by Rachel Allen
What does a welcoming environment feel like to you? How do you go about creating that for your students?
This is always a growing edge for me.
I put an inquiry out on social media a few months ago asking folx who were interested in yoga but did not participate in public classes, exactly what held them back. 88 people responded. The overwhelming majority reported social anxiety and a fear of not fitting in.
When I inquired into this a little deeper, people reflected that their body size, shape, and what they perceived as a lack of strength and flexibility were not “yoga bodies”.
They reflected that they didn’t see bodies like theirs in depictions of yoga on social media, in advertisements, or some shared, in classes that they attended, perhaps once. One woman, a regular student of mine in my outdoor yoga classes in a city park, went to a local yoga studio once and she felt her presence in a larger body completely flustered the instructor. The teacher lacked understanding of choices and options for her body and this made my friend/student extremely uncomfortable.
Yoga is a practice that has benefits for all the domains of resilience, physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. All of us have had our lives transformed by this practice and we might even say, “If you are breathing, you can do yoga.” And yet, we have the challenge of communicating that through the languaging and imaging of the content we put out hoping people respond and come to our classes. Who are we speaking to in the languaging and content? Who feels welcomed and included before they even show up? It is such a vulnerable experience to practice yoga. It is an enormous responsibility to create space for this practice as renowned teacher Donna Farhi states, “we hold people's hearts in our hands.”
So, this includes, but goes deeper than the choices and options in pranayama, asana and meditation, and invitational language. To me, inclusivity and accessibility are rooted in radical welcoming. This radical welcoming is a harmonization (or a rich stew if you prefer food metaphors) between confidence and humility, a well-structured class and our ability towards adaptation, and recognition of our and our student’s fragility and fortitude.
So, my questions to all of you who are interested in this topic:
Where is your growing edge in welcoming and including students with varying abilities?
What are you interested in learning from this series?
More on invitational language and cueing?
Sequencing an All Levels Class?
Do you want opportunities to lead short practices in a teaching environment with supportive feedback?
Let’s co-create together in building your skillset here.
Join Rachel on The Thread.
Rachel leads a monthly class on the 1st Monday of each month at 12:00pm EST on How to Make Your Classes Inclusive and Accessible.
Also, Join Rachel Allen and Liza Bertini on Monday, October 16th at 7:00 pm EST for a community conversation about what belonging and inclusion look like in yoga. They will discuss how we, as teachers, can cultivate spaces and experiences that embody belonging and inclusion.
About Rachel Allen
Rachel is a teacher on The Thread. She is trained as a Dynamic Gentle Yoga Teacher through Rudy Peirce and as an Accessible Yoga Ambassador through Accessible Yoga School. She has an adult daughter, Riley who has spina bifida and uses a wheelchair for navigation (and occasionally practices yoga with her mom). Rachel is committed to radical hospitality and welcoming students from all areas of life and ability.