A few weeks ago, Leena and I went to a climate change support group. The event alternated between conversations in pairs and as a whole group. We talked about our love and appreciation of nature and our pain and worry at seeing the climate crisis evolve. We ended by envisioning new actions we could take, as individuals and as communities.
I thought I would leave the group feeling sad and overwhelmed, but instead I left energized and upbeat. I felt relieved to be sitting in a room of people talking about the crisis, rather than avoiding it.
And it brought Leena and I back to wondering what the practice of yoga can be at this time. If there can be a place for yoga to be a part of the change we want to see, rather than carrying on like it’s business as usual.
Yoga is a business, and Queen Street Yoga exists within capitalism. Yoga can be viewed as a tool of capitalism, a way to keep the cogs in the machine going. Yoga can help reduce stress in the workforce so everyone can keep consuming and the machine of big business can continue, unchecked.
If it weren’t for yoga, I would never have re-learned to enjoy my body.
As a child and teen, I was heavily involved in physical activity, but in my post-secondary years I succumbed to a sedentary lifestyle. The workload of university was overwhelming, but my total lack of movement or exercise occured, in large part, because of a string of traumas. These events left me feeling disconnected from my body, and more often than not, fearful and self-loathing.
Even though I knew it would help me, I resisted all physical activity. Sports were no longer any fun, and going the gym to “work out” seemed not only boring, but overly aspirational. Moving my body felt difficult, pointless, and unpleasant. Any movement or exertion which made me aware of my body, brought with it reminders of my trauma, and the pain that still lived within me.
In my final year of university, a friend convinced me to try a yoga class in the campus athletic centre. I was seduced by the mystery around yoga, and since it was the adventurous thing to do, I decided to join her. I still remember how the instructor led us through a soft and slow-paced class with careful instruction and plenty of room to be a beginner. I’ll admit it: I was hooked.
I was feeling worked up, and they were feeling impatient with me. So their shortcut to harmony was to tell me to “relax!”
You can imagine how that went.
I didn’t lash out at them, but I did feel hurt. I wasn’t trying to be dramatic, but I had real feelings about the situation. And being told to relax was a quick dismissal of my feelings, rather than an acknowledgement of them.
I have this same thought about the phrase “Love your body,” which is a phrase I don’t really use, especially not when I am teaching yoga. I don’t think it’s bad, I just think it’s on the same end of the spectrum as “relax.” It is an instruction that, while well-intentioned, might miss the point. Telling someone (even yourself) to “love your body” may not acknowledge the real and complex experience that you have with your body. That it might be hard to love your body when you feel that the world has been telling you it’s ugly, dysfunctional, or bad your whole life. It might be hard to love your body if your body is the site of trauma. It might be hard to love your body if your body is in pain a lot of the time, or experiences anxiety or depression.
What I wish my friend had asked me (instead of telling me to relax) was simply “What’s going on?” Taking a moment to acknowledge my feelings might have made a huge difference in how I was able to be present.
Sometimes when I am teaching, I feel a bit like a stand-up comedian. Depending on the mood and tone of the class, I might crack a lot of jokes, and add silly sound effects. Like a stand-up comedian, I try to poke fun at assumptions in our culture, usually those particular to the context of a yoga class.
With a sense of irony, I say things like:
“And if you can’t do crow pose, just know that you’re not as good of a person as everyone else.”
“Come out of this pose whenever you want. But you might not. Because peer pressure is real.”
When people laugh, I know I have struck a chord. The laughter denotes recognition of some sliver of truth. The truth that we still might be holding ideas about our physical abilities being equated to our moral character. Or how we have been conditioned to go along with a group, instead of listening to our individual needs.
A few weeks ago we received the following email from a student named Melissa who has become a regular at QSY since January. Her email really struck a chord with us. Melissa shared what a difference the atmosphere at the studio has made to her yoga practice, how it has helped her shift her relationship to pain, to internal competitiveness, to what she needs to cultivate a happy life. It was so wonderful to hear how the attitude of kindness that we cultivate at Queen Street Yoga resonated with her, and allowed her to be kinder to herself.
It is beyond wonderful when students share with us what a difference yoga has made in their lives. Because often as teachers, we don’t know! Folks might say “thanks, that was great!” after class, but since yoga is really an internal conversation that each person has with themselves, we as teachers don’t often know what the impact is.
Writing realizations down, or verbalizing them can be powerful. This is why we are working harder to share more of our story in our newsletter and our blog. Just like Melissa showed us who she is and what she’s learning from yoga, we want to show you who we are, get more of a window into why we teach yoga, what it means to us.
Curious about why we are offering a queer and trans yoga class? The following post was written by Jessica, a long time member of the qsy community as a work trade, and also as a consultant around starting the queer and trans class. Here she explains her perspective on why having a gathering place for queer and trans folks in a yoga studio feels valuable and important. This post wasoriginally published on Jessica’s blog, and has been reposted with her permission. Have a read!
