Note: this is an angry rant that I probably should’ve written after I’d come down off my own yoga mat. In short, it’s long. I’d tell you to skip the quotes, but if you did, you wouldn’t believe what I was writing… because you wouldn’t be able to believe that someone was so daft.
Hey, there! How are you? I saw your “It Happened to Me” on XOJane tonight, and I must say… it definitely stirred some thoughts and memories in me. Thoughts so powerful and memories so vivid, that I thought it’d only be right that I shared them with you.
For the record, I’ve been a practicing yogi for almost five years, now. I started with DVDs, moved up to the posh Upper East Side studio, moved back to the mini-studio here in Brooklyn, and am finally back to home. And, because of my experiences in all of those spaces, it’s weird, but — I actually relate to the woman in your IHTM! I was close to 300lbs when I first started my yoga practice, and couldn’t downward dog. Strange, right? You probably didn’t know they make yogis in that size!
Because of that, I have a rather intimate understanding of what it’s like to be on the other end of this story – the person being stared at by strangers who should be focusing on their practice instead of treating me like a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater. And, because I use the model of compassion and patience that yoga espouses, I thought it might be helpful to explain the many, many… so many… things that went wrong with your essay.
1) There is something insidious about this pair of paragraphs:
January is always a funny month in yoga studios: they are inevitably flooded with last year’s repentant exercise sinners who have sworn to turn over a new leaf, a new year, and a new workout regime. […]
A few weeks ago, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded midday class, a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine.
…because, of course, there’s no other reason for the fat, and/or black riffraff to patronize my studio other than her New Year’s Resolution to not be fat anymore.
2) The quote
It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class.
doesn’t make me feel bad for her – it makes me proud of her. Yoga isn’t about “skinny;” yoga is about strength. And ANY person who doesn’t have the strength to execute a pose should find the perfect regression for themselves, something this woman did…for reasons that could have not a single thing to do with her being not-skinny. Back injuries, shoulder injuries, wrist injuries, neck injuries, hip injuries, ankle injuries… all past injuries that a person could find themselves needing to account for in a yoga practice. To know that you need to accommodate your own abilities when surrounded by people who are more advanced than you takes humility. That is major.
A person nervously walking into a new space doesn’t mean they’ve never set foot in a studio – you’re not there every day, you don’t even know if she’s never set foot in your yoga studio before. You made the assumption erroneously because it fits your biases. Of course she’s never set foot in a yoga studio before – she’s fat. Is this for real?
3) On focus, and failures:
Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body.
So, basically, this woman was struggling in her yoga class surrounded by all these limber yogis, but her mental focus was on you and your “skinny, white body” and your “tacky sports bra?” She couldn’t possibly have feelings of her own, of pain, of sadness, of disappointment regarding her ability to keep up? She couldn’t possibly be thinking about what she could do to catch up? She couldn’t possibly be mulling over losing weight, in her mind, since low-inference data might tell her that, to be successful in yoga, you have to be thin? No, she’s struggling in yoga class, but her focus is on you and how much better at life you are than her?
Suppose you were right, and she’s a newbie yogi. Let me fill you in on a little secret – if someone is taking yoga for the first time, takes a first pose, fails miserably and sits and pouts, I would rather them stay there and watch the remainder of the class. Why? So they can get an understanding of what yoga is, what it calls for, whether or not the teacher is crap (more on that in a minute), whether or not this is something they could genuinely commit to, and whether or not it’s even everything they originally thought it’d be. I recommend people go attend and observe a class before they commit to paying their hard earned coins for it – it helps them determine whether or not they can handle the atmosphere.
4) Also – kudos on fixating on a stranger who already feels uncomfortable. Instead of simply smiling and asking her if she was okay, introducing yourself, offering to assist her, anything else that would’ve embodied compassion, you gawked at her while you continued your own practice, minimizing her needs and erasing her feelings. Kudos.
5) Also – what kind of yoga teacher ignores a student who has given up? What kind of yoga teacher fails to notice when a new student has entered the class? What kind of yoga teacher fails to ask, “do you have any upper or lower body injuries?” before continuing? What kind of yoga teacher fails to offer modifications to assist someone who might not yet have the strength to fully execute the pose as instructed?
What kind of yoga teacher? What kind of sorry ass environment is this?
6) Unable to focus?
“I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.”
Yes, as imagined. As assumed. That’s all you could do, since goodness knows you didn’t bother to talk to her during or after the practice to offer reassurance. I’m not sure what kind of alternate universe you live in, but people can have emotions that aren’t centered around needing to envy or best someone else. It’s possible that the lady was equally impressed by your abilities, and mentally overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes someone to become so “well-versed.” People seem to be pushed by urgency and immediacy, something yoga would train right out of you in an instant. It’d make sense to me that she, if she was in fact a newbie, would struggle with that quality. Kudos to you for making her issues all about you, ignoring the fact that she has an entire world’s worth of reasons to “give up,” none of which need to involve you at all.
But, since it makes you feel better – or earns you a really paltry $50 – you framed her seated position as being about you. Classy. Compassionate. Thoughtful.
7) Finally, a little introspection:
“I thought about how even though yoga comes from thousands of years of south Asian tradition, it’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich white women. I thought about my beloved donation-based studio that I’ve visited for years, in which classes are very big and often very crowded and no one will try to put a scented eye pillow on your face during savasana.”
So, lots of things are co-opted by Western culture for “skinny, rich white women” and all members of American society as a whole, because, well… capitalism. It’s not remarkable. It has literally created everything around you that you paid for (or exchanged a service for.) Cheers to our Black newbie yogi baby for making you think!
8) I think this part, in particular, is what really crushed me:
“I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body. What could I do to help her? If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me.”
In less than 100 words, you manage to a) validate the feelings of almost every single fat person who dares set foot in a fitness facility, b) told a bold faced lie on yoga as a practice, c) pretend you actually gave a damn about her feelings, and d) further prove a point I’ve been making since I first started blogging body image: society implies that fat people should hide away and be ignored until they’re not fat anymore. Brava.
You may not know this, but when non-skinny people enter a fitness facility, there is major anxiety. Some are constantly wondering if others are staring, if someone is making remarks, if someone’s going to say something within earshot. You feel like a morsel of food in a room full of starving cats. It takes vulnerability to walk in the door in the first place – it almost feels like you’re validating every awful thing being said about your body to begin with – but to actually work out? In public? It can feel downright paralyzing.
To read a quote from someone that says if she was this fat, she wouldn’t want anyone to look at her, is downright fat shaming. No person should feel shame for their body size, and no person should believe it is acceptable to shame someone for their body size. The end. To do otherwise is to be a complete and utter scumbag.
Yoga, as a practice, is about accommodations. If your teachers have taught you otherwise, they have failed you. If yoga is about building the ability to do great things and believe in your ability to achieve them to the point where you push yourself this hard, this often… how can you do that without meeting people where they are?
Surely, you see why this is flawed. Perhaps not bothering to study yoga outside of just showing up to your class with its revolving door teachers is why you think this kind of pattern is okay, but… it isn’t. It simply isn’t.
8) So close! But, like the great prophet Brandy once said, “Almost doesn’t count:”
And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog, but I could feel her hostility just the same. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. I thought about what the instructor could or should have done to help her. Would a simple “Are you okay?” whisper have helped, or would it embarrass her? Should I tell her after class how awful I was at yoga for the first few months of my practicing and encourage her to stick with it, or would that come off as massively condescending? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be at all interested in telling me about it? Perhaps more importantly, what could the system do to make itself more accessible to a broader range of bodies? Is having more racially diverse instructors enough, or would it require a serious restructuring of studio’s ethos?”
Of course it would’ve helped. Had your teacher given a damn, they would’ve been the lead that everyone should follow by being friendly and supportive of everyone struggling in the class, including our newbie. Your teacher failed, and then you failed. Ridiculously. Offering kind words to someone who might’ve had a bruised ego is meaningful – it’s for damn sure more meaningful than you spending your entire practice fixating on her and her potential shortcomings.
It’s not about having racially diverse instructors. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in a yoga class led by a black instructor, and likewise for her – so that’s not it. In fact, the question outright implies that “of course a black instructor could’ve accommodated her fat, black body… because black people are used to this ‘fat’ thing.” And, quite honestly, that’s an awful thing to say. It takes away from all the wonderful instructors out there of multiple races who actually offer their students what they’ve paid for, and that’s guidance, expertise and support regardless of size.
9) There’s no ‘perhaps’ about it:
I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying. Yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect. Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same.
This is painfully self-important. Racially charged anger, over what? Believe it or not, baby, not every fat black woman wants to be a “skinny, white” one. Every black woman doesn’t want to be a “skinny, white” one, either. To believe otherwise, is to spend too much time reading Stormfront (who I know is reading this right now. Hi, family!) and to not spend enough time paying attention to the community around you. This is New York. Black people are everywhere. Maybe you just don’t notice unless we fit your little narrative that you find necessary to make you feel better about yourself.
10) Your attempt to “bring it on home” only shows me how much more I need to write for larger publications:
The question is, of course, so much bigger than yoga—it’s a question of enormous systemic failure. But just the same, I want to know—how can we practice yoga in good conscience, when mere mindfulness is not enough? How do we create a space that is accessible not just to everybody, but to every body? And while I recognize that there is an element of spectatorship to my experience in this instance, it is precisely this feeling of not being able to engage, not knowing how to engage, that mitigates the hope for change.
The question is not about yoga, at all – the question, from your perspective, is merely about why no one knows about your donation-only yoga studio, (which sounds pretty accessible to me.) Where do the owners market it? Do they market it in predominately black neighborhoods? You should ask the owners of your studio about that, if you want to see more black people in your already-crowded studio. It’s far less likely that this is about yoga and far more likely to be about the owners of your studio choosing to only market the classes to the few blocks in the neighborhood that have people they’d actually want in their studio, thereby excluding the majority of blacks (since, well, New York and, well, gentrification.)
This wasn’t about spectatorship – this was sheer objectification. You took a person who was potentially having a hard time – you don’t even mention her again after acknowledging she paused after downward dog, nor do you mention if/how she finished the class, how compassionate – and made her the object of your emotions; this thing that caused you to cry because of all these big thoughts and feelings. How embarrassing it must be to show millions of people that you’ve never given this much thought to the world surrounding your trikonasana before a fat, black woman entered it. I truly feel for you.
In closing – I can’t really say “in short,” can I? – I truly hope this is an awakening experience for you. I hope you realize that it can be truly painful to be blatantly identified as the “other” in a non-diversified space, and that this painful feeling is already enough to make many people turn away. I hope you realize that this also contributes to the lack of diversity of which you speak. I also hope you realize that a woman struggling with a yoga class could be for any number of reasons, none of which require you to judge her or make it about you, all of which could’ve been easily solved by offering her a hand, a smile, or a kind word. You offered none, and you should think long and hard about that. It certainly doesn’t embody the yoga I’ve practiced for almost five years.
