By Brooks Hall
In “LGBTQ” I’ve heard the “Q” refers to “queer” or “questioning”. It keeps awareness open for discovery, and allows for a worldview that is defined by individuals instead of dogma, and doesn’t force folks into “M” or “F” categories. People can discover and determine their expression for themselves. Talk about utopia (at least in my perception)!
I attended my first queer yoga class about a year ago in San Francisco. It was well attended. It was very comfortable and inclusive of big body types and radical expressions. A class for queers. I enjoyed it.
A couple months ago a friend, and long-time participant in my yoga classes, and I started to bring together our ideas and gather people to come together for queer yoga community in Chicago. We are a collective of teachers and participants coming together for queer yoga.
We’ve had a couple of donation-based classes, and we’re looking to continue to define our perceptions of queerness intersecting with yoga as we go forward. It’s not a set thing. We are learning as we go, and looking to participants and teachers to inform what we do.
It is important to me that our queer community yoga classes are welcoming to all gender expressions, emotional states and big bodies. Yoga as advertized in mainstream media offers yoga as another way to lose weight. In queer community yoga we want to embrace our expressions without trying to manufacture bodies that present in a certain or unified way.
Some questions: “Can yoga be identity supporting?” and ”Can a yoga class respect the agency of participants?”
I’m inspired recently by community accountability techniques that center on the survivor of trauma to determine what they need. Is it possible to offer creative space in a yoga class for participants to center on themselves and to trust what they know in order to heal? As a group we offer community support. As individuals we support what people need, including what we, ourselves need.
I’ve come to this pursuit of queer community and yoga because I had become disillusioned on the subject of yoga. The idea that we are supposed to trust “ancient teachings of yoga” had left me wanting, especially when modern research locates much of the beginning of what we are practicing today in the recent past. I’m also turned off by beliefs that the yoga teacher’s job is to pack into classes as many students as possible, and therefore to be as crowd-pleasing as possible. I tend to not feel like I belong in those classes.
Talking with self-identified queer yoga teachers has inspired me deeply. I wonder if there is an opportunity to create yoga classes that express the world I want to live in where different expressions are honored, and people are respected for who they are, instead of who we think they should be. Let’s let our friends teach us who they are. People are so awesome!
Let’s experience and express our physical, mental and emotional potentials together in yoga classes that give people room to participate and learn technique to feel better and more at home in our bodies, and also give space for doing one’s own thing if that’s what’s called for on a given day. Yes, as yoga teachers, it might be scary to give a bit more freedom in class. But it’s worth it!
And yes! I’m filled with beautiful questions about what queer yoga might mean as we go forward with self-determined identity-honoring techniques (like asking people if they’d like to share their name and preferred pronoun at the beginning of class), preconceived notion-shattering yoga classes, and community building efforts.
I never want the “Q” to lose the power of questioning.
Brooks Hall is a yoga teacher, activist and writer living in Chicago. More of their (Brooks’ preferred gender-neutral pronoun) writings can be found at root wisdom yoga rootwisdomyoga.com.
This article originally appeared on Salted Scarletry, a website for, by and about the feminine.
I have been blessed to study at studios that celebrate everybody, and every body. There are no wall-length mirrors, no competition, and I have always been able to honor where I am and who I am at all times. I know this is not everyone’s experience, and that saddens me. But I am heartened that there are teachers like you working to bring yoga to marginalized communities. Namaste!
Hi Donna! Thank you for recognizing this issue! & I’m glad you’ve found a yoga class situation that works for you!
*note on the word “marginalized”: definition from my computer, “marginalize |ˈmärjənəˌlīz|
verb [ trans. ]
treat (a person, group, or concept) as insignificant or peripheral.
Thank you Brooks for writing a great article. I too am a certified yoga instructor but have “retired” because I just couldn’t be the crowd pleaser, picture of perfection that you speak of. I whole heartily agree that a yoga shala should be a place of acceptance and support, but somehow the industry has turned into something judgemental and competitive. Your article (and probably your classes) are very much part of the solution.
Yoga is for all bodies and all people, regardless of weight, shape, race, gender, sexual orientation- well regardless of anything actually!
🙂 Thank you!
If we want to feel part of a yoga community, if we want classes to be inclusive and open to all, if we stand for the idea that yoga is for everyone – then why do we need a separate class differentiating people based on sexual orientation? Please enlighten me as I do not understand. I understand differentiating classes by style of yoga or even ability level (for safety), but why would one’s sexual identity be a factor in practicing asana? It seems to me to reinforce the labels we give ourselves in addition to solidifying a perceived separation between those who identify as queer vs not. You can teach things like showing yourself love, respect, acceptance & compassion to anybody in any class – I’m not sure separate classes based on the divisions we place between people gets us closer to a goal of yoga being inclusive for all beings. I’d love some help in understanding – how would you teach asana differently for a queer group and why?? Thanks!!
