Formerly Queen Street Yoga
Yoga & movement. Rooted in community.
We’re here to create a better world with Yoga as our common ground. We lead down-to-earth classes, expert teacher training, and an engaged intergenerational community.
We opened our doors in 2005, and have become known for our highly experienced teachers, our innovative approach to movement, and our efforts in community care and social justice. Our aim is to make the practices of yoga and meditation more inclusive, more accessible, and more relevant for your day-to-day life.
Some of you might not know this, but I (Leslie) used to be an elementary school teacher. Yes, for a good few years, I taught a lot of grade 7 and 8 (I like living on the edge, what can I say) in a few different schools in KW. One thing that was heavily emphasized during my time in teachers’ college, and as a new teacher, was community.
I heard a lot of talk in the school systemabout coming together as a family. But at the one critical point when I found myself in a troubling and very challenging classroom situation, the support I needed was sorely missing. All that talk felt like empty lip service.
This lack was made particularly poignant because at the same time that my faith in that life was deteriorating, I was being shown the true meaning of community in another context. At what was then called Queen Street Yoga, I was volunteering, taking class, and all the while, observing the action behind the scenes of Leena & Emma’s first yoga teacher training.
For a few years, I got to witness (and benefit from) so much genuine care put into building and holding a real community in the shape of a long-term learning container. There were a lot of hugs in the staff room, endless carefully worded emailing, generous accommodations, plenty of extra help, and sharing food, clothes, childcare and studio space as it was needed.
This spirit of connection underpins everything, and it reliably seeps into the whole group. Here are a few of this year’s students talking about what it’s been like to access community (even when we had to pivot to a completely online weekend this past January due to Omicron).
Our next 250-hour teacher training will run October 2022 through June 2023. Curious about what it might be like? Come out to our Info Session on Thursday, April 21 at 7:15pm. Just like the program, you can choose online or in-studio. When you sign up, you also get a free drop-in class to enjoy. I’ll be teaching the Slow Flow at 6:00pm just prior to the info session, and I’m gonna make it a special one.
As of April 1, 2022, the Branches will no longer require visitors to show proof of vaccination. We will continue to encourage mask-wearing as much as possible to limit transmission.
We’ve taken in a good bit of information, considered the risks, and weighed it all against our values, particularly community care.
Just like our decision to initiate our own vaccine policy ahead of the province, we also wanted some control over our own circumstances when it came to setting this policy aside. We applaud individuals who are taking steps to protect not only themselves, but one another as our entire globe continues to navigate the ongoing pandemic.
While our staff and leadership team have chosen to get vaccinated, and we strongly support it as a public health strategy, based on what we now understand about transmission, it does not seem necessary or useful to continue requiring all visitors to the studio to prove their immunization status. We look forward to welcoming new students and welcoming back old community members for whom this has been a barrier over the past six months.
In addition to taking in updated information about transmission, we have also been attempting to learn about disability justice. Many immune-compromised people feel as though their lives are not being valued appropriately, as they are not able to simply “move on” from COVID-19. We’re also holding uncertainty about the likelihood of developinglong-COVID, which is basically a chronic-illness disability.
With these thoughts top of mind, and knowing that it does appear helpful to wear masks to prevent transmission of a virus that spreads through both droplets and aerosol, we will continue to require all visitors to wear a mask to the studio, and encourage students to continue wearing their masks as much as they can while practicing. We will maintain this policy at least for the month of April and reassess as we go.
Inside the practice rooms, we will be running our fresh-air return system consistently – this means that the air in the building will be on a constant refresh cycle, expelling indoor air outside and bringing in fresh air as it heats/cools. While on their mats, our teachers may wear their masks less to optimize for clarity and hearing accessibility .
We strive to consider the importance and influence of scientific experts, disability justice, and the relative risk of small-group 60-75 minute classes in our decisions going forward.
