*CW discussions of transphobia
I was getting changed after a dynamic lunchtime yoga class at a local studio. After dithering too long getting out of shivasana, as I usually do I was the last one in there, doing my usual final safety checks that I hadn’t left my water-bottle, wallet, keys… when I heard them talking. Two teachers from the room next door, chatting:
‘Oh I didn’t tell you about the person who came to my class last week!’
‘Who was that?’
*laugh* ‘it was a man, dressed as a woman! or at least I think that’s what “it” was!’
‘Oh my god, what did you do?’
‘I couldn’t do anything, but thank God “it” didn’t come back this week’
I felt both my blood run cold and then spurt up in fiery fury, I was so angry that yoga teachers could talk about a person in that way, whether they were trans or not. It was dehumanising, cruel and against everything I believed yoga to be.
This was long before I had decided to teach myself, but overhearing that conversation had a huge impact on me. Not only did I never return to that studio but the seeds were sewn that when I qualified to teach, I wanted to create a yoga space where everyone was welcome, supported and nourished no matter what their gender, sexuality and expression.
Fortunately I have never witnessed anything as bad as that since in terms of transphobia, or homophobia; but through my personal yoga journey of study I have on a few occasions felt challenged by certain philosophies; and assumed heteronormativity in practices and classes have left me feeling “icky”.
When I travelled to India in 2016, I stayed in a Sivinanda Ashram, which was highly Sutric in its practices. To give an overview of what ‘sutric’ means, there is a monastic element to practice; and teachings often see sexuality and sex as something base, to be transgressed and suppressed on the way to “enlightenment”. The ashram forbid sexual contact (even hugging), and divided the genders to sleep so that even married couples were forbidden to share a room. Bellies, boobs, knees and shoulders had to remain covered in loose clothing, and the men were even encouraged to drink a daily herbal ‘tea’ that kept lusty thoughts (and certain morning reflexes) at bay. So with this attitude towards heterosexual sexuality as a source of shame, there was little chance of openness and embracing of other sexualities! I certainly never felt comfortable talking about my own sexuality there.
There is another pathway through yoga philosophy though, which is Tantra. Now for many people the word Tantra already has connotations of sexual liberation, experimentation and freedom. But that is because what they are really thinking of is ‘neo-trantra’ the slightly sexier branch of yogic philosophy that brought Eastern Mysticism to the Western Sexual revolution in the 1970s. Because of its focus on sex and sexuality, neo-tantra certainly seems to have ‘branched out’ in recent years to include all sexualities. Feel free to give ‘queer tantra’ a Google, I’m sure you’ll find some lovely things!
Tantra in the more traditional sense is a pathway of yoga that, rather than seeing us as base, unclean beings that have to use discipline and purification to get closer to the divine; sees us AS ‘the divine’ (even the sexy bits), always connected to ‘god’ or the world around us, and gives us tools (such as yoga practice, mantra and imagery) to help us feel into this connection.
Fortunately, my teacher training has been with a more tantric philosophy, and while studying Tantra, gender and sexuality comes up quite often. Some of it I identify with and fits in with my own feelings of queerness – such as the idea of us all being made up of both masculine and feminine energies; and that sexuality in general being a positive spiritual and physical practice rather than one that needs to be transgressed for enlightenment – however I still felt some gaps in my experience of the yoga world.
Emphasis on sexual experiences in yoga can still often feel heteronormative. Talks about positive sexual practices can still work on the assumption of a male/female coupling. As a bisexual woman, this is something that has often made me feel uncomfortable and something I feel needs rebalancing in the yoga world; to address different identities and sexualities.
Yoga often reveres the feminine; and this is unsurprising giving the percentage of yoga that is practiced by women. Yoga fills in many gasp, often left out of other religions or philosophies, for women. It is incredibly empowering, encouraging women to connect with and love their bodies and their bodily functions. Yoga for women, women’s circles, “womb yoga” and other groups that embrace this sacred femininity help women bond in a safe and nourishing space. But I also think back to that overheard conversation in the changing room and hope that trans women, non-binary women or women with different gender experiences feel that they can still be welcomed into such a sacred feminine space. Knowing the teachers I do, I hope that they will, but I worry, after that overheard conversation, that sometimes they may feel excluded; and the community aspect of yoga inspires me to create spaces where all genders feel accepted.
So with these musings, and with a desire to create a yoga space that is welcoming and inclusive to all sexualities and gender identities I have created Queer Yoga. With this class, I want to readdress the balance, but much more than that, I want to share yoga! That and my knowledge and understanding gained over the last nine years, with the community that I feel proud to be a part of. Yoga has helped me physically, mentally and emotionally heal, grow and develop on every single level. I have gained strength, resilience, confidence, better breath, better health; and I would hate to think anyone would keep away from yoga and all its benefits because they believed it ‘wasn’t for them’.
Queer yoga is an inclusive yoga class for the LGBTQ+ community and friends. Expect Vinyasa-style yoga for all levels with a focus on breath, alignment and building physical and mental strength; meet new friends and learn yoga in a safe and inclusive environment where gender expression and all sexualities are respected and celebrated.
Every Monday at Yoga On the Square 5.15pm-6.15pm
£9 drop in (discounted class cards available and also available on MoveGB)