Making yoga more diverse: How one Indy yoga studio plans to change the game

Diversity through yoga

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – On a 10-degree day in downtown Indianapolis, a group of dedicated yogis were downwards, upwards and everything in between in a 95-degree room.

But, it’s not the intense heat the founders of The Hot Room say that make their studio special.

“The first two years after we opened, if you asked us what we did, we’d say we teach yoga. Today, we say we build communities and we happen to do it through yoga,” said owner Ashish Kalgaonkar.

As immigrants, Kalgaonkar and his wife, Hye Jin, know what it’s like to build a community in a new country.

“You can sit in a room and no one looks like us or eats the same food or has the same cultural upbringing that we have,” said a laughing Hye Jin.

But she also says having different backgrounds, ideas and opinions is an important part of any community.

And now the power couple is on a mission to make yoga in Indianapolis more diverse. The Hot Room Leadership Institute is offering full teacher training scholarships for people of color. The goal is to create diversity among yoga leaders to in turn bring diversity in the classroom.

Hye Jin and Ashish founded The Hot Room when they moved to Indianapolis six years ago. At the time, Hye Jin says there were maybe a handful of yoga studios in the area.

Now, Indianapolis has several yoga studios offering a range of yoga styles and practices.

Ashish says that while this growth is great, it came at a cost.

“The focus of yoga changed a little bit. It became more fitness-oriented than spiritually-oriented, yoga actually is a spiritual practice. So we want to bring back that meditation part, the mindfulness, there’s more to it,” said Ashish.

The studio along with its dedicated fan base are hoping to bring the spirituality back into yoga.

First-time scholarship recipient Marquees Martin-Hayes is a former Butler University athlete who says yoga changed his life. Years of playing football left him with injuries that he says yoga helped him with. And now he wants to share his passion.

“There isn’t a lot of people of color leading the classes or out at the front desk greeting people. Which, representation is everything. If you don’t see it sometimes you might feel like you don’t belong. And that’s an unconscious thing,” said Martin-Hayes, whose favorite yoga is Hot Power Vinyasa.

Ashish says that diversity in the yoga room starts with diverse teachers.

“I’m proud we’re taking steps to change the community,” Ashish said.

As for Martin-Hayes, he’s looking forward to teaching his own classes.

“I have a bunch of guys, even my mother, who are learning about yoga and excited for me to start my teaching because they’ll come more and try it out,” said Martin-Hayes.

The Hot Room is now accepting applications for their next teacher training scholarship in April. To learn more, click here.