Finally, the Branches will continue to offer robust virtual teaching, including drop-in classes, courses, Branches On-Demand streaming subscriptions, and teacher training for those who feel best accessing our offerings from home.
You’ve probably been exposed to influencers, or at least heard that they exist. Influencers share their enviable lives online and are sponsored by companies small and large to promote their products on social media.
Intentionally or not, social media influencers end up promoting materialistic and consumerist lifestyles. Everyone’s gotta make a living, but we think that influence is too important of a power to wield only to make a buck.
We aren’t big enough to warrant sponsorship from large corporations, but we have our own agenda anyway. From any given drop-in class, to our local community, to the international yoga industry, we’re out here with our hearts on our sleeves earnestly working away at reforming the culture of the yoga industry.
The socio-cultural forces at play have taken modern yoga towards an over-emphasis on athletic performance and thinness, exclusivity, and abusive and cult-like dynamics. If you are getting curious or fired up just hearing about that, we’d love for you to join us in an extended learning container.
In our upcoming Yoga Teacher Training, you are invited to learn from deep thinkers and leaders who are working to undo damage done to both the yoga tradition and to participants over the years. With a focus on inclusion, anti-oppression and trauma-sensitivity, our training produces teachers ready to lead the industry culture in a new direction.
Curious to learn more? Join us for a free info session on Thursday April 21. When you register, you’ll get a promo code to attend one free class in April. Come meet the core faculty and get a sense for what our innovative program is like. Register here.
Many people believe that Yoga is therapeutic; that it will improve their physical and mental health. Even family doctors send their patients to yoga classes as a remedy for everything from stress to back pain (no pressure on us!)
One aspect that likely plays a key role in improving well-being is your nervous system.
Your nervous system is the information highway between your body and brain, and it plays a major role in movement, mood, your sense of self, and your sense of comfort and safety. In everything you do, your nervous system is there, keeping watch and fine-tuning your experience of reality. Pretty neat.
With this in mind, we’ve intentionally prioritized some programming to be therapeutic, considering the role that this system plays in wellbeing and how it expresses during practice. Below, you’ll see two upcoming opportunities to care for this aspect of yourself. If you’ve been feeling stuck or ungrounded, we recommend you have a good look at these options.
A virtual offering, this course includes six livestream sessions to help grow your resilience. Over the course of six weeks you’ll discover mindful movements and stillness practices that suit your temperament, be invited to self-reflect, share with others, and grow in your ability to befriend yourself through some big feelings without toxic positivity. Together, we’ll explore the key elements of resilience and find techniques that work best for us. We’ll cultivate sensitivity and compassion to recognize our own patterns and see how the stresses of our times show up differently for each of us. All techniques will be approached through a lens of self-compassion, with the intention of learning to self-soothe and build capacity in your nervous system.
Our small group and in-person sessions will focus on developing and regulating self-induced and therapeutic tremors, practicing mindful presence with your experience, and learning an approachable overview of nervous system theory to help you make some meaning of this wonderful ability we all share.
In 2014, when Taylor Swift proudly celebrated her life strategy for dealing with stress in her song, “Shake It Off,” it turned out that she was actually onto something – something more than a catchy melody. While T-Swifty was probably referring to dancing and keeping a light-hearted attitude (nothin’ wrong with either of those!), there is an additional nugget of truth to the idea that you can move through stress with a good old shimmy and shake.
Dogs do it, don’t they? After an unsettling moment, you might catch your furry friends rolling through a full-body shiver. Or maybe you can picture some nature documentary footage of a deer or gazelle, suddenly alert with vigilance, only to flicker their ears, shimmy their skin, and carry on with grazing.
There’s actually a much deeper process underlying these little moments of bubbling energy, and it’s not only for nonhuman animals. It’s related to your nervous system, your connective tissue (muscle and fascia) and the dynamic interplay of tension and release that leads to natural, full-body tremors that come in waves, rhythms and vibrations.
