November 15 | Beginner Yogi | The Lifestyle |
Walking into a new yoga class and being the “beginner yogi” can be scary. You look around and notice all the experienced yogis, the ease with which they move through the asanas, the long, lean muscles gracing their bodies. My body has never looked like the yoga bodies I’ve seen in many commercials and magazines. My body is rounder and less toned, and for many years my body made me nervous to step into new studios and classes. I know other students who’ve felt the same way—like they didn’t belong in the yoga studio. Often, exclusivity isn’t a result of anything the yoga teachers have done or said. It’s merely a reflection of what we’ve typically seen in a yoga class. It’s also a reflection of our own self-esteem and self-doubt. But the truth is, a yogi doesn’t have one look and the right yoga studio is one of the safest, most inclusive places to be.
Yoga teachers and studios are being more transparent about inclusivity in the yoga studio now. Instructors have realized that when students feel unwelcome, they don’t feel comfortable returning to the studio and they can’t enjoy the benefits of a group yoga class. So, the last time I entered a new studio I made my hesitancy clear. I was interested in how the studio would approach my nerves and concerns, and I wanted to be brave and open about why I sometimes felt uncomfortable in yoga classes. I was welcomed with open arms and my worries were eased immediately. My new instructor discussed the diversity of students in the classroom—it was comprised of first-time students and lifelong yogis. There were students in their 70s and students in their teens. There were a variety of genders, abilities and body types represented in the class, and each student was working toward their own goals. This is the beauty of a yoga class—it’s not a competition. It’s about your own personal physical and mental journey.
As I adjusted my mindset, I paid closer attention to what my teachers had to say. They reminded us to remain focused on our intentions for class. They reminded us not to compare our movements and poses with those of other students. They reminded us to stay present with our own process and work on challenging ourselves without pushing too hard. They reminded us to be brave enough to trust our own strength. Once I truly listened, I realized that I did belong. No matter what my body looks like or your body looks like or what we can or cannot do, we are all welcome in the yoga studio.
When a studio truly honors the unifying, inclusive messages within the tenets of yoga, they make their students feel welcome and included. They remind you to be gentle with your body and your emotions as you make your way through new movements. They help you feel comfortable learning how yoga works for you and your body. If you want to learn more about what inclusivity in yoga looks like, learn about what people look for in an inclusive yoga class and how to help facilitate that environment. Join workshops, like Yoga for Inclusivity and Compassion: How to Create a Welcoming and Safe Space for All Students, which will take place at YogaSix’s Milwaukee studio on Sunday, November 19th from 1:30pm to 3:00pm. Explore how to break down barriers to inclusivity in yoga as a student or teacher, as well as how issues relating to gender, race and the body can affect how welcome students feel in a yoga class.