Inclusivity in the Yoga Industry

Yoga business owners are being called to action, to talk about inequality and marginalized groups in their communities. 

Yoga studios have always had a mission that is inherently humanitarian: they aim to help people improve their lives and ultimately improve the world. 

Over the last decade almost all the studios I’ve worked with desire and claim to be safe, inclusive, non-judgmental spaces for all people. In fact, I can definitively tell you that the most common core value amongst yoga studios is “Inclusivity” and the most common marketing catch phrase has been “Yoga For Every Body.” 

But recent worldwide protests and demonstrations against inequality and racism have called all of us to action in a new way.

How can studio owners take action to improve racial equity in their business and in the yoga industry as a whole? 

I’ve been getting a lot of contact from studio owners asking, what’s the right thing to do here? What actions can we take to support this movement? And should studios even do or say anything? 

And for many of you as owners, I know that the answers to these questions may not be obvious.

TRUTH —  Not knowing exactly what to do is okay. Doing nothing is not.

But the other thing I would highlight is that just by reading this, you are actively looking for an answer. And this already indicates that you’re on the right path. 

I need to preface everything in this article by saying: I’m not an expert in this subject matter, especially not around the black lives matter movement. But I believe we are all being called to action to learn more.

Let’s talk about INCLUSIVITY.

I find it fascinating that most yoga studios that I’ve worked with over the last 10+ years list “Inclusivity” as one of the pillars, or core values, of their business. 

It’s important to look internally, as yoga teaches us, and understand that saying that Inclusivity is one of our core values does not actually make us inclusive. 

TRUTH — Simply saying that you’ll accept anyone in your business, and that you would be happy for them to be there and take their money does not make you inclusive.

We’re at a moment in time where we have a really powerful opportunity to actually ACT ON what we’ve been saying all along. 

It’s important that we take advantage of this moment and take action now. 

Remember, when COVID hit, you were forced to modernize your business and create change very quickly. From figuring out how to digitize your offerings, renegotiate with your teachers and your landlord, and get a lawyer involved to update your waivers and contracts, you got it done because you were called to action and there were no other options. 

That ability to be flexible and pivot in the moment demonstrates the strength that you truly have. 

Right now you are being called to action by this movement, these protests and worldwide demonstrations. You are being called to act just as quickly and decisively and to potentially be willing to shift aspects of your business. 

The truth is these are all things that we should have been working on for a long time now. I’m sure for example, that creating a virtual yoga studio prior to COVID is something that you had always thought was a good idea and meant to get around to, but just didn’t prioritize. 

Studio owners want to be inclusive, but the truth is, this takes education and work. It doesn’t just happen on its own. We should have been working on this equally as diligently but for many owners, it just hasn’t been the primary focus. 

Now is the time to put inclusivity into practice.

The first question that I’ve received loud and clear is: Should we say or do anything at all?

The absolute answer is yes. There are a few reasons for this.

  1. GET OVER YOUR FEAR. If you’re questioning doing or saying something, it’s most likely because you’re afraid. It might be a fear of not knowing what to say, saying the wrong thing, being ridiculed, or appearing to align yourself politically in a way that would deter some people from patroning your business, ultimately —  it’s a fear of potential loss. 

TRUTH — Fear is something you’ve got to get over. Right now there are more people watching and taking account of businesses that are doing nothing. The silence from many people, organizations and businesses is extremely loud… it’s deafening.

  1. THIS IS HUMANITARIANISM. As a wellness business owner, you’re aligned with the humanitarian cause of improving people’s lives. Racial discrimination is not a political issue; it’s a humanitarian issue. It’s really as simple as that. 
  1. YOGA FOR EVERY BODY. This catch phrase has dominated messaging in the yoga industry for years. Clients that we work with on marketing and branding for their website and social media regularly have the awareness of wanting to represent clients who are male and female, young and old, and of varying body shapes and sizes. But I honestly cannot say the same focus has been placed on representing different races and ethnicities. And although I think that it’s totally unconscious, that omission — that silence — says a lot. 

This is not about pointing the finger and laying blame. This speaks to the need to become aware of our complete ignorance to the situation — as individuals, businesses, and as an industry.

So what should you say? 

If you believe in anti-racism, it’s really important that you do say something. 

Say exactly what you think and feel without fear of negative repercussions. But speak to what you actually know. This isn’t political. It’s not just business. As a studio owner, you have the opportunity for a deeper interaction with your clients and community. 

I cannot tell you exactly what you should say. But I can tell you that it needs to be authentic. 

And importantly, what you do say to your community should not be about you. The number of messages focussed on how the writer feels bad, hasn’t done enough, and acknowledges their white privilege is surprising. Introspection is clearly important but your message needs to be empowering and illuminating to your community, and give them an opportunity to be the main character in the story – not you.  

What can you do right now?

  • Most importantly educate yourself and do your own internal work. This may start with a complete dismantling of your current understanding, lack of understanding or misunderstanding of the situation.
  • Lead your team. Organize and pay for education for your staff on this issue. Promote their continued learning on racial discrimination and improving racial equity. 
  • If inclusivity is part of your business values, update your staff training and studio policies to reflect this.
  • Consider putting up signage and/or posting on your website that your business supports the rights of all human beings. Your business is your platform for communication and you have an opportunity to create awareness and positive change. This also clearly demonstrates that your studio is a safe space for all people to come and participate in your classes. 
  • Take inventory of the images on your website and social media channels and become more aware of the message you’re sending. Your online images are sending a very clear message of who your product is for and who is welcome in your studio.

What about fundraisers? 

Many studios have already done fundraisers and made donations to charities. This strategy has potential, but a super important detail is often missed. 

TRUTH — Businesses and their clients can’t pay their way out of racial inequity.

Money is not an answer to this problem, and giving your community an opportunity to pay their way out of the conversation is not an answer either. So having a fundraiser in itself is not enough.

Raising funds for an organization or charity IS a good idea, but be sure to have a clear purpose and include an educational component to the event. The event needs to raise awareness if it’s going to make a difference, not just money.

Finally, please understand that creating racial equity is not a right now thing, and it never has been. There’s no single statement you can make, email you can send, or social media post you can put up. This has to become part of the fabric of the business. 

What we’re doing right now:

We believe business leadership is the most important leadership of our time. This is why we’re bringing in an expert to educate our team and members of the Yogapreneur Collective on how to bring more racial equity into the yoga business.

Join us Tuesday June 16th 1:30-3:30 CST for a special Bonus YC Webinar, Racial Equity in the Yoga Business, led by a special guest presenter with a doctorate in sociology and political science who is a Racial Justice Educator and Certified Yoga Teacher. 

In this webinar, members will learn: 

  • Mindfulness techniques to break down racism and rebuild a foundation for racial equity in your business. 
  • Racial equity vocabulary to develop shared language.
  • Tangible steps that you can take to embed racial equity into your business model. 

You’ll also receive access to the webinar recording. To access this webinar and all member resources, join the Yogapreneur Collective. 

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