This is the seventh individual spotlight in series 2 of the “This Is What a Yogi Looks Like” (#whatayogilookslike) media series, a collaboration between the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Yoga International based on the YBIC campaign that launched in 2014 and their continued work in challenging stereotypes, growing community, working collaboratively, and highlighting the diversity of yoga practitioners and yoga practices, as well as their staunch commitment to diversifying yoga media.
About Alli Simon
Alli Simon is a manifestation coach and a heart-based yoga and mindfulness meditation instructor with a specialization in workplace and career mindfulness. As a coach with a Master’s degree in Business Management, she combines business practices with her background in holistic and spiritual practices to weave together strategic planning and management practices to support her clients. By helping her clients develop strategies that help them manifest their visions, she supports the creation and support of sustainable work environments for employees, helping her clients confidently lead and develop ethical businesses. Alli is also staunchly committed to bringing alternative holistic healing and body positive practices to her systemically under-resourced community of South L.A.
I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many inspiring individuals doing incredible work in the last few years who have been profoundly moved and transformed by their yoga practice, both the physical asana and meditation. I never tire of finding out how they were initially led to these practices. How did you discover meditation and yoga?
I felt drawn to meditation and spirituality my whole life. My meditation practice began while I was studying abroad in London. I found myself with some free time and decided to explore a local Buddhist Center in North London that had beginner’s meditation classes.
And you were hooked?
Immediately! Meditation felt accessible—all I needed was my mind and breath. My relationship with physical yoga took time to develop. Initially, I thought yoga wasn’t for me.
Unfortunately, I’ve heard this sentiment countless times over the years. For a variety of reasons, many people don’t explore physical asana, whether or not they have a meditation or other mindfulness practice. They may not feel they fit the “yoga body” ideal, that they’re not flexible or strong enough; others don’t feel welcome in studio spaces, and then there’s the lack of representation in media that acts as a deterrent.
Yes to all of the above. To be frank, I was convinced that I didn’t have the body type for asana. Not only that, yoga seemed like something only white people did. From websites, social media, pop culture, advertisements, and magazines, there was never anyone that resembled or represented me, a Black, curvy, queer woman from South Central Los Angeles. I never felt like I fit in.
Unfortunately, all these mediums perpetuate stereotypes that echo the images we’ve become accustomed to in the mainstream media. What finally allowed you to discover the benefits of yoga practice despite your feelings of exclusion?
I wouldn’t say that I discovered yoga—it’s more like yoga discovered me. After my only sister was killed in a car accident, I was motivated to start going to a local studio regularly just to leave my apartment and because I didn’t know what else to do. I began taking my grief to the mat daily—practicing and allowing my tears to fall. I found so much comfort in my breath. I didn’t care that I was the only Black girl in the room—I needed something to hold my grief and it was my practice that did that.
Thanks to a friend’s referral, this eventually lead to a yoga teacher training at Green Tree Yoga & Meditation, a nonprofit donation-based studio. After trying out a few classes and being inspired by their community work, I decided to join the next teacher training as a way to deepen my practice.
What a heartfelt and beautiful journey! It’s a perfect example of the unexpected gifts yoga may hold for us.
Yoga is the beauty that came out of my deep pain.
From the initial resistance you felt toward yoga to your teacher training, how would you describe your relationship with your practice now?
It’s transformed from being the practice that held my pain to the practice that brings me back to life. It’s my path—just like people who follow a Dharma path, yoga has become my refuge.
Because of the media’s skewed imagery, I thought yoga was an exercise regime and not a way to personal and collective liberation. My practice is a tool of liberation and I want more people in my community to know this truth!
And this awareness informs your work and deep commitment to share the gifts of the practice with your community.
My intention was never to teach but to share. I want to provide greater accessibility to yoga as a support and healing practice for communities that experience so much pain and oppression, like my community in South L.A. Around the time the Black Lives Matter movement was beginning, I wanted to provide support, but I knew my work as a part of the movement would be different than yet equally important to the contributions of others. It was important for me to commit myself to creating spaces that would normalize yoga for communities of color. Just like my practice, my work is always evolving—from inclusive yoga and meditation to self-care workshops. The basis of my work is to make yoga accessible and create safe spaces for communities of color, LGBTQI, and larger-body folks, while also not stripping it of its roots. I want to work with and support others on their road toward personal and collective liberation.
I often ask myself, “If the goal is for everyone to practice yoga, what am I doing to give yoga to someone who thinks the practice is not for them?”
What have been the changes in the yoga community that have inspired you the most?
There are more and more amazing yogi-activists who are making yoga accessible in under-resourced and under-represented communities and teaching people how to find their breath in the midst of all this chaos. Blogs like BlackGirlinOm and L.A. studios like Green Tree Yoga & Meditation and Crenshaw Yoga & Dance are just a few examples of yoga practitioners who are not just practicing asana but living their practice by offering deep healing work in communities that are suffering yet are so resilient.
Another change that gives me hope is the movement to tackle fat-phobia in yoga! Seeing people who are challenging these stereotypes practicing yoga is groundbreaking! Countless students of mine were inspired to practice with me because they saw my picture or were inspired to practice by a plus-size yogi they saw on Instagram. It’s proof that representation is so important! We still have a long way to go, but it’s incredible to see the change unfolding, and I will continue to work to make space for it!
Alli is #whatayogilookslike. YOU are #whatayogilookslike. To spread the message across social media, download your Twibbon here and use it on your own photo.
Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker, and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty,... Read more>>