In order to cultivate a safe and supportive yoga community we need to start by looking at larger cultural issues that influence us, either consciously or unconsciously. We can also consider how to create spaces that foster inner connection and create a safe container that allows people to turn inwards.
Ironically, our ability to turn within is often limited by our external experiences and lack of access to supportive environments for learning and growth. Most yoga spaces feel exclusive and unwelcoming to many people who are actively seeking support. We often talk about creating safe spaces, which refers to the idea that we can create spaces that are safe for people with marginalized identities.
But the question of whether a space is safe or not is a completely personal thing. Just because you intend to create a safe space doesn't mean everyone will feel safe there. Even if a space feels safe to you, it may not actually work for someone else. That might be because they've experienced acute trauma or trauma based on a marginalized identity, such as racism, homophobia, or transphobia. Or, your efforts might be based solely on your experience, and someone else's trauma is different than yours.
On the other hand, the idea of a brave space means that we're brave enough to address the issues that make people feel unsafe. It means we're willing to stop avoiding addressing prejudice, oppression, and white supremacy that interfere with the possibility of creating a container for all participants to make that inward journey. I realize that a yoga class may not seem like the place to have a hard conversation about race or gender. But I actually think there are many ways to allow for discussion and questioning to happen, whether it's before, during, or after class, or if it's in your social media posts.
Sure, it's easy to say "be inclusive," but that is really an outdated concept. We can't simply build an exclusive community and then invite marginalized people to join us after the fact. A welcoming community needs to be built on a foundation of safety and equity for all of its members, from the very beginning. In the end, the relative safety of a space directly affects the students' experience. Over the years, I've found that there are a number of factors that support students in allowing themselves to relax. In Shavasana in particular, you can see how safety is the most important factor, but lighting, temperature, and quiet are all essential elements that contribute to letting go.
Remember, safety is in the eye of the beholder. If you're a teacher, some ways that you can create safety in yoga spaces is through trauma-informed practices, which include not touching students without consent, offering choices in all practices—including opting out—and generally giving students a sense of agency and control of their body and their practice. Also, you have to be careful to respect the experience of the student, rather than assuming it will be the same as yours.
Safety is the key to letting go and resting. Most of us are taught that we have to constantly push ourselves to be productive and to earn our keep. These ideas are so engrained in us that we don't see the ways that stress has degraded our health, self-esteem, and the quality of our lives. According to Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministry, "Rest is a form of resistance because it pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy."
Yoga offers an antidote to the "go, go, go!" mentality of our lives, but not everyone has access to these life-changing and lifesaving practices. Our challenge is to create yoga spaces that are truly welcoming to all. But it demands that we are both generous and humble.
The next Accessible Yoga Training Online with Jivana Heyman begins May 9th! Enrollment is open, and the course will run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through May 25th.
Scholarships are available. The deadline to apply is May 1st at midnight Pacific.
Questions about the training? Interested in learning about adapting popular yoga poses? Join Jivana for a free mini-workshop and information session all about the upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online.
Jivana will share several basic, effective techniques for making asana accessible along with skills to teach to all students, regardless of ability or style of practice. Jivana will also discuss the curriculum for his upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online, and he'll give away one free spot in the training!
Join Us for the Info Session
Friday, April 29, 2022
10am-11am PT (Los Angeles) // 1pm-2pm ET (New York)