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  • helizabethcaney8

'Accessible' yoga

I've always enjoyed observing the new 'buzz words' used within the wellness industry. Whether it's the 'cadence' of the breath, 'regulating' the nervous system or the 'healing' nature of yoga and breathwork.

All of these could be seen as pretty harmless uses of 'fluffy' language that the wellness industry thrives off. However the recent popular use of 'accessible' and 'trauma informed' yoga has never sat right with me.

In the past 3 years there has been a noticeable change in the portrayal of wellness, I mean you'll still normally find a slim western flexible woman promoting yoga and breathwork but the inauthenticity of the way wellness used to constantly be portrayed has begun to be challenged (albeit slightly).

Yoga training and classes for those who are disabled, have learning difficulties, who are neuro divergent, visually impaired, elderly, of different ethnicities other than white western women (ironic as yoga originates from India), non binary, and basically anyone that doesn't fit the stereotypical 'yogi' body image, has been a wonderful, and a much needed progression for an industry that has always ironically advertised kindness, universal love and health.

In the last year I have noticed a huge rise in those offering yoga classes describing their classes as 'accessible', 'inclusive' and or 'trauma informed' with a leaning towards yoga being a therapeutic tool, which yoga certainly is to some degree.

These blanket statements given to classes makes them sound progressive, inviting and inclusive, but it seems this word has become just another form of gesturing in the yoga industry.

For example I recently noticed a class that's advertised as 'accessible' (with an emoji of a wheelchair user as a hashtag) even when the location of the class is held in a non accessible venue; it has stairs to the front door and up to the studios, with no lift, no accessible toilets etc (I know this as the venue is in my area) but apparently this still warrants an 'accessible' description, and this got me thinking.

At English Yoga Berlin, we strive to offer accessible yoga classes. But we recognize that there are many things we cannot offer as well, and our studio is not accessible to just ‘everyone.’ Our Kreuzberg yoga studio is up one flight of stairs – this does not allow those who cannot take the stairs to even attend our classes. We also do not provide sign-language interpretation or any other language that we ourselves do not know. (1)

The umbrella statement to describe your classes as accessible is a lovely idea, and I'm sure speaks to a lot of people that may get put off the class advertised by the classic white western woman head standing on the beach saying about how yoga and breathwork will heal you. But as much as it may be coming from a good place is it authentic or is it just another use of gesturing and lack of genuinity within wellness and yoga?

To market your classes and teaching as accessible alongside imagery or language that is anything but, is misleading and disingenuous, and although may be an attempt at marketing to a wider audience and a nice reflection on you and your approach to teaching, it further excludes those who already feel that yoga isn't accessible to them.

(All of the above images are captioned alongside 'accessible yoga')

Inclusivity and accessibility have become increasingly buzzy words in the yoga world. To the extent that it means people are becoming aware of the problem, that’s a good thing—but too often, it seems people are throwing these words and claims around without actually offering classes that back them up. (2)

Alongside the 'accessible' rhetoric there has been a noticeable rise in 'trauma informed' yoga. But what is trauma informed yoga and how is it different?

Here's some descriptions I've found:

'Trauma-informed yoga (TIY) describes an approach to the practice that addresses the specific needs and symptoms of trauma survivors.' (7)

'Trauma Informed Yoga provides a gentle, yet beneficial experience to all participants. It teaches emotion regulation skills through breathwork and gentle movement. Trauma Informed Yoga allows space for calmness, authenticity, and self-care.' (10)

You can become 'qualified' as a trauma informed yoga teacher for £25 online over the course of a few hours* but I question how can one person be able to employ all the principles of being 'trauma informed' (to which I am unaware, I have done a lot of reading into the subject and the training but haven't spent that £25 myself) to a group of people who all have experienced their own completely personal form of trauma?

And more importantly is it legitimate to give someone a certificate/qualification to say that they can?

The problem lies in the fact that anyone can claim to be trauma-informed. There are many that claim to be trauma-informed without actually implementing the principles.

This can be harmful to individuals who have experienced trauma, as it can create a false sense of safety and support. (6)

Now I'm all for people trying to make their classes and teachings more accessible, who isn't, but what I do have an issue with it the way the yoga industry commercialises practices that are legitimate and accredited professions and are specifically there to support vulnerable people.

Practices that people who have dedicated their lives to gain their qualification in helping others in things like trauma and mental health (e.g. psychotherapist training takes 6 years, counsellor 2-4 years, psychologist 6 years, physio therapist 4 years) and from the 'accessible', 'trauma informed' yoga comes the medical rhetoric and qualifications such as the increasingly popular Yoga therapists, Yoga psychotherapists, Therapeutic yoga specialists, Fertility yoga specialists or even Yoga Medicine practitioners. (12)

I’m often suspicious of clinical or academic terminology that becomes popularized.

Pop psychology usually starts rooted in science, then as it makes its rounds through celebrities, talk shows, and wellness communities, it loses focus and becomes a ghost of its clinical self. (11)

I think this is a perfect example showing how the yoga industry is largely 'smoke and mirrors' and continues to be so. Many use language such as 'ancient practices', alluding to 'spiritual rituals' and 'indigenous practices' (colonialist rhetoric again for you there) as a way of legitimising and sell anything.

This would never be the case in many other industries - for example take someone who works as a chef, if they were to then to say they really enjoyed the aspect of their job that made people feel better and improve their mental health due to the loveliness of their cooking. If they did a 2 hour online course in 'food therapy' and started charging £60 per hour for someone to come and eat their food and tell them all about their issues, traumas etc I don't think that would go down well - would there be a market for it - well maybe as there's a market for everything- but is it authentic, legitimate and more over does it have the potential to cause alot of harm, well I'd say yes, not out of choice but out of lack of authenticity and appropriateness.

You can literally get a training in ANYTHING in yoga, the way yoga embraces all aspects of everything is a dream for commercialism, so maybe in the ever saturated market of teaching yoga it shouldn't come as such a surprise, as over saturated markets breed these nuances that maybe have been developed with good intentions, but without critical analysis, informed regulation do such things not become less legitimate, and end up being diluted down to a £25 course online?

Trauma is serious, mental health is serious, and we need to treat them with the upmost respect and dignity they deserve, and not pretend we are capable of treating them or in anyway 'healing' them without authentic enquiry and study.

While it is not a yoga branding movement per se, I have seen a rise in teachers seeking to sell their trauma-informed methods and represent themselves as “yoga therapists.” After all, we all need to survive.

Recently, however, I have been looking more closely at what is occurring in the West in regards to trauma-informed yoga and yoga therapy—and I am concerned.

With the rapidity at which the trauma-informed movement is taking off and the rise of what seems to be new and inexperienced teachers delving into sometimes precarious territory, calling themselves “yoga therapists” without the proper training. (4)

Accessible, trauma informed, yoga therapy, yoga for PTSD, fertility yoga I'm really not sure. I get the intention behind it and I'm sure there will be some wonderful teachers out there that are able to blend the two but I do think the spike in popularity and marketing for such things (hugely important and sensitive things) is worth considering.


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