Vitriol against People of Color Yoga shows exactly why it’s necessary

A screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga's website on Monday. "My intention was always to be inclusive," the owner wrote. (Screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga.)
A screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga’s website on Monday. “My intention was always to be inclusive,” owner Laura Humpf wrote. (Screenshot of Rainier Beach Yoga’s website.)

“I couldn’t care less if people color said we want to do a yoga class and we don’t want ‘whitey’ there, I have zero problem with that at all,” conservative radio host Dori Monson read in an email sent to him by listener. “Of course the difference is that this yoga class in Seattle is going to be celebrated because it’s so progressive to exclude white people.”

Monson’s listener had received an email from Rainier Beach Yoga, announcing the studio’s plans to host yoga for People of Color once a week.

After Monson’s segment condemning the class as racist, the instructor of POC Yoga and the owner of Rainier Beach Yoga have been harassed and received death threats. People of Color yoga, which has been running for five years, has been cancelled and all the other classes at Rainier Beach Yoga have been put on hold.

Because of the threats and harassment neither the instructors or students of POC yoga feel safe enough to continue their practice at this time.

“It is truly heartbreaking that POC yoga is in the limelight under these circumstances,” Teresa Wang, the co-founder of the class, said in an email responding to my questions. “We have [been] meeting for nearly five years without any incidents of participants feeling discriminated against or excluded. We have never advertised our classes. Any outreach has been limited to other private groups that have members who identify as people of color.”

Wang says the class is meant to make the practice of yoga — which can make people feel more vulnerable — more inclusive, not less.

“POC Yoga strongly believes that our group should have a space in our communities that is safe for people of color. Yes, the people in our group have asked that our white friends and allies respectfully not attend to allow people of color this space. We asked; we did not demand it, and we never turned anyone away.”

As a Rainier Beach resident who would have jumped at the chance to take the class if I’d known about it, I am deeply disappointed that it’s been cancelled. I’m also disturbed by Monson’s use of privilege to completely truncate the discussion on why such a class might be necessary.

For an analogy, I visited Rainier Health and Fitness (RHF), a community gym where they have instituted a practice of women’s only workout hours. The classes aim to address the reasons that women might otherwise avoid the gym.

“It’s just that, just really being intentional about who are instructing the classes, making sure that they are women creating an encouraging environment, not an intimidating environment,” said Alicia Haskin, operations manager at the gym. Childcare is also provided during those hours, she said.

Gym manager Patrick Otieno said other members have been understanding why a class specifically geared toward women is needed.

“I’ve never met any member who’s cancelled because of ladies night, but I think it’s because we do a good job of explaining it,” he said.

Many Muslim women and orthodox Jewish women feel more comfortable working out in single-sex environments because of their religious views.

The Rainier Beach Community Center also hosts women-only swimming hours that serve the needs of a community with a diverse set of cultural attitudes and values around exercise.

“It depends on the demographic you’re dealing with,” Otieno said. “For a typical Somali guy, he would really understand why you’re offering ladies night because they do understand in their culture that women cannot exercise where the men are. So if you offer a safe environment, it’s good.”

But can a white person like Monson understand why a person of color might want to practice yoga in a safe environment? Can there be an acknowledgement that daily injustices — from the trivial to the life-threatening — faced by people of color in this country has an effect how we define safety?

“The uproar that we have seen is exactly why POC’s seek safe spaces such as POC Yoga. In fact, the death threats that we have received are only a reminder of how unwelcome we are among many white people. How could we possibly want to practice yoga in a majority white yoga studio?” Wang said.

Though yoga is a practice from India, in Seattle the demographics of most yoga classes are predominantly white and female. There is no sign saying that someone that looks like me isn’t welcome. But ask me how welcome I feel when entering that environment ostensibly to engage in a practice where I will be vulnerable and in my body.

