Let’s Talk About Yoga Spaces

This post is written by Cassidy McCabe (pictured right), graduate of our 2020 Yoga Teacher Training cohort, and features a conversation with her friend and fellow Yoga practitioner, Adwoa Toku (pictured left).

I knew that enrolling in the yoga teacher-training program through Queen St. Yoga would transform the way I thought about yoga forever. Initially, I learned how to sequence a great class, how to give anatomical cues, and how to adapt poses for different skill levels.  It was very important to me to be prepared to teach students from their mats; and as I continued to study, my understanding of yoga was drastically altered. The changes in my concept of yoga began when the program introduced some preliminary anti-oppression education. I started to contemplate some of the personal challenges that can inhibit individuals from even taking their first step onto a yoga mat. I began to wonder if yoga is accessible to all people.

Spoiler alert: it’s generally not.

Can race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, age, body size or ability be a barrier which stops people from even beginning a personal yoga journey? These questions started to percolate with me, serendipitously, at the same time I was being exposed to the Black Lives Matter social movement in my community and around the world. To further explore my questions, I reached out to one of my close friends, Adwoa Toku. 

Adwoa, wearing black shorts and a t-shirt, practices Dancer's pose outside among flowers and shrubs.

 “Creating these transformative practices to address things that we know we’re all dealing with… the anxiety we feel in our bodies; the fear, the guilt, the shame, these are things that a lot of the time, even if we talk about, it still exist within our bodies. So how do we move these things that our body holds outside of it; and how do we then give ourselves space to move forwards and to move together?” –Adwoa Toku

Learning In Relationship

Adwoa and I have been friends since we met in residence at Wilfrid Laurier University, in 2012. We discovered yoga separately, but would communicate elements of our journey with each other, and share our love for the practice. Given our friendship, I felt comfortable asking Adwoa for her perspective. As a Black yogi, I hoped Adwoa would be able to provide me with some insight to the questions I had a desire to explore.  When I approached her about the concept of how yoga spaces can be inhibitive for individuals, Adwoa was enthusiastic about being part of the conversation.

Adwoa’s Lived Experiences

We recorded ourselves on a Zoom call and the results were informative and transformative for me personally. Adwoa’s charisma and honesty shines through, as she speaks from the heart about her yoga journey. Here is the link to our conversation:

Adwoa had a few final words to summarize the key points of our discussion:

“At the end of the day, my experience as a Black yogi is equal to my experience moving through the world; navigating spaces that don’t necessarily see me in their landscape, but knowing I deserve to shape my life in a way that fills me up. It’s up to those who hold privilege to show up and have the hard conversations with their peers, who hold privilege as well. It’s the ways of complacency and comfort that have led us here; those of us who experience it’s shadow know that marginalization is nothing new. Moving from a heart-centred place sometimes feels like jumping into the fire, of all the hard realities we don’t want to see, but is necessary for change.” -Adwoa Toku

Walking Backwards – Widening My View

This blog post was written by studio director Emma, who has been travelling across Canada and in the United States for the last few months on a sabbatical from teaching. Emma will be back to teaching at the studio in November, and wishes to share this update about her trip with the QSY community. This post relates to the recent work Queen Street Yoga has been doing on Indigenous land acknowledgement and educating ourselves about the cultural genocide of First Nations populations in Canada.

At a contact dance workshop this summer, I participated in an exercise that included walking backwards along a forest path. The exercise encouraged us to sense the space behind us, which is a useful awareness to cultivate in dance. I walked backwards for over an hour along a winding forest path, over jagged rocks, bumpy tree roots and clumps of moss. The sensation was fascinating. I realized that I have had a habit of looking down at the ground as I walk, in order not to trip. Facing away from where I was walking to required me to slow down a great deal and sense carefully with my feet the texture and topography of the ground. Looking down was no longer a helpful strategy. My gaze was up and my awareness surrounded me like a sphere. I was no longer focused on moving ahead, on getting somewhere; I was filled up with the view of the landscape I was moving through, and an energetic sense of the landscape I was backing into.

One of the most noticeable differences in the experience of walking backwards is that your view is constantly widening.  Rather than things disappearing from your peripheral vision (which is what happens when you move forwards) the landscape appears slowly at your sides and seems to bloom out and emerge from the edges of your vision. What you see seems to grow in context and size, rather than shrink in anticipation and pursuit of your destination. Walking backwards, one is not preoccupied with the destination, rather, with having the fullest sense of the landscape, and of treading carefully on the ground. Continue reading

Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice and Inclusion

This guest post is by Christine Witmer Lang, a long-time yoga and meditation practitioner, a member of QSY’s 2015-2016 Yoga Teacher Training program.

Reflections on Yoga, Social Justice, and Inclusion

Before I began Yoga Teacher Training, I admit I spent very little time thinking about the broader social and cultural aspects of yoga. Like many things that come into our lives, I came to yoga aware only of what this practice could do for me. I enjoyed the challenge of the physical movement through poses, the integration of breath, and the continual invitation to be aware of how my body felt as it moved through a sequence.  Yoga gave me a sense of embodiment and calm, which over time permeated into other parts of my life.  Through yoga, I believed I had found a home.  Yoga made my life better, my body stronger, and my mind clearer.  It felt as though yoga had been made for my body and temperament – as if yoga had been made for me.

Through discussion on yoga teacher training weekends, through readings, videos, and workshops, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that yoga has a history and cultural complexity that extends far beyond our North American understanding of its practice. The very practice through which I learned embodiment has been cut off from its roots, and has suffered a disembodiment of its own. Continue reading

Unearthing Ideas of Privilege in Yoga

DSC_3578Kristina recently graduated from our 2014 Yoga Teacher Training Program and will be sharing her laughter and love of yoga at Queen Street Yoga, alternating teaching the Friday 5:30pm Hour Flow with her fellow YTT graduate Marta! Kristina wrote this piece about privilege in the yoga community after our October 2014 Yoga Teacher Training Weekend, in which we looked at the various ways that folks with different kinds of privilege (because of their race, gender, body type, sexuality) might experience a yoga studio (and the world) differently. 

Cath in Dorset- Assistant Gardener

Assistant Gardener by Cath in Dorset

I’ve been practicing yoga for about five years now.  As with anything new, in the beginning, I felt a little bit out of place.  I was uneasy about getting dressed in the change room with everyone else, uncertain of where to place my mat in the class room, and sometimes embarrassed about my inability to move with strength or grace through many of the postures that everyone else seemed so comfortable with.  Those fears were quickly dissolved by realizing that I wasn’t alone – others around me seemed to face the same fears, and those who had been around the block a few times were generally friendly and welcoming.  All was good.  What I didn’t realize was that this quickly-found comfort was, in many ways, a product of my privilege.

Continue reading