Whose Bodies are “All Bodies?” Accessibility and Yoga Communities

I never try to “keep up” in a yoga class. I adapt the hell out of any practice to make it my practice for my body and not for someone else’s. That said, we’ve seriously got to look at who is included and who is alienated by the gap between how so many classes are described and what actually happens in a class. I remember the fallout the happened when a class in BC was billed as “All Bodies Yoga” because of their lovely priority of making a safer space for a broad spectrum of sizes and genders… but the class was held in a studio that was up a flight of stairs! Whose bodies were part of “All Bodies” and whose bodies were left out? The gaps aren’t always as obvious as a flight of stairs. 

In February I went to a class that was described as an “accessible” class for all abilities. The class itself was dizzyingly fast paced and based on active, strength based poses with no alternatives offered. I wasn’t adapting a practice, I was doing a completely different practice with some concern that people’s flying legs might hit me on their way back down. It was not advertised as hot yoga but the temperature was hot enough to bring on a fever flare for me for a couple of days. It was tightly packed and people’s products started to make me dizzy which also took me days to recover from. I have no problem with the class in and of itself, but had it been advertised as a vigorous flow class for those who can tolerate high heat, I never would have had the health fall out from having tried to go. 

This summer, I was at a much beloved outdoor music festival where they offered small Seatedyoga classes in different corners of the park. Just being at the festival isn’t easy on my
body and I excitedly welcomed this space as a chance to have a practice with other people. The program stressed that is was for everyone of all abilities, stating that we were welcome if we “have a body and are breathing.” The whole class was then conducted standing with muscle building repetitions and balance poses. I can understand having a standing class in a park, but how about advertising it as an active, standing practice suitable for people without mobility or balance concerns? Either that or have two teachers, one to offer alternatives to each pose.

In both cases the alternate wording would require folks to be real about the exclusion of

2016-01-09 12.35.35
Much of my practice is seated. 

people with disabilities that is occurring and either work to change it or acknowledge that solving this exclusion is not a priority. Why does this matter so very much? I know that I am not recounting trauma and that folks (including myself) are facing much more grave issues everyday. However, despite the abundance of wealthy, white, able-bodied women doing yoga, many folks seeking a community of practice share little to nothing with this demographic. Many people seek yoga to find a space to learn to feel safe inside their skin, to heal from damaging events, and to eke out a space to love themselves when feeling otherwise betrayed by their bodies or within a larger culture that is rife with messages that particular bodies are not loveable. 

How important is it, then, that when we seek such spaces we are not met with implicit or explicit messages that “our bodies” are not included under the banner of “all bodies.” We need to not be further alienated by the message that having a body that is breathing does not include our ways of having bodies. If claims of accessibility are to be made, they need to require a conscious effort to be just that. Let’s work to create more spaces where “all bodies” can include ever increasing ways of having bodies–both on and off the mat. 

 

 

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