Saturday, September 10, 2016

What is "Brown and Black Yoga" Anyway?

If you’re accustomed to dropping in to whatever class may fit your schedule on any given day, you may be surprised to see we have a new offering on Monday nights: Brown and Black Yoga. If you read the fine print, you’ll see that it’s expressly for folks who identify as a person of color, and that white folks are asked not to attend.

This may take you aback, if you’ve never been asked to define and restrict yourself by your race, except for the once-a-decade census form. Those of us who came of age in the 70s and 80s, in the aftermath of Jim Crow, largely grew up with colorblindness and desegregation as the values to strive for. So why segregate by race now?

Consider this: we’ve been offering a Women’s Yoga class for years. Many gyms and other centers also have special women’s hours or women’s spaces. Culturally, we seem to understand that the needs of women are particular, and not always met in mixed-gender spaces. It may be for religious reasons, or it may be because women have experienced trauma associated with men, sexual or otherwise, or it may be because the physical and physiological needs of women are unique, or just that women would prefer to hang out together.

In addition, yoga is a particularly vulnerable practice. We move our bodies around in all kinds of ways. We wear snug shorts or tights and shirts. We sweat, go upside down, and tie ourselves up in knots. Especially when we are already asked to try new things, challenge ourselves, and leave our comfort zones, it’s important to be in a space where you feel safe.

For the same reasons women do not always feel safe doing yoga when men are in the room, brown and black people may not always feel safe doing yoga when white people are in the room. In the same way misogyny continues to rage in our society (in the media, on the streets, in the workplace, economically, politically etc), racism continues to plague our society through systemic racism. Distinct from interpersonal racism, systemic racism involves the political, economic, educational, and social structures that put white people at the top of a racial hierarchy and keep them there.

These same systems of oppression make it all too easy for microaggressions to occur, no matter how well-intentioned someone might be. Over time, they accumulate and can manifest as physical illness and take an emotional toll as depression and anxiety.

We’re offering Brown and Black Yoga because students have requested it. They have expressed that they feel more relaxed, less guarded, more supported, and less self-conscious when they are with each other, than when white folks are in the room, the same way women may feel more comfortable in a gender-segregated space. These opportunities are so few and far between that they are treasured. They give nourishment to more happily face the rest of the week, when we are all re-integrated into multi-racial, all-gendered spaces.
Let’s support each other in getting our needs met in yoga class. Let’s respect the needs of others in our community, even if they may be different than our own. Namaste.


  1. Good post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more on this subject? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Appreciate it! yoga shorts women

  2. Wow! Black and brown yoga. Solving the problem of perceived potential racism, with actual racism!

  3. Just knowing you are doing this heals me a little and enables me to go to all-white classes where I am the only non-white person but am told that really we are all the same..