Yoga has been whitewashed (and now is the time to change its reputation)

If there’s one thing that the past few months has really shown us, it’s inequality. The Black Lives Matter movement is the icing on a very bitter cake; we’ve watched for months how COVID-19 has impacted Black and ethnic minorities at a far greater rate than their white counterparts.

A recent study by the Office of National Statistics showed that Black people were twice as likely to die a COVID-19 related death. Why is this? Why, in a society as diverse as ours, do we still see such a huge gap between Black and white communities?

I’ve always celebrated my Blackness and have used whatever platform I have to talk about why we must show people of colour at all levels of society. So many times I’ve heard “but you don’t sound Black on the phone” and seen the shock when someone with a ‘white’ name like Donna Noble has walked into a room.

In 2020, being Black is still very much a disadvantage. Now is the time for change.

I work in the fitness industry – an industry that is predominantly white and doesn’t do much to show otherwise. Sure, we have the likes of Lewis Hamilton, the Williams sisters, Usain Bolt, and Mo Farah as sporting heroes. But, why are we showing people that unless you make it onto the podium, you’re not welcome in this industry?

There has to be more representation

We have to show Black people, young and old, that fitness is for them. I heard a shocking statistic the other day that only 56% of Black people are doing the recommended 60 minutes of fitness per week, so it’s no wonder that these communities are suffering greater health risks than others.

This is exactly why Lorraine Russell and I founded NoireFitFest, a fitness festival primarily aimed at the Black community, showcasing Black fitness experts. Lorraine is a personal trainer and nutritionist, and after speaking to each other, we found that we’re both seeing a lack of Black faces in our studios and classes.

We planned to host a physical event in London this year – a space for women, men, fitness lovers and novices, to take part and immerse themselves in a range of activities. And, whilst we won’t be able to do this in quite the same way we’d intended, COVID-19 won’t get in the way of us profiling Black fitness professionals and experts, and building a community.

Whilst the spotlight is on the injustice of inequality and the struggle that Black people have, it’s our role – as two experts in the industry with a platform – to cultivate meaningful allyship. Blackness is trendy right now but it’s often performative. I don’t want people to forget what this is about.

The lack of diversity across the fitness industry is even more apparent in yoga. It has been completely whitewashed; sexualised as part of the fashion industry but I have made it my mission to show that yogis aren’t just size eight, six-foot, blonde women.

Yoga is for everyBODY

Curvesomeyoga celebrates just that; we welcome people of all shapes, sizes, ages, genders and fitness levels to our classes and workshops, to show them what yoga is really about. EveryBODY needs to be able to come into the yoga space and access the benefits, so I do everything from size 16+ classes, through to chair yoga and even bed yoga.

Let’s not forget that yoga originates from India and was originally designed by men for men. It moved over to Western society and has been adapted for this lifestyle, but with that comes a commerciality that yoga was never about.

It’s big business, I get that, but we have to go back to the fundamentals of yoga and bring it to the masses. This idealist ‘yoga body’ isn’t representative of society and it isn’t representative of what yoga is and does for you, and that’s affecting who it’s enticing onto the mat.

This dangerous “branding” of a practise that’s centred around inclusivity and community is doing more damage than good; it gives yoga a bad name and it’s a rhetoric that needs to change. I found my true love for yoga when I was really sick with Bells palsy, caused by the stress of years in the corporate world, and it helped me find my flow again. That’s what I want it to do for others.

Thankfully, I am not alone in this quest; the body positive movement – a movement started by Black women who wanted acceptance, regardless of their size – is taking yoga under its wing. The likes of Jessamyn Stanley are really out there showing that moving your body, whatever its shape or size, is so important.

Donna Noble is an advocate of body positivity and has been teaching yoga since 2011, internationally and around the UK at studios, festivals and well-being events. She recently led an online class as part of Fearne Cotton’s Happy Place Festival and has appeared in the likes of HuffPost, Om Yoga, and Sainsbury’s Magazine.

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Written by Donna Noble
Donna Noble is an advocate of body positivity and has been teaching yoga since 2011, internationally and around the UK at studios, festivals and well-being events.
Written by Donna Noble
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