My name is Bhavini Vyas, it is my pleasure to be part of Mind Body Spirit. It is a festival I have enjoyed for many years, both as an attendee and as a presenter. Being part of the team responsible for bringing wellbeing, spirituality and the wisdom of others to the masses is very important to me.
I was born and raised in London, one of the most culturally rich and diverse cities on this planet; I have lived all over the world and consider myself deeply British. My blood, culture and heritage is Indian. I am the daughter of Indian parents who were born in different parts of east Africa. My father did not come to the UK as a refugee like other family members and other East Africans, but as a student at the age of 16. He sadly wasn’t able to return home. My mother lived a very international life and completed her higher education in Canada before settling in London to start a family with my father. I have a diverse family made up of highly educated people from a variety of different races, religions and cultures. In my community, there is a home for every sexuality and diverse beliefs. I am a yogi, I am a feminist, and I am a Hindu. I do my best to uphold Vedic principles in my actions and lifestyle choices, which means a commitment to growth, evolution and connecting to our highest truth as humanity – that we are all part of one infinite consciousness.
Identifying myself this way should serve no other purpose than to highlight the fact that equality and diversity is not a ‘movement’ for me. It is the basis of my whole existence
This article has been hard to write. When I started it was with the simple intention of introducing myself to the MBS community, and giving an idea of what I hope to add to the wonderful events we host. I started writing this article before the current global climate and recent news that has affected us all. I would like to acknowledge that we are going through a collective process of grieving. The death of George Floyd has shaken every person of colour, who associates with an ethnic minority, who has ever faced racism, to their core. This touches all of us in our day to day lives. Now my hope is for this piece to serve the purpose of opening up a broader conversation about race and diversity within the wellness industry, to truly look at the industry we enjoy as consumers and create as part of brands.
Throughout this piece, I will use the term people of colour. As a brown-skinned woman formed by my Western upbringing, I have had the privilege of not having to use labels to identify myself. As I unpack my own identity concerning race and privilege, I am making a personal choice not to use the terms Black, Ethnic Minority, BAME or BIPOC.
This is not intended to cause any offence.
Having worked within the wellness industry professionally for over 10 years, I joined the MBS team in October 2019, excited to start a new chapter on this journey. Within my role with MBS, I keep, the following questions at the forefront of my mind:
How can I ensure the MBS Wellbeing Festivals continue to be truly representative of the diverse society we live in? How can MBS best serve the community with a healthy mix of both existing and new presenters? And how can we reach even more people?
- I recently ran a poll on my own social media platform asking individuals whether they thought people of colour were represented fairly within the wellness industry. 16% felt yes, but 84% felt no. People from all backgrounds voted on either side of this.
The wellbeing industry often depicts itself as representative of the ultimate lifestyle. The aesthetic is ultimate health, vitality, happiness, growth, and the services and environment to go with it – whether that includes beautiful geographic locations, products, superfoods or other items to supplement your wellness journey. As you read this, I am sure you have coming to mind the studios, workshops and retreats, which are equipped with better facilities, types of teacher or health professionals. With all of that, usually comes the higher price tag, and the aspirational prices of the wellness industry makes it out of reach for people from diverse backgrounds. Whilst certain types of spirituality might now be more accepted, there is still low representation of Afro/Caribbean spirituality amongst this mix of more mainstream offerings with the wellness space.
Secondly, many brands can be seen to push the narrative of inclusivity and equal representation, but not follow through with demonstrable action. High-ticket offerings are often the norm, or at best counterpointed by ‘humanitarian’ places on workshops or free sessions. People of colour don’t need charity; they just need a chance to have a seat at the table. Thankfully, Mind Body Spirit festivals and events have always been accessibly priced and offer a healthy mix of paid for and free events.
Thirdly, people of colour are less likely to access wellbeing services early regardless of affordability, because of impressions from previous generations that this is low on the list of priorities. By the time they are looking for solutions within the wellness space, the issues tend to be more marked. We all need to acknowledge that, beyond the gender pay gap, which has been receiving greater publicity, there is also a high pay gap between people of colour and their white counterparts, (regardless of gender or whether they were born in the UK or not). Because of these differences, people of colour tend to be less inclined to spend their money within the wellbeing industry.
If you are from a culture of people that has historically not been given equal access to everything, from education and transport links, to business opportunities and finance, then your choices of where you spend your already less disposable income become even fewer.
If you are not a person of colour, it is important to reflect on how many of the opportunities that have been available to you are possible because of your family or ancestors before you.
It therefore makes sense that it can be difficult for people of colour to gain access to the platforms which are designed to serve ‘everyone’. Sadly, without an understanding of the systemic racism that has historically impacted the lives of each and every single person on this planet, we won’t truly be able to serve our diverse global community, even if we as individuals or brands think we are.