Someone who types far too much
PS: For anyone out there who might be scared off from yoga entirely, don’t let these kind of people mess with your head. Yoga has infinite benefits and positives, and good teachers who knows how to help you learn – and develop – your body. There are lots of “Curvy Yoga” studios, and lots of curvy instructors who can help those of us with full thighs, full breasts, or a round tummy accommodate ourselves to still develop the flexibility we desire.
But, if you’re still uncomfortable – and that’s okay – then check out YogaGlo.com. I’ve been using this for almost a year now, and I love it. Check it out, look at the 7-day trial, and watch the short 15-minute videos. I promise you’ll appreciate it.
As always, much love for making it to the end… but y’all know I don’t handle these kinds of people well.
I had to read her blog a couple times just to make sure that what she was saying was what I was reading. O_o I really can’t believe she had the outright nerve to post that mess. I honestly hope she has a really good friend who will pull her aside and explain just how *bleeped* up that was and just maybe she will learn a thing or two! smh. wow.
Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I really hope that your respone travel 5x’s over…..
I have followed you via Twitter for almost a year and you continue to amaze me. I have referred so many women and men who like me struggle with weight loss. Again I just want to say thank you.
The real sad part about this story is that for all of her perfect postures and graceful poses, this woman doesn’t understand what the journey of yoga is. It’s such a personal path of integrating body, mind and spirit, which she obviously was not doing. I’m a big girl and lucky that I have always found support and gentle encouragement in the classes I attend in my small city. I have always been told to resist the urge to compare myself with others in the class and to be gentle with myself. It seems like this was more of a fitness class rather than a peaceful and accepting yoga environment. And it definitely sounds like this woman may have had mental issues. It’s too bad that she couldn’t keep her ugly thoughts to herself.
I’m sorry, but I couldn’t get past “because, of course, there’s no other reason for the fat, and/or black riffraff to patronize my studio other than her New Year’s Resolution to not be fat anymore.”
Woo lawdy..maybe when my blood pressure returns to a normal range I can finish.
I admit, the first of the year can be trying for people who exercise all year round, waiting for a treadmill, folks asking questions. But ya have to start somewhere.
Excellently said… You’re an inspiration!
you said everything and to everything: YES! Ugh that IHTM annoyed every fiber in me. Thank you for your response.
The most pertinent question for me would be why does it matter that she’s black? If it were a mixed person like me who looks predominantly white would they feel the need to mention that; doubtful. Kudos to her for going. Why as a society can’t we focus on what people do right and applaud people for trying to better themselves? I tried yoga once and it wasn’t for me, but damn if I wasn’t proud of myself for trying… she should be too. I’m applauding us both right now.
Exactly! The newbies skin color and weight were absolutely irrelevant. I realize that if the author of the IHTM piece hadn’t mentioned color or size, she wouldn’t have had an article. That idea pleases me.
Wth.. well, Erica you said all I was thinking. No words
I. Freakin. Adore. You.
Brava my friend brava. I couldn’t believe that post when I read it. I’m so glad you summarily shot it down. In a much nicer way than I’d be able to. Thank you.
Big words, coming from you, mama. Thank you! 🙂
I love you. 🙂
Bryan Kest taught a workshop near my home last year, and I was lucky enough to go. He told us, in his inimitable fashion, to “keep your f***ing eyes and mind on your own f***ing mat. Don’t worry about anyone else.”
Seems like good advice.
Great response, the original article had nothing to do about a black woman in yoga class, it had to do with an insecure white woman in yoga class selfishly looking for a cause to crusade. Race and size shouldn’t have been a factor, and this weird projections of hate on to herself for being skinny and limber. Oh I just cringed as I kept reading.
You touched on everything that crossed by mind.
Oh lordy….where to begin?
I am one of those people who is dreading finding a yoga class. I’m too large, I’m out of shape, and I have serious flexibility issues due to having mild cerebral palsey. I think yoga is the best thing for me to get into, but the idea makes me cringe. And I read this, and I just cringed more.
Call me an large, stiff, white woman who is petrified of a yoga class but knows she needs to get going–and who feels even more that way after reading this embarassing, irritating post!
I know, that wasn’t your intention. Thanks for this blog, to which I will return, and thanks for the tip about YogaGlow.
Dorcas..don’t be afraid of yoga…I am a for real curvy yogini…have been practicing for many years, and I promise you, it’s worth it. You can always check out http://www.curvyyoga.com. She has a list of Curvy Yoga teachers all over the country..and in other parts of the world also. Good luck.
I use a couple of online sites, and they’re great, but if you’re new to yoga a good teacher can be so helpful. Please don’t let that ridiculousness discourage you. I’m usually the biggest person in my classes but no one has ever made me feel bad about it (other than myself, sometimes, but yoga helps with that too).
Hiya Dorcas, I went to my first yoga class this past Sunday. I was the fat woman in the back. I couldn’t do it all nor did I expect to. When my head was on the mat, it was because I was listening to my body to say you can’t do that yet girl. I did awesome, I went, I sweat, my core was not happy that I was using it and the muscles scream in some of the poses. I’m going back this Sunday, and maybe I’ll add Wednesday. This applies, if I can do it… anyone can.
Carrie, you’re an inspiration. Keep it up girl, it gets easier and more rewarding.
To anyone who fears yoga – the whole point is to get better, even if it’s going from zero flexibility/stamina/strength/etc to just a little bit better. Close your eyes to the messed up “Jens” out there. I’m so blown away by the original article I’m dumbfounded.
Start with a restorative or gentle yoga for a class…that’s a beautiful way to start a practice…there is a group on facebook called “iMove: The Dancing Nerve” and they post all sorts of inspirational things and have different types of workshops…i hope you can check it out…i taught a gentle yoga class with them and made it accessible to everyone…you just need to find that right teacher
Dorcas, have you ever looked into Feldenkrais? It is another movement practice that is good for increasing flexibility. Might be a great place to start or to combine with yoga. The most important thing is finding the right yoga class/teacher… a class with students of varying ages and shapes is probably more gentle.
Dorcas, depending on your area, there might be classes specifically tailored for large bodies. I’m a yoga instructor, and I am aware of these kinds of classes where I live.
Also, look for classes labeled gentle, or beginner’s, as these kinds of classes will be more of the floor yoga variety, so it will be less strenuous than a more active class. And when you do take a class, arrive 15-20 minutes early and be sure to introduce yourself to the instructor, and let them know what your physical limitations are, and ask what kinds of modifications they can offer to you, and which props you should be using for class.
Yoga is a most wonderful thing, and it will meet you wherever you are, as the author states in this post. It is healing, soothing, and often leads to epiphanies during practice. I highly recommend it, and I hope you can find a class suitable for you.
One I love your blog. Two I love this open letter. Three I read the other mini article not even really an article because usually an article has content. What I read seemed like just a ignorant (with a whole bunch of cursing) rant.
Though I will say it happens allot more than it doesn’t. Sadly Yoga has become more about about the movement rather than what happens… so this audacity of ignorance comes out from people even more and sooooooo open about it.
As a Black Thick Yogi, I maybe in denial because I am always in shock when I find indidivuals who always have a whiplash reaction because I walk in. To see that my practice can be effortless and they struggle. When we do a 40 days of Yoga challenge and to them they are like…you didn’t even lose weight?
The hardest part is being amongst a sea of Yoga Instructors giving the same reactions as the students in class.
I almost walked from Yoga but realized.. I didn’t get into yoga because of them I did it because of me.
I applaud you Erika and Anyone who have been challenged more by their peers and continued.. We exist gosh darn it….
Please look at this link…it make me think of your response…this is a young lady with Cerebral Palsy that practices yoga…I hope you gain inspiration from it Dorcas.
Yoga isn’t just about physical ability, it is also about heart and spirit and this post personifies that.
Thank you for posting this, for a plethora of reasons. 1st, I can appreciate your outrage, but after reading all of the really humorous and sincere yogis speak out about the articles ( which rarely happens nowadays in the comments sections) I was actually really happy to know true yogis saw the article for what it was. Nonsense!! 2nd, we read that article from the perception of a myopic person, so narcissistic and self-absorbed that she couldn’t even practice yoga!! An exercise which holds greatest importance is shedding the materialistic and finding a great enlightenment through healthy eating, exercise, breathing and meditation techniques. The “heavy set black woman” could have been a new mother of twins, who taught yoga all of her twenties, and just wanted to start slow and check out a potential employer. The writer is a nit-wit and doesn’t deserve your energy. With that said, my purpose for writing was not to poo-poo your article. I am a huge fan of your page. I just feel like by even acknowledging that nonsense your giving the writer some sort of credibility. Which she doesn’t have a shred of, but you do. I definitely feel like the discussion of what sorts of exercises larger women feel comfortable doing, the means in which they do them, and the results would be great to know !
“I just feel like by even acknowledging that nonsense your giving the writer some sort of credibility. Which she doesn’t have a shred of, but you do.”
I think this is fair. I could’ve ignored it, but – to be honest – I didn’g ignore it for a lot of the reason why I go in on equally trivial, equally non-factor-ass write-ups on the web.
A huge part of my credibility IS in my perspective – I respond to lots of things that have received traction unnecessarily – not because the PERSON saying it is credible, but because the language they use might be something prevalent in society. People look to me for my response to stuff like that, and I’m ok acquiescing. We’ve built a community here full of healthy perspectives, and when a trope gains traction, people want to talk about it in a safe space. Since I work hard to keep BGG2WL exactly that, it makes sense that the #bgg2wlarmy wants to come here to discuss. 🙂
But believe me, I definitely questioned whether or not I would acknowledge this mess…but then approximately 14 of you e-mailed it to me. I can’t ignore that. ROFL (Don’t ever stop e-mailing me stuff. I mean it. Even if you think someone else e-mailed it to me…send it anyway.)
I’ve never read your site before, but you just took me to church and Sunday dinner. Thank you for this voice. I read that XOJane article (Pause: Why is it that I, a gay black man, has more famliarity with XOJane than wonderful insighftul skinkin like yourself — the pervasiveness of the same White Tears Websites and viewpoints is really drying my mouth out these days.) and she tore my nerves up. I’m sending this to everybody.
And more to the point, never question whether or not you should give something traction by responding to it. That ignorance will make its way out into the world whether you give lip service or not. The least you (we, anybody) can do is hand out Act Right Cards to those folks so they can possibly re-think their words and grow some sense.
Ahhhh, thank you. You’re so awesome. Thank you! 🙂
Her essay may have all types of wrong in it, but let me tell you-she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. They are very good at preaching “yoga for all” as long as it fits the aesthetic that fits in the gear they sell-which only comes in two sizes. They will have you in there thinking you are really acheiving this heightened sense of awareness and enlightenment…in a completely homogenous environment surrounded by people that look just like you, clad in the same 00 Lululemon. I have certainly been that woman before, ignored by instructors as I stuck out like a sore thumb at a “ginormous” size 8. I have no problems with my size and have been practicing various forms of yoga for 20 years now, but after visiting a few studios even I wondered if something was wrong with me for not wanting to try harder to “fit in”. Thankfully I have supportive studios that i frequent, but it is very easy to get caught up in the city. While that woman was completely self-absorbed in her delivery, I sure am glad she got her holistic bubble burst.