So it is like dancing, only without any effort. If it sounds like magic, you’re not alone in thinking so. These vibrating body tremors can be learned, honed and regulated through a practice called TRE: Tension & Trauma Release Exercises.
We’re offering a fresh opportunity to learn this practice, with TRE certified provider Leslie Stokman. Join our four week course Integrating Stress & Tension with TRE starting Monday April 25. Our small group sessions will focus on developing and regulating self-induced and therapeutic tremors, practicing mindful presence with your experience, and learning an approachable overview of nervous system theory to help you make some meaning of this wonderful ability we all share.
Here’s what Leslie has to say about her experience of learning and teaching this modality:
“I began to practice TRE because I was looking for another tool to help my body and mind integrate the change and disruption of several traumas. My consistent practice has brought me greater ease and comfort in my body, and a much greater sense of grounding.
“I love teaching others about the beauty of their nervous systems, and guiding them to safely encounter their amazing tremoring abilities.”
Some people are natural relaxers. Others have to learn (or relearn).
At the risk of sounding preachy, nope, a Netflix binge on the couch is not relaxation. It might be soothing and distracting, both of which are useful strategies that have their place in our lives. But deep relaxation requires a presence that can’t be found while glued to a screen.
Without a numbing influence like TV, many of us struggle to actually just relax. When distractions are taken away, we might need something a little different to help us get there. That “something else” is really important, and we need it to be a support into which we can lean, give over, or surrender and be held by. For natural relaxers, perhaps the floor and internal sense of comfort is often enough. But for folks who struggle to find ease, a little more support can go a long way. This support might come in the form of objects, a particular circumstance, or the presence of a trusted guide or friend.
In restorative Yoga and other gentle practices offered at The Branches, we aim to provide all three of those factors in the form of:
COZY SUPPORT: props, bolsters, cushions and blankets
INTENTIONAL SPACE: a practice environment created with care – we consider the timing of the practice, the length and pace of the sequence, any music playing, the lighting, and how you are guided into and out of practice
CARING GUIDANCE: experienced and trusted teachers who hold space, and offer guidance, encouragement, and a warm presence, as you explore what it’s like to slow down and rest
Below, you’ll find information on a few opportunities to practice true relaxation. Carving out the time and space to unwind, decompress and soften is a big move if you’re used to going on warp speed all the time. It might be hard, but it’s worthwhile. We’re looking forward to supporting you in getting there.
Candlelit Restorative Yoga Saturday March 12, 7:30-9pm Join virtually or in-person. We planned this one specifically for the evening when Daylight Savings steals an hour of sleep…so gear up to lay down, guided by Leslie.
A completely new virtual offering… 15 Days of Presence
15 Days of Presence is an approachable entry point to learn to savour the gifts of presence. This series provides daily guidance that will gently immerse you in the still waters of meditation through a combination of approachable movement, restorative yoga, and simple breath-focused meditation techniques.
Perfect for total beginners or those hoping to reacquaint themselves with a meditation practice, 15 Days of Presence takes place from April 1 to 15. The series gradually builds towards more time spent in stillness, with a new 15-minute practice video each day.
When you join 15 Days of Presence, you’ll get access to the program for one month, so you’ll have another 15 days to repeat the videos and further establish yourself in a consistent routine of practice. The series also includes The Gifts of Presence Workshop and features classes with Danette Adams, Leslie Stokman, Emma Dines, and Leena Miller Cressman.
Gifts of Presence Workshop with Leslie Stokman: Sunday April 24, 7:30-8:30pm. Included when you join 15 Days of Presence, this workshop will start with a 30-minute guided restorative yoga and meditation practice, followed by Q&A, and discussion about next steps on cultivating a meditation practice.
Nathan is a graduate of our Yoga Teacher Training and has begun teaching all-abilities accessible yoga in the KW community. In this post Nathan shares some fantastic suggestions for teaching accessible classes, and acknowledges where the yoga world needs to change and grow in relation to folks with disabilities. If you appreciate this kind of perspective and want a deeper dive into these themes, check out Reforming Yoga Culture, where we are bringing together innovative teachers who are transforming the yoga world from the inside out. Now, here’s Nathan!