“Prior to the founding of POC Yoga, all yoga studios in the Seattle metropolitan area were overwhelmingly white spaces where people of color frequently felt uncomfortable. As a result, many people of color chose not to enter these studios and did not have access to the benefits of yoga, which have been well documented and are widely recognized,” said Wang. She and other yoga practitioners decided to address this by creating a safe environment to explore yoga for people of color and people identifying as queer.

Rainer Beach Yoga is being vilified for using discriminatory language for doing what every other gym in Rainier Beach seems to be doing — taking steps to address the needs of the community it serves.

But for now, that won’t be the case. After the uproar, the owner of Rainier Beach Yoga studio, Laura Humpf, posted an apology on the website.

My intention in offering my space to POC Yoga was to offer a widely inclusive healing space where all people could receive the benefits of yoga,” explained Humpf. “I never intended to exclude anyone based on race or ethnicity. I have several classes on my schedule that are open to everyone, and my intention in bringing this class to Rainier Beach Yoga was to encourage more inclusivity within our diverse community in Seattle.”

What’s next after banning POC yoga? Should we ban prenatal yoga too? Women who aren’t able to get pregnant might feel excluded. The class also ignores men’s needs. What about yoga for people with disabilities or kids?

There are all kinds of yoga classes for all kinds of demographics of people. But because Monson doesn’t see the value in POC yoga, now I don’t get to practice self-care in a community where I might feel more comfortable.

“Yoga for me is a universal concept,” yoga instructor Sweta Saraogi said. Saraogi mostly teaches private classes because she prefers to share the tradition one on one. She is the yoga teacher I turned to for private lessons when I no longer felt comfortable doing group yoga. “I feel yoga should be open to everyone. And its not about just color, shape size, gender, even physical capabilities.”

When asked her view of POC yoga she didn’t view it as exclusionary. “The idea of creating a certain class is not to exclude somebody. The idea of creating a class is to make sure that they feel comfortable practicing. Its not about exclusion, it’s about giving opportunities in different ways so that people can practice yoga.


UPDATE 10/23/15: Seattle Police say they’re conducting an investigation of “malicious harassment” based on threats to the studio. And the Seattle Office of Civil rights is pursuing a discrimination complaint against the studio for offering POC only classes. More details here from reporter Sarah Stuteville.

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Reagan Jackson
Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, activist, international educator and award winning journalist. She's been a regular contributor to the Seattle Globalist since 2013. Her self published works include two children's books (Coco LaSwish: A Fish from a Different Rainbow and Coco LaSwish: When Rainbows Go Blue) and three collections of poetry (God, Hair, Love, and America, Love and Guatemala, and Summoning Unicorns). To find out more check her out at


  1. I can feel the agony Reagan. Teaching yoga has been the hardest thing I have even done as an Indian Yoga Teacher.
    I am so glad that you are raising yoga awareness through this article.
    THIS is the reason why I teach only private yoga….
    Diversity for me means brining yoga to everyone..all shapes, age, color, gender and ethnicity. Yoga is universal!

  2. I’m going to get a ton of white people to eat Chipotle and then show up to each of these classes and fart the entire time.

  3. There is a difference between “women only” and “POC only” due to the fact that men act creepy around women in gym/yoga environments. The author’s suggestion that POC are not safe due to whites is dishonest- the facts of race and violence in this city/state/country are out there. Whites are not victimizing POC at high rates. POC are victimizing other POC at high rates though. It is also dishonest to state that the non-white environment frees POC from having to deal with racist attitudes. Blacks, Asians, Hispanics, and Arabs are never racist to each other? Give me a break, I see it all the time. Having said that, I pick my battles and would not have chosen to stand in a way of this POC-only event.

    • I think the very fact that the very existence of this class provoked death threats against the teacher and studio is clear evidence that POC experience violent racism in this country.

      • How can you tell, though, if the backlash against this is coming from a place of true racism, of white supremacy and hostility towards minorities, or if its just coming from a place of fear and defensiveness at a growing anti-white sentiment in society, coupled with the commonly-repeated perception that whites shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves against it and have to “accept their punishment”, so to say, for history?