“she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ”
It most certainly does. It also tracks really well with wealthy environments and certain communities in NYC.
Painfully ironic when that kind of mentality migrates to the outer boroughs – you gonna exclude brown people in their own original communities? ROFL
Rafi D’angelo and Erika Agreed! As a white woman I have found I have to make a conscious effort to find discussion from a Black perspective. When a blog like Erika’s pops up, I know who to follow. I may never truly understand the Black experience, but hopefully blogs like Erika’s will help give me perspective. Erika, if you had not responded, I would not have known about IHTM blog or your response, so there is some value in responding to these types of issues, even if it does give them some traction.
Im with you Rafi. the best thing about that xojane article was that it lead me to this site and wonderful post. im waiting for my stack of act right cards to come in the mail so i can get busy handing them out. 🙂
Thanks ladies! Y’all put it down so nicely.
Thank you and Thank Erika! Somethings are so mindblowingly stupid that to not address them is to encourage it!
What a fantastic response!
Beautiful. Powerful. Perfection. Every plus-sized woman knows the power of compassion. Recently, I’ve been the recipient of unwavering compassion, high fives from instructors and “you can do it” from fellow exercisers. This young lady feel safe; didn’t receive kindness. My heart breaks for her. I’m sending her love through my screen.
Oh good lord — this lady sounds like a wack-a-doo!
Thanks so much for this. It says everything. I’m a black yoga teacher. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Very tasteful and direct, and the length isn’t a issue when you’re brining it like that! I hope the lady never sees that foolish letter
The audacity of Jen is baffling. WHAT exactly led her to believe that this woman was staring at HER… with contempt, no less? Is it not possible that the first pose reminded her that she needed to sit back and observe the class? I admit that I’m guilty of not doing this for myself. I enjoy the flow of yoga, but as a beginner, I also hate the fact that I oftentimes have to break my focus to watch the instructor for poses. Maybe this “fairly heavy” (by WHOSE standards though?) was taking the “watch and learn approach. That aside, I can’t imagine a grown woman, wasting an hour of her life by staring at a strange woman with hatred for no other apparent reason than the fact that she’s skinny and white. Seriously, Jen? Did she not think it would’ve been easier for this woman to gather up her pride and leave the room? But surely she had nothing better to do than marinate in the envy of Jen’s perfect downward dog…
If some chick was staring at me in a class like that, I’d probably start looking at her with contempt after a while as well. She claimed to have no choice but to look at the woman, but how about closing your eyes? Jeez!
I can’t for the life of me find a better word for you and your voice, Erika, than “powerful”.
I would love to say my own thing about that incredibly self-absorbed, ignorant woman, but there isn’t a single point you missed here. The one thing you said that resonated with me the most, was about how she validated the feelings of almost every single person battling weight loss. You’re absolutely right. That fear of society believing that overweight and/or obese people should hide away and be ignored until they’re not fat anymore is REAL. It’s extremely real, and for her to take those feelings and fears and turn around and play the almighty “I’m going to try and sound ‘sensitive’ here” card and outline every single perfect thing about herself as the reason for the inner (and outer) struggle this woman’s having??? I feel more sorry for HER.
Thank you for taking the time to write out what SO many of us were thinking.
Fabulous response to a completely f-ed up article. The only thing I can add is that when I did yoga I was okay at it, but at times I could only do a few minutes worth and then I’d have to stop because I was so disabled by my arthritis, but I still went and stayed because the sense of calmness was worth it to me. Hot yoga, in particular can be great for arthritis because the heat itself can relieve some pain. The instructor was very supportive and so were the people in the class. I doubt I’d feel very calm though if someone was staring at me and was so uncomfortable at my presence that they wrote an insulting article about me. Also, lots of times when you’re disabled you have to go on tons of steroids to get your disease in check and that often usually causes massive fluid retention that you can’t control. I’d gain tons of weight off and on depending if I was in remission or in the middle of a flare-up and I wanted to punch all the women who suggested fad diets while I was fighting to stay out of a wheelchair.
That article hit all my fury buttons. Thanks for calming me down.
“but I still went and stayed because the sense of calmness was worth it to me.”
This is so -so- beautiful. I love this. LOVE.
I think this kind of testimony is SO important for people who approach classes with trepidation, for whatever reason. Stories like the one in the XOJane article turn people away from public exercise – because that’s basically what this is when it boils down – but comments like yours show that there ARE great instructors out there and supportive classmates and positive reasons to continue giving it a shot. I’m going to have to edit the post to ask people to share their positive experiences with public exercise.
Also: people who suggest diets to you unsolicited, with no understanding of your medical history, are scumbags. (Word of the day!)
ALL people are welcome in the yoga classes I teach. I don’t care if you are skinny, fat, skinny-fat, athletic, wimpy, black, white, purple, plaid, old, young, foreign, newbie, old-bie, or anything else. If you want to come to my class and take the time out of your life to come to my class, I’m happy to have you and will do my best to make sure you feel successful. (No, I can’t control how you feel, but I’d like to do what I can to make you glad you came to my class.)
I was once the heavyset (275lb) black woman who had the audacity to step foot into a yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights one day in summer 2010. This was my first real yoga experience and I wasn’t surprised to find that there were no people of color there other than my friend who invited me to try a week challenge (unlimited sessions for $25 in the first 7 days). There didn’t seem to be any room to focus on body insecurity because it’s too dAmn hot to focus on anything outside of your own strength which includes managing NOT to pass out. By the way, the instructor always made it very clear that we had the option to lie down if we felt overwhelmed in any way. However, to my surprise (and possibly others) I was able to manage most of the asanas without major difficulty.
There was also the option to practice at their Manhattan studio which I decided to venture to alone. Me, a fat black yoga newbie, alone in a Manhattan studio. It happened. There was a point where I was.just.so.damn.hot and sweaty + I had on a tank top with Capri stretch pants (all drenched in sweat within 20 minutes) amidst the class full of skinny white bodies donning mainly midriff baring sports bras and boy shorts as was appropriate for a 90+ degree climate. For a few almost excruciating moments I struggled with the idea of removing my shirt to reveal my robust love handles/rolls just because I figured someone may be offended by my ‘fat blackness’. But I am happy to recount that I shook that shame off right along with my shirt because MY comfort did rule out any judgement I imagined that May have been cast my way.
The XOJane article forced that memory of shame out of the buried recesses of my mind and, Ericka, your words confirmed the shame I felt wasn’t imagined paranoia. Now I can’t help but wonder if I made someone in that class cry. Not that that’s my problem lol oh well!
Oops, I neglected to mention that I was in a Bikram yoga class which is practiced in a room about 100 degrees with 40 degree humidity by design.
this woman and her article literally made my stomach hurt. i was so offended by her words and attitude that I actually stopped reading a couple of times in anger. yoga isn’t about how your body looks or your athletic prowess. yoga is for spiritual enlightenment. since there was nothing in her article remotely enlightening ( we already know how you feel about us, and it doesn’t elevate anyone ) I guess she and her skinny,white,rich body has failed. she may be able to do a downward dog, but has no idea why she should or what it means- if she did, she would never have written those words. but it does make me smirk in contempt, just like the sister who made a huge mistake of going into her studio. furthermore, I think halle berry – who regularly practices yoga, is a far more enviable subject.
Brava! You said everything I wanted to say at XOJane (spits) but I wasn’t prepared to create an account there in order to do it 🙂
A beautiful, eloquent response. Amen. The original post made my head hurt and my heart ache. And this? Is the truth:
“10) Your attempt to “bring it on home” only shows me how much more I need to write for larger publications”
I love everything about this. As a larger woman in a more affluent town full of SAHM’s (myself included) that go to group exercise in their newest lululemon I always feel uncomfortable. I partake in more than just yoga, but the small class setting always gives me anxiety.I constantly wonder “is someone judging me for being there because I can’t do the move as well or because arm fat is hanging out”. I can’t even bring myself to read the original XO Jane post because I am afraid it will only heighten my anxiety, but THANK YOU for this response, and for standing up for all women.
This is why I love your blog. A year ago I was the fat, black woman. Over 300lbs with bad knees. The only 2 difference was mine was the pilates class at my gym and my instructor made suggestions on adaptions I could make. Still there were moments where I had to stop and catch my breath. My body was not use to the different positions and moves. It was hard so that look on my face was not anger or resentment at the thinner, mostly white and certainly more flexible bodies around me. That look on my face was concentration and/or exhaustion.
*golf clap turns into hard clap turns into thunderous applause.
Wow, just wow. I can’t believe someone wrote this, and thought that it was okay. I’m so glad that you spoke up against it!
This sums up my feelings so well. Also, when she describes the pose the woman took, it sounds to me an awful lot like modifying Down Dog or plank. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer is just doing some serious projecting and that the woman was actually modifying some moves for elbows and knees, using child’s pose for some move. I am more willing to believe the instructor saw a newbie substituting/modifying moves and this writer is projecting than I am to believe that the black woman curled up in a ball and no one offered her assistance of any kind. Afterall, the writer says she was in front of the new person, therefore she would have seen her in poses like Down Dog (unless they did a Warrior sequence, in which case I’m sure the writer would have mentioned her quivering thighs or how she remained on the ground even as lithe white bodies arose like sunflowers all around her flubbery black body).
And this piece hits me personally because I am a close to 300lb black woman who loves pilates but is always worried of receiving pity and/or revulsion and/or laughter and bewilderment at my presence when I walk into a new class. I even worry about what people will think upon learning I am not a newbie because I have a nagging feeling they’ll wonder how I could have been doing it for so long and still be fat. Everything about this piece is just awful.
My heart aches for the young sister in that yoga class. I started going to the gym last year and I felt anxious and slightly fake being there. I assumed everyone was judging the fat girl on the bike and then one day I stopped caring, because I was there for me! I praise her for going and I hope she continues to go! I have no real comments for the person who wrote the XO article. I’m not in her head and I believe our color, environment, friends, and experiences shape what we think and how we perceive things. Some of us are smart and brave enough to step out of stereotypes and fully embrace each other with open minds…some are not and never will.
Bravo! Hear, hear!
This is so eloquent and SO on point. Thank you heartily.
Is this for real? Wow.
Your response was wonderful and very well said. Thank you!
I love this response so much. Thank you.
that article was some of the most narcissistic racist white tears nonsense I’ve read in a long time. Seriously, she has the nerve to think that this fat black woman was thinking about her? Because that woman couldn’t possible be there to practice Yoga, or think about her self, or meditate, no no is it all about focusing on the skinny white woman next to her. Then she proceeded to project this angry racial hostility onto that poor woman who just showed up to a yoga class minding her own business.
Applause Applause Applause!
That was fantastic Girl!
So refreshing to hear someone express themselves with class and dignity. Yours is a much needed voice in our often times twisted society!
Thank you for the lift!
