Guest post from Sharon Rhiney Co-Founder of 314 Yoga St. Louis
Dianne recently posted a video that talked about a physician visit prompted when fighting the good fight for social justice and equality literally raised her blood pressure.
In its early years in the 1970s and 80s, Yoga Journal would include images of BKS Iyengar, Lilias Folan, musicians and teachers from India or Tibet, or simply beautiful modern art on the cover. There were no poses or photoshopped model yogis. It wasn’t slick, but it was informative. In the past 20 years, it moved shamelessly into the mainstream, touting diets and thin ideals, and promoting conventional white beauty and ableism. Today, Yoga Journal is fighting for relevance by subverting the body positivity movement and making token overtures at diversity.
What does it mean to be a teacher?
“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.” – Thomas Carruthers, author, writer
A real teacher attempts to put herself out of a job by educating her students. A true teacher empowers a student to speak up and speak out for themselves, each other, and for those without a voice.
Who Shapes Yoga Culture and Why?
When Yoga Journal sent out an email touting its new diet after just interviewing one yoga sister of size, friends and fans of Dianne forwarded the email to her asking her thoughts, wanting a response, filling up her inbox with requests to essentially confront YJ. Consider that this is the privilege of putting Dianne in the role of stereotypical angry black female rather than yogi needing self-care. It is, in effect, a microaggression. It capitalises on disagreeing with YJ as a reason to bond.
So often, our voices and leaders of colour are not allowed downtime. They must always be ready to represent. They are demanded to be hyper vigilant. And when they are attacked back, they find themselves fighting alone in a battle they did not begin, already compromised in resources while pressured to represent with perfection all at the same time.
Dear Dianne, it’s not easy being you but take it easy with being you.
What Can We Do As A Collective, more voices can create greater change!
Perhaps it is time to view Facebook and website DianneBondyYoga.com as a think-tank of like-minded individuals who support each other in Satya, or truth. Remember that you are as much of a yogi as Dianne. You can stand up, clap back, and speak out too — and you should! This message has been a constant in Dianne’s teachings.
Trading in Stupidity and Cognitive Bias
It seems to me that YJ pulls a decidedly similar publicity stunt to subvert body positivity and diversity at least once a year. They put forth a tone-deaf article on weight loss. Dianne responds. People go see what the hubbub is. YJ immediately brings on board a fat yogi with a good Instagram following, often “promoted” by a thin white able-bodied yogalebrity to talk them into being the face of change at the magazine. Yoga Journal will do half a page or two inside the issue whilst touting BODY POSITIVITY on the cover. Fat people or WOC buy into the promise of this new direction; then one issue and perhaps one Yoga Journal Conference later YJ stops bothering.
Then they start all over again the following year.
Meanwhile, the fat yogi face of change is then left alienated — caught in the middle of being used by Yoga Journal and wanting to truly empower and promote diversity. They must put up with criticism that should really go to the magazine and the promoter who now gets to claim on their website they’re a body positive activist. Oh, so that’s why they asked for the selfie with the fat girl. That’s why they travelled to the conference with the black girl.
YJ plays on cognitive bias. They tell their audience of predominantly white females with expendable income only what they feel comfortable hearing. The messaging is: “You’re alright exactly as you are. No reason to change, but you could lose 10 pounds. We’ll show you how in the next issue.”
Playing To Our Egos
People who likewise crave YJ fame, are now hashtagging their fitness images with body positivity. They are on social media flaunting for their thin frames and expensive yoga clothes in artful pictures portraying themselves as edgy yoga saviours. In some traditional philosophies, such as the dikshitars of India, promotion goes against centuries-old yoga tenets. Yet their followers in America charge thousands of dollars for the same teachings — watered down and westernised — thus ensuring that the yoga base remains woefully ignorant of their dark-skinned philosophical legacy and practice. In traditional Indian practice, the rotund elephant god Ganesh is as much of a yogi and equally as powerful as the lithe monkey god Hanuman.
Without ever mentioning Indian yogis or yogic traditions, it’s doubtful that YJ will ever do an issue on actual yoga. That issue would not contain one asana. It would contain real-life stories about social justice, the courage to be oneself, philosophy, political engagement, and saving the planet.
How We Step Up!
In the future, rather than to pass along emails, messages, memes and posts that create outrage and provoke, stop. Stop responding to your first thought of outrage. Stop clicking the forward button. Post it on your own social media page rather than emailing it or posting it on someone else’s social media page. Post action steps with detailed instructions that others can follow to mobilise to best effect change. Speak to solutions!
Stop the drama trauma.
Yoga existed before YJ and it will exist after them.
And their train isn’t even going your way!
About the Author:
Sharon Rhiney is one-half of 314yoga in St. Louis. She left mainstream yoga 4 years ago but attends daily practice that includes social justice, promoting Outdoor Yoga in and around St. Louis, sponsoring workshops, designing tees, and a little bit of asana at home.