Hold Up, One Last Word…On Yoga and Racism

February 4, 2014  |  

Last week, the internet practically blew up when a woman wrote an article on XO Jane about being disgusted and crying when a Black woman joined her yoga class. Needless to say, it caused a firestorm of responses on the internet about yoga and racism.

In response to the buzz, Mommynoire’s writer Combat Jill had a similar experience and this is what she wrote:

It was a warm Saturday afternoon in July when me and one of my besties walked into the new Kula Yoga spot in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. We had actually been there for the grand opening and it was a beautiful and welcoming space. I’m an athletic mom of four who has been taking Vinyasa yoga for about four years almost exclusively with one of the most amazing yoga instructors, Jyll Hubbard-Salk (owner or Urban Asanas Yoga Studio).

Let me give you some visuals, race and otherwise. Jyll is a six-foot-tall Black woman whose presence has been called “intimidating” by some. She is the sweetest, kindest, most amazing person and yoga instructor. Me? I’m a size 4 Lululemon-wearing Black and Chinese woman, and my friend Stacey is a fit mom of two, who like me is “racial ambiguous” (she’s Black and Italian).  I had just gotten my big, curly hair blown out, so I wore a smoky grey bandana over my hair which was pulled into a pony tail.

The usual suspects were in class, meaning a bunch of white girls and then there was me and Stacey, two summer-brown girls. We proceeded to take the intermediate level Vinyasa classes and found general ease with the poses; I mean, after all, we both had been under the instruction of Jyll for a few years. The Kula instructor, Jane, was competent and engaged enough to offer the usual insights, inspirational messages, and pose adjustments.  She led us through a series of poses and then we came to the crow pose, a position that is challenging for me. Apparently, Jane tried to get my attention to adjust my pose. I didn’t hear her, so in order to get my attention (I was second row in the center of about 40-person class), she said: “Excuse me, excuse me,  the girl with the du rag…” (I had to look up the spelling).

I honestly had no idea that she was speaking to me, and in fact, I looked behind myself to see if there was a dude in the room because I didn’t see any men on the way into class.  Also, I certainly have never seen anyone sporting a du rag in any of my yoga classes…not that one could not.  I finally realized that she was speaking to me and answered in my most condescending Barnard College of Columbia University-alum accent (as my husband has coined the vernacular): “Um, it’s called… a scarf.”

She was shocked and embarrassed and turned bright red. During the fifteen minutes left to the class, the instructor was noticeably embarrassed and thrown off of her average yoga “game.”  Upon commencement she bustled up to me after class apologizing and saying she hoped she did not offend me. She did not offend me.  Her comment was a reflection of her unenlightened, inflexible, ignorant self, and as a “teacher” I suggest she take her flat ass back to class.



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