There is a Space for Us (Diversity + Inclusion in Wellness)
Diversity and inclusion is important in all industries. In the wellness community, we've noticed a lack of diversity amongst practitioners which directly correlates to the lack of inclusion in some wellness spaces. We value community and we express that in many ways. Here's a story from Nessie Johnson about her experience in wellness.
Last spring 2019, I was invited by a friend to join her for an “urban yoga” class and vegan brunch in Tampa, Florida. I was excited because it combined two things that I love: yoga and vegan cuisine.
I took a yoga class at a community center in Tampa, Florida. In the 18 years that I have been practicing yoga and the 7 years that I have been teaching, I have never had this experience. When I first entered the room which I believed was used to hold performances, meetings, there were people setting up their yoga mats, some already in savasana, while the instructor was preparing her place on the stage. I found myself people watching while I unrolled my mat because I noticed that for the first time in my entire yoga experience I was not the only One. As we got settled the yoga instructor asked everyone to come into savasana, I watched her as she prepared the room. She moved like a dancer, she was average height, beautiful glowing skin, and there was a gentleness in the way that she spoke.
As I tried to stay present on my mat, I could not help but watch as she moved through the class with such beautiful grace, full of knowledge of the asanas and their benefits, gently assisting students to get a little deeper and reminding us to just breathe. I felt a connection, a sense of knowing, and familiarity with my instructor. I saw myself in her, and I thought to myself, “Is that what I look like when I am teaching a class, or sound like when I am giving directions?”
And the class was 98 percent Black, there were about 20 people in the class, all shapes, and sizes, and hues. There were mostly women, but a few men, and it was beautiful to see so many people sharing space together.
Although this experience was beautiful, the fact that I was so touched by it was not lost on me. It strengthened the validity of why inclusion and diversity in yoga matters. The way yoga is presented and represented in the Western world is that it is not for everyone. The images you see in classes, videos, and advertisements do not show that yoga practitioners and teachers come in all colors, shapes, sizes, capabilities and economic backgrounds.
It is important for people to see themselves in the spaces that they enter, and to feel connected to the community because when there is representation there is understanding of others. When I am looking to connect with my yoga community I am sometimes at a loss to find a space where I feel like I can be with like-minded people—people that I can share with and also learn from their experiences. This to me is the definition of inclusion and diversity.
Inclusion and diversity are the essence of yoga because it is in the word. Yoga means to engage, to get involved, to participate, and to connect. It is a process, it is active, and it is a way for us to engage with the world to create harmony. Yoga is how we participate and create relationships, and you cannot do this without inclusion and diversity. Having an inclusive and diverse environment is truly how we learn to build community, to value ourselves and our neighbors, and how to love unconditionally because we see ourselves in one another.
Yoga is a true representation of inclusion and diversity because through the practice we are learning how to just be where we are and be good in knowing that who we are is alright. So it is important that everyone feels not only invited, but welcomed in this space. There is room on the mat for everyone to experience the beauty that is yoga. And when yoga classes are not designated to just the wealthy, the fit, the physically capable, or to just one race of people, then we truly are practicing the meaning of yoga.
Nessie Johnson is a certified yoga instructor, certified personal trainer, and also a certified permaculture designer. Her passion for yoga, overall health, and permaculture allows her to connect the mind, body, spirit, nature, and community in a very unique way. It is her mission to help guide others towards not only personal sustainability but communal sustainability through the use of yoga and permaculture techniques. She develops workshops on sustainable living, she teaches yoga in communities that are the most underserved including for the Special Olympics.