Yoga Is for All of UsMay 01, 2023 06:00AM ● By David Penn
In my life, yoga began as a way to deal with a sore back and tight hamstrings, and over time, it grew into so much more. Asana practice became a way to listen. I had never listened before. Yoga unearthed a path for me to dig into the deepest depths of myself—places that I liked and places that I didn’t like. It gave me opportunities to turn angst and pain into wonder and compassion and became a means of slowing down my erratic tempo to a steadier pace. A pace that I could listen to.
On my mat, I had found a place where I could be in the present moment, wherever that was. There have been times of happiness and contentment as well as times of grief, fear, and loss. I feel fortunate for these experiences. It’s an adventure. And, along with what I have seen in so many other yoga students, it has led me to believe that a yoga practice is a place that all of us can find refuge.
Unfortunately, because of how it’s been marketed, yoga has long appeared to be for a certain group or type of people, which often promotes envy and elitism. The covers of the most widely read yoga magazine, Yoga Journal, almost always display the same body type, sex and race: a thin white female. Advertisements for yoga products from Reebok and Lululemon reflect a similar perspective, making it easy for people to conclude—if they’re different than what they see depicted—that the practice of yoga must not be for them.
In her book, Yoga As Resistance, a guide to making yoga more inclusive, Stacie Graham notices that social media typically depicts yoga practitioners as “very skinny, bendy and blonde.”
I have seen for myself a few roadblocks that can prevent many from finding these places for themselves. I experienced some of them firsthand when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s. Back then, yoga was perceived as something strictly for women. Magazine covers and VHS workout tapes enforced and reinforced the concept that yoga was reserved for women—for that matter, mostly white women appearing to be models, gymnasts or dancers. Yoga wasn’t something for a man—or a boy wishing he was a man—to partake in.
Even now, yoga is often thought of as a sort of club for women. When I tell people I founded a yoga studio, many people—both men and women—are surprised. They ask, “You must mean you manage it?” or “Your wife teaches the classes. Right?” Both questions reflect the same assumptions: that I don’t teach the classes and I don’t do yoga. They conclude that I manage the business because teaching and practicing yoga isn’t for men.
Happily, this assumption appears to be slowly abating. According to the 2016 Yoga in America Study produced by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, men’s participation in yoga jumped from 17.8 percent in 2012 to 28 percent in 2016. The most recent data is from 2016, so the study might be a little dated, but it still shows a promising trend.
Given the media coverage, it would also be easy for women of color to assume that yoga isn’t for them, either. But nowadays, some people are speaking out about that. With nearly half a million followers on Instagram, yoga teacher, author and podcaster Jessamyn Stanley spoke to this issue in a recent interview with Ebony magazine. “I’d always thought yoga was just for thin, white women; I didn’t think it had anything to do with me. ... I was very often one of the few fat people and one of the only Black people.”
Yet another underrepresented group in media is the over-60 crowd, but this, too, is changing. The extraordinary benefits of yoga for seniors are starting to be recognized. Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital and other collaborators reviewed 33 studies of 2,384 participants over the age of 65. The results demonstrated that yoga—predominantly Hatha yoga—effectively increased participants’ walking speed and leg strength and improved their ability to rise from a chair as well as their balance, mobility and mental well-being. These benefits are typically associated with reduced frailty and increased longevity.
Yoga has changed my life dramatically for the better. Perhaps you have experienced something similar, or you are considering beginning your own yoga journey. I hope you will join me in this exploration into the practice of yoga, and maybe you will find something new that speaks to you. or you’ll broaden your awareness of what is available in our vibrant city. Yoga is for all of us. ❧
David Penn, E-RYT 200, founded Sun Dragon Yoga studio in 2015. He offers private instruction at homes and businesses throughout metro Atlanta and offers classes online. Contact him at 313-303-0096.