The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast

189: Your Movement Science is Racist with Jesal Parikh

Racism, cultural appropriation, inclusivity and privilege – these are topics that may make us uncomfortable, but these are conversations that are all the more important to have. Jesal Parikh recently hosted a workshop entitled “Your Movement Science is Racist”, and in this episode, she explains how racism, appropriation and privilege shows up in movement science and other areas of the yoga and wellness industry.

Jesal Parikh is a yoga teacher, movement educator, author and co-host of the Yoga is Dead podcast. As an Indian-American yoga teacher who has experienced racism and discrimination in the yoga industry, Jesal strives to disrupt the current oppressive systems in yoga to make way for new paradigms and for diverse leadership in the industry. Through her personal brand, Yogawalla NYC, Jesal provides individual and group yoga as well as movement education and mentorship while working on creative solutions for equity in yoga. She also recently launched Yoga Teachers of Color, a grassroots movement that celebrates the diversity of the BIPOC community and advocates for more inclusivity, equity, and representation.

We often think of the data behind science as objective and unbiased, but as Jesal highlights in this interview, that is not the case. She shares her own experiences as a person from a marginalized community in the yoga industry, and explains why the benchmark or ideals may not reflect reality nor be relevant or applicable to people of different genetic or environmental backgrounds. Jesal also provides insights about creating safe and inclusive yoga spaces and how best to hold the yoga industry to a higher standard when it comes to representation and diversity.

This is a great discussion for anyone who is interested in inclusivity, equity, and representation within the yoga and wellness space, and for those who want to learn more and challenge their assumptions.

Key Takeaways:

[6:43] Shannon introduces her guest for this episode – Jesal Parikh.

[8:52] What does Jesal do and who does she do it for?

[10:53] What inspired Jesal to start her work in this space?

[14:00] Why is the yoga industry so “messed up”?

“We have no accountability in this industry.” ~ Jesal Parikh

[15:23] Jesal and Shannon discuss how they receive hate mail for the work that they do.

[17:55] What were some of the key areas of discussion in the workshop that Jesal led titled “Your Movement Science is Racist”?

[20:03] Jesal highlights some examples of health standards that do not take into account diversity across genetics, environment and other factors.

“Oftentimes, we like to assume in the science realm that the data itself is somehow objective, but it’s not.” ~ Jesal Parikh

[24:04] Shannon and Jesal discuss how even anatomy can be different among different populations.

[27:07] We need to question what is unsafe about certain movements and our own biases in saying certain things, instead of making assumptions about all bodies.

[00:29:23] Jesal emphasizes the point of asking for feedback.

[30:51] Jesal explains how yoga is curated has a big impact on who feels welcome and who doesn’t.

[33:04] How do we make sure that our spaces are safe and welcoming for everyone?

[37:30] We need to begin asking the questions about who is centered in the workshops or trainings or panels we attend to ensure that marginalized and underestimated populations are included.

“There is a double standard when we do the same thing we are seen differently, and yet again the profit potential for white folk is exponential, vs being a person of color or being South Asian.” ~ Jesal Parikh

[41:50] Shannon reflects on how willing we are to take a stand in a way that is going to upset a lot of people and take away opportunities from ourselves.

[46:06] There are some yoga teachers who are really reluctant to talk about these uncomfortable issues surrounding yoga. Jesal urges us to consider what it means to have “positive and constructive” conversations and who they are positive and constructive for.

[49:46] Jesal shares why bringing science into yoga and rebranding it into something new and amazing can be so harmful. 

“If you were to look at those ‘common ground’ things, we bring more of the other limbs of yoga into the practice.” ~ Jesal Parikh

[52:45] What is Jesal’s stance on incorporating other elements into yoga vs teaching the “pure” form of yoga?

[55:55] In many fields, from science to medicine to fashion, the data does not reflect the general population and cannot be used as a standard for everybody.

“For most things, in fitness and in yoga, the target audience is white folk. That’s the target audience, that’s who’s in mind when people are creating these products.” ~ Jesal Parikh

[58:59] When we think about creating safe spaces, we need to be honest about what we don’t have the capacity to cater to.

[1:03:24] Check out the resources Jesal has curated (link below) to learn more about this topic.

[1:07:07] Find out more about Jesal and the work that she does via her Instagram page and website.

[1:07:40] Join the conversation – how is racism showing up in your movement science and in yoga and wellness spaces?


Gratitude to our Sponsor Schedulicity and 2021 Planning Party.