Everyone deserves fair and equal access to yoga. I know that’s hardly a controversial statement, but in reality many people encounter barriers when trying to engage with a yoga practice. This can be especially true for individuals living with disability. Many of these barriers extend beyond the context of yoga and find their roots in larger systems of oppression and injustice. While on a more subtle level, without appropriate care and reflection some of these same prejudice can find a presence in the very language and methods by which yoga is taught.
As a facilitator of accessible all-abilities yoga classes, I’ve learned that my attentiveness, choice of language, and ability to hold space are just as important as poses and movements when it comes to making yoga truly accessible.
I discovered yoga during a time of personal need. In the spring of 2015, over a series of few days, my sight quickly faded until I could hardly see. After three days in the ER and a series of jabs and scans I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis — an auto immune disease that causes a breakdown in the central nervous system’s ability to communicate with the rest of the body. At first, the effects are temporary but over time can lead to permanent disability.
Yoga became a lifeline for me in those early days. The moments of calm that emerged during and following my practice provided me with enough space to slowly begin to process and accept my new reality.
It’s this experience that ultimately inspired me to want to share this practice with others and pursue accessible-focused teaching.
Stepping into this role has been a journey marked by fundamental word-view-changing opportunities for learning. Here are a few discoveries that I hope other yoga teachers might find useful to incorporate into their teaching, especially when working with a range of abilities.
1. Don’t push people to extend their capacity
After one of my first classes, I received feedback from a participant, about an experience of being pushed beyond their capacity in a previous class with a different instructor and how happy they were that I had led the practice in a way that allowed them to participate. It pains me to say that I have heard similar stories from many other students.
There’s a common myth/belief within fitness culture that by pushing someone to extend their capacity you’re actually helping them to achieve their goals. While teaching in this way may in fact be motivating to a small number of students, it can also cause physical harm and create barriers to participation. I am not advocating that as teachers we should remove the opportunity to engage in challenging activity from our classes but rather a shift in attitude. A shift towards the idea that…
2. Everything is optional.
Permissive teaching explicitly outlines that everything presented is optional and creates a space where the student has the agency to engage with the practice on their own terms. In a practical sense this might look like presenting an exercise at a level of modest engagement, then inviting the option of further exploration into more challenging territory. As a rule, I always try to model the most inclusive option and only show something more strenuous if it would be truly beneficial. If I do, I’ll return to what I first presented after a few moments. The goal here is to give every possible signal that pursuing more strenuous exercise is entirely optional and not an expectation. This empowers students to take a more central roll in their practice by deciding how they would like to engage (or not engage) with what you’ve presented.
3. Create a ‘container of safety’
A ‘container’ refers to a collection of practices and assurances that are designed to help individuals know they’re safe from harm. As a teacher, I take on the responsibility (and the privilege) of facilitating such a space. Before I share practical considerations for the creation of a container, I want to briefly make a case for why such a space is so important.
Feeling safe is a privilege. The reality is that we currently do not live in a fair and equal society and some individuals face great adversity for simply being who they are. Some of this hardship is systemic and some is intentionally inflicted abuse. It’s a heavy consideration, but essential when working with a marginalized population. The intention of the container is to create a space that’s free of persecution and protected from the shortcomings and injustice so prevalent within our culture.
Creating a container goes beyond the physical space and begins with your marketing and communications. How you choose to name and describe your class, the people/groups you’re intending to reach, and who is present (or not present) in your photography are all important considerations.
A container has an inside and an outside. As such, you may choose to make your classes exclusively open to a certain group or population. The purpose of these boundaries it not so much the exclusion of others but rather to support the integrity of the group within. Strong and defined walls can help to create a space of safety and inclusion and perhaps even lay the ground work for community to emerge.
