As a loose follow-up to the 8 Limbs workshop facilitated by Dr. Caprice Hollins in April 2016, yogis gathered yet again at 8 Limbs this past Wednesday to do work on cultural competency in the yoga business. The workshop, Cultural Competency: A Conversation, was facilitated by RW Alves and Krista Hanson and provided an opportunity for yoga business leaders to dig deeper into the topic of cultural competency.

For the purpose of this article we will use Cultural Competency as defined by a A Project of the National Center for Cultural Competence:

“There is no definition of cultural competence. Definitions of cultural competence have evolved from diverse perspectives, interests and needs and are incorporated in state legislation, Federal statutes and programs, private sector organizations and academic setting.”….” Cultural competence is a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency or among professionals and enable that system, agency or those professions to work effectively in cross-cultural situations.”

“The word culture is used because it implies the integrated pattern of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, actions, customs, beliefs, values and institutions of a racial, ethnic, religious or social group. The word competence is used because it implies having the capacity to function effectively.

Five essential elements contribute to a system’s institution’s, or agency’s ability to become more culturally competent which include:

  • Valuing diversity
  • Having the capacity for cultural self-assessment
  • Being conscious of the dynamics inherent when cultures interact
  • Having institutionalized culture knowledge
  • Having developed adaptations to service delivery reflecting an understanding of cultural diversity
  • These five elements should be manifested at every level of an organization including policy making, administrative, and practice. Further these elements should be reflected in the attitudes, structures, policies and services of the organization.”
While walking in, I couldn’t help but revisit my intention, asking myself why do I do this work and why did I attend this discussion?

For me, my answer is clear. Cultural competency was touched on November 2015 by the Seattle Yoga News’ Yoga Opinions writer Dear Agni and revisited Wednesday by RW and Krista this past week. A Rainer Beach Area yoga studio that was offered a space for a people of color (POC) yoga class received harassing and threatening calls, messages and emails when a local radio show brought attention to their class for POC. This caused the studio to close their doors out of fear of the safety for the owners, instructors and students. When word spread throughout the yoga community, me, as well as many practitioners, instructors and studio owners throughout the Seattle area, began to open up the conversation of race and yoga. Anne Phyfe created a safe space for this discussion at 8 Limbs for the second time, which allowed yoga practitioners, instructors and studio owners to explore awareness of racial bias and white privilege throughout our yoga community.

My approach to this and all discussions are to begin at the beginning: what is cultural competency and what does it have to do with yoga?

My takeaway from our conversations on Wednesday was that raising awareness of oppression allows us to acknowledge that Seattle’s yoga community does not exist in a bubble. By understanding the ways in which racism and oppression creates and reinforces internalized, interpersonal, institutional and systemic privilege throughout our society, it becomes easier to understand how these elements of privilege and oppression play a part within our yoga community. By having these vulnerable and honest conversations, my hope is for leaders in the yoga community to continue to create a more inclusive and compassionate space for the diverse populations existing within the yoga community.

After exploring questions in breakout groups regarding guilt/shame, cultural appropriation, the history of colonialism and the barriers to inclusion (just to name a few) I wondered what actions I can take as a teacher and a practitioner? Some of the ideas raised by my group surrounding institutional (studio) level oppression were:

  • Be prepared to have some tough conversations. By understanding race, privilege and power dynamics, I realize how important it is to be open and create a safe space for respectful and honest conversations to take place. Classes have the possibility of creating a welcoming culture to a diverse group of people and perhaps an even safer space for current students when voices are heard.
  • Advertising. By opening social media and advertising to multiple channels, we can reach a diverse population. Identifying to whom and where we have been advertising and perhaps broadening into new untapped arenas to reach new communities will lead to broaden who we reach.
  • Challenging social norms and encouraging individuality. By recognizing that social norms are created and enforced by groups with privilege, not only in our society, but also in the microcosm of the yoga community, challenge what is viewed as “normal” for a yoga class. By acknowledging that western yogic communities have created what we consider the “normal yoga experience”, you will recognize where there is room for it to be revisited, redefined challenged and maybe changed while remaining authentic to yourself and your practice.
  • Get Involved and Take Action! Stay tuned to for upcoming conversations throughout the yoga community this fall and 8 Limbs has tentatively planned a Beyond Inclusion Beyond Empowerment training with Liz Goodwin on December 9th.

Join us in our future discussions as we continue to take action to make our yoga communities more inclusive.

[Photo by Carlo Scherer | CC BY]
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