Jenni Rawlings is a yoga instructor that I have long admired. I follow her Instagram page and my yoga classes have benefited from the inventive functional movement elements that she incorporates into Vinyasa flow style sequences. I consider myself a lifelong student, and she is a teacher I continue to learn from.
In the same spirit of constantly learning, I’ve read Robyn D’Angelo’s White Fragility and Ta-nehesi Coates Between the World and Me about the way white supremacy manifests in American society and how all white passing people benefit from and are thus complicit in it. I highly recommend you read those and listen to the Seeing White podcast, if you are also interested in this type of education! This new knowledge required a difficult confrontation with my role in racism and questioning the root cause of so many of my beliefs. It is deeply uncomfortable, hard, and valuable. Luckily, I’m a practitioner of yoga and have learned the value discomfort can bring (hello tapas!) and how seeing anything worth doing as a practice removes the pressure to be perfect. I’m now constantly at work on an imperfect practice of anti-racism that I know requires effort. I know our society is stuck because of a false sense of comfort among my fellow white people in feeling ok with not being a racist. Our society is constructed with racism embedded in it and we were raised in that society, thus we have work to do. In a lot of ways, I look at anti-racism as I do enlightenment, constantly to be striven for even if not fully achievable in this life time.
This education I’ve recently acquired caused me to feel disappointment when Jenni Rawlings put out a list of 7 Prominent Yogis Weigh in on Yoga Injuries and what to do about them who are all white. This is text book, sure it’s not racist to only pick white people, but are you doing your anti-racist practice? Could you strive for better in seeking the voices of people who don’t look like you? I think so. Do I think she is a bad person or some sort of evil white-robed villain? No. See above where I reference that our society has white supremacy woven within it. This is going to cause mistakes to be made and vilification is not the answer. This does not mean, however, that we can ignore or pretend that this is ok. I say that because there is a natural tendency to look away and I will admit that I felt it! It is uncomfortable to look at someone I admire making a mistake. It would be easy to just ignore the comments pointing out her mistake and focus on the positive, BUT that is exactly the kind of willful ignorance that perpetuates white supremacy.
Instead, I sat with these feelings and considered what I could do. I can put something out there saying I don’t think it’s ok to put out a list that only elevates white teachers. There is an opportunity for growth here. What I would have loved to see in Jenni’s response is a simple acknowledgement that her practice faltered here. That she would take in the comments provided by those who shared their concerns on her Instagram post and say this is a problem and I take responsibility for not doing better. I think Jenni and all white people should work on receiving this feedback without defensiveness and acknowledge that there is always more work to do and act on it. See that she had an opportunity to elevate some other voices here and she missed it, but time is infinite! You can blog again to update your list or simply add to it!
There are a lot of white yoga instructors who have been elevated to prominence and they are great! However, it is a real problem that we do not have more instructors with black and brown bodies that also hold this esteem and we all have a role in this.
So! While I don’t have a platform of the same prominence as Jenni Rawlings, I do want to take this opportunity to share 7 African American instructors who should have more prominence, because they are also great! How do I know? Well, these are all people I know and have had the great joy of practicing with. They also have a wonderful presence on Instagram that brings me joy and I think you should get to share in that joy too. I chose black instructors specifically because of that aforementioned education around how black bodies are particularly marginalized and demonized by white supremacy in the United States. I’m making a targeted strike here, and I hope it gets you thinking about all of the brown bodies you know I could have included in my list and you make your own! Let’s all start elevating people of color around us so that the yoga world really diversifies!
I know this is going to make a lot of people uncomfortable, but I am here to tell you to embrace the discomfort. It just may be the key to real substantive change. I want to leave you with a wise quote from the Yoga is Dead podcast’s Instagram “Let’s bring whiteness out of the shadows and into the open for all to see. Because the only way you can change something is by first identifying it.”
Juko Holiday owns @Ease_Mountain_Yoga in Ben Lomond, California. I had the privilege of meeting Juko while we were completing Mark Stephens 300 Hour advanced teacher training in nearby Santa Cruz. She and I bonded immediately over a shared love of composting and green living. She far out paces me by living in a tiny house in the beautiful Redwoods of Northern California. In addition to being an awesome instructor, she is a licensed therapist and provides workshops and trainings that bridge yoga and mental health.
Klydie Thomas is the only non-US based yogi on this list, so if you are in Europe and looking for some private instruction, get in touch! Klydie and I practiced for years together in DC before she moved to Paris and she is an amazing fashion blogger who constantly inspires me with her minimalist style. Taking her practice of ahimsa for the world off of the mat by sharing how she appreciates sartorial aesthetic without financially supporting the earth destroying fast fashion industry @electricseafairy and @primrosefaeries
Michelle Rodgers is a DC based instructor who is doing incredible work sharing yoga with young athletes. Training them to better prepare for their athletic endeavors while sneaking in the life changing mental focus that the practice of yoga brings. I love her social media for being so raw, honest, and fearless! She tells it like it is and her strength inspires me.
Check her out @michellenicole87
Andrea Clary is also based in DC (for now!) and her account Saging Grace shares her incredible perspective on yoga as a healing practice. As a cancer survivor, she has lived the fortifying benefits of yoga more than most will ever experience. She bravely shares this bad ass vulnerability through her accounts @SagingGrace and @missclary
Rebecca Watson is an LA based instructor who shares her beautiful yoga asana practice and wisdom on her IG account @begoodkarma. Rebecca has been honing her practice for more than a decade and the way her body moves is beautiful to watch. In addition to her incredible asana skills, she shares where you can find all of the best vegan snacks around LA and is currently adding a kundalini teacher training to her resume.
Brandon Copeland of Kephera Wellness is also the President of Black Boys Om, models for Yoga Nike and was the Washington City Paper’s Yoga Instructor of the Year in 2017. By the way, he does all of this while raising 2 children and offering weekly Trap Yoga. Kephera Wellness also offers Black Girl Magic Yoga, classes for beginners, and Restorative options. Check him out @brandoflows.
@Jarrick.the.Floating.Yogi does just that, lots of floating! If you check out his Instagram you will see a ton of videos of him pressing with unbelievable ease while also maintaining enough flexibility to casually place his foot behind his head. While his asana is effortless, he also encourages his students and Instagram followers to prioritize their meditation practice and models it by sharing his daily meditation duration as a gentle reminder. He brings yoga to more black and brown men with his uniquely skilled way at describing how yoga practices have concrete benefits that bring us closer to what we're seeking, rather than with more abstract promises like stress relief. If you love yoga, but would prefer to be outside, he also offers led hikes + asana in the Shenendoah Valley with his Shenanigans and Shenendoah events.