It is important for us within the wellness industry to reflect what is going on in the world. We need to serve the needs of EVERYONE. By not acknowledging the lack of diversity within the industry, we are not truly pushing ourselves to the limits of growth and community within our global family.
How would the wellness industry look if it was truly multicultural? It has come a long way in the last few years with a more inclusive approach to the aesthetic being shared, but it is important to acknowledge that there still remains a race representation problem, and now more than ever, we need to do something about it.
Racism, in any direction, is a result of generational trauma going back hundreds of years. It is everyone’s responsibility to look into our own values, where we have formed our beliefs, and how we may have been continuing the narrative. It is up to all of us to be accountable and to heal this within ourselves so that it ends with us.
Lets just start by looking into our own individual behaviours….
Are you likely to engage with a person, community or brand where there doesn’t appear to be space for you? If you look through content you consume, is the person or brand you align with truly trying to serve everybody, and does their messaging reflect that? Recognise whether or not there is a true reflection of the diversity of the world and of people’s experiences. If it doesn’t represent all types of people, it will not reach all types of people, and this inadvertently gives the message that the space wasn’t created with an inclusive environment in mind.
Many women reading this will be familiar with the experience of walking in to a room where there are either no, or very few, women present. She might not have said anything out loud, but she felt it and acknowledged it in her mind. The same is true for race and other types of diversity. Only when we begin to speak up can change start taking place around us.
We need to be careful that this new conversation does not come from a space of ‘us vs. them’, or even more importantly “let me understand you so that you can have a chance to heal generational trauma”. This will only cause more separation. Be mindful that the conversation is coming from a space of making true equality the norm.
This is about how things may or may not have been mishandled before. By addressing this issue, I hope we can continue to host meaningful life-changing events where everyone truly feels seen and welcome.
“It is important to have these conversations now, to shine light on the insidious racism that permeates our culture, as individuals, as brands, and as a planet.”
– Sarah Greenidge, The Well Spoken mark.
Mind Body Spirit is built on the basis of diversity, inclusivism and growth, and the intention of MBS has always been to provide a platform to those who are doing great work. I am honoured to uphold those values.
If you truly stand for diversity this will be obvious by your actions, your surrounding, and your impact. As a festival MBS has always been inclusive to all – a true pioneer in its field, celebrating the diversity of traditions, spirituality and culture from all over the world. Platforms like MBS exist to ensure the aesthetic of the wellbeing industry isn’t only white. But it is not enough to keep thinking we are doing the right thing; we need to keep moving forwards and add new dimensions too. We can always do better.
“If you always do what you've always done, you will always get what you've always got. “
If we do not address the issue of race representation and diversity now, the wellness industry will do a disservice to the global community.
I believe in my heart that this moment will change the world, everyone is being called to action to fight racism, whether silently behind the scenes taking time to digest and grow, or by joining global movements. There is a lot to unpack here, and even for me as a person of colour, this process cannot be rushed.
Being antiracist is a lifelong commitment which needs to be demonstrated through everything you do and stand for.
MBS does not stand for any inequality or prejudice based on race. The circumstances are very complex but this is not about generational guilt, and whilst this topic may seem overwhelming we can achieve an antiracist world if we are committed to achieving a certain result together.
Do not hide away in any grief, shame or fear you are experiencing at the moment. Instead, ask yourself questions that uplift your spirit and push you on the path of growth – what can you do now to make a difference?
Many are sharing good advice on how to get through this time positively and make a difference which we have collated here. (link to MBS blog)
“The time is always right to do what is right”
– Martin Luther King Jr.
If you engage with the wellness industry, it can be assumed that you are on the path of growth, learning and perhaps spirituality. If so, it is not possible to simultaneously hold views that some are better than others based on their heritage. The path of growth, wellbeing and spirituality is a path of equality, unity and togetherness – of one unified consciousness.
In truth, we are all one, but we all need to put in the work to truly live from that space within ourselves. We are where we are today through centuries of systemic racial inequality and it will not be undone overnight, but it will be undone eventually if we all work towards that goal of true celebration of a one world family.
Importantly, it is clear we globally acknowledge this is a hard time. There will be hard conversations, realisations, and eye openings. But I promise you, if you are not a person of colour, starting an honest open conversation with someone who is will be welcomed. Whilst it may not have been appropriate to do so before, it certainly is now and it is important that you do.
I am a woman of colour within the wellness industry. It is my responsibility to represent others and give them the space and platform to share with the world. And I am honoured to be called to serve in this way. I personally, will do what I can to use my own privilege to champion the stories of others and bring them to the forefront – share the history, share the truth, share the wisdom, and knowledge and that which can give us strength and establish us in our own truth.
To all of you, I know these are challenging times for us all, please continue to make time to heal, to rest, to breathe, to move, and to share love with those around you. Take care of yourselves during this transformative year.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
– Mahatma Gandhi.