EMERGING TO IMAGINE A MORE INCLUSIVE YOGA COMMUNITY:
CHANGING THE FACE OF FESTIVALS
by Lisette Cheresson
In recent years, there have been efforts to return yoga to its roots, led by South Asian and BIPOC community leaders and their white allies. Focusing on diversity and inclusion — and the sacred intent of the tradition — is nothing new for Heather Sanders, producer of the Sedona Yoga Festival (SYF). Over the past 10 years, SYF has continually provided a platform to elevate our collective consciousness, by holding space and extending invitations to presenters from all corners of the yoga world. This year, however, Sanders is taking this dedication one step further with the creation of a programming team, made up of luminaries: Reggie Hubbard, Arundhati Baitmangalkar, Danni Pomplun, Indy Rishi Singh, Johanna Beekman, and Sanders. Here’s what they have to say about their roles, and the importance of continuing to move the community forward with their work:
Founder of HaumSF, SYF Programming Team Lead, yoga educator, mentor, mental health advocate
The world only moves forward when we do it together, and I think it’s important to seek out those who don’t normally have the opportunity to have their voices elevated. As a queer Mexican-American, my voice adds to the mix to help create more diversity and inclusivity.
Founder of Active Peace Yoga
I truly believe that yoga is not a practice of comfort, but a practice that allows us to be comfortable with the uncomfortable. Prior to the pandemic, the yoga industry and community seemed to be insular; a recycling of familiar names that didn’t embrace the magic of diversity. As part of the SYF 2022 team, I strove to make the lineup diverse in all manner of speaking, and this year I hope to empower new voices, support established voices, and allow all participants to be transformed by the alchemy of new experiences. These are liminal times, rife with opportunity to set new norms and make the yoga community truly representative of all practitioners.
If a group of individuals come together, aligned with pure intention rooted in the heart and from a place of service, the sum of our somethings create a tapestry of connection tempered by our collective wisdom. Our work will expose SYF guests to different points of view, supported by a loving community to assist the evolution of consciousness in these liminal times.
Co-Founder of Cosmic Labyrinth, well-being engineer
Leadership is best demonstrated by those who are willing to put others first. Festival spaces are a terrific example of what human collaborative intention can produce. A lot of people have not experienced this because of a socioeconomic system that does not promote or support intentional spaces, unless they are excessively commercialized. A festival space like SYF can inspire a new presenter and empower them to facilitate healing and regenerative spaces where they live, or with communities that are facing difficult challenges. It can also inspire them to lean-in to the hope that is present when we collaborate to build something meaningful and healing for others.
Diversity allows us to thrive because we bring together different perspectives of health, happiness, and holiness. The fact that the people curating this festival are diverse speaks volumes to what will be produced. How often do we see this kind of diversity in the development of anything, let alone in the wellness space? This event may become a guiding post for other festivals to begin with a diverse curation team, instead of performance-diversity.
I’m hoping for an emergent experience of yoga that embodies the values, virtues and ethics of it. I hope the guests and the presenters/performers/facilitators learn new ways to bring those virtues and ethics to their respective communities once they leave the festival. I’m hoping that our collective intelligence supports an emergent movement to channel yoga for compassionate civic engagement that supports vulnerable communities throughout the country.
Yoga educator, studio owner, host of “Let’s Talk Yoga” podcast
I accepted the invitation to be a part of this team because I want Indian immigrant yoga teachers like me to be a part of such conversations. It’s long overdue. Heather was wonderfully transparent about her intentions, values, and direction for SYF. For far too long, yoga has not been inclusive or diverse. Many times very well-qualified people are overlooked because of how they look or sound. Yoga has been templated to look a certain way here in the U.S., but there is incredible talent out there who aren’t necessarily social media savvy or “trendy,” and instead keep their focus on the timeless wisdom of yoga. My keen area of interest is to seek out more authentic Indian origin yoga teachers to become presenters.
This work helps to keep the yoga authentic. So much of yoga gets mixed with everything else — due to my cultural upbringing, having been born and raised in India, what I view is and isn’t yoga is very black and white. It’s important that our diverse voices are at the table so that in turn, a diverse audience feels represented, seen, and heard.
Internationally renowned singer, songwriter and kirtan artist
As a festival producer, performer, and long-time circuit-touring musician, I’ve seen a lot of productions and can understand the participant’s experience from all sides. When curating a festival, it’s important to be fair and impartial. Yoga itself is so diverse — it’s important to include a panel of practitioners to curate a balanced group of presenters. Having a strong mix of seasoned professional teachers and enthusiastic creatives who are new to the scene creates a full experience for the participants, along with a diverse array of classes.
Together, we can model a new culture of diversity, inclusivity, and the most potent, powerful practices. SYF, as it’s existed for 10 years, has always woven these values into the experience. This is a truly unique and needed perspective on yoga and spiritual life, and I’m proud to be a part of the team continuing the work.