I teach yoga, as my main job, at studios and gyms all around my city. I worked at a non-profit that made yoga available to trauma survivors and underserved communities. I teach two free public community classes in public spaces, in neighborhoods without much yoga (or without much affordable yoga) available.
I was asked, in connection with one of the free classes, “Why don’t you teach your own community?” To be clear, I’m white. Most of the people living in the neighborhood with this program are black. I hadn’t gone into detail on where I lived or where my other classes were, so it’s hard to imagine a meaning other than this one.
My smart-ass answer would be – I do teach a class geographically closer to where I live (and where I live is not necessarily “my community”). I do teach other white women in their 20s, 30s, 40s and up, and I get paid for that. That’s how I make my living.
My more socially acceptable answer would be – I responded to the request of a non-profit to offer yoga in that neighborhood, at their facility, and have needed to change the location of the class for a number of reasons. I think it’s important to offer yoga in settings where people wouldn’t otherwise have it. And this is one location that fits that description. I have set up a successful, ongoing class with a similar facility across town. I see lots of needs in my city and country, and most often I don’t have the skills, expertise or ability to meet those needs. As someone who practices yoga and has found it to be a powerful tool for self-care and stress relief, I think there is plenty of need for yoga around my city and country. It may not be the main need, it’s certainly not the only need, but it exists and it’s one I can meet.
I DO think the concern is valid that people can be offensive, coming to a community “not their own” and teaching yoga with the goal of “solve community violence” or “teaching peace”.
I don’t purport to do these things. I don’t assume I have special expertise on social issues, or really on anything beyond the physical practice of yoga and breathing. I’ve taught a lot of classes, including to students with a number of physical constraints, and I believe I teach in an accessible and enjoyable way. To my knowledge, I’m not displacing a “local” teacher who would otherwise be teaching here, or offering something substantially different from what I offer.
I think it’s unfortunate to presume we should only teach our “own” communities. I think people can come to my class and then choose if they want to come back or not, if they determine I have something to offer them even though I don’t live in their neighborhood or know their specific life experience. My teachers have not necessarily shared my life experience or neighborhood, and I benefited from their classes nonetheless.
If you work in a similar setting with yoga, have you come across this topic? How do you address this concern in a respectful way?