Ashtanga Adaptability,  Diversity

Diversity in Yoga: The Follow Up

My mind was blown yesterday by the amazing conversations this post prompted. I got phone calls, e-mails, DM’s and not to mention all the conversations on Instagram and Facebook. If you are interested in the conversations on Facebook, including a response from Mark Robberds, one of the conference presenters, go here. 

Also, feel free to look me up on Instagram, wellness_yogini, to see the conversations there and the InstaStory.

One of the conference organizers reached out to me as well. Apologies were given and so were explanations. I won’t put any of that here because it defeats the purpose which was to bring awareness to the lack of representation of people of color in the world of yoga. I know that is going to bother some of yall because people like public apologies and shaming in these internet streets but I am not about that. I will say that they were sorry, embarrassed, and never meant any harm. They explained that they just wanted to bring their friends together after the tumultuous year that many had in the Ashtanga world and that the explanation of the workshop could have been clearer and the title too. The organizer was super sweet and there is nothing but love from me to them.

Here is the thing. We have to start somewhere. When I say “we” I am not talking about just the organizer, I am talking about the yoga community as a whole. Saying you understand is not enough.

Many people were like, “why don’t you put together a conference?” You guys, I had to raise money to take a one and a half hour plane ride to go see Sharath in Miami. I do not have the money to organize a conference of that magnitude. I can either further my education or just further yours. I cannot put the money down on a space. I cannot take a loss if people don’t show up. I was a part of a local Yoga and Diversity discussion here in Charlotte, that was organized by someone else. That I can do. But finding some exotic location that people will like to vacation to while doing yoga, I cannot do it. Because, we all know, that if I have this in Nowhere USA, no one is showing up, just like no one barely showed up when I spoke here in Charlotte. If someone wants to front the cost of one, send me an e-mail.  

I write this blog for free. That I can afford to do. It is funny. People often are like, “she did that to get traffic to her blog”. Ummm..there are no ads on my blog. I don’t get paid for clicks. Traffic only helps if you like what I write, share it and call me to do a workshop. I don’t write for that, clearly, because I have not booked any workshops from this blog. I have only done workshops for people who know me personally or word of mouth. I sell a few books and T-shirts but not enough to pay any of my bills except for maybe Netflix. I digress.

So what can broke people do? What can people who currently teach yoga, run conferences, write blogs, or do broadcasts via podcasts, or your own yoga platform do?

Start with your everyday life. Start with what you already do. You planning a conference? Find qualified people to speak who can bring diversity to the event. Own a yoga studio? Look for diverse teachers. Write a blog, run a podcast or have a yoga channel? Look for diverse people to interview and feature. Broke person who just loves practicing yoga? Follow and interact with a diverse group of people on social media and in your home studio. Share their stuff and invite them to your gatherings.

Continue this conversation. Continue to question your thoughts and judgments. Continue to listen with an open mind. And most of all, we all have to get okay with being uncomfortable and get out the habit of shutting down the conversation. I hope you all continue to speak on this. Peace.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail


  • Christine Beck-Millan

    I am glad to hear that the organizers acknowledge your concerns and have expressed wanting to strive to deepen their understanding of the issues surrounding diversity (lack thereof?) in popular representation of the practice. My shared first impression may have sounded harsh but that is how I was feeling at the time; no disrespect for the organizers’ efforts to sponsor their event and gather people together in the name of this practice.

    I feel very lucky to practice in a studio where diversity is not an extra special thing (like how vegetables not sprayed with pesticides should just be vegetables, not “organic vegetables”), because the community with which I practice, live, and work is ethnically diverse in the normal course. I think it does start at an individual level, no need for a big event to accomplish what individual attitudes and actions can do. Small acts, results of intimate discussions can ripple out, have a far-reaching effect.

    I enjoy your posts not ONLY because you’re a POC (“practitioner of ‘color'”??) but selecting your blog to follow is part of how I value viewpoints from someone who is a 1) practitioner; 2) a woman;
    3) a mother; and 4) a WOC. I would also love to read more about, e.g., disabled practitioners or much older practitioners, however, not ONLY because of these things but being these things happens to shape their experiences as practitioners.

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