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Queer and Trans positive yoga

A dark green banner with "Sacred geometry (i.e. lots of circles and triangles) with the text LGBT2sQIA Yoga in white.

Yoga and queerness are made for each other

Many of the things I find compelling about yoga – the fluidity, creativity, playfulness, intention, groundedness, and spiritual connection – are also the things that I love about being queer and trans.

As transgender yogini Sparkle Thornton says in an article by Original Plumbing 1

“If you separate [ancient] yoga philosophy from ‘modern American yoga,’ you’ll find yoga is very trans-friendly and based on love for all beings. Yoga is all about embracing the masculinity and femininity in each of us to reach our higher self, transcending rigidity, and loving our complexities and contradictions… It’s common for queer/trans people to have lived through trauma just for being themselves. Trauma is often internalized in the body, and yoga can help in processing these emotions and experiences.”

Additionally, having a practice that encourages connection between the mind and body can be a real gift, especially because feeling estranged from (or betrayed by) our bodies can be a reality for some of us.

Finding our way to the mat

Yoga has the potential to be a positive and transformative practice for some trans and queer people, enabling us to simultaneously deeply embody and transcend the self. At the same time, there are many structural factors rooted in power, privilege, and oppression, that influence our ability to show up on the mat and do the healing work that we all deserve to do.

As written by Nick Krieger in an article for Decolonizing Yoga, “Often, if [a barrier] does not affect us, we do not notice (or even believe) it truly exists… It is a privilege to be able to look the other way, to not see gender and sexuality in a yoga class or studio.” Krieger offers some concrete examples of how, in his experience, gendered dynamics have found their way into yoga classes:

“Just the other day, an assistant asked if his child’s pose assist was okay on me (presumed to be a man) because he was “so used to women’s hips.” What a big (and incorrect) assumption about the nature of my hips. Or five years ago, when a teacher kept referring to the seven of us in a class as ladies. It was the night before my top surgery, my last class that I hoped would ground me and bring me peace before major surgery. “Ladies, ladies, ladies, ladies…” she addressed us throughout the entire class. How was she to know she was misgendering me, that referring to me as a lady was like a dagger?”

While these experiences, and many others that queer and trans people have had, are most often not maliciously intended, they can be alienating or retraumatizing in a space that is meant to offer respite from these daily microaggressions.

Options for making your yoga practice accessible

The first step is for yoga studios and practitioners to get curious about accessibility. Unfortunately, having an “everyone is welcome” or “we’re all equals here” ethic isn’t enough to make it so (I wish it was!). Have ways to receive feedback from your clients (and from people who *want* to be clients), and ways of staying accountable to that feedback.

Sometimes that means getting additional training for staff, sometimes that means being more conscious of language, sometimes that means making changes to your physical space, and sometimes that means simply taking a pause and reflecting (something yogis are great at!) on personal biases and exploring how those biases impact your classes, relationships, and the community. Any yoga studio *can* be supporting and affirming for trans, gender diverse, and two-spirit people, but it takes intentional work and continual learning to make it happen.

Some yoga studios go further by offering classes that specifically carve out space for marginalized groups. Third Root Yoga explains, “We want to address [systemic] barriers and open our doors to people who sometimes feel shut out of yoga studios… Therefore, we have created classes that are specifically focused on certain communities so that they might begin to heal together and create a support network for that essential personal work.”

There have been various iterations of LGBT2SQIA+ yoga classes over the years right here in Victoria. Most recently, Rachel Street of Be Brilliant Yoga has initiated a community class out of the Fernwood Yoga Den for LGBT2SQIA+ people and allies. Details are posted below, and you can follow Be Brilliant Yoga on facebook for updates.

A collage of 3 images: Rachel (queer yoga teacher) standing in tree pose next to "The Yoga Den" sign; a mural of a lotus flower painted by the owner; and "The Yoga Den" sign, hung outside of a brick wall in Fernwood.

When: 2-3 pm every 2nd and 4th Friday of the month (Oct 28, Noc 11 & 25, Dec 9 & 23) Where: Fernwood Yoga Den, 1311 Gladstone Ave. Cost: By donation – proceeds will go to OUTlet, a drop in for LGBT2sQIA+ youth and allies run by the Youth Empowerment Society. No need to pre-register, this is a drop-in class. All yoga experience welcome! For more information, please contact Rachel at rachel@bebrilliantyoga.ca or (250) 634-3453.

All people deserve to feel connected and embodied. As The Queer Yoga Collective says, I think we can all benefit from “bring[ing] yoga to queerness, and queerness to yoga,” enabling us to “bring our whole selves to the mat…[and] to know truly that we consciously exist beyond and outside of any externally projected boxes or labels.”

I like the sounds of that.

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Feature image by Stina Duncan, Radical Unicorn | Creative Visionary

  1. Original Plumbing is currently revamping their blog archive, but I will post the link to the interview with Sparkle Thornton when it is live again.

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