Recently, Queen Street Yoga in Kitchener began offering Queer & Trans Yoga as a part of their weekly yoga class schedule. It is basic level class with a sliding scale monetary donation request, specifically for members of the LGTBQ+ community. The class originally started last year after consultations with local LGTBQ+ community members, but had been put to a pause after the teacher announced her relocation to another city. QSY was passionate and committed to finding a LGTBQ+ identified teacher who would run the class. Last week was the first week of the class resuming, with 14 members of the local LGTBQ+ community joining the class. This started a conversation among my social circle around the question “Why is there a need for Queer & Trans yoga?”. Several individuals questioned me on this, stating that yoga is a practice based on the acceptance and love of all peoples – so why would we need a “special” class for members of the gay community? Isn’t this excluding “straight people” from an inclusive practice?Continue reading “Re-Post: Queer & Trans Yoga: A Reflection on why it is needed and the purpose it provides”
“My adjustment card is always turned to green but I rarely get hands-on adjustments from the teacher. I am starting to take it kind of personally. Why aren’t I getting more hands-on adjustments?”
Queen Street Yoga had this question posed to us by a student and we want to respond to it. There is a big conversation about hands-on adjustments going on in the yoga community that includes conversation about teaching styles and qualifications, consent, and trauma awareness. Emma is one of the Co-Directors of Queen Street Yoga, and this is her current thinking/reflecting around common assumptions about hands-on adjustments. We welcome your comments, feedback, and conversation around this topic.
Assumption #1 – Yoga teachers are fully qualified and trained to give manual/therapeutic* adjustments.
At a contact dance workshop this summer, I participated in an exercise that included walking backwards along a forest path. The exercise encouraged us to sense the space behind us, which is a useful awareness to cultivate in dance. I walked backwards for over an hour along a winding forest path, over jagged rocks, bumpy tree roots and clumps of moss. The sensation was fascinating. I realized that I have had a habit of looking down at the ground as I walk, in order not to trip. Facing away from where I was walking to required me to slow down a great deal and sense carefully with my feet the texture and topography of the ground. Looking down was no longer a helpful strategy. My gaze was up and my awareness surrounded me like a sphere. I was no longer focused on moving ahead, on getting somewhere; I was filled up with the view of the landscape I was moving through, and an energetic sense of the landscape I was backing into.
One of the most noticeable differences in the experience of walking backwards is that your view is constantly widening. Rather than things disappearing from your peripheral vision (which is what happens when you move forwards) the landscape appears slowly at your sides and seems to bloom out and emerge from the edges of your vision.What you see seems to grow in context and size, rather than shrink in anticipation and pursuit of your destination.Walking backwards, one is not preoccupied with the destination, rather, with having the fullest sense of the landscape, and of treading carefully on the ground.Continue reading “Walking Backwards – Widening My View”
Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice, and Inclusion
Before I began Yoga Teacher Training, I admit I spent very little time thinking about the broader social and cultural aspects of yoga. Like many things that come into our lives, I came to yoga aware only of what this practice could do for me. I enjoyed the challenge of the physical movement through poses, the integration of breath, and the continual invitation to be aware of how my body felt as it moved through a sequence. Yoga gave me a sense of embodiment and calm, which over time permeated into other parts of my life. Through yoga, I believed I had found a home. Yoga made my life better, my body stronger, and my mind clearer. It felt as though yoga had been made for my body and temperament – as if yoga had been made for me.
Through discussion on yoga teacher training weekends, through readings, videos, and workshops, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that yoga has a history and cultural complexity that extends far beyond our North American understanding of its practice. The very practice through which I learned embodiment has been cut off from its roots, and has suffered a disembodiment of its own.Continue reading “Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice and Inclusion”
Queen Street Yoga teacher and creative director Emma Dines shares an important personal experience about race and representation as it relates to yoga teaching and representation in the yoga studio community.
During our March Yoga Teacher Training weekend, QSY hosted two presenters from Toronto who shared their experiences and best practices of merging anti-oppression work with the teaching of yoga/hosting of yoga studio communities. Jamilah Malika and Christi-an Slomka led the group in considering the experiences of those who are underrepresented in yoga studios and yoga media/imagery, and understanding how and why yoga studios remain mostly white and mostly cis-gendered spaces, and how and why we might work to shift this.
During our closing circle, where we shared our insights, reflections and challenges with one another, I shared the following personal story, which touches on themes of race and representation. It was a story that I had forgotten about, but it bubbled up to the surface during the circle.
A bit of background before the story. I grew up in Toronto in a mostly white neighbourhood, going to a mostly white school. I am mixed race – my mom is third-generation Japanese Canadian, and my dad is second-generation Scottish Canadian. I remember being pretty aware of my race as a child – I was one of two or three Asian or half-Asian kids in my class. When I blew the candles out on the cake at my eighth birthday, my wish was to wake up the next day with white skin and blond hair. My mother experienced what I now understand to be micro-aggressions from many of the other parents in the area. The racism that my mother, my siblings and I experienced was subtle, sometimes internalized, but definitely present.Continue reading “Yoga and Race: Why Representation Matters”