I have been a dancer since I was 4. However, I didn’t get heavy into the fitness and wellness world until about 24. The concert dance world is an overwhelmingly white space where I spent many years, but that’s another story. I then worked the front desk at SoulCycle, which opened my eyes to the fitness industry. Soon after, I became a SoulCycle instructor in New York and later transferred to Los Angeles. Los Angeles is filled with health-conscious spaces and people, and I knew I’d fit right in.
After five years of teaching and immersing myself in the health and wellness spaces, I noticed how people who looked like me were often left out of conversations, panels, event invites, and a plethora of other opportunities. It was frustrating to observe Black and brown professionals like myself be consistently overlooked when trying to share our perspectives and knowledge as professionals. I also realized that the wealthy, well-connected, and well-off could afford to be in specific rooms and environments. In addition, fitness and yoga studios sell a gentrified and whitewashed version of what a soulful and spiritual connection to ourselves is at an expensive rate. In these spaces, though, knowledge, tradition, music, and spirituality are shared by people who rarely ever look like the people from which it derived.
One of the most frustrating things about the fitness industry in general and my personal teaching experience was the company mission not fully aligning with a lot of their actions. It was frustrating knowing that lucrative theme rides, weekly Hip Hop rides, and some of the most sought-after, fun, and edgy white instructors thrived because they relied heavily on Black music and culture. What was ironic was getting the company to celebrate Black History Month and doing something poignant on Martin Luther King Jr. day(one year completely neglecting to acknowledge the holiday) was such a struggle. June would come, and they had planned and prepared weeks ahead for Pride month, and no one in corporate could see how instructors and riders who identify as Black and LGBTQ+ could feel like only a piece of them is openly and willingly celebrated. There was a lack of true intersectionality in the space. It made me realize that SoulCycle isn’t the only health or wellness company that functioned dissonantly compared to its mission statements.
Now when I say wellness. My idea of wellness encompasses spiritual, mental, physical, and emotional wellness. Also, when I say black and brown, I am speaking to the different diasporas with roots in African, Indigenous, or Asian cultures (I have come to realize I’m not particularly eager to use the term BIPOC). Many wellness, health, and spiritual spaces are filled with white people “sharing” and selling practices and traditions from ancient African, Asian, and Indigenous people. It is confusing how white people often appropriate yoga classes, sound meditations, shamanic ritual circles, Ayurveda, and even Voodoo while voiding the people and cultures from which they originated.
Attending yoga classes made me uncomfortable because I was typically the only Black or brown person in the room. I would be present at events and panels and always wondered how not one Indian man or woman could be found to share their perspectives and teachings about Yoga or Ayurveda. I personally love Yin Yoga (founded by a white man), and I’d find myself wondering:
- Why isn’t space offered up to Asian instructors, who may have a much different perspective and way of teaching this Hatha and Taoist yoga-based style?
- Why am I constantly seeing white people who have appropriated the use of sage and palo santo explaining smudging rituals?
- Why are Black and brown faces, bodies, perspectives, and expertise not highlighted more on large health and wellness platforms?
I have to dig to find certain social media accounts because they have small followings or are pushed down the algorithm totem pole; it is pretty frustrating.
I’m not saying that white people can’t take part and share what they know from cultures outside of theirs, especially if you are committed to taking time to understand and learn genuinely. I’m saying inclusivity and intersectionality aren’t present in many of these spaces that should be accessible. We all want to be well and deserve to be well, yet many of us can see and feel when an environment isn’t made for us to be seen or heard. So many professionals contribute by the fashion in which they market their offerings and by only making themselves accessible to a particular tax bracket or celebrity clientele. It seems to be the new way to exclude specific demographics of people. So many want to align with social media trends, influencers, and brands to get ahead and build social currency. They willingly subscribe and participate (consciously or not) in pushing the idea that wellness, health, spirituality, and enlightenment are exclusive. Access to knowledge, practitioners, safe spaces, and sanctuaries, should be diverse and not just because one touts the word and believes that is enough.
Many health and wellness spaces can’t exist without the practices and cultures of people of color worldwide. Many brands claimed to be listening and learning in 2020. They seemed to understand this erasure when the world was protesting, and Covid forced us to personally look inward and take accountability for how we contribute to our communities and society. Unfortunately, it seems not much has changed, and I’ve noticed that people and companies walked the walk for a few months and slowly reverted.
Suppose you are a wellness publication, yoga studio owner, fitness studio owner, brand owner, or do anything else that focuses on wellness. I ask that you reflect on the questions below.
- What are you doing to acknowledge or include voices from the people who are a part of and come from the cultures you exploit?
- How can you do your part to change and help stop the erasure of minority professionals in the health and wellness space?
- How can your community and space provide an inviting, genuinely inclusive, and comfortable atmosphere for black, brown, and differently-abled people seeking space and support for their wellness journey?