I love yoga. And I am a white girl. And the XOJane piece embarrassed me beyond words. This is a truly fantastic response. Thank you for the post.
I have typed and deleted 17,295 comments. That woman needs to go AWAY.
SO, SO FAR AWAY.
You are spot on with this post. I can’t believe how self-absorbed this writer was. She spends an entire class feeling that the “overweight black girl is admiring her skinny white body” and that made her self-conscious. And then she went home and wept?
Way to play the victim, lady. And way to not be proactive and actually make the girl feel welcome. Way to go.
I found your blog through Renisha and I’m glad I read this. Excellent post.
Erika, this was incredibly well-written. Yoga is about aligning the mind and the body, not judging those who’ve had less practice, or are beginners. The blogger in question should be embarrassed by her ignorance and foolishness.
Very nicely done.
Wow! This post is spot on! I’ve practiced yoga for about 10 years (on and off) all over NYC and while I’ve learned to evolve my practice inward, my black Puerto Rican self still feels like I have 3 heads when I walk into some yoga studios in NY. I hope this Jen lady gets to read this perspective and more importantly, I have been reminded next time I go to yoga to leave judgement and ego at the door and bring compassion, acceptance and a big ass smile in with me. Thanks!
I just want to thank you for inspiring me. The original piece was so off-putting, so terribly upsetting that it was hard to have any other reaction but anger, and I was dead set against ever going into a yoga studio after that. Jen Carlen highlighted everything I would have felt awkward about, being large and Black and a total beginner. My reluctance to try yoga was totally supported by her derisive comments about the woman behind her. But you were able to point out everything that was upsetting about her piece without letting anger or emotions obstruct your message. Her ignorance, and bloated sense of self import are challenging to address without blowing a gasket, but your letter is thoughtful, mindful and in no way disrespectful. You said what so many others could not articulate with grace and style. And thank you again for making it possible to consider yoga as an option because that piece seriously damaged my own desire to ever want to try it out.
Her article was one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen. It was rife with privilege, and ended in a puddle of privileged tears. I really could not muster any sympathy for her, as I was too busy trying to hold down my breakfast.
Not only was there the glaringly racist aspect, but she’s one of those people who likely whines out one side of her mouth about how “fatties need to get more exercise,” and then out of the other side of her mouth spouts how “fatties need to stay out of the gym” (or yoga studio) until they’ve slimmed down to a socially acceptable size.
In any case, she’s a nauseating human being.
You are also right about the instructor’s epic failures. What kind of an instructor doesn’t assist the participants in his/her class?
i’ve never seen this blog before. a friend posted the link. i am a therapist. i have been to a few yoga classes in NY, LA and CO over the years. i am not a regular practitioner of yoga – though i have been a meditator for over 30 years, full time stay at home father of 2, part time public educator etc.
the quoted one is the picture of the narcissistic society in which we live. the blogger – powerful. the quotes – sadly funny to read. the projection and narcissism – just wow, wow, wow.
in my estimation (and, yes, who am i…) yoga is the antithesis of this woman “skinny white woman” and many of her cohorts. learning to discern. learning to subjugate my ego. learning to overcome my dependence on my emotions as facts of the world – or how i perceive others emotions (my projection of how i think they feel, how i am really feeling – unless they have directly said: “i feel ______”) is yoga. the positions, the strength, the physical of yoga – ALL SECONDARY – that is the only way in which i disagree with the author. it is about me quieting myself and becoming one with the “all” or the universe. the icing on that cake is regular practice brings one into a physical harmony in their own body and brings strength (more than just physical). this is utter lost on most westerners. utterly.
well, that’s just one man’s opinion.
Hey E, Have I ever told you that I Love You? I love everything about your growth and your journey. I love the way you used Janes fcukery and made it a lesson in self love for anonymous women brave enough to try yoga or any other avenues in self improvement. I remember your start and still follow your amazing journey of Shero(ness). Kudos and Hugs girlfriend.
AMEN! This is on point. Of all the true things you said here, the most true is that you need to write for larger outlets. I’m so goddamn tired of hearing what white ladies have to say–Lord knows we get enough of that, uh, well, everywhere. As a first time reader to your blog, I was a little wary when I saw “weight loss” that this might not be a fat-friendly space, but you truly embody the notion that all bodies are worthy and I wish that wasn’t so hard to come by. Thank you for writing this. Perhaps it feels like a rant to you, but you articulately identify everything that was so wrong with that piece. After reading the original letter, it just struck me as such a microcosm of race relations in this country. “Oh, great, skinny white lady speaks FOR fat black woman without ever even speaking TO her. That’s what we need. More privileged people speaking on behalf of those whose oppression they benefit from. How novel.”
Thank you for this. If it only opens a few eyes or causes a few conversations its worth it. It also made me sad for all the people who think they’re doing yoga when they’re just doing exercise – clearly the writer had no clue what yoga really is. omg. And my first thought about the woman behind her when she writes “she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground” was duh – resting in child’s pose or as close as she can get to it. A perfectly appropriate choice!
re: “she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ” – that’s just down-right depressing. So lucky I’m in Boulder Colorado:)
Careful, there – some, not all. I’m a New Yorker too, now. 🙂
I’m an old white guy who has never tried yoga and couldn’t now if my life depended on it. I just wanted to say that I admire your writing skills, your ability to cut to the chase and promote actions that, if followed, might actually make this a better world. Keep up the good work.
Thank you for your response. You don’t type too much at all.
And thank you for the info YogaGlo. I have not been able to attend class with others due to time constraints; this will surely help me get started and stick with it.
There is also My Yoga Online…they have free videos and trials…yogaglo is awesome too, 2 of my teachers have videos on that site!
you took ALL the words right outta my mouth… for real, what type of teacher doesn’t offer help and this poor fool didn’t think to offer some assistance as well… i’m so irritated right now…
When I first read the article I actually thought it was an Onion spoof. I genuinely thought it was satirizing how ridicioulsy unaware and self obsessed most yoga practitioners are. It was THAT bad. This reply is amazing. Well done!
“she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ”
Which, by the sound of it, the writer of that essay contributes to, since she chose to ignore someone who MAY have needed help or a friendly smile, and instead come home and get attention by writing about her own feelings about it. How callous and appalling.
I just started doing yoga a year ago, and if I had encountered the writer of the original article I would never have gone back. I hope the black woman has been able to find a far more accepting class, with a teacher that actually pays attention to her students.
That was wonderful! Thank you!
There are many, many, many reasons why I love A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss; this is but the latest. As a newish yogini, I have taken public classes and felt not only the stigma of size, but also of disability. I practice in my home because it’s convenient and I can do it any time I choose, and it’s a more frugal endeavor for one who is seeking to live a more thrifty lifestyle; however, practice in a community of others–particularly when accompanied by an experienced, empathetic instructor, who goes out of her/his way to help practitioners deepen their involvement in the practice is an invaluable experience, too.
That anyone would project their own biases upon another, then make those biases the subject of their own obsessive navel-gazing is appalling. Kudos to you, Erika, for this eloquent piece!
The bizarre self-importance, racism and sizeism aside, that original (horrible) Jane post is an example of why I am fearful of yoga studios. But your wonderful response makes me more open to it. Thank you for speaking up and setting this woman straight.
Wow. Thank you for an amazing response to a massive pile of written dog poo. I’m a rural mom, as homogenously white as they come, and over the last 5 years I’ve been a size 8-16. In that time, and two pregnancies, I gained 135lbs & lost 120. I’m back where I started, a size 10-12, but have never dared a yoga class. I’m scared to meet that awful lady or one of her clones. Thank you for reassuring me that not every yogi is like her, and I am excited about the site you recommended. Even at a super-skinny (for me) size 8, I’m uncomfortable in a gym or class, and I’m happiest exercising alone. I love the idea of a class that instructs students to keep their focus on their “own f*cking mat” where it belongs. Thanks for tackling this honestly, with appreciation for all people and all bodies, no matter their size or hue. Gonna go follow your blog. 🙂
I haven’t commented on a blog in years, but I had to pop in here to say, BAM! Before I even finished her self-important, navel-gazing, fat-shaming essay, I said, “This is going to end in White Women’s Tears.” And it did.
You nailed everything wrong in her essay and everything wrong about yoga as it’s practiced among white middle- and upper-class women. I see this going one of two ways, 1) if she reads your response she’ll offer a non-apology apology which may or may not be defensive, but will definitely still be all about her or 2) people will rush to HER defense.
As someone who is big, feels gross, is scared to set foot in a gym and would never set foot in a yoga studio, I could’ve cried reading your letter. So very true. Great job!
This topic has stirred quite the convo in my on-line yoga community; a teacher I follow posted a link to your piece, and I have to say: this is one of the most thorough, well written, and logically/philosophically sound responses I’ve ever read. To anything. I normally don’t post comments on web-pieces, but: well done. 🙂 Thanks from SoCal, ~H.
Is it standard now to refer to anyone who practices Yoga as a Yogi? Because… that’s not exactly what the word means. I mean I understand if the Sanskrit word has been watered down (see Guru, Pundit, etc), but I hadn’t heard that before.
So, I don’t do passive aggressive well. Obvs, right?
If you take issue with my use of the word, that’s fine. But the passive aggressive language “watered down,” “is it standard now? because…”, “I hadn’t heard that before,” are all forms of passive aggressive language oftentimes intended to offend, not offer insight or motive to change.
I’m open to criticism and being informed when I am wrong. I’m not interested in hosting passive aggressive, petty barbs. Do that elsewhere.
I just re-read my comment and I do, indeed, sound like a jerk. I was honestly curious if the word has come to mean ‘a person who does yoga,’ didn’t mean to come off passive-aggressive. I really loved the post, I just haven’t heard people using the word yogi (other than the bear and the berra) in the US before and was curious, not trying to correct/offend you. apologies again! As an aside, I do think words like Pundit and Guru have been watered down, in the sense that they hold a lot of spiritual meaning in the original language and now basically mean ‘some dude on tv.’ I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, language evolves like everything else, but I find it interesting.
I’m so glad that you came back to clarify.
I’ve always used the term in relation to anyone genuinely committed to their practice. I’m committed to my meditation, my time in my poses (I can remember the days I didn’t even have a mat! Someone above mentioned using a blanket…how dope!), and evolving my thinking, all traits that I’d seen embodied in the people who inspired me as yogis. Perhaps I’ve gotten loose in my language, as well.
I do believe that both “guru” and “pundit” have taken on meanings that are SO far away from their original origins that they’re now derogatory. I can see how that’d appear to also be the case here, as well. It seems like Sanskrit may be near and dear to your heart; I apologize for making you feel like its being abused or watered down. 🙁
I believe the term you’re looking for is “yogini”.
Thank you so much for writing this. I’m glad you were angry when you wrote it; I can’t think of how else to feel when reading it.
‘Writers’ like the author of the original article, yoga students with that mentality, contribute to a non-inclusive space. Not just in yoga studios, but everywhere. There was not a shred of journalism in that article. It was self-servicing and selfish.