When beginning a class, I always introduce myself and define my role. As an able-bodied presenting instructor, I feel that it’s important to say a little about my experience with MS and how that lead me to want to share yoga with others. I offer ways to engage with the practice by inviting student to follow their intuition and move in ways that feel good to them. I balance this with a suggestion to avoid any movements that don’t feel good. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I talk about the way in which I hope student will relate to my instructions. As a facilitator, my role is to guide people to have their own experience and I want my offerings to be seen as optional invitations for exploration.
4. Teach responsively (Have a back-up plan)
To help prepare for my first accessible class, I reached out to my mentor and YTT co-director Emma Dines to help navigating the unknowns of this new teaching venture. Of all her advice, what came to the forefront for me was her suggestion to teach responsively.
Emma used the example of a neck roll exercise. She suggested I start by leading a simplified neck movement. By closely observing my students’ response, I’d be able to have a good indication as to whether I should continue into the full neck roll movement or instead move onto something else.
Up until this point, I had planned all my classes in advance to quite a high level of detail before ever presenting them to students. Responsive teaching would mean to go off script and to adapt my classes based on my observation and intuition. To an experienced instructor, this is often second nature but as a beginner the prospect seemed rather intimidating.
To honour the reality of where I was at in my teaching journey, I decided that planning additional content for my classes would be the way to go. For my first hour-long class I planned twenty minutes of extra content. This way, if I noticed the movement I was offering wasn’t landing well with the group, I could move on to another exercise without fear of running through my whole sequence before the end of class.
Being able to teach responsively is a hugely resourceful tool for any instructor, but in my case practicing this way of teaching also highlighted the distance between my own lived experience and that of my students. So, as this post comes towards an end, I’d like to take a moment to briefly speak to the ethical consideration of leading accessible classes as an able-bodied person.
When I began this journey, I had hoped that my experience with critical illness would serve as a bridge to understanding a reality much different than my own. In some way it has helped but I would limit this only to better informing my position as an ally. My heart tells me that someone with real lived experience should be leading these classes.
Unfortunately, the same barriers to entry that individual’s experiencing disability encounter when pursuing a yoga practice are further amplified when it comes to pursuing yoga teach training. There are few accessible training programs available and little representation of accessible-focused teachers in mainstream yoga culture.
I believe that accessible yoga is in a period of transition. A period where those of us with privileged positions have the responsibility to encourage, empower, and make space for those within the community to take their rightful place to teach from the lived experience of disability. I hope the day soon comes that I can step aside from my role as facilitator to make space for someone with lived experience. Until then, it’s an absolute privilege to be in this position.
Band-aids have their place, but they don’t really support deep healing. And in a broken system, self-care routines are like minnows swimming upstream against the raging currents of neoliberal hyper-individualistic capitalism.
Caring self-regard and self-loving actions do matter – but practically, it’s the more well-resourced among us who reap the benefits of self-care habits. The time, money, and education required to identify helpful strategies and act upon them is not equally accessible to all.
Obsession with the Self in Self-Care
Hustle culture, grind culture, self-help and self-improvement culture all tell us that “no one is going to save you.” Yes, we should all do our best to treat ourselves as though our health matters, but this hyper-individualistic attitude is dissociated from the fact that as human animals, we heal and grow in relationship and in community. Doing everything yourself is not only near-impossible, it’s not even in our nature.
Many wellness influencers and coaches use our (justifiable) fears of illness and unworthiness to capitalize on our desperation to optimize our wellbeing and desirability. They reel us in by performing their own wellness, which is often bolstered by genetics and their existing resources, making promises of a better life through discipline, early-morning routines, and of course, unshakeable dedication to the self.
There’s nothing wrong with a morning routine, but emphasizing this self-focused approach has us wondering – what about the capacity for single-moms, low-wage workers, neurodivergent, chronically-ill & disabled folks, and individuals of marginalized identity to fight to swim upstream?
