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

Restorative (Justice) Yoga

This guest-post was written by a member of our Yoga Teacher Training program, Jason Spencer.

I work as a mediator with a local organization called Community Justice Initiatives (CJI). Our work is rooted in the principles of Restorative Justice (RJ), which looks at unique ways to repair the harm done to people and relationships by engaging the individual who caused the harm, the people affected by the harm, and the community. By creating a safe place for conversation to happen, meaning and understanding can occur between the people involved and the community to restore relationships and allow for healing.

Recently, at the Waterloo Region Restorative Justice Circle, a collective of like minded individuals promoting RJ, we discussed how Waterloo Region is a hub of Restorative Justice. Rooted in strong aboriginal and Mennonite traditions, Restorative Justice principles are ingrained in much of the good work that is done throughout our Region, and elsewhere. There are local organizations we naturally  look towards for leadership around Restorative Justice, CJI and Conrad Grebel as examples, but we wanted to cast a larger net and identify other organizations who approach their work and role in the community from a restorative perspective.

For me, Queen Street Yoga (QSY) exemplifies this restorative approach to community. Take a look at their vision statement. The three sections of QSY’s vision statement are Rooted in Practice, Growing Community, and Cultivating Vibrant Lives.

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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