Controversial

The black woman in yoga upset me…

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).

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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.

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~ Andrea

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”.

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18 replies »

  1. The most disturbing aspect of her article is that her practice is focused entirely on her own self and her poses, which is only one very small part of the practice of yoga. This poor woman is so upsetting to her that Jen blames her for a disturbance in her practice? And then she went home and CRIED about it?! Seriously?! It seems like Jen may have one of the worst yoga practices out there, if she can be so distraught and distracted by something outside of herself. To her, yoga is all about the, yes, “tastefully tacky sports bra” (someone PLEASE show me an example of said garment) and high-waisted bike shorts (visions of “ironic” American Appareled hipsters, ughhhh). What would happen to Jen if, say, something genuinely difficult happened to her? She would positively shatter in her down dog.

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  2. Just shows that being a yogi has nothing to do with achieving perfection, but accepting the now in an all inclusive way…..its very easy to hide behind the name but not actually practice. Yoga is so much more than asana’s and lycra. Starting yoga can be very intimidating and its so important to put students before yourself and help them RELAXxxxxxxx – isnt that what we are doing as yogi’s, going beyond the self?!

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    • So true – physical perfection is nothing compared to the perfect inner state: being at ease, being desire-less and fear-less. Well, maybe in a few more lifetimes I’ll get there ;) Thanks for reading,

      Namasté

      Andrea

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  3. What a distasteful article. It seems like the author herself hasn’t found yoga. If she was truly a yogini she would have embraced & helped the “black” & “fairly” large woman in her practice. And how can someone publish such racial profiling? The author must not know very many black people herself. I’m surprised the author was even able to walk through that door with such big ego herself.

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  4. Strange article. I thought about it for a long time, and I have no idea what color my classmates are, what their bodies look like or if their clothes match. When some one is new… I usually just say “hi” it works for meeting all kinds of people. If someone is struggling during class, smiling is a fairly universal form of encouragement. We shouldn’t need to assemble an emergency diversity board just be be nice to each other.

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  5. Why be so critical of a new person learning yoga. This person needs to concentrate on her own practice. I suggest meditation and remembering to think kind thoughts. Speak kind words.

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  6. Loved your response:) The whole thing was so strange… The tastefully tacky sports bra thing is the best part of the whole thing. Thanks for the link back. Namaste and shanti.

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    • I don’t really understand what she had against the woman. Isn’t every person a beginner at first and why look down on someone for joining in and learning. She sounds like she needs to do more meditation and speak kind words think kind thoughts etc

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  7. It’s almost as if she wants to help but don’t know how… that she is very much high atop a yoga pedestal, possibly even wearing stilettos with her “high-waisted bike shorts, (and) tastefully tacky sports bra”… I like to say she means well; but seriously has no clue what to do and say. Almost like a scene from Mean Girls. xp

    I don’t even understand why the colours are mentioned. Am I too naive, possibly ignorant, not to see the differences? Should there even be differences to begin with causing to negate the phrase “yoga is for every—body”?

    Maybe I need to buy new yoga clothes… ;)

    Thank you for sharing this, sweets! I read through the comments on the article and laughed silly. xo

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    • You’re right, that’s what really puzzled me. She sounds like she wants to help but all she writes makes it just worse. Maybe the problem comes from thinking that just because there’s a black, overweight woman in a yoga class, someone should “help” in some way, assuming that of course she must not be okay. But probably she’s totally okay and simply a beginner! Hey, we all started somewhere! :)

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  8. This is so strange. Why does the woman’s skin colour need to be mentioned or form any part of the article? It is completely irrelevant. Good job highlighting it, I hadn’t seen the original article.

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