Hi Jenna, You have a great point about further seperating and/or categorizing people based on their sexual orientation. However, I’m not so sure it’s about teaching differently. I think it’s about creating an environment that is 100% supportive and they are surrounded by others that may be facing some of the same issues and difficulties. This kind of gathering can create connections that give strength and confidence outside of the yoga studio. I can’t count the number of “yoga” classes I’ve attended where acceptance and support were the last things on the priority list. A place like described above, would be a welcome break for many people.
As a man, I have asked myself why women would want women-only gyms, workout rooms or yoga classes. I think a lot of women are intimidated and/or overly self-conscious in mixed sex classes, and our society as a whole accepts that in matters that intimately involve body-image, female segregation is okay. While activities that display physical appearance can be difficult for men also, generally it is not as difficult and with more testosterone and in a society more accepting of different male body types, we have a great advantage. By the same logic, classes geared toward LGBTQ individuals also make sense- especially since no one can systematically exclude heterosexuals- one’s sexuality is generally invisible, so it is only an issue of self-identification. At least this is how I understand the situation. I also accept that other people can disagree and you have a point about aiming an exclusive audience.
being queer is less about sexual orientation and more about a rejection of binary thinking. if it helps, think of being the only democrat in an economic class of republicans. how safe to express yourself would you feel?
I don’t get it either… separate but equal? who is uncomfortable is the question. If one is not straight but would like to participate in a yoga class, embrace your authentic self. No different than a black woman or man walking into a class of solid white females. Embrace all body types? Everyone can practice yoga? Of course with one caveat- yoga is about developing a positive relationship with your body- the mind body connection. Being a few pounds over weight is a lot different than 50-100lbs. Yoga would bring one face to face with that physical limitation which represents a mental/emotional challenge
Hi Jenna! Thank you for commenting! It adds a lot to read how others respond & think on the issues I care deeply about.
I read in your comment that you understand having different classes for safety—the context indicates that you mean physical safety for ability level. Are people bodies only? What is identity? How do we define that? For me sexuality does not have a ton to do with a yoga class, but gender identity yes: the way we present ourselves does have something to do how we are perceived in a class. A class is an interactive environment: a teacher will often interact with people in class, and often the people there will be friendly and welcoming or not. A big part of queer yoga is about creating a safer space for expression of self. We don’t all have to be the same (with the right hair, clothes and disposition) to be welcomed and respected.
When yoga is defined as an exercise, it brings problems. But when one sees it as people see it in India, there are no problems; Yoga is a spiritual practice and tradition, not a form of sport. So, there should not be a problem with queer classes! Yoga is a practice of love and understanding, of course everyone is welcome. We are all one!
Excellent article, great insights. Just one thing I want to address, which is the problem with “ancient teachings.” It’s true that all that has been very likely exaggerated in the interest of gaining adherents. However, there is evidence people have been using forms to bolster health in China for a few thousand years; and there are also documents that indicate similar pursuits in India (see “The Yoga Tradition of the Mysore Palace” by N.E. Sjoman) for around 500 years, or longer if you include the esoteric practices of the Nath yogis. The important thing is that yoga works, and the more recent innovations can be viewed as evolution. There is no “pure yoga,” but in another sense this can free us to find our own path. There are things about the current scene to be disillusioned with, sure, but I think we can step back from this one. Incidentally we’ll be addressing the concerns regarding yoga history in Yoga Teacher Magazine in our spring issue.
Some questions: “Can yoga be identity supporting?” and ”Can a yoga class respect the agency of participants?”
Yoga is not identity supporting in the way you are using it. The ground of being lacks gender or orientation, it is the pure impulse of life. The reaffirmation of the particularized I is an obstacle to understanding oneself and the nature of reality. Basically every single yoga tradition agrees on this. Negate yourself.
Since I believe in a spirituality of questioning, rather than rigid and sure word answers, I’ve been thinking on your response and feeling glad about it because it does shed light on why people are comfortable feeling that everyone should simply assimilate into mainstream yoga classes, that “everyone” should be able to get into it—because yoga is really about getting past who we think we are into a pure bliss-place or “higher” knowledge or understanding. By buying into notions that we’re “all the same” and thinking that we should identify with the bliss-place rather that our earthly cloak, we sometimes get tricked into ordinary cultural blindness and fail to see that that kind of believing can invisibilize identities that are not mainstream, and unwittingly become a part of the cultural mechanics that support oppression, like constant messages that everyone should be slim, loose weight, and be married… I think that an “all one” yoga mentality can too easily slide into less tolerance on the earthly plane where we live our embodied lives—this place is important to me.