I’m teaching two queer yoga workshops in July and I hope to see you there! Given that last month – and especially last weekend in Chicago – was PRIDE, this seems like a good time to ask . . . Why queer yoga? What does it mean to practice yoga w/ the context of queerness?
Look! It’s Lauren (http://rhinointhecity.wordpress.com), Danielle, Jen (http://swimsuitaddition.com), and Sophie and I PROMISE YOU it was a coincidence that they came in a rainbow for queer yoga last week.
There is a way to think about yoga that is about shapes. We use our spine, arms, and legs to create a lunge or a triangle or an arch. And it’s fun! I like making shapes with my body. It can be challenging. It can be playful. It strengthens and stretches your body and can give you a sense of accomplishment.
There’s another way to think about yoga (actually there are about 1 billion other ways to think about yoga . . . but here’s just one more for today) that’s about energy, or prana, and energy pathways in the body. You may or may not think about your body in terms of energetic pathways, but if you stop for a moment you have felt what I’m talking about. Maybe when you’re relaxing in a bath you get a pleasant tingling in your toes. Maybe as you sprint down the block to meet a friend you haven’t seen in years. Maybe during your first kiss with a new love or when you get a piece of good news from a family member. Energy flow feels good. It feels vibrant.
As we move through life things block those energy pathways. Someone cuts you off during your morning commute on Lakeshore Drive. Your friend stands you up for dinner. You experience rejection by a significant other, a family member, a prospective employer. And boom, boom, boom. You’re walking around with potholes in your internal energy highway. And no WONDER your back hurts and your knee is sore. Your life force can’t get to these spots. Your body is holding your hurt, your pain, your emotions.
In yoga, we’re opening up those energy pathways. You’re in a deep hip opener like pigeon pose and something shifts. Maybe you laugh, maybe you cry, maybe it’s subtle but after you release the posture you just feel different. I believe this is happening whenever and wherever you practice yoga, but it can be more dramatic, more transformational, when you have space to be intentional about noticing shifts in your physical, energetic, and emotional body.
So let me tell you why this is about queer yoga. Early this year I was at a yoga retreat. If you’ve ever done it, you know that your emotions can be all over the place when you’re moving your body for hours a day, talking yoga, living yoga, meeting new people, etc. For me, one day something clicked. These feelings I’d been holding down – fear of rejection or judgement by family, childhood friends, the church I grew up in, etc. etc. – were right there. I didn’t realize what I’d been holding until I was in seated meditation at the end of my practice and . . . well. shit. There it was. I don’t need to get into how that unraveled. In fact, I don’t think it was a unique experience. We’re all holding emotions in our body. We can all live more vibrant lives if given the chance to let them go.
Then (as always) I had immense gratitude for the queer community I knew I was returning to. A community that would help hold me up when I was scared and that I feel accountable to and partially responsible for supporting and working with. As soon as I returned I began intentionally teaching yoga to other queer-identified people. I believe there is value to practicing in the context of community, with people who may share pieces of your experiences and who, frankly, may have some of this same shit stored in their bodies, and/or may have a little more context or compassion to give you space for your emotions to unravel. On Tuesday mornings I teach older adults in the context of LBGTQ yoga at Center on Halsted. After the second class one participant said he had been practicing yoga for years and had searched out various yoga offerings, but he had never been able to bring his whole self to practice like he can in a LGBTQ-safe space.
My take on queer yoga is constantly changing based on who is in the room, what they have to offer, and my own yoga journey. As part of that journey I asked some queer yogis to share their experience of queer yoga. Here’s what they had to say.
“[I appreciate] being reminded to ask myself and check in, to be compassionate towards this body I inhabit.” -Jona S (Check out Jona’s awesome website here: www.housequeer.com)
“Queer yoga had a pretty profound effect on me as it provided a safe space to feel comfortable in my own body and provided a sense of community. I deal with crisis prevention and management in my professional life and personal life while so this respite was incredibly helpful. . . . It felt more inclusive, accepting, and safe to be fully myself and relax into my body in the space and group Susan facilitated. The music was incredibly helpful, too. There was a moment when I was doing a Durga mantra and Ani Difranco was playing during an eagle asana where I was able to find such a sense of empowerment and grounding in a way that I wouldn’t have been able to, otherwise.” – Sam L,
“I loved knowing that class was a space full of queer people that there were at all skill levels, but the sense of solidarity and community always felt like the most important part. . . . I’m very grateful for the experience of queer yoga! Susan is clearly passionate about teaching and provided a safe, relaxed environment that also motivated me to improve quite a bit.” -Thomas B
“People see the name Queer Yoga and said, ‘hey, that’s for me.’ It’s a sense of community I really appreciate and is often relegated to bars and parades. I like having an intentionally queer space outside of nightlife. . . . Queer yoga always makes me feel proud of myself. Usually I’m proud I found time to do it, proud that my body was able to do some new thing or take time to do child’s pose, and proud to be queer.” -Danielle C.
“For me, the queerness was definitely about the people in the room identifying as queer. Queerness feels like community. For me, queer is about fluidity and multiplicity, which is explicitly about sexuality, but also about bodies and experiences. That’s what I experienced at queer yoga 🙂 After class, I usually feel calmer and more balanced and more able to sleep well at night. I also know I have a place to expend any stress that’s built up.” -Erica H.
Interested in Queer Yoga in Chicago?
Join me at Tula on Sundays, July 14th and July 21th for a Queer Yoga Workshop. Register here.
If you are 50 or older, contact Courtney at firstname.lastname@example.org about joining the Gentle Yoga class at Center on Halsted on Tuesday mornings.
For queer-friendly private or semi-private yoga email me at email@example.com.