Antoinette Webb started her Instagram account @journey2antoinette in 2015, with the aim of documenting her personal yoga journey and being accountable through her posts. Six years later she has over 27k followers and is a professional yoga model for Athleta. But most of all, yoga has helped her develop her own brand of radical self-love which has encouraged countless others to start their own yoga journey.
Kallie Schut has a voice and she’s not afraid to use it. Through her role as a yoga teacher and her website Rebel Yoga Tribe, she is calling out cultural appropriation, racism, homophobia, misogyny (and all those intersections) where she sees it. And it seems that, now, people are starting to listen.
We would like to update our community about our DEI plan’s progress, challenges and next steps.
REFLECT LONDON’S DIVERSITY IN YOGALONDON’S COMMUNITY
OF GRADUATES, STUDENTS, AND THE TEAM
WHAT WE HAVE DONE SO FAR
- Started training the team
We took some time to reflect on the feedback from our community and to educate ourselves on anti-racism, and on the broader issue of intersectionality. As we believe in expert training ourselves, we appointed a DEI consultant, Dr Stacie CC Graham, to support us on our journey. She guided our faculty of teachers and HQ team through self-paced learning, online and a full day in-person, to enable us to better understand intersectional issues across our society and industry. We will keep sharing on this topic, on a semi-formal basis over the coming months.
- Gained a deeper understanding of our community
We believe it is important for us to understand how our community reflects the diversity of the London population; to this extent, we ran a survey covering our graduates, students, team and broader community. We got hundreds of responses, which helped make our sample statistically significant – so thank you. We are now using this data as our start point to measure our progress as we work next year. This will give us a clear measure for whether the work we are doing has an impact or not in 2021.
- Audited our website and other comms channels’ imagery
Whilst we want to authentically reflect our community, we also want to clearly demonstrate that we welcome people from all backgrounds and walks of life. We will continue to feature members of our community in our content, and will update our website regularly when we have new photography of recent graduates.
- Reviewed our recruitment processes and team salary structure
To ensure they were fair and non discriminatory in any way. We also became an accredited Living Wage Employer, a guarantee that we pay our team members a fair salary for their work.
- Agreed to support an industry-wide audit
We signed up to the industry research spearheaded by Hotpod Yoga, to find out more about disparities and injustices in our industry – with a broader sample of respondents. The project was delayed due to the recent national lockdown, but we’re hoping it will restart in Q1 2021.
WHAT WE HAVE STRUGGLED WITH
- Creating new CPDs specifically aimed at targeting unconcious bias and discrimination in yoga
We want our curriculum to truly reflect the needs of under-represented communities, and as such it means appointing trainers that have an in-depth knowledge of these issues. They have been difficult to come by (so if you’re one of them, please get in touch) but we think we will be in a position to deliver this action by the Summer.
- Our aggressive timeline
Our previous action timeline proved totally unattainable… Which even our DEI consultant flagged! We want to be faster in delivering our DEI initiatives, but the honest truth is that we’re a small team balancing the needs of a school and our students during trying times. We need to allow ourselves to take the time to deliver this plan well, as opposed to rushing it.
OUR PLAN FOR 2021
- Focus our support on 2 social justice causes
We’ve asked our faculty of teachers and HQ team, and the causes we have decided to focus on for 2021 are:
– Racial and ethnic discrimination
– Poverty and low income
- Find partners to launch initiatives with
Our DEI plan will be iterative, and we want to appoint two partners, with whom our school resonates, in order to agree what actions need to be taken at our level to best serve the communities we wish to support – for they are their communities, with specific needs and goals. We have ideas, which we will bring to the table – such as creating a bursary programme or increasing access to yoga classes in underserved London communities. But we want to make sure they’re the right ideas. We will update you once we have found these partners, but if you want to suggest any association or charity, please let us know.
- Build towards intersectionality
We recognise that certain individuals face multiple and intersecting forms of structural discrimination, and that here is no singular way of experiencing an injustice. Varied voices and perspectives need to be considered in order to make real, lasting, and equitable change. Throughout this DEI journey and together with our team and partners, we will strive to better understand and consider intersectionality.
Thanks for reading this far, and all the best for 2021!