      • That doesn’t follow at all.
        They didn’t receive hatred BECAUSE they’re people of colour.
        They received hatred because they’re racists. It is the correct response to people trying to segregate society.

      • When a race is blamed constantly for the problems of another and for treating them a certain way, and then are treated the exact same way (segregation) and on top of that they are accused of being violent and creating an unsafe space for all people of color, you’re going to really piss people off. Do you really think there are gangs of white girls/guys threatening the lives or safety of people of color at yoga studios? You all are idiots and are the reason racism keeps getting passed down to the younger generations. Stop being so petty and try to unite you idiots. I mean really, this is insane.

    • uhm, whites have and do victimize PoC at high rates, and whites kill whites at high rates, the fsct thst you even think that only PoC are killing each other and whites are innocent as if whites havent been behind many mass killings and race-based genocide and slavery just shows your ignorance and why PoC might want you to stay away from them occcassionally.

      • I think her point was just that why should POC feel uncomfortable *only* around Caucasians, but not feel uncomfortable around people of different color, when violence and racism between minority groups is just as real as violence and racism coming from whites?

      • I look 100% white, however, I’m half black and half white. Would you let me in the door? Or, even want me there if I didn’t tell you?

  4. It’s sad that people would harass this yoga instructor but at the same time I’m really not a fan of segregation. If this is what people think the struggle is these days “POC yoga” that’s kinda sad too. “POC” is a rather meaningless bureaucratic term. Does anyone really call themselves that? If it was billed as a white yoga class there would be a lot of outrage too.

    • Go to the south and ask pro segregation whites and they will endorse POC yoga classes and white yoga classes wholeheartedly, they claim that they are not bigoted, segregation just helps everyone feel more comfortable. If this class is at a public facility there are actually potential legal issues with it. None of that justifies the harassment and hatefulness. Dori Monson is a complete jerk, everybody knows that.

  5. Threats of violence are never okay, especially over something like a yoga class. One of the things that I love the most about SE Seattle is the broad range of people. When my grandmother grew up in Columbia City there was a lot of prejudism against Italian Americans and the area was one the only areas that Italians were welcomed. My grandmother endured a lot of flack and racial slurs from other kids because she befriended and defended the Italian kids and raised us to endure and to see past racial and ethic differences and to judge people by their character.
    Now as an adult and a member of a mixed race family myself it makes me feel a little uncomfortable that this is happening again in our neighborhood. I’m all for creating groups that support and encourage any race, sex, class or type of people. You want to create a yoga class for transgendered republican accountants of Chilean heritage? Go for it! The problem comes for me when any group becomes *excluded* based solely on the color of their skin, that crosses a line for me and for a lot of people. Especially in our family and community that celebrates so many different shades of brown, who is to decide who has enough color to attend one of these classes?
    It is terrible that they have had to endure so much hatred spewed towards their yoga studio and I would hope that we would be able to discuss our differences without threats of violence or threats of any kind for that matter. This is a learning moment for all of us.

  6. What many people don’t understand is that racism is one-way. The dominant race cannot, by definition, experience racism. What they mistake for racism is the backlash, the resentment, caused by racism. A class that specifically excluded PoC would be racist. In the context of a white-dominated society, a class restricted to PoC is not. The simple-minded ignoring of history and culture required to call it racist will unfortunately always be with us.

    • The problem there is “by definition” depends entirely on how you want to define racism. Is it defined only by its outcome, or is it something that can exist even without a demonstrable expression? I would personally argue that racism is not conditional – a white person who hates black people and thinks they’re inherently inferior is racist in America, and is still racist in modern-day South Africa.

      And then, also, it depends how you measure “dominance”, and how far out you look to determine the “context” of a situation. Example: look at most pro sports. Do you just look on the field, or include the front office, the executive box, the entire industry, or the country as a whole? Who’s the “dominant” race “in that context”? Depending how you frame the question, you could easily make an argument either way.

