February 25, 2013

Yoga Studios: Open to Everyone

A friend passed along this link via Facebook, from the Moonlitmoth blog: yoga and social justice.

Yoga Studios: Open to Everyone

It's a good read, thought provoking. I thought I'd do a little self examination of some of her recommendations / suggestions with regard to my own home studio.

Offer by-donation classes: I'll give us partial credit here. While we've never had a strictly "by donation" class, we do host a monthly "Free Intro to Yoga" class, we've had a weekly "Community Yoga" class ($6 suggested donation, all proceeds to charity), and we host a dozen $6 classes during the week.

We also offer work-study positions - cover a 4-5 hour shift per week and you get unlimited yoga. It's an awesome deal for a student, un or underemployed, etc. - I did work-study myself for a while before I started teaching. So, lots of low cost / no cost options.

Make your studio an LGBTQ safe space: Again, partial credit. We're not flying the rainbow flag, and not a lot of queer signifiers on the doors / windows. To be fair, there are *no* signifiers (yogic, political, etc.) on the doors / windows - more of an aesthetic choice, I think. On the other hand, the lot is filled with queerish bumper stickers, there are a number of out teachers / staff / work-study and visible relationships. I suspect we're also the only studio in the state with a trans teacher on staff ::she said, whistling and looking around innocently::

The studio makes generous donations (financial and items for silent auctions / raffles) to many of the local GLBT causes (CT Aids Oscar Night, G/L Film Fest are two I am aware of) which raises the LGBTQ footprint.

We fall down on the bathrooms - our changing areas are non-gendered, curtained off spaces - but we've only got two gendered bathrooms. I lobbied, hard, to take part of the three-stall women's room and make it a non-gendered, accessible bath / shower (would have also taken some of the load off the single men's room stall, which gets a bit of a line at times). Did not happen.

Multi-language posters/teachers: No points for this one. We're English only. Not sure how much of an audience there is for other languages, but we're certainly not chasing ESL populations. Interestingly, we do get a number of hearing impaired students, and we're talking about offering a sign language interpreted class.

Celebrate fat bodies and body diversity: Partial credit here. There's a lot of talk about healthy eating and nutrition - and I can see that getting a bit oppressive to some. On the other hand, several teachers fall outside of the "Size 2 yoga bod" - we've got diversity in size and in age on the staff. And the style of yoga at the studio is very diverse - ranging from restorative, gentle, yin, all levels, hot, power, pre-natal, post-natal, kids, tweens. There are a lot of options.

We did try to offer a "Yoga for Larger Bodies" class - and just not enough interest to make it fly - but hopefully that population can find a home in other classes. I know my classes are always modification and prop friendly!

Offer meditation classes: Double credit here. We've held a weekly meditation class since the studio has opened. And it's free. We also offer workshops in mindfulness, pranayama, savasana, yogic wisdom.

Make your studio accessible to people with non-normative physical abilities: This is a hard one. The main studio entrance has stairs - we've got an accessible ramp into the back of the studio (unfortunately, passing through our main studio) and we've got a portable ramp we can put out front. But we're really not set up for special needs yoga (chair yoga, etc.) in terms of teachers, facilities, etc.  Our restrooms and showers are ADA compliant however, and once inside the studio, it's all on one floor.

Offer trauma sensitive classes: Again, a tough one. I'd like to think that I and my fellow teachers are sensitive to trauma, that our intuitive skills are honed enough to recognize an issue and to work compassionately. But we could do better. It really comes down to the teacher - some teachers have a bit more loud, assertive teaching style, others are a lot more low key. But we don't offer special classes designed specifically for trauma survivors - no.

Don’t set up in a gentrified neighbourhood: Well, we're in toney West Hartford, and since that's embedded in the name / branding of the studio, it's hard to move out of town. On the other hand, we've always been in the least trendy, most industrial corner of the town. I'll give us partial credit here. In addition, the studio has been working with a local organization (with financial assistance and teachers) to bring yoga to underserved communities

Offer YTT scholarships: A significant number of teacher trainees receive assistance, either through work-study slots, outright assistance, or agreement to work with under-served communities once they graduate.

One big problem that we face is success. We're the biggest studio in the area, and we've got two studios that are larger than most. But with the larger studio comes higher overhead - so there is a need to put yogis on the mat for every available class time. A class that draws 5-6 people, regardless of focus, is not going to last. As a result, a lot of specialty classes (larger body, trauma, glbt, chair, ESL, etc.) never get off the ground, or are offered and fail, because the population just is not there to support that. I personally feel that our studio vibe is safe and flexible enough that folks who might otherwise fit into such specialty classes often opt for a regular class - find a teacher or class that works for them.  Alternately, I know many of our teachers (and training grads) teach specialty classes in the community.

A smaller studio, with a lower overhead and smaller studio, might find it easier to make niche classes work.

So - all in all, I think we're doing reasonably well. We could always do better. And this article was a good chance to step back take a look.

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