I am a yoga instructor. I don’t see enough different bodies coming through the doors, and I wish I did. How can we expect someone to be good at something they’ve never done?
And, to the original author of the article: perhaps an understanding of Asteya – non-stealing. When you look at someone else during their practice – judge them, stare, take their experience to only be a reflection of your own – you are stealing from them. You are stealing their experience of a practice, a practice that is just for them.
It Happened To Me: There Are No White People In My Twerk-Out Class And I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It – http://www.kazzledazz.com/it-happened-to-me-there-are-no-white-people-in-my-twerk-out-class-and-im-suddenly-feeling-uncomfortable-with-it/
Hahaha! Good one!
Lol @ “I called my therapist, my mother and my pastor to help me cope with the pain. ”
You should send her your article? (if not done yet) to check if she shares your pain! Lol
Everything you said is perfect.
Her blog made me cringe. SO self important yet so insecure.
I agree with absolutely everything you said.
That being said, I would place a significant amount of money (that I don’t have, but that’s no the point) on the bet this woman has been accused of privilege at some point simply because she inhabits the body that she was born with. I am white, but I grew up in a family of Hispanics, Indians, and was one of the few white children in my New Orleans school. It is an unfortunate truth that even from a young age I was met with bitterness and resentment simply because of how I look. And BELIEVE me, I am not assuming this. It was told to me regularly. I was hurt and confused, then guilt ridden. I started to hate my own body because I couldn’t celebrate it without feeling as if it were wrong to do so.
It didn’t help that when I entered my teenage years I became overweight and awkward. I was eight inches taller and ten sizes bigger than my tiny stepsister. I felt like a monster.
Then came the comments about my pale Irish-Cajun skin.
“Your legs are so white they’re disgusting.” – my own father
I don’t present this to excuse this woman, only to offer some potential insight. I can’t speak for her obviously, but I can assure you that despite being regularly told I wasn’t pretty because of my color, size and shape I was STILL regularly told that nonetheless I had inherited privilege.
I often see posts by women of different ethnicities celebrating the qualities that they’ve inherited by birth. But if I were to do that? I can’t even fathom the shitstorm that would happen afterwards.
So yes, this woman is absolutely wrong to make assumptions about the new (or maybe not so new) student, but I truly do believe that her hesitation to help, to reach out, her confusion was likely caused by an external force sometime in her life.
Again, absolutely NOT excusing it, but if we can pinpoint why so many white women assume such things we can better prevent how that impacts the way we view ourselves and others around us.
I hope this didn’t come across badly. I have nothing but respect for your article here and your guiding mantra of engaging the world through the lens of compassion.
So, there’s a lot to unpack in your comment.
I think what we’re mixing up here is racial injustices being a justification for further ostracision. With all due respect, what this boils down to is “Well, I was treated poorly in the past because I’m white, now…” which is the kissing cousin of “Well, when I was a kid, I was jumped by a black person, so now, as an adult, I always clutch my purse when I see black men coming.” It is irrational and, with the utmost in respect, childish.
I find it hard to believe that, inbetween a given childhood experience and adulthood, someone who lives in Brooklyn hasn’t had a positive experience with a black person to the point where their initial response is inherently one of “Oh, she’s envying my thin white body.” It’s like, I’m sure you’re beautiful, but why is it about envy? Why can’t it be admiration? Why must it be about you at all?
I think it’s awful that your father said such things to you – my mother said some mean things to me too in the past, and I’ve made peace with and forgiven her for all that, because she’s a product of her environment much like your father is a product of his. When experiences in our past ruin our abilities to see the good in people – romantic relationships, friendships, family, whatever context necessary – I think they need to spend some time working that out with a therapist, not writing really incendiary blog posts on the web.
There are lots of people who process privilege in different and destructive ways, who use all of that as justification to say cruel things to privileged people and treat them poorly. That’s not an excuse, that’s an understanding… and to understand something doesn’t, at least not in my mind, mean I acknowledge it as right. This cycle is not justification for parties on either side to behave badly. It isn’t justification for refusing to grow up.
I’m not resentful of people I met today for things that happened to me in the past. I was sexually abused – I can’t let that affect my ability to develop healthy connections with men. I’ve been disrespected and had my professional expertise demeaned by white men. I don’t use that as an opportunity to determine, before even giving them the chance, that they, too, will microaggression me into silence. I let people teach me how to treat them, while setting healthy boundaries for myself.
And this is why I’m having a hard time with your ‘understanding’ of this woman’s behavior – there is no past experience that can justify someone being so moved by her presence that she cried, pontificated her way into almost 1,000 words, and submitted them to a major website… but couldn’t bother to speak. I’m inclined to believe that an “Oh well” would’ve registered in there somewhere. Possibly a “They don’t even like me anyway,” too.
People think that this kind of thing isn’t racism, but it is – what’s more, it feels like it *should* be different because you feel justified in your feelings. Why, they were mean and cruel to you! But unfortunately, society isn’t equal and the behaviors don’t exist in the same context.
I have a theory about why so many women assume such things, already.
It doesn’t come across badly, but I think you know why it would – it tries to put the experiences of the privileged on equal footing with the experiences of people who are, by all accounts, lower on the totem pole, and that’s not quite contextually appropriate… but I understand. I just also want you to know that, as adults, we are responsible for evolving in our thinking, and not letting childhood experiences determine how we treat people in the here and now.
When educational, it’s more of a discourse than a rant. 🙂
No words, just standing ovation!
I am a skinny white woman who practices yoga and am APPALLED and EMBARRASSED by this woman’s ignorance, elitism, self-importance, and attempts at sympathy and empathy. She knows nothing about her fellow yogi except what she can SEE…the color of her skin and her body weight. AND THESE ARE NOT REASONS TO JUDGE SOMEONE — either on their yoga abilities OR their thoughts!
Seriously?!? I think she thinks she is being thoughtful and insightful…but it comes off (even to this white woman) as condescending and judgmental.
Please do not think all skinny white yogis are of this mindset. This one, at least, believes that yoga is a physical, spiritual, and mental pursuit that can benefit anyone at any level as long as there are no health precautions that would prevent from a safe practice.
Wait…isnt that really the same as for any other physical activity?
Fantastic response. While I was thoroughly horrified by the article, you touched on an even deeper points that hadn’t yet occurred to me, and I thank you for it.
And seriously, in my years of yoga, I have been positively wowed and inspired by people curvier than myself (though I’m pretty curvy) just killing poses and hitting levels of flexibility I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of. I question whether she’s actually been to a challenging, quality class to see truly what the diversity of yoga strength can be.
While very very much a white young woman, I have also been the overweight/unattractive person in an otherwise Stepford Wives-esque exercise class.
(And UNATTRACTIVE?? How is that a real concern I have for myself when I’m trying to exercise? *sigh*)
It’s taken me years of useless self loathing to gather the courage and self-worth to believe I deserve to be in a Yoga class or Spin class just as much as anyone else – and I was a varsity athlete in high school. Now I love yoga – and have seen shapes and sizes on the whole spectrum who kick a** when it comes to some of these poses.
When I read the girl’s original column all I could think was “huh…really sounds like a YOU problem…” so I’m thankful you took the time to unpack and articulate all the ways in which she was so so wrong. You definitely didn’t have to give up your own valuable time and energy to provide that one misguided “writer” with a teaching moment but I really appreciate you doing so, if only for my own selfish reassurances that there are encouraging, kind people like you out here in the world 🙂
I haven’t anything to add that others haven’t said. I just wanted to thank you for your lovely words on the subject. It warmed my heart to read this after I’d wasted my time reading that other drivel/nonsense of the original article.
I’ve never been the only overweight black girl in a yoga class (and I love yoga) but I do know how it feels to asked dumb questions about my hair…”is that your real hair?,” “how long did it take?,” “did it hurt to have that done?” How about a simple “I like your new hairstyle.”…and keep it moving.
Word. I used to get it all the time, too. Just being made to feel like the “other” in the room, period, is a nasty trigger. 🙁
I am glad there are all sizes, shapes, colors and abilities in my yoga class.
As a “limber caucasian” I have never thought myself superior to anyone else in the class, have chatted with many and the instructor helps all who are attending.
You are an eloquent writer- and did well with a very touch subject matter…and I have to say I skimmed a lot of this post-but I for one am happy to see all body types in my classes I take. And hopefully no one is thinking those thoughts this idiot did. GOod post!
thank you so much for this. so so much yes! i read her post and could not believe it…i mean..was she serious with that shit? gah. i thought someone had to try to be that self absorbed but unfortunately i think it was clear she is completely detached from anything orbiting outside of her. i’m a skinny white girl and i assure you that i’m full of my own insecurities, and they aren’t caused by the presence of anyone. we’re all men and women living our lives and full of confidence and failure. it’s called the human condition and we’re all a part of it. i’m ashamed that as a woman, she felt the need to play the role of victim and shame another woman. shame on her!
I couldn’t believe anybody would publish something so blatantly racist in 2014.
I’ve been practicing yoga for 20 years, and the LAST thing I’m thinking about is the black woman behind me, ’cause I’m too busy trying to mindfully make and hold a pose to strengthen my body and quiet my mind.
I feel a sudden need to apologize on behalf of all white yogis everywhere…
Don’t! Many of us know not to judge someone’s potential for harmful behavior by their skin color, and you shouldn’t have to apologize to anyone who doesn’t simply because they don’t know any better.
I appreciate the sentiment, though. 🙂
Excellent response! I hated her article so much. She comes from such an entitled mindset to make it all about her and decide for herself what that woman was thinking. Who knows? Maybe she just thought the teacher was crap. Maybe she couldn’t concentrate with the skinny girl staring at her instead of minding her own damn business. Hostility because she was white? I doubt it. More likely because she was quite obviously making that other woman uncomfortable.
Thank you for this. Seriously. I’m embarrassed for this girl who would rather cry in her apartment/house than offer her assistance or experience to someone who would have probably appreciated the pat on the back.
I will say, while it sounds that the teacher could have moved throughout the room and offered suggestions to everyone (so it did not seem as though she was singling this girl out), but maybe the teacher was trying to get everyone to work to their maximum without offering adjustments to the poses? Or the class was super big and he/she did not see what was happening? Those were the only potential excuses I could come up with. Most likely, this teacher sucked.
“maybe the teacher was trying to get everyone to work to their maximum without offering adjustments to the poses?”
With poses, this can be dangerous, though – I’m not a yoga teacher, but as a personal trainer and as a yoga practitioner…the thought of a teacher willfully doing this… makes me fearful for all the unsuspecting students that believe this makes them hardcore.
True, I see your point… But I’m personally one of these people that if they offer me a block rather than me reaching for it (when I can) means I’ll probably be lazy and use the block even when I’m physically able to do the pose. (And then I’ll probably go get two bagels loaded with cream cheese to reward myself after the class haha).