    • Your comment, on it’s face, is ridiculous.

      Of course white people can and do experience racism. We experience all the time in college admissions, where less qualified PoCs are admitted over white people with higher credentials for the sake of “diversity.” We experience it in employment with the federal government, that employs almost 2 million people, almost 50% of which are people of color but yet non-PoC are over 65% of the US population.

      Your statement the dominant race “cannot experience racism” is itself racist.

      • No I work in college admissions, it doesn’t work like that. Over qualified poor poc and under qualified affluent whites get priority, less qualified poc and less qualified whites are both denied. It’s such a myth, that makes people think uneducated poc stole their opportunities. There are 13% blacks in this country, they don’t even have the numbers to take anything away from the majority. So many myths out there.

    • This isn’t the Netherlands. We are not a “white dominated society”.

      That is one of the most absurd and laughable bits of excuses and justifications EVER for you being a bigot.

    • You’re playing with semantics to try and excuse bigotry. Most dictionaries define racism as just prejudice based on someone’s race (type it into google right now, that’s the definition it gives). That, by definition, can be directed at ANY race.
      Of course it’s worse when it’s directed at disenfranchised minorities. But it’s never a good thing. Full stop.

  7. The problem is you either have idealism or you have pragmatism. Either things should adhere to a universal standard, or they should adhere to the practical facts of reality. And both sides of the political spectrum are somewhat guilty of flip-flopping between the, as is convenient for whatever the issue is, depending which one better fits their predisposition.

    Why is it OK for a privately-owned business to offer “POC-only” services, but its illegal and wrong for, say, a business to only offer “straight-only” services? Why is it any different than a florist posting a sign saying “gays are respectfully asked to find another florist for their wedding services”, even if they don’t out-and-out refuse to do gay weddings? Why are people arguing that “its OK because white people can still do yoga at a dozen other studios in town” but you cant argue that “its OK because gay people can still get flowers from a dozen other florists in town”? Or using another demographic axis…would it be OK for a restaurant to have a “whites only lunch” on Thursdays, just to provide a place for white people to have lunch surrounded only by those who share a common social experience?

    Either we adhere to the idealism that color, sexuality, sex, income, etc. shouldn’t matter and should never be used to discriminate….or we adhere to the pragmatism that people can choose to associate with others however they see fit, even in business. But you cant say that one group of people has the right to associate as they see fit, while another does not.

  8. The same people that support this would be the same people demanding lawsuits, and protesting if a yoga studio asked people of color not to attend because white people needed a place where they could feel safe.

  9. There are many classes offered for particular ‘target’ or special interest groups: youth, moms, elderly, to create comfort-safety-and a tailored program… I don’t see that as discrimination. The default is ‘majority’ = white (or straight). So “white” only — or “straight” only — would be exclusionary and discriminatory. I agree, no one can be barred – if anyone is insensitive enough to want ‘invade’ such a desired space, let them in … It’s a matter of courtesy, sensitivity, respect – not legality. For my part, I would be happy to stand at the door of the class and welcome people and explain to anyone not a POC why we, as allies, (I am white) can show our support by standing aside. We could use the time to grab a cup of coffee and caucus as white allies! How can we offer solidarity so this wonderful program does not get shut down? I notice how most of the yoga classes I have ever gone to seem 99% white/privileged… so why not create a more comfortable space for any community so desiring?

    • You are calling for segregation.

      You are calling for “inclusion” by intentionally excluding others.

      It wasn’t acceptable 70 years ago and it isn’t acceptable now, no matter how you try to spin it and justify it.

  10. Why did the gym and teacher give in to the threats? Sounds like they should practice some selfdefense or MMA along with their yoga to get tough and stand up to those rednecks.

