable space. Thank you so much for being here. Thanks for listening to this episode of Two Black Girls Talk About Everything. We loved talking to Kat and Todd from Yoga International and hearing why equity and diversity is important to them and their team, and the steps that they’re taking to make sure they’re on the forefront of this important work. You can reach me on Instagram @iannebondyyogaofficial, or my website at dianneyoga.com. You can also reach Dee on her Instagram @yogidee. If you want to hear more episodes like this, make sure you subscribe to our podcast. Extra points if you leave a review and share it with your friends. We’ll catch you next time.
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