One of our own – Peter Ogazi – trained with YogaLondon back in 2011. Currently a secondary school teacher as well, he’s taught a wide range of students since then through his business ‘yogazi’. He is a fighter for social justice, deeply chilled, strong, and, by his own admission, a private person. So we appreciate his chatting to us about all things yoga even more.
1. How did you get into yoga?
I’ve been a practitioner of yoga for a good twenty-odd years. I got into yoga because I was originally into martial arts and kickboxing, and someone from that world told me that yoga would improve my practice. So I went along to the Buddhist center in Manchester city centre and I found that not only did it improve my martial arts practice quite considerably, it also enhanced other aspect of my life too. So I started going quite regularly, till I noticed that I was more relaxed and that I had got rid of a hell of a lot of anger.
2. What prompted you to become a yoga teacher?
Encouraged by this I trained to become a teacher with YogaLondon in 2011. I think another thing that prompted me to become a teacher was that I felt there was a need for yoga in Afro-Caribbean and working communities. There’s a stereotypical idea of a yoga teacher that can put some people off. Personally, it’s never bothered me that on most occasions I’m the only person of colour at yoga events – it’s never made me feel uncomfortable. But there is a need for it to be spread out wider, so that’s maybe why I became a yoga teacher.
3. How has yoga changed you as a person?
Yoga has changed me quite considerably. I used to be quite an anxious person socially, but it helped me to chill out more and to be more comfortable in my own skin. When you’ve done yoga regularly for a long time and then you don’t do it, you realise that you’re missing it, and that’s when you know it’s having a positive effect.
4. What’s your home practice like?
My home practice is quite good. I’m quite regular with it. But, these days I don’t go at it like I did when I first qualified as a teacher. Back then I was doing it twice a day – I almost became a perfectionist. But it got to the point when I did have to cool down a little because I was becoming very, very tired. I still practice, but now it’s three or four times a week and not twice a day.
5. What type of yoga do you practice?
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of yin yoga and I’m really feeling the benefits of adding it to my practice. I’ve done a little bit of Iyengar, and from there I started doing Ashtanga yoga and that became my favourite, along with Vinyasa flow. I’ve done a little bit of hot yoga as well but I didn’t really take to that.
6. What would you still like to do with your yoga teaching?
Three years ago I set up a community interest company with the aim of spreading yoga to hard-to-reach groups, which I ran for about two years. Through this CIC I collaborated with the Manchester Mental Health & Social Care Trust and ran yoga classes for people with varying degrees of mental health problems, such as clinical depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. I also worked with disadvantaged young people who were on the verge of social exclusion. Plus the Greater Manchester Fire Service as well. I also worked for Christie’s Hospital here in Manchester and taught yoga to people with various types of cancer.
I’m thinking of doing this again and sticking to it. In the last couple of years, I’ve been working at a secondary school and that’s taken up a lot of my time and I’ve had to cut down on my yoga classes and I knock CIC on the head. In the future, I can see myself going down that route again, and making it a lot more sustainable.
7. What are your yoga goals?
I’ve wanted to do a retreat for a while, but the only thing that’s put me off is that I’m quite a private person – I need my own space. I imagine being on a yoga retreat you’re around people 24/7 and you’re the centre of attention all the time. I could collaborate with other yoga teachers to make it work.
8. You’ve taught a wide range of students. How do you adapt your classes for less able students?
As soon as you walk into a room you get the energy. I’ve taught various groups, so for instance with a group of young people with learning difficulties I’m not going to be teaching an experienced ashtanga class, I’ll teach them some chair yoga, basic moves, and basic breath exercises.
When I teach boxers and martial artists they want more dynamic stuff and to keep on moving, I wouldn’t go in there and start singing Oms. You have to adapt each class to their particular needs.
9. What would your advice be to someone who’s thinking about becoming a yoga teacher?
To be very, very open-minded. To be clear and concise when you’re teaching, and not to make assumptions. Avoid what I call flimmy flammy language and make yourself understood. I also avoid music in classes because music is such a personal choice and can be quite off-putting.
And it can be quite hard and challenging. It’s not the stereotype of what a yoga teacher is, almost a permanent holiday with a smile on your face. But the rewards definitely outweigh the negatives.
10. How important is humour in yoga?
You have to have a sense of humour, most definitely! There’s a time and a place for things to be serious. It’s very, very important to have a sense of humour sometimes and not take things too seriously, particularly when you’re in an intimate space with people and everything’s quiet and then all of sudden maybe someone farts!