However, not helping someone who is clearly unable to get into the full or correct pose and definitely needs an adjustment, it is very clear that is the teacher’s job to offer these alternatives. (Or someone nearby could have offered it to the student. OR even better so she doesn’t feel singled out, wouldnt it be great if someone who didnt need the block went and used it just to show the girl how an adjustment to a pose would work so she could follow along with out a) involving the piece of crap instructor b) not feeling alone?
Alas I probably should be writing hate mail on the original girl’s blog anyways!!! But like I said you did the right thing in calling the xojane author out.
However, while I appreciate your article and the back and forth conversation, I am not a fan of the fact that you edited my comments to make it appear as though I was in favor of the instructor’s actions when in fact you left out the portion where I clearly stated that this was most likely a bad instructor.
“I am not a fan of the fact that you edited my comments to make it appear as though I was in favor of the instructor’s actions”
I, actually, didn’t edit your comments at all. I read the entire thing in context, and quoted the specific part to which I spoke. That’s…how that works. It’s clear that you weren’t in favor of it – you offered up some reason to make the instructor’s behavior seem a little less incomprehensible. I told you why even THAT didn’t work for me.
Perhaps you misunderstood how that happened?
The studio that this “writer” goes to, the classes are so packed that the instructors can’t even get around to students and make suggestions…honestly, I would never suggest a new person go there because assistance doesn’t happen there…
First let me say I’m a Black yoga instructor and practitioner and I have yet to read the original article but reading the bits from this articles makes me want to drop my practice of ahimsa and make her have a seat.
Second, I know EXACTLY what “by donation based” studio she goes to and while I’m not sure which location cause there are a few but I know where she goes. There are no assists and the classes are packed & you don’t know which instructor you will get. I have never attended but have very little desire to.
Third, my practice really took off 3 + years ago and I started teaching 2 years ago. In that time, I lost over 30 pounds…I am small in frame (I’m 4’11 so trust the weight loss is noticeable, I went from a size 8/9 in pants to a 2/3) and am very curvy. If I have anyone mention my flexibility or size when they meet me or take my class & they talk about it, I IMMEDIATELY let them know that it’s been a 3 + year journey that I am still on. Yoga is not about a look/body type, it is about letting go and feeling light in mind and spirit. The practice of Yoga has 8 limbs to it and the asanas are the THIRD! There are other things that are supposed to be done before even getting to them but being in the culture we are, we skip steps. And the asanas are simply to open the body up so one can sit in meditation for hours at a time.
As a teacher, I cue a lot in postures but every day, I learn something new about a posture and how it feels in my body…being “well-versed” in postures or saying you are is quite egotistical and the practice is about taking the ego out…humility, like the new student showed, is what the practice is about. You don’t see sages taking pictures looking like pretzels…that’s because they don’t have an ego about their practice because they know what it is about. Weight, height, skin color, gender, religion is obsolete in this practice but this woman made it all about that & that seriously upsets me. Even though I’m typically the only practitioner or teacher of color (sometimes there is one or two others), I draw inspiration from the energy of those in the room. After noticing the lack of color or minorities, I try to block everything but the teacher out (unless I’m teaching) and dig deep into myself and send positive energy to my intention. Some people just don’t really get what yoga is about and that woman, after 6 years or whatever, clearly hasn’t gotten it yet. She needs to evaluate herself before she does anyone else. Pratyahara, turning inward, is what she needs to do.
Thank you for writing this because even teachers need to wake up and notice their students. If a teacher doesn’t adjust me, I have a problem with that. If they show little concern for the students or even really teaching, you can believe I won’t be back to their class. I wish the new student was in one of my classes, whether teaching or practicing, because I would’ve encouraged her to keep trying…kind words and a smile go a long way. I teach at a small studio where we are a real community and if anyone is struggling, everyone supports that person and that is the heart/compassion of yoga.
Thank you for getting what yoga is about…thank you for sending that new yogi love and compassion because it was clear she needed it.
I hope all of that made sense…I have so many thoughts and that’s only like a quarter of them and I’m responding from my phone! It would be awesome to cross paths with you because you get what this practice is about and I like meeting yogis like you! Have an awesome evening! Om Shanti (peace) Om!
I love reading everything about your comment. Just love, love, love. A good yoga teacher is an invaluable resource to have. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and kind words. Here’s hoping we cross paths one day, friend. Maybe hit me on the side about where you practice – in NYC? – and I’ll stop by. Such a glowing comment, I can’t help but be intrigued. 🙂
I’m so glad that there is a meeting of the minds! I will definitely contact you! You are welcome to be my guest at any of my classes!
I think that’s a bad guess, Latesha. It may be more, “Brooklyn Yoga School” … that seems to be more the description by Jen Polachek/Caron … sorry to burst your bubble …
Tina, no bubble is bursted but when she said something about rotating teachers, from what I know of Brooklyn Yoga School, they actually have their teachers listed (And I double checked) and I’m pretty sure it’s not a huge space like the studio that I know a lot of people attend that is popular, by donation based and zero adjustments or teacher attention given…
But either way, what does it even matter about what studio anyone thinks that it is when students aren’t being adjusted or paid attention to? That is a set up for injuries…just saying.
This whole thing screams, “this happened to me in Park Slope” … years of having worked in that area (and I took no yoga there or anywhere else in Brooklyn) and even the dance academies near my workplace had drama …
As someone who has attended quite a few yoga studio and knows instructors from all over New York, most yoga studios have their drama or issues. It is not exclusive to any studio. But the description that she gave and from what I’ve heard of from different folks, it tells me manhattan at a very popular studio. And the studio I have in mind, I won’t say the name, I believe I didn’t say it, doesn’t even let you know who the teacher is…they aren’t able to really get to know students, a privilege I’m glad to have. But there are so many issues that I don’t even care what studio she goes to…but I feel bad for new students that attend those types of spaces. I have the studios I love and will continue to go to, where I know the teachers care about their students, at least for the hour plus they have them for. And I will always recommend those places.
Wow. I pity the original writer. She must have some SERIOUS mental health problems and self-esteem issues if the mere presence of large black woman makes her imagine hostility and then spiral into a self indulgent breakdown. She went home and cried because she was near a black woman? Seriously? Seriously?!?!?!?
As for that ‘young, fairly heavy black woman’ – kudos to her! She went into the class – whether for her first time or her 1,000th. She was there. And she observed. She didn’t run from the room screaming. She didn’t cause a scene. She sat there. It takes a lot of chutzpa to walk into a class, especially one in which there was possibly and probably palpable hostility. She should never have been ignored by the teacher. And nothing makes one feel like more of a spectacle than when another deliberately avoids eye contact. How much would a smile have cost? Nothing!
Crap – then she could have gone off and blogged about what a humanitarian she is for smiling at a fat black woman. Sigh. I’m being facetious of course. But I digress.
I really don’t understand. How can someone set up their mat right near yours and you don’t smile and acknowledge them?
For the record, I’m a fat white woman. I’ve been going to the gym for years, and have had a roller coaster with my own weight. (obesity, weightless, pregnancy, obesity, blah blah blah)
I’ve been intimidated in the gym, and I’ve been a confident badass in the gym. And at every step of the way, when someone crosses my path or comes near me, I smile. Whatever their race, gender, size, religion, age… I smile.
Because they’re humans.
And when you’re in my gym, or I’m in yours; you’re on my team!
You are awesome. Thank you for speaking on this.
Three cheers to you, Erika —
from an old white guy
who was encouraged to hear you
speak up with articulate grace.
This is an awesome response. I’m not sure what to think about why the original article was posted. Click-bait? Get more attention to the writer? What frustrates me so, so, so much is that writers like these are NOT representative of every white woman. I’m having a hard time understanding if she really meant what she said, or if it was fabricated to get attention. Either way, the incredible lack of empathy in that article was outstanding and appalling.
In this case, you nailed the issue. There’s really three things going on: fat-shaming, classist attitudes, and an added layer of racial confusion because the POC dared to invade her turf. It’s a hot mess of entitlement.
I can’t speak on the POC front, but on the fat-shaming? This line in particular is dead on. “Society implies that fat people should hide away and be ignored until they’re not fat anymore.” Why haven’t I joined a yoga studio? Why don’t I go to class? For that reason. Because I want a safe space to practice yoga and not feel like all super-yoga-perfect-doll eyes are on me because I’ve got wobbily bits. If it didn’t happen before, then that’s anxiety talking. But it has, and to find a supportive network is work. I have no idea where to even begin looking for something like that.
I’ve had some injuries and quit smoking. Over the past ten years, I gained fifty pounds due to long hours, stress, anxiety, age, etc. When I do yoga, I feel good. When I don’t, there’s a marked difference in my mood. With the extra weight, I can’t physically do what I’ve done in the past, and I’m more self-conscious of that. That’s exacerbated by other people’s comments and this oppressive “Women must look the same way” attitude. That’s when I give up. I don’t have the skinny, white girl body. It ain’t happening. Slim jeans? Not a chance. I’ve got curves and a booty. I want to celebrate the highs and the lows, not feel like I’m stuck in someone else’s frame.
Anyway, thank you for your article. I’m glad I read it and will try like hell to be inspired by it. Good luck with everything you do! I hope you’re motivated to continue on your own journey. I’d love to do what you do and am happy for your success.
I’m really thankful I was linked to this. I don’t have much to add to the discussion, but I did want to say how very glad I am to have read this piece. It’s a perfect response to the original article, but it’s more than that, because it transcends just responding to one random idiot on the internet.
Hi saw the link to this article of yours on someone’s facebook page. I’d never even heard of you before yesterday. But let me tell you– I’m a HUGE fan now! While I don’t need to loose any weight (I don’t say this to be bragadocious) I DO want/need to eat more healthy and clean and need to excersize more. I would love to join your page for all of the fitness and healthy/clean eating tips that you provide. You are AWESOME.
Oh, and by the way– this article rocks! The nerve of some people who always figure out a way to make EVERYTHING about them. Little white yogi girl is a little too self absorbed…
There are moments where I think people out there cannot possibly be this vapid and stupid, and then an article like that chick’s comes out and crushes my hopes. Your response was EXACTLY what needed to be said (I was lead here via links about a great response, and it is!).
Instead of shaming and complaining about new people at the gyms and studios this time of year, people should be applauding and encouraging them to stick to it. That girl and people like her need a MAJOR reality check. Thank you for writing this!!
THANK YOU for writing all of this out, and I’m so strengthened by the outpouring of LOVE in these comments, versus the continued anger and angst ping-ponging the XOJane piece.
