Dianne Bondy is a champion of yoga for everybody and every body.
The owner and chief operator of Eastside Yoga Studio in Windsor Ontario and host and teacher of various online yoga classes, Dianne believes that yoga is accessible for all of us. As a full-figured African-Canadian woman, Dianne wants to bring yoga to people who think yoga is only for young, skinny, straight white girls. She also wants to change society’s perception of what a yogi looks like and make yoga a more inclusive practice and culture for all of us.
Ms. Fit: What’s your fitness journey been like? How did you come to yoga, and how has yoga been a part of your health and fitness story?
Dianne Bondy: My fitness journey has had its up and downs: I’ve been a marathoner, a cyclist, a personal trainer, a Pilates teacher and everything in between. I have always done yoga. I started when I was 3 years old with my mom in the basement of my home. My mom needed an outlet to reduce stress—she had three kids under the age of 4!—and she found yoga. I was at her side and yoga has been a lifelong experience for me: not always the asana [poses] of yoga but certainly the meditation. I have always practiced in one way or another.
MF: What is yoga to you?
DB: Well, the media is trying to define yoga in order to sell clothing. The largest size the number one yoga clothing retailer (let’s call them Mumumelon) makes is size 12, according to their website. This retailer openly admits that making clothing over the size 12 is not its focus—it excludes a large market of yogis. Not all people who practice yoga are defined by the size on their label. Each and every one of us gets to define yoga on our terms, day to day, and pose to pose. Yoga is about self-expression and awareness. Let’s be inclusive.
MF: How would you characterize the kind or style of yoga that you practice?
DB: It varies from day to day. I love the movement I find that in vinyasa. It really speaks to me. I love to feel my body moving. I love Yin with my teacher Anne Hunt. I love to move and breathe and be still.
MF: Your website says that you love “celebrating diversity in yoga.” What exactly does that mean to you? How do you pursue it?
DB: Diversity means EVERYONE feels comfortable in class. Diversity means I go out there and I’m seen, so that others like me can say “if she is doing it, then so can I.” I seem to ignite that in people. I am desperately trying to teach at Yoga Festival but no one will return my call. I am hoping that if I can crack that nut, we can really start to see diversity in yoga everywhere.
I also decided to create my own platform for diversity by creating Eastside Yoga Studio in Windsor, Ontario, and our on-line studio, Yogasteya.
MF: Tell us a little more about your studio, Eastside Yoga. What surprises you about teaching yoga, or about your students?
DB: Eastside Yoga Studio is a little studio with a huge heart. We specialize in bringing a diverse practice to the mat. We teach classes ranging from gentle, all the way to a physically challenging vinyasa flow: we have a practice for everyone. Our students come from ALL walks of life. They are some of the most positive, powerful and caring people I have ever met. We attract all ages, all sizes and all abilities. Our youngest student is 15 and our oldest student is 76. We see yoga as a vehicle for overall wellness.
I have seen sad people get happy, broken people mend, and everyone get stronger, happier and more conscious in living a skillful, joyful life. I love to see people make a connection and actually get it. At Eastside, we’re here to inspire and enlighten. What surprises me most about teaching is I get just as much from my students by teaching as they do by taking the classes. Teaching yoga is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding.
MF: What kind of communities do you work with in your teaching?
DB: I have been fortunate to work with just about everyone from children, seniors, people with disabilities, larger bodies and advanced asana practitioners. I try to be open to all experiences.
MF: What kind of goals or hopes do you have about doing yoga with various communities?
DB: My goal is to make yoga accessible to everyone. I love to teach online, to make it is accessible and affordable for more people. I would love to reach a wider audience, especially members of the audience who are intimidated by what they see in the media. I am trying to overcome the typical yoga stereotypes.
MF: What are some of those yoga stereotypes?
DB: What we see in every mainstream yoga publication. The image of yoga has been hijacked and has become one of a young, straight, thin, flexible, fashionable and, dare I say it, sexy white woman. Advertising we see is just that: images of tiny, flexible, often female and sometimes naked bodies selling yoga stuff.
Every yoga teacher training I take, I am awash in all of this. I instantly feel out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin, my brown skin. It has come to my attention that not many black folk do yoga, let alone train teachers and own a yoga studio. I am certainly in the minority. I like to think of myself as a trailblazer. I have never seen a yogi like myself on the front of Yoga Journal. The images perpetuated by the media seem to set the same ideal we see in fashion magazines.
I am excited to say that there are a lot of us out there that are changing the face of yoga and how it’s perceived. These teachers come in all ages, shapes, sizes, skin tones and genders. These teachers are changing the face of yoga.
MF: What’s your favorite yoga pose? Why?
DB: Triangle because I feel it everywhere and I feel very strong when I do it.
MF: How do you stay active off the mat?
DB: I do a lot of walking and I started running. Any other exercises or practices you enjoy besides yoga? I do like Pilates. I have a great Pilates teacher.
MF: What advice would you give the home practitioner who wants to kick her practice up a notch?
DB: I would tell her to try out an online site. It’s so nice to mix it up with a different teacher. Additionally, try a pose that scares you; it will make you fearless.
MF: What kind of advice would you give a reader who’s maybe feeling intimidated about trying yoga because of her race or body type?
DB: Be proud of who you are and know that there is a class out there for you. You are not alone! There is diversity in the yoga world; you just have to do your research and find it. You can also start your yoga practice in a community center where it’s much less intimidating. The power is within you if you chose it. Don’t let another intimidate or tell you different.
Elements of this interview were also curated from several of Dianne’s articles from ElephantJournal.com, with her permission.