If you practice yoga at a studio or a gym, you might have noticed that there’s not much diversity among the students (or the teachers, for that matter). Yoga classes are predominantly filled up with well-to-do white women. There are, of course, some exceptions, but market research shows pretty clearly that 80-90% of the yoga market consists of white women, most of whom are wealthy or at least upper-middle class. Why such a lack of diversity?
I started my yoga practice in Los Angeles, one of the most diverse cities in the world, and practiced almost on a daily basis for six years. In all that time, and at a range of studios all over the city, it was an extremely rare occasion to see someone black or Hispanic in yoga class. Even more remarkable, I almost never saw anyone of Indian descent taking yoga class. (And yoga comes from India!) I’ve practiced yoga with probably 50+ teachers in LA, and only one was black, three were Asian and exactly zero were Indian.
I have a few hypotheses about this lack of diversity, but, admittedly, nothing I say here is conclusive. One guess is that yoga is usually quite expensive (as much as $20+ per class in NYC and LA), so this disproportionately excludes certain minorities, some who are substantially more likely to be in a lower income bracket. Also, yoga is heavily marketed towards white women, but not towards other consumer groups (when was the last time you saw a yoga-themed ad on BET?), so it might be that Americans of various minority groups may not be drawn to yoga because they are, in essence, not being invited to it.
I’m hopeful, though, that things are slowly changing. These days, I practice and teach yoga in Bloomington, IN. The classes here actually reflect the diversity of the community much better than classes in LA did, and I’ve been encouraged by this. At our studio, Bloomington Power Yoga, we try to make yoga affordable (we charge $10 a class) , so perhaps this is helping.
Ethnic and cultural diversity is obviously not the only kind of diversity missing from yoga classes. There is also a serious gender disparity, but more on that next time…