Community, authenticity, and accessibility are core values in my yoga partnerships. And although ﬁguring that out was pretty easy, it took a major brand like Nike inviting me to promote their yoga apparel to really clarify things.
First, let me start by saying that I’ve been working on these values for a long time.
I remember teaching a particularly powerful community class for people of color back in October of 2018. As I led the group, I moved through so many emotions—from shock to disbelief, and then to anger, solidarity, and finally to a settling within me.
Prior to the class people submitted stories and reflections. As I guided everyone into restorative poses, I read their words back to the group anonymously while offering space for breath between each reading.
It was a soul-bearing and emotional experience for everyone, and it unlocked something within me: a remembrance that silence and stillness do not necessarily go hand in hand, and that together they can serve to re-open deep wounds. Since then, my work in healing and community building has only intensified.
It is my belief that focused offerings for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) community are vital and necessary and my ongoing work confirms this. The community programs I host, along with the Yoga is Dead podcast that I co-host (which was designed to expose harm and racism in the yoga industry), and the abcdyogi community I organize, which serves to amplify the expertise of South Asian yoga and mindfulness teachers, all provide safe and healing resources for people of color/culture. I can safely bet that everyone in these communities does not relate to commercialized yoga, including giving concern toward yoga fashion guidelines.
So when Nike asked me to do a fashion photoshoot for one of their social media campaigns I was fairly skeptical about the project. Lately, however, Nike has showcased fitness leaders of color with messages of racial equity. And they now offer plus-size apparel to ﬁt real-life pro-athletes. Those are great steps forward toward inclusivity.
But I have yet to see people like me—brown and South Asian—sharing the message of yoga and mindfulness in wellness media channels. Representation is a major reason why I started abcdyogi. People need to see and hear more from this particular community.
Focusing on what I wear while practicing, however, isn’t something I usually do. It’s also not something I ﬁnd value in sharing with others. But when Nike explained that the campaign was to illustrate how wellness and yoga fit into my lifestyle (as opposed to just a fashion shoot with me playing model), things began to feel more authentic.
I knew I still had to negotiate an equitable deal with the brand, though, and that felt intimidating. I realized I couldn’t make the call without asking for help, and having the right conversations helped me see what I needed to pay attention to in making my final decision. After sharing with Nike what I deemed appropriate and fair and why I was requesting changes to their initial terms, I brokered a deal that felt balanced.
I found the entire process of communication, strategy, negotiation, and eventually the ﬁnal product, to be a signiﬁcant exercise in reﬁning yet again what Tejal Yoga—the yoga I offer to educate and empower individuals and communities—truly means. It helped to clarify these facts: I will continue to use my platform to convey authentic messaging on yoga and social justice, showcase equitable partnerships, and support inclusive oﬀerings within the wellness space. By doing this repeatedly, I hope to advocate for others and to lift up the voices and the work of those who are undervalued and often excluded.
To promote transparency and empower others who are negotiating partnerships, I’m sharing what I’ve learned. Here are a few of my tips.
After I was contacted by Nike, I reached out for counsel from several people I trust. I set up a call with someone who is dedicated to making wellness accessible for the BIPOC community and who had recently secured their own partnership with Nike. She was able to share valuable insights with me about negotiating a ﬁnal contract and was transparent about deliverables, timeline, and pay. It was so refreshing to come together, particularly as women of color, to use our collective, shared knowledge as bargaining power.
I also reached out to a few folks I’m connected to through my philanthropic work. These women manage inﬂuencer teams on behalf of a skin care brand. They supported me by offering valuable insider advice about the guardrails I needed and what compensation made sense for the deliverables requested. Having these conversations was critical in my ability to negotiate an equitable deal.
For my particular deal, I was explicit about maintaining my voice pretty much as it is—raw, authentic, and inspiring a call to action. In my storytelling, I rejected any edits that felt like a watering down of my passion for diverse representation and meaningful inclusion of the South Asian and BIPOC community.
Recognize when you feel your message is being misunderstood, whitewashed, or neutralized. This feeling may show up via an elevated heart rate, an inclination to distance yourself from the project, or a sudden and isolated change in body temperature, to name a few examples. Take the time you need to regulate and find equilibrium again. Then assess what could be the most balanced way to move forward with mindful communication and with your health and safety at the forefront. I find that only through deep listening can I come to a next step that feels aligned with my initial purpose and goals.
This is an important reminder that my connections at the skin care brand conﬁrmed for me. All the pieces of a deal can be stand-alone conversations, restructured into another completely different yet equitable deal. Navigating the nuances takes time, clarity of language, and mutual respect from all parties. If you find that the other party immediately rejects any type of negotiation, try to avoid reacting immediately and give yourself space to respond. There are many valid reasons to partner. You need to give yourself time to work out which details of an offer matter the most to you and align the most with your ultimate goal.
Sometimes a brand may give you a ﬁnite timeline to make a decision. This only serves to feed the fear that your time and “luck in partnering” is running out. Try not to feel pressured into thinking there’s no time for negotiation. Again, remember that everything is negotiable.
Simple as that. Once you’ve worked out what matters the most to you and are ready to engage in a productive conversation, be wary of any steps forward that ignore your priorities and limit your voice. There are many ways and reasons you may feel disregarded and even erased when negotiating a partnership with established brands. Be mindful of the ones that play on your insecurities and that make you feel insignificant.
Remember that you and your work are the reason there’s an offer on the table in the first place! Don’t be afraid to say “No, thank you,” and seek out a partnership or project that feels more aligned to you and your values.
After reﬂecting on these points, I was able to enter my negotiations with conﬁdence, asking for what I knew I deserved in return for the value I provided. The ﬁnal result is what I feel is an empowering story, one of an Indian-American woman working hard and being paid equitably within yoga and wellness.
I wish you the best of luck on your path of truth and representation! And I hope this story and these tips help you to solidify equitable partnerships along the way. Please don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions.
Wardrobe credit: Nike Yoga line