How Can We Practice Heart-Based Diversity and Inclusion through Yoga?

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The growing programs, positions, classes, books, and presentations on diversity and inclusion are ultimately answering a call. How do we see, hear, validate, and include people and/or narratives that are different from ourselves and our own? The call comes from the absence of these actions and recognitions and various forms of violence. This has led to traumatic experiences and perceptions. With every traumatic event or stressful situation comes a sensory experience. We take in smells, touches, sounds, visuals, and emotions that accompany each stress point or event. The sensory experience stays with us long after the actual event or point in time has passed. This keeps the event or stress point alive and active. Practicing presence can begin to transform our original associations and open up positive possibilities, and yoga is a practice that can take us deeper into this process.

Western yoga communities, however, haven't always prioritized diversity and inclusion and there is an inevitable an opportunity to grow. Swami Vivekananda left India in 1893 with the vision to bring the spiritual essence of oneness to America. He was the first person to introduce yoga to the United States on a large scale, and yoga has been evolving ever since. Although the practice is centered in unity and interconnectedness, yoga communities have fallen short when it comes to making yoga inclusive, accessible, and diverse. Rolf Gates, author, yoga teacher, and teacher-trainer states, “If we as a yoga community wish to ensure equality, then we have to have the challenging conversations around diversity—not from a place of highlighting what people are doing wrong or right—but rather to reinforce together what our codes, and our precepts as yogis, are.” As we deepen our connection to yoga, we deepen our connection to each other. Let us continue to educate ourselves on ways we can create more inclusion and diversity amongst yoga communities and turn our connection into action.

Where do we start to integrate more awareness around diversity and inclusion when it comes to yoga? We can start by acknowledging the challenges and gaps surrounding diversity and inclusion in the yoga field. Keep an open mind and heart, and be willing to embark on open and compassionate dialogues. Examine with a “beginner’s mind” or hoshin. This refers to having an attitude of openness, eagerness, and lack of preconceptions when studying something, even when studying at an advanced level, just as a beginner would. When we examine the concept of diversity and inclusion, we can view it as a process of heart acknowledgment. Taking the time and space to acknowledge who and what is different than us, and accepting there is a space and place for us all, can allow inclusion to naturally unfold. At the heart of diversity and inclusion can lie the trauma of not being recognized, seen, heard, validated and included in narratives and solutions. There is a balance of not “blanketing” a group of people, because the individual gets lost. Yet, it’s important to recognizing trends and power systems that do not support various demographics and groups.

The next step can be to release storylines, narratives, and belief systems that don’t align with an inclusive mission. This isn’t an overnight process, but it takes extra care, conversations and experimentation. Start with finding complex situations and scenarios that dissipate lines between cultural assumptions and labels. Consume books, information, and media created by people who represent various backgrounds, experiences and demographics. This can begin to help you sift through your own belief systems and decide what you would like to release and what you want to keep.

Lastly, create your own practice and journey that integrates releasing, examination, and action. When we connect with our heart, and act from heart center, then we can compassionately and empathetically create new diverse and inclusive plans of action. There are many ways to experience and share yoga. As you embark on the process of examining and releasing what doesn’t serve you and embracing what does, you naturally hone your heart-based values. Putting those values to practice, on a regular basis, can begin to embody a diverse and inclusive lifestyle. It can start on the mat and expand to community.

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