I think (aside from this woman’s personal situation, which in no way to I want to make assumptions about) that this says so much about “yoga” in the United States, and what we’ve done with it even in NYC. I’ve taken yoga for over fifteen years, but it wasn’t until about six or so that I found a SCHOOL with real TEACHERS to impart all the beautiful wisdom and love and peace that should be a part of a practice, focused on both one’s self and others. There’s no way this woman would have stayed on her mat all class at my studio without the teacher and nearby mat-mates checking in on her, and not out of any form of shaming or insult, but purely because that’s what we, as human beings, should do to support each other, right? I like to hope that no one would have even looked at her sideways upon entering, as I’m fortunate my school offers a variety of classes (including those geared towards helping those who can’t move much with restorative poses and those with arthritis, cancer and AIDS) for those who don’t strive for a Lululemon butt but are looking for release and health from a yoga practice. I’m afraid of studios like the one the woman mentions, where no adjustments are made and classes are super packed, because those seem to teach people how to do complicated-looking poses without protecting and healing the body and spirit and providing a means to connect, either more deeply within themselves or with those around them. I fear they’re why a lot of people who aren’t already strong and limber are afraid of yoga, and even why those in decent shape say it “hurts” and is “really, really hard” to the point that they don’t form or continue a real practice. I call the people that run them “yoga leaders”, not teachers, because they merely lead sequences and poses and don’t actually teach how to do them for each individual body.
I fear I’m rambling.
A big hug and thanks to you for writing this, and the powerhouse people in this thread who are teachers and practitioners and open-minded individuals trying to look at the people in front of them for the entirety of themselves.
I love my studio but if any other this thread aren’t opposed to sharing where in NYC they teach / practice, too, I’d love to keep an eye out.
Thank you for all the points you made–about race, about yoga, about assumptions, about race and privilege. As a curvy, black yoga instructor–very aware of how I don’t fit the profile of a yoga practitioner–I have made it my focus to make yoga feel welcoming and possible for other people who don’t fit the skinny, rich, white woman profile. And I make a distinction between someone who practices yoga and someone who has embraced yoga enough to call herself a yogi. The writer of this essay practices yoga. I hope she will keep practicing.
Beautifully written, Erika. Period.
If you want a laugh… One of my friends sent me this parody of the original article. http://ht.ly/t52MN
Rock on. As a yoga teacher I just want to salute and give thanks for your beautiful, compassionate, all-encompassing response.
One result of the popularization / mainstreamification / commodification of yoga is that there are a HELLUVA lot of people out there who think Yoga = Asana. Yoga = Gymnastics. Yoga = Looking like the fanciest pretzel you can, in the fanciest pants you can.
Sadly, a bunch of these people are even yoga teachers.
Or rather, call themselves yoga teachers while teaching physical exercise based on yoga asana, without teaching any actual Yoga.
Author of the XOJane piece could perhaps use a bunch of actual yoga, and editors of the XOJAne piece could perhaps not publish racist narcissistic stuff in the meantime.
Love reading the wise input from the other yogis here too. Na-ma-fuckin’-ste, as we used to say.
OMG…THIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIS! I had to make it my facebook status…It made me want to do cartwheels and run up and down this yoga studio!
Flawless. Beautiful. Divine. Your post won the internet today. Thanks!
Yoga is a safe haven. For years I struggled with body image and eating issues, and only recently have I started to feel comfortable in my skin and truly cherish my life. I was introduced to yoga almost 2 years ago, when I was still feeling insecure and in the same toxic environment that made me feel so inadequate. It was the first group lesson of anything of my life, as I used to avoid strangers as much as possible. That lesson was arguably the best thing that ever happened to me. For the first time in years I felt accepted, respected and embraced outside my family. Nobody was there to judge or criticize. The teacher was supportive and checked on me regularly as he knew it was my first ever yoga practice. During the yoga chants it felt as if we all had become one. It was a near-holy experience for me, and I’m sure you, Erika, and all the other yogis here know the feeling.
So…. when I saw this piece… I thought, how can a person (who apparently has done yoga before because of her “well-versedness in these poses that [she has] been in hundreds of times”) be so unaware of what yoga is TRULY about? (Not to mention how can anyone be so racist… I too would apologize on her behalf and all white yogis if I could.) Yoga is, first and foremost, about ACCEPTANCE and MIND and SPIRIT. NOT the asanas. If that beautiful Black student really spent the whole class in Child’s Pose, HER practice was much more beneficial and true to the spirit of yoga than the author.
What really devastates me is the possibility that this lesson was her first and that she was feeling insecure and unsure like I was at my first class. I just.. I hope so badly that wasn’t the case, because if I were in her shoes, being eyed shamelessly, I know I could never set foot in a yoga studio (or any public space with lots of strangers) for a very, VERY long time. I pray she did not feel lost the way I used to, that she practices yoga regularly and didn’t even notice the author.
All I can do is hope that someday we will all embrace, accept, support and celebrate each other, just like in a true yoga practice… and thank you, Erika, for this place, which for me is another safe haven and has helped me on my path of self-acceptance more than you can imagine. Preach, sister. *hugs*
This was horrifying and beautiful. Your responses are perfect. (I am a fat man who has struggled with, but still loves, yoga and T’ai Chi.)
“Your attempt to ‘bring it on home’ only shows me how much more I need to write for larger publications.” Amen to that!
I don’t usually post comments on blog, but I have to pile on praise and appreciation for this post. I’m queasy just from reading the excerpts. You do a masterful job building suspense. I kept thinking “Noooo. . . there’s more???”
It is not that hard to initiate simple, kind, non-judging/assuming interactions. How about a smile? Or, after class, an open ended question if you are so consumed with curiosity? “Hi, I am so and so. . . have you practiced here before?”
Your piece is relevant way beyond the yoga world! Thanks for your beautiful writing and sharing your experiences.
So, basically a chubby black girl came to her yoga class and it made her cry.
What gets me, is her whole inner turmoil could have been avoided had she just acted like a human being and said “Hi, my name is Jen … ” Maybe a conversation with the other woman would have addressed the things the other woman was concerned about IF and that is a very big IF she was concerned about anything.
Maybe a conversation would have led to the piece titled “I made a friend in my yoga class and she’s awesome” Sadly, Jen doesn’t seem to be open to that kind of experience.
And Erika, you’re a class act. I’ve never been to your blog before, but I am so happy I followed the internet here. This chubby white girl thinks your an inspirational — I’m going to poke around your blog for awhile. Consider yourself a must read!
I was talking with a friend on Facebook about this article. I don’t understand why the author had to bring race into it. I have been practicing yoga for several years now, but after my first class I almost thought it wasn’t for me. The instructor did no modification and she kept showing off how flexible she was. At that time, I could not touch my toes because of debilitating arthritis in my hips and back. Now that I have been practicing yoga for a while, I can almost touch my toes. I am glad I went to another class and saw what a difference an instructor could make. I even brought my boyfriend to a class (I did a spin class, so he had to do a yoga class) and after his first class, with an instructor I really like, he has been doing it ever since. My yoga classes are female dominated, and he still went with me, and no one thought anything of it. People could have easily looked at him the same way and thought, “Oh, that poor guy is looking at me because he can’t do yoga” or more likely, “Why is that guy staring at me? I can’t do yoga while he is checking me out.”
Because of my limitations with my arthritis, I have also had people look at me. I always assumed it was because I use props. I have it all – strap, blocks, towel, etc. I use it all too. If I see another student watching me, I view it as a learning experience where they can achieve the poses without sacrificing their form. I have even been used as an example in the classes, encouraging others to use props and not allow their ego to get in the way of doing the pose properly. I would happily talk to anyone about using props, and when I see new people, I often thing of talking to them, but they tend to head out quickly as there is usually a Zumba class waiting to use the space.
It makes me sad that one woman missed the opportunity to share with another woman the amazing benefits of yoga, which is really what it all should have been about.
(I probably should have written a blog post. Also, saw this because Patton Oswalt link your page.) 🙂
You should DEFINITELY write that post. I have straps, blocks, and a blanket (probably the same way you use a towel), myself. My old teacher always made everyone get all three before class began, that way no one would feel ostracized for stopping to go get one. She was really cognizant of the culture growing around yoga, and was incredibly successful at preventing it from taking over her classroom.
Awesome comment, Thank you for sharing! 🙂
Please tell me you’ve read the editor’s response. In short, “She’s not a racist because I’m black & her friends. And i asked her to write about how it felt for her to be in a yoga class with a black woman because i have been the only black person &i thought it would be interesting. Oops, i rushed to publish it without getting two other editors to proofread it. Don’t be mean because this was her experience.”
Oh, I saw it. How awful for XOJane that they didn’t better monitor their newbie editors.
Thank you for so eloquently and patiently responding to that IHTM piece. It was disturbing in so many ways and your responses helped me so much.
Thank you for this amazing post.
I’m a triathlete who once spent an entire hot yoga class in child’s pose. Some days are like that. May we have the generosity of spirit to congratulate each other on our good days and buoy each other on our bad days.
Thanks so much for this…
thank you for saying that yoga is FOR every BODY and is accommodating…
That is what’s wrong in some yoga classes in USA today… those POWER classes where u go in, flow for one hour, and then leave after 2 seconds of savasana and no one says hi to each other. People in gyms say hi to each other, why does no one talk to each other in yoga class? it’s absurd.
so many other points you made resonate with me. Jen must live in a bubble, which is strange since she lives in NYC. :-/
Hope she meets some diverse people someday.
Read this on my Kindle and just had to come over to your (excellent!) website to comment. As someone who has lost 112lbs (and going!) I always (and still do) had feelings of self-doubt when going into a new fitness place. In fact, I’ve considered yoga and gave a class a try, and not once did the instructor or any of the other participants judge me because of my size, race or inability to do yoga. I felt happy asking for help and asking questions at the end of the class too. The original writer made so many fundamental errors in not asking or acknowledging her that I would not be surprised if the woman never came back if she gets the impression that everyone there is unfriendly and not willing to help. I’m grateful that, despite my insecurities, the people in the gym I used to attend looked past that and recognised that I’d made the effort to go to the gym and was working hard at improving my fitness.
Thank you for this. I think this is the best response I’ve read to the XO Jane article.
I am a moderately overweight woman who struggled with anorexia for years. I’m just now learning how to love my body, and my doctor has recommended that I try yoga to help with that and also for the calmness it would bring to my overly-anxious nature. But the XO Jane writer personifies why I have been scared to try for YEARS now. I’m clumsy, and no longer “acceptably” skinny,” and I get out of breath…And I’m embarrassed. And so the yoga DVDs have stayed unopened. Maybe someday I’ll overcome my fear.
I think, in the interest of recovery, we should all seek to do what is best for ourselves as individuals. And, while I agree with your doctor wholeheartedly, I also know that fear that comes with embracing things that endanger your recovery. It NEVER feels worth it.
That original article is just so ridiculous! I am a big Black woman who does yoga weekly, with my sister who is literally half my size. Some skinny white girls may catch me staring at them – not because I’m envious or mad at them – I’m plotting. I’m looking at these skinny girls to challenge me, and thinking in my head “if these weak little waifs can hold these poses, I got to be able to do that soon too – & better!”. When I’m on the bike or the elliptical or the treadmill, I like being beside skinny, little girls, and I’m staring at the numbers on their machines because again, I’m telling myself, “if these skinny little girls can go this fast, I have surely got more life in this body…I’ve got to get faster and work harder”. If you see me getting out of a pose quickly and reverting to child’s pose, I might just be tired! When I first started yoga, I spent more time in child’s pose than anything the teacher was doing. Planks don’t come easy with a lot of weight. Now, I spend less and less time in child’s pose, but it will still be a while before I’m up to speed with everyone in the class. My message to this author is – stop the over-analyzing and assumptions and get over yourself.
