Dr Adrienne Milner (@drmilneryoga) is Senior Lecturer at Brunel University London in Sport, Health, and Exercise Sciences and was previously Lecturer in Global Public Health at Queen Mary University of London. Adrienne was a former competitive college basketball player, and began practicing yoga after a car accident ended her athletic career and left her with serious injuries. Upon seeing how yoga improved her own physical condition, she decided to pursue teacher training in order to help others do the same. In addition to teaching yoga, Adrienne has been teaching at the university level for over 10 years and also leads a course for yoga teachers and studios: ‘Diversity and Inclusion in Yoga: Social Issues and Activism.’ She has numerous peer-reviewed publications, and is co-author with Prof Jomills Henry Braddock II of the monograph, Sex Segregation in Sports: Why Separate Is Not Equal and co-editor with Prof Braddock of the collection, Women in Sports: Breaking Barriers, Facing Obstacles. In order to maintain a healthy mind while researching mentally taxing issues such as police brutality, violence against transgender individuals, and high-risk injury, Adrienne does not answer emails after 10PM, avoids tourist destinations, and practices yoga. In this blog post, she discusses the importance of diversity and yoga, and its connection with mental health and body image:
Yogis in London typically are tiny, spiritual, actresses/dancers/gymnasts. I’m a tall, broad, scientist. However, I, like the majority of yoga teachers in London, am a white, cisgender woman with a conventionally appropriate body type. The overwhelming whiteness and feminisation of London yoga is evident in classes and studios, on social media and website pages, and in teacher training cohorts and materials. I’m passionate about diversity in yoga in terms of race/ethnicity, sex/gender, socioeconomic status, (dis)ability status, age, and body type not just because it’s ethical, but because empirical evidence consistently shows that increases in diversity result in improvement in individual and organisational performance and outcomes. Furthermore, we need more diversity in our yoga studios, teachers, and classes because the benefits of yoga for both physical and mental health are expansive–more people receiving such benefits would result in increased overall public health.
The yoga industry is responsible for increasing representation among people of colour, LGBTQ persons, the economically disadvantaged, disabled persons, older individuals, and those of a wide variety of sizes because health disparities are perpetuated when only white, heterosexual, rich, young, able-bodied women are able to access the practice. Moreover, people come to yoga for healing from a wide range of both physical, and also mental issues, including eating disorders, substance misuse, sexual assault and abuse, anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The more diverse yoga studios, teachers, and students are, the better able they are equipped to provide support to communities with unique needs.
In order to promote diversity in yoga, it takes both critical self-reflection on what past and current practices may have served as barriers to inclusion as well as proactive and intentional action to recruit diverse staff and students. Those, like myself, with privilege working in the industry must do the work, spend the time and emotional energy first learning about how racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ageism, and other types of discrimination manifest in yoga. We should seek to apply that knowledge to recognising how our places of employment, our teaching, our relationships, and our image may perpetuate these isms, and apologise where appropriate. We should then strive to take action not only to reverse any wrongs, but to intentionally employ diverse persons and attract diverse clientele.