By now you may have come across this, shall we say – interesting article by Jen Polachek (she received such a virtual bashing that she has changed her byline to Jen Caron).
Here’s a taste of it (my emphasis):
A few weeks ago a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine. It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.
Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). [...] I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.
I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.
Surely, Jen, she only came to the class to watch your beautiful practice. And surely she noticed your tastefully tacky sports bra. Jen, what you’ve done wonderfully in your post is underline why so many women (black, white – or whatever) choose not to go to a yoga studio. They feel observed and judged. Not at every studio. Some studios are wonderful. But how many of them would you try if you were her?
Coincidentally, one of the yogis I admire the most is Laruga Glaser. She’s black, but that’s really the most unimportant thing about her when it comes to her yoga practice. Laruga, if my vinyasas will ever flow as effortlessly as yours, I’m in heaven.
P.S. First image taken from the wonderful blog Oneika’s Yoga Life, linking to her post “The other black woman I see in yoga”.