    • Taking your question at face value and assuming you’re not just trolling here: Think about what just happened in Charleston. Wouldn’t you be afraid when a bunch of angry white people threatened your life? It’s easy for people who haven’t experienced systematic racism and violence to say, “oh, it’s not serious,” or “stand up to them.”

  11. I still hold out hope that yoga can be a tool used to heal the raw and ugly racial wounds (and insidious micro aggressions) that this country still experiences. Given that legal apartheid was the law of the land a mere 40 years ago, this is going to take some time however. Until then, it seems like a useless step backwards if we take away safe spaces of any kind.

  12. Nope. 100% unacceptable. You don’t “include” people by excluding others.

    Your personal beliefs are completely irrelevant when it comes to running a business. You must serve ALL people. Period.

    I do believe all the death threats and closed businesses OTHERS have suffered have clearly shown that.

    You don’t get to cherry-pick who to exclude because it’s YOUR personal position. Either excluding groups is okay for every business or it’s okay for NONE.

    Otherwise it’s a load of hypocritical BS.

    Sorry to drop a reality a bomb on you.

  13. Given all the above is fair enough…You must be oK then with “white only” or “men only” clubs. If you don’t like the heat, stay out of the kitchen. If I want drivers to use their turn signal, I must use my turn signal. I don’t think its ok to immerse yourself in an issue, and then run away when the tables are turned, or “others” want to play too.

    • There are plenty of men only classes and activities at the gymi use to go to, there is even a “curvy girl” yoga class because heavier women feel intimidated working out with thin chicks. One little poc yoga class that affects positively only the women who go. It is very intimidating for black women to walk into all white environment s and feel welcomed. And not stared at or ignored. And because these studios are 99% white its hard. Id like to think of myself as progressive but it often feels uncomfortable, but I go anyway. I wonder if they don’t like blacks, or whether they don’t really want me there. My last boyfriend was white and his family was very nice to me, but the things he told me they would say about blacks made me feel ashamed and uncomfortable in their presence. It’s hard and classes like yhses simply offer a buffer for more self conscious people of color. Yoga is very intimate.

    • If you have ever been to a yoga studio, as I have, plenty, for years, because whites are the majority, 99% of the time they are ALL white and not always very warm and inviting.

  14. I get this, this is why I happened upon this page. I’ve been going to a popular yoga studio in Dallas and aft three years I find myself always being the only brown person in the room, this is also at work and as I work on another graduate degree, its the same in class. I’m invisible mostly. Years at this studio and the main Anglo instructor I adore doesn’t even know my name. So I switched classes to a person of color instructor, who may be Brazilian, just made me feel noticed in her very large class, in that one day she actually used my name more than five times. She felt very comfortable touching and adjusting me. I’d like to think it has nothing to do with race, but white women ignore my presence all the time and if I say something they don’t like, I’m accused of being intimidating. Until you experience the difference one might not know how it feels to live in a predominantly white environment. The people of color yoga instructors are VERY warm to me, it felt very nice to be noticed after being a loyal client at this studio for years.

    • I think Jay makes a very interesting point. As in academics and other places, one of the solutions to the diversity issue is to train more POC as yoga teachers. That way, even if the majority of people in the class are white (which, in some places simply reflects the diversity, or lack thereof, of the people who live in the area) hopefully POC will feel more comfortable. I attend 2 different yoga classes in my community. One is taught by a white female and the other by a woman with brown skin. Slightly different yoga styles. Both highly beneficial. All I see is yoga — and that is as it should be “in a perfect world”.

  15. When a race is blamed constantly for the problems of another and for treating them a certain way, and then are treated the exact same way (segregation) and on top of that they are accused of being violent and creating an unsafe space for all people of color, you’re going to really piss people off. Do you really think there are gangs of white girls/guys threatening the lives or safety of people of color at yoga studios? You all are idiots and are the reason racism keeps getting passed down to the younger generations. Stop being so petty and try to unite you idiots. I mean really, this is insane.

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