11. In your opinion, how can the yoga industry improve the representation of POC, both as teachers and students?
We need to show that it’s not just middle-class white women that do this. In magazines and general media, it would be very, very beneficial to have more representation out there as that attracts more people. As I’ve said before, just the fact that I’m teaching yoga attracts people. When I started teaching in a community centre up here I got a wide range of clients – not just people of colour, but from white working-class backgrounds – just the simple fact that I was a little bit different, and didn’t fit into the stereotype of what a yoga teacher should be, gave them the confidence to come to the class.
As well as that, we need more men doing yoga. A lot of men assume that yoga is just for women and I’ve had to break that stereotype down. When I taught male boxers and martial artists they thought was just going to be a ‘little stretch’ and after 20 minutes, I kid you not, they’re all crying and making all sorts of noises because they’re working muscles and ligaments that they’ve never worked before!
Also, a lot of men these days of a certain age don’t know where they are, and how they fit into the world. They’re quite angry as well, and yoga can be very, very beneficial in calming them down. A yoga class can offer them not only a sense of community but also offers balance and a way to chill out.
12. Describe what yoga means to you in three words.
It’s such an all-encompassing part of my life that it’s hard to think of three, but definitely relaxation, profound and chilled.
Check out Peter’s website at Yogazi
This action plan seeks to recognise, address and combat racial, structural and social inequality within YogaLondon. This draft will be reviewed and expanded upon as we learn, grow and receive external advice from D&I stakeholders, whom we are currently reaching out to.
1. LISTEN & EDUCATE OURSELVES
As we begin on our journey of self-improvement, we recognise that we have unconscious bias and therefore need to educate ourselves in order to fully comprehend how to best take positive action.
- Build a D&I advisory board
- Reach out to activists and diversity voices in the yoga community
- Bring on board a London-based inclusion trainer in an ongoing advisory capacity
- Refine this Action Plan with our advisors
- Implement training resources and share learnings internally
- Dismantling racism training for our team
- Reading materials shared amongst staff
- Internal forum to share information
- Get feedback from our faculty and broader community
- Grads & students: D&I survey went out in the 12th June newsletter to help us gain a deeper understanding of diverse backgrounds’ experiences at our school, and to open the conversation with those willing to help us.
- YL team: share this work-in-progress with the team to get their input and ideas.
2. TAKE VISIBLE ACTION
This is important for us to share our journey with our community, to hold ourselves accountable:
- Share this aspirational plan publicly – here and relayed on our social channels and newsletter.
- Join the ‘amplify melanated voices’ campaign in our own way by making our next interview a black voice from our community. We want this to become a regular series of interviews to promote and amplify people with diverse backgrounds, including but not limited to people with diverse ethnic or social backgrounds.
- Ensure all the YogaLondon channels showcase teachers and students from diverse backgrounds, therefore signalling we are open to all as recommended by change activists.
- Report on our progress and new iterations of this plan publicly on a quarterly basis, for accountability reasons.
3. IMPLEMENT DEEP CHANGES
As we want to change ourselves structurally, we believe taking actions that will take longer to implement, but will have a lasting effect, is paramount:
- Provide training for our teaching team and “back-office” staff. We’re currently reaching out to training providers, with a view to deliver the training as soon as possible.
- Adjust our 200-hr curriculum to include a specific class focused on diversity and inclusion in yoga, plus key topics embedded throughout the course, starting September 2020.
- Design and add a 500RYT anti-racism CPD, subsidised by YogaLondon to ensure as many students as possible can educate themselves on this topic, starting Autumn 2020.
- Offer free community yoga classes in under-served areas of London, delivered by YogaLondon students and grads so they can gain experience as a teacher.
- Start a bursary programme, to give access to free YTT. We aim to partner up with relevant charities, who will select a candidate on our behalf; we will begin by selecting two charities for 2020.
- Gather data to monitor ethnic ratios within the business and take positive action to regroup from groups that are under-represented. Our long-term goal would be to have an ethnic make-up in line with the London population.
- Appoint board member(s) with diverse backgrounds, to help keep this D&I focus to the forefront of our business decisions from the top down.
To be reviewed and updated as part of our quarterly progress update.
Do you have any feedback for us? We’d love to hear it.