I can appreciate this, but I think the competitive quality is an unhealthy one – it’s not a matter of “Oh, if this [insert descriptor] person can do it, I surely can!” If anything, it’s “Wow, look at what the human body can do; I can’t wait to get there, myself!”
On a general level, I try to discourage women from looking at themselves in relation to other women at all, especially in a put-down sense, but on a more specific level it doesn’t speak enough to YOU focusing on YOU and your natural progression, you know?
I’m sure it might feel like nitpicking, but words matter so much more than we know.
Thank you! I could not agree with you more. What is wrong with a teacher in any class that doesn’t seek to help their students? They should be fired. There is no excuse for treating another human like she was treated. The letter from the white yoga student only illustrates her and the yoga studios ignorance and stereotyping and lack of professionalism. Their character is questionable not the black female.
Agreed. I’ve seen/experienced this at the high price studios, not just the suggested donation places. It’s why I do the vast majority of my yoga practice at home with/or not needing DVD “guidance” … amazed at the free online reference resources available, as well… also friended yoga bloggers on FB … free stuff abounds! They may sell more retreats and workshops that way, but us low-value customers get all the freebies as a spillover effect …
Additionally, I’m old enough to have received the “treatment” at aerobics studios back in the day, lol … more appropriate there …
Ignored due to oldness, natural stiffness that no amount of supplementation and added ambient heat could “cure” … it isn’t about the skin color or the body weight alone …
I see these women at my gym; privileged and clueless. I just sort of dismiss them mentally as that because I don’t know that anyone or anything can make them see beyond themselves. But the yoga instructor was just absolute crap. How the EFF did she not notice this happening? The teachers at my club always ask if anyone is new, has injuries, need modifications, etc. They also walk around the room and observe. I’d be afraid to attend practice with such an inattentive instructior.
I have a theory that the original article was concocted:
I don’t know that I buy this – there’s a little too much superfluous matter in that essay for me to believe it was the work of a literary genius.
Although, it would not surprise me in the least if it was going to be spun that way soon. Considering the unfortunateness of the editor – and THEN Jen, AGAIN – responding to questions about the essay’s publishing… I don’t think this was genius or brilliance at all. It’s just as daft as it looks. LOLOL
You know, she’s quite neurotic. I hope she does not medicate it away. She may be a budding writer and need it for her creativity.
But, she IS genius. Black History Month just started, I’ve noticed …
om yogi! nicely written, thank you for the thoughtful response to skinny yoga princess. i’m kind of glad she did write that nonsense because the backlash has turned me on to so many awesome black yogis! like you! best of luck to you for continued success with your practice 🙂 i’m so glad to have found your blog.
Erika. Thank you!!! I am a 54 year old Black Woman who is, at this very moment, very proud of my young sister. Your conviction, passion, eloquence, and boldness are to be applauded and celebrated. You have a gift of understanding and addressing real issues. I sincerely pray that your voice finds in a place amidst the many voices of injustice, intolerance, prejudice, ignorance, and hatred. Why that company, because your voice will be a place of refuge for those hurting from the sound of those voices. Your personal journey has allowed you to see life from a different and more compassionate lens. Keep traveling the road of a life well learned. Continue to challenge mediocrity. Continue to champion the underdog and stand for truth and justice. I applaud you!
Thank you for your eloquent response. You’ve inspired me to find a studio that’s not full of self obsessed Jens. I know they exist but your powerful words gave me the strength to go find one.
I am still reeling at what this stupid tw@t wrote… and I am SO glad that you called her out on this!! There are so many things just wrong, wrong, wrong with what she said. I am saddened that there are still such common, racist people who run around thinking the world is all about them- it’s embarrassing.
I have tried yoga in the past- (writing yes, as a skinny white woman)- and was just amazed and saddened at how many people in the classes were completely NOT GETTING THE POINT. Yoga is about connection with your mind, your body, your soul- it’s not about competing with whoever is on the mat next to you. It’s not about thinking “what is everyone thinking about me?” Of course, I live in Northern Virginia- one of the most competitive, least friendly, very cold and snotty places in the universe, so I guess that competitive and snobby behavior in a yoga class is to be expected. Was hoping it wasn’t the case, but there you go.
Is it wrong of me to hope that the woman who wrote that article gets hit by a car? Okay, sorry- it’s just, I still cannot believe that she said those things. There are just no words…
I hope very much that the lady who was having trouble doesn’t give up. I hope that maybe she finds a better instructor at a different studio and gives it another try. Yoga can be such a calming, centering and transforming experience in the right setting with the right teacher.
This was a GREAT response to a ridiculous individual.
I am a big girl, trying to lose weight, and I love reading your blogs. Its like your my Online BFF..
(And I also just recently began looking into yoga as an additional regimine to going to the gym..I’m hopeful about it.
Keep doing what your doing.. #touchinglives #makingadifference #impactful
WOW! that’s all I can say. Everything else would be rude and offensive but that rich b***h would deserve every nasty thought that would come pouring out of my mouth. Pfft. People like her make me sick! Loved your post!
Thank you so much for saying this! There is a layer in your comments that I rarely see people admit out-loud- and I wish they did. That layer being the fact that in most social situations the things that we see are just the tip of the iceberg most of the time. People are reluctant admitting depression, anxiety, or any sort of weakness. I get the anxiety of “fat person in gym(or yoga class)”, mostly because I had my own version of it.
People think horrible things are horrible on their own, and then you move on, but usually the hardest part about something is the getting yourself together part. Having the bravery to let someone see you fail or show weakness for the sake of progress. I was raped 4 years ago and it shattered my life for a while. Including the fact that I got a lot of PTSD, depression and social anxiety. That and a huge amount of discomfort and mistrust of my own body. When I got a little better, I had stopped exercising for a full year. Finally, I took upon dance. Dance changed my life in many ways- but being in the studio was a huge struggle for the whole first year, not the first class. I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror, I was afraid to move, afraid of anyone touching me to adjust my position…and worst of all, I kept getting triggered and having panic attacks. I could have given up going, but I didn’t. My instructor(whom I spoke to about it, and who was very supportive) told me that even watching class is very useful, even if I have to stop. Month after month I kept going. Some classes I did amazing and I was happy at the new things my body learned. Others I would panic in the middle of it, and spend the rest of class sitting on the ground on the side and watching. Multiple times someone asked how I am or what is wrong, and I had to say that I am sick, or have low blood sugar. Gradually people stopped asking. Gradually I became better, and stopped panicking(well, mostly). My dancing improved. But it’s obvious that feeling bad so often isn’t being sick every time. I don’t even want to know what people thought all those time. But honestly, it’s worth it- the change in my body, my sense of self in those months- it’s worth whatever it is that they thought. But it did take a lot out of me to stick to what I love through all of that. That “fat black woman”, whoever she was, I admire her courage. For what it’s worth.
So beautiful. *hugs*
just spent two hours reading about white privilege because of this article. two hours well spent 😛 although I’m supposed to be working.
I just love this! LOVE IT! This is exactly what I try to communicate yet can’t seem to find the words. To me it’s not making white people feel guilty or demanding more than what is due from EVERY person. We’re supposed to change our way of thinking consciously in order to improve society as a whole. Until everyone is willing to commit and achieve that we’ll always have race struggles, fat shaming, skinny shaming, etc.
THANK YOU for this article! That woman who wrote the XOJane article should be embarrased. What a ridiculous frame of mine to write that. She obviously was gawking at the woman the whole time making her uncomfortable – and then to write a bloody blog post about it! Yoga is for EVERY BODY. If I see someone struggling, I extend my help and make them feel comfortable rather than STARE at them ruthlessly.
“you spending your entire practice fixating on her and her potential shortcomings”
And…..that’s exactly what YOU are doing Erika! You are trashing another human being for her faults, refusing to see her. We attack other women all the time, its so much easier and safer than attacking men, the patriarchy or rich people. I wish the OP would write a scathing reply to your insensitive and deliberately inflammatory rhetoric but then it would go round and round.
I have trouble appreciating internet journalism because it allows this type of bashing to flourish. If a piece like this took months to get published instead of a quick little click, there would be more intelligent discussion and editing to make your point.
I wish we could have compassion and allow women to be courageous to write about their inner feelings, instead of silencing themselves in shame (happens all the time because of posts like this), because they are beginning and often exploratory in nature. If you want a true discussion of race and class, don’t silence and shame the beginners. Perhaps you should have written a private email to the OP asking for her phone number and to sit down for a cup of coffee.
You know what, I wanted to respond to this in full, quote by quote, with ranty typing and snarky phrases, but I can’t stop laughing.
I’m sure someone needs to write her a private e-mail and sit down with her for coffee – and, perhaps, a very long lesson involving several books – but it won’t be me.
Someone should probably sit you down, too. Hopefully sooner, rather than later.
PS: If you think that XOJane essay got anything even remotely resembling “editing” in a way that fosters “intelligent discussion,” you are operating from a place I cannot even fathom.
Alas, ask yourself: since XOJane has editors to review her essay so that her true intention and meaning shines through, how are you so sure I got it wrong? Got her wrong? The editing made sure she was clear and intelligent-sounding, right? Is it because you agreed with and, perhaps, understood her… and can’t imagine why such an “innocent and honest” essay was met with such a response?
That’s a rhetorical question. I encourage you to answer it to yourself. No dialogue had here would be able to help you in your journey through self-awareness.
[…] The article caused a firestorm across the web with many (rightly) deriding the writer for her problematic thoughts. Thankfully, it also encouraged several women to come forward to show that yoga is indeed for every body. […]
Granted, the author of the piece does sound like a twit. But in her defense, she was there, and you weren’t. She could very well have been giving the hairy eyeball to the author; crazy people come in all colors. I was spoiled by my yoga teacher; she wasn’t a gym bunny, but a wise woman who lived yoga (which has 8 limbs, not 6), and the teacher in the story should never have ignored the struggling student. I place the blame here on the teacher, not the student. I have been welcomed by fellow students, who were ever nice women, but the tone is set by teachers, and a lot of them aren’t that good; they have the words, but not the music. That is why I want take yoga classes in a gym. A true teacher is rare and special. I hope that struggling newbie found a better class. Yoga really is for every body.
“But in her defense, she was there, and you weren’t. ”
I’ll never understand the compulsion to defend the indefensible. The original author was inhumane to another person. And, quite honestly, if the student in question WAS “giving the hairy eyeball” (???) to the author, I find it hard to believe the author wouldn’t have mentioned that in her essay as the reason why she opted to ultimately NOT speak to her.
I blamed the teacher too, but free will exists for a reason. You see another human being struggling in a space centered towards compassion of self and others, your free will should’ve encouraged you to at least make eye contact and mouth a “you ok?” with a head nod. She didn’t. She instead opted to put the student on blast across the web.
In. Hu. Mane. Resist the urge to defend that.
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