Imagining A New Way of Being
We’re wondering whether self-care would even be a thing in a radically transformed society, where we might live in accordance with the reality of interrelationship: where child-care was provided for, where everyone had enough good food to eat, where rest and leisure were truly recognized to be just as life-giving as exercise, achievement and production.
Could networked systems of care provide the support we all need for collective wellness?
We don’t advocate for giving up on self-care, but we do believe in an approach to wellness that uses the lens of the social determinants of health, and that emphasizes Community Care as a more ethical and more effective approach.
What Can Wellness Spaces Do?
We see the ways in which yoga studio culture can also be full of wimpy little band-aids, and we hope to be more, do more and influence the broader culture towards recognizing and acting on our innate state of deep interrelationship.
Our mission is “to create a better world with Yoga as our common ground.” Part of this means doing business in a way that embodies our values. We value compensating our staff and teachers fairly and generously, and we alue offering more equitable wellness opportunities.
This orientation to business and community leads us to offer things like no-questions-asked sliding scale pricing, scholarships for 1 in 5 spots in our YTT, and Community Care Week.
You can read more about Community Care and our approach here.
Leena here, Owner and Director of The Branches. I’m going to let you peek under the hood of my sequencing brain. If you’ve ever wondered how and why yoga teachers choose to sequence their classes in a certain way, this post will give you some ideas about how poses relate, and how they can build on one another, particularly towards a pinnacle or apex pose.
Let’s take the pose Utthita Hasta Padangustasana or Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose. I’d like to introduce you to it’s whole family.
So many asanas have close ties to other poses and I like to think of each pose having a family tree of relations: some shapes clearly give birth to other, or share a lineage, one building upon the next. You could think of Warrior 2 and Triangle being a married couple, or cat and cow being siblings. Poses also have what I like to think of as “family dynamics”: common pitfalls and also patterns of engagement/preparations/activations that are helpful.
If Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose is the daughter, here’s a lineage: 1. THE GRANDMOTHER: Reclined Hand (or strap) to Big Toe Pose (Supta Padangustasana) 2. THE CROCHETY AUNT: Triangle Table – with activations for hip, hamstring and groins (crochety – get it?) 3. THE FATHER + MOTHER: Warrior 2 and Triangle Hinges (Parsvottanasana and Trikonasana) 4. THE OLDER BROTHER: Tree (Vrksasana) 5. Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangustasana)
What’s my logic? All of these poses share similar shape in the hips: external rotation and flexion. #1, 3, 5 share very similar shapes in the hip and the whole top/front leg. #2 always gives her opinionated opinion and gets you ready for what’s to come. 4 and 5 are siblings because of being both standing balancing poses and tree naturally prepares you for the more challenging balance.
For our second shape, let’s do some genealogy for Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana or Bridge Pose.
Bridge is a pose that can be used in lots of sequences and for different purposes. It could be part of warm ups, show up in potpourri (a little bit of everything sequence), OR you can really break it down and build it up in a pinnacle sequence to deepen your understand and experience of the pose.
Let’s get into the weeds a bit… In bridge pose we have the following joint shapes: – Spine is extended (back bend) – Hips are extended (moving forward/up) – Shoulders are extended (moving behind the body) – Knees are flexed (bent to 90 degrees)
Here’s how the family tree I’ve chosen relates to and prepares you for bridge: 1. Locust and crocodile pulses: warm up the spinal, hip and shoulder extension 2. Kneeling Lean Backs: big time hip extension prep 3. Dancer Presses: warm up hamstrings, hip extension, shoulder extension and knee flexion 4. Forward folds with arms in strap: shoulder extension prep 5. Bridge Pose: ta-da!
In our upcoming Continuing Ed Module called *Sequencing with Purpose*, we’ll share a range of sequencing techniques from potpourri to therapeutic to pinnacle and beyond. You’ll get intimate with the family trees of poses, so really any pose could become a fascinating pinnacle pose to work with. We’ll also share invaluable tools for seamlessly integrating non-asana movements like mobility drills and strength training into your practices/classes.
