The Black Lives Matter movement caused many business owners and marketing teams to scramble for a band aid or quick fix to a much larger problem. Michelle Young, of My Vinyasa Practice, however was quick to jump to the front line, addressing racism in her own industry with a gesture that will diversify and add black representation to the yoga world for decades to come.
In May 2020, Michelle partnered with Yoga Pose to offer a 200-hour yoga teacher training scholarship to members of the black community. The program was inspired by discussions with black leaders in the wellness industry who voiced the lack of diversity and Black representation at fitness centers and yoga studios. Over the course of just two months, more than 7,500 Black aspiring yoga teachers enrolled in the scholarship program, attending an 8-week online yoga training course through My Vinyasa Practice. Every graduate from the program will be certified to teach yoga at a studio, reinventing what the stereotypical yogi looks like.
Michelle has a history of breaking stereotypes in her industry though. My Vinyasa Practice was just the first of her revolutionary pursuits. With a focus on accessible yoga and the practice’s spiritual lineage, Michelle aimed to reverse the western idea that yoga is only to be used for fitness, and instead focuses on spirituality and history throughout her online teacher training courses.
She engages in face-to-face conference meetings with her students, where they discuss lessons beyond the physical, and most of her working days are spent meeting with those enrolled in her courses. The impact of this personalized yoga training is noticeable by the way that students speak of Michelle and her program, she is less of an online business owner, and more so a mentor for growth, spirituality and mindfulness.
That mindfulness is not solely present in her work life though. Michelle has raised her children through a lens of mindfulness. She is dedicated to spending time with her family and to opening discussions, she is always evolving and listening to the voices of others, understanding and adapting in her own way.
It’s no surprise then that the early waves of the Black Lives Matter movement brought about a slew of emotions that led to a grandstand change. “At first I was angry, how could I be considered racist?,” says Michelle when she first started to self-evaluate her own actions, “and then I realized that my anger is just my own ignorance.” After taking a step back, Michelle says that she just wants to be transparent about the changes at hand, and openly address and recognize times when she herself has unknowingly exercised her white privilege.
The answer is largely to add more Black representation and to welcome Black members of the community into yoga spaces. Michelle herself is in the process of refilming all of her courses to be more diverse, additionally, she is hiring numerous participants from the Black Yoga Teacher Training Scholarship program to work as part of her online studio. She is also turning to social media to help ramp up awareness for diversity in the yoga world, and creating a hashtag to grow positive Black yoga images.
The scholarship program is not the last step in the mission to diversify yoga. Next, My Vinyasa Practice is launching a nationwide diversity initiative that relies on volunteers from the scholarship program to get out in the community and host events that will teach yoga and mindfulness to audiences that typically feel yoga is not for them. Each volunteer will be required to commit for one year. My Vinyasa Practice is donating $500 each quarter to each volunteer to host events in their community with the mission of diversifying yoga within their communities. The program is set to launch on October 1, 2020.
When asked her advice to all students enrolled in the yoga scholarship program, Michelle’s strongest sentiment was to move forward with your training. “I hope it gives them [yoga students] the tools to drive forward in their healing work.” And, for many students, that is exactly what they intend to do.
One student, Nelda Bazil, explained the importance of prioritizing fitness within her community. “My wish is that we build a mindset where fitness becomes so innate that it can be thought of the same way we get up in the morning, and just brush our teeth.” It is clear that for many enrolled in the scholarship program, that yoga will have a generational impact, “Sustainability is key, and any success at creating that mindset now, would assure we are able to transition that mindset to the next generation of our children,” explains Nelda.