This weekend, I spent some time at Queen Street Yoga with an incredibly engaged and interested group of yoga teacher trainees. I was invited there to present on body positivity and speak to my experience teaching yoga for bigger bodied people as part of a larger conversation about inclusivity within the yoga space (and beyond). It is refreshing to me everytime I am called upon to share my expertise about these topics becuase it signals to me a future for yoga that is inclusive and empowering, which is what we all deserve. Also exciting, early Friday morning, I will be flying to Just Breathe Yoga in sunny St. George, Bermuda to teach my entire 200-hour yoga teacher training program! Just Breathe Yoga invited me there because Samantha, the owner, resonated with my approach to the practice and she wants me to spread that love all over her island. What these experiences are reinforcing for me is, more and more, we are realizing that the spaces that we have built, the language that we use, the assumptions that we have, and the actions that we take need to be considered with as many different lenses as possible. Our life experiences, our family history, our social groups, our workplaces, and our inherent priviledges shield us from some realities of experience that we could live our whole lives without considereing. The problem with this sceanario is that people are being left behind. Not just within the yoga space, but with regards to access, education, and many experiences in our communities. If we only allow ourselves to participate in the world from the safety of that which is familiar, we have no need to change our lens. The more time we spend in comfort, the more our beliefs, paradigms, and gaps in understanding are reinforced and, perhaps, the harder they may be to change.
Let me give you an example of how insidious this is: make a list of the ten most influential people in your life … Go ahead … I’ll wait.
Now, make a different list with some descriptions you could use to categorize people. For example: age; race; highest level of education completed (high school, post-secondary school, trade school, etc.); chosen gender identity; marital status; religion; sexual orientation; convictions; family status, etc. Lastly, fill in the second list with the characteristics of each of your top ten as well as for yourself. What did you find? For most people, those who we spend the most time with and/or who are most influential in our lives not only share very similar characteristics, but also are very similar to us.
We don’t know what we don’t know and we really have to try to know what we don’t know. We won’t learn and grow staying safely within the boundaries of our understanding. We need to read about, follow, and visit people and places that are outside of our own understandings. Want to know how you can best support elderly people? Spend some time at your local seniors centre, call your grandma, or strike up a conversation with a septuagenarian sitting by themselves in the restaurant, waiting room, or on the bus that you’re on. Once you’re embedded within this community, close your mouth and open your ears. You never learn anything new if you’re talking. You see, from our current vantage point, we can never see another person’s perspective and our beliefs will rarely be challenged because those around us are informed from the same histories, education, and influences. When faced with a reality that is completely different from our own is not only how we learn to do less harm as we participate in the world, but also what ought to inspire our allyship.
Allies are people who recognize their privilege and take responsibility for changing the patterns of injustice imbedded within our society that resulted in them earning said privilege (for example, able-bodied people who work to end ableism). Being an ally doesn’t mean that you 100% understand what it feels like to be oppressed. It just means that you are taking on this struggle as your own. A marginalized person doesn't have the privilege of casting away their identity through oppression on a whim. It is a weight they carry every single day. An ally understands that this is now a weight that they must also be willing to carry and never put down, though they have the privilege of doing so. This is a powerful voice alongside the voice of marginalized people.
To be an ally means to listen, be aware of limplicit bias, do research and learn about the history of the struggle that you are participating, do the inner work to acknowledge how you participate in oppressive systems, while doing the outerwork to change those systems, and amplify amplify amplify - you have a voice; use it to share the message of marginalized people and add your voice to the the voices of those who fight without your privilege.
As a fat person facing body shame on the daily, I use the internalized practice of body positivity to participate in a radical global movement that sees the individual right of every single human being to exist and participate in the world and be seen as equal to every other human being regardless of their size or any other characteristic society may choose to label them with. Uncover your own oppression and participate in movements that are working to end this discrimination as a marginalized person. Then, use the same thinking and actions to become an ally with other groups who are struggling against oppression. Is it easy? No. Change never is. Is it necessary? Absolutely. We deserve it.
As Nelson Mandela once said “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other - not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who are learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future”