Fun Facts about Sequencing with Purpose: ⭐15+ hours of content and learning! ⚡Sliding Scale Pricing ⭐All online, and recordings are yours to keep for a full year. ⭐For Yoga Teachers AND dedicated students!
Emma here, and I’m going to let you in on my secret revolutionary agenda for teaching yoga. My agenda is Body Positivity, with a side of creating a better world.
When I teach a yoga class, I’m teaching breath, poses and mindfulness. But underneath all of that, I am inviting presence, softness and forgiveness for all the ways that we have abandoned our bodies, and the bodies of others. I am creating space for people to come back to their bodies, rekindle connection, and emerge with a renewed relationship with their bodies. This is how I am quietly working to change the world.
How we think and feel about our bodies is political and world-changing because it affects how we think about the bodies of others around us. It affects which other bodies we believe are deserving of care, attention, love or rest. It affects how we vote, what we buy, who we listen to, and how we bring up our children. Body Positivity as a practice can reshape how we see not only ourselves, but all the bodies around us.
It’s about unwinding our attention from how we look to what we want – what kind of world we want to live in. If we’re not preoccupied with our weight or shape or height or skin, what would we spend our time building? Body Positivity is about remaking our world, remaking our definition of beauty and worth, remaking our lives to celebrate the beautiful differences that we have and are.
Body Positivity was at its inception, a political stance. In the mainstream it has been whitewashed and watered-down to simplified slogans like “love the body you have”. Body Positivity was created by Fat, Black, queer women and femmes, and was intended as a political statement/practice for those whose bodies were the least accepted by the mainstream. Remembering this history, we can think of Body Positivity as a collective practice with a radical intention. Rather than mainly considering our perception of *our own* bodies, can we commit to accepting, loving or uplifting *all* bodies? Particularly those bodies that we might not see regularly represented in our world?
A Body Positive Yoga Practice does not need to include directives to LOVE YOUR BODY (has hearing that helped anyone actually love their body, ever?). Body Positivity is not about cheerleading or slogans. It is about presence and awareness, excavating old beliefs and cultivating new ones.
I rarely say things like “Love your body” in my classes, because it isn’t that simple, and it isn’t the point. You don’t learn to love something by being told to do so. You learn to love something by getting to know them, and seeing their wondrous and curious quirks! You learn to love something with presence, attention and consistency.
A few years ago my friend Simone shared a Body-Positive idea with me that I have never forgotten. It seemed like an idea to remake the world. It was revolutionary and ground-changing and incredibly simple. It was this: At the Jewish summer camp where Simone worked, they had one rule for the kids. NO BODY TALK. This meant that talking about other people’s bodies was off the table, including compliments (about clothes, jewelry, haircuts).
I was flummoxed.
“So the kids can’t even say they like another kid’s shirt?”
“No, because one kid getting attention for their shirt might make another kid self-conscious if they never get compliments on their clothes.”
I continued to prod.
“What about if you were wearing something really interesting, like a really unusual hat?”
“They can talk about that. They can ask questions. One thing we suggest is that they ask for the story of someone’s hat or shirt. That way it’s a bit more about curiosity than approval or status.”
I loved this idea for so many reasons, one of which is that it de-centres what is at the surface and asks us to look deeper. It’s easy to talk about someone’s haircut, but how are they actually doing under there? Body Positivity is not about just saying nice things to yourself or others; it’s about really getting to know ourselves, learning the deeper stories and hearing the difficult truths.
My deepest hope is that the practice of Body Positivity will help us recognize and celebrate the gorgeous differences in all bodies, and that out of that will grow the seeds for a better world.
Many of these ideas were inspired by Sonya Renee Taylor’s work, and her amazing book “The Body is Not an Apology”. What I am calling Revolutionary Body Positivity, she calls Radical Self Love. I really, really recommend her book.