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Thursday, December 5, 2019
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Spotlight On Queer Yoga


(Photos by Emily Hirzel)

This Columbus-based organization focuses on both mind and body in a queer-centered space.

Queer Yoga is a class presented by Queer Behavior, a grassroots led organization dedicated to offering gathering spaces for central Ohio’s LGBTQ+ community. They have two yoga classes in two different locations: on Tuesday in Clintonville and on Thursday in the South Side. The Tuesday class is long-standing tradition, but the Thursday class is a new effort to bring yoga to a new part of town that is more accessible for many in the community.

“The goal was really to create a space for people who wouldn’t necessarily be comfortable going into some of the established studios, for whatever reasons,” explained Carlos del Rio, an organizer, teacher and facilitator for the Thursday classes.

Queer Yoga finds its foundation accessibility in every form possible. The classes are intended to be achievable for participants of all levels and experiences with yoga. Classes are taught by seven different instructors on a rotating basis, and each instructor has their own style. “I strive to make my classes accessible for all levels, but also, with options for more challenging poses,” said Becca Alexander, an instructor, facilitator and organizer for the Tuesday classes. “I try to offer modifications for every pose, for those who might find them too challenging, but also offer more challenging options for those who are more experienced.”

Five of the seven instructors for Queer Yoga.

Another part of that accessibility is simply found in offering a space for everybody. Most traditional yoga studios are targeted towards an athletic, white, cisgender female body. Because of that, many people in minority identity communities (especially queer people, people of color, differently abled people and older people) often feel threatened by those studios. Queer Yoga offers an experience outside of that box, where people can come and feel comfortable no matter how they identify.

“I think that that’s really the thing that drew me to Queer Yoga, as somebody who’s both queer and a person of color. We get into a lot of situations that feel very tense, that are more stressful than valuable in these spaces that are supposed to be restorative,” Carlos said. That is why the organization has created an environment that, at its core, is contemplative and therapeutic in all of the ways that yoga should be.

At the beginning of every class, the organization reminds participants that Queer Yoga is a safe(r) space, because they don’t assume anyone’s identity based on gender, sex, sexuality, age, race, ability or any other kind of identification that might come with value judgments. Instead, they simply offer a space where community members can come as they are, and identify and express themselves in ways that are meaningful.

Yoga is a great practice for connected with your body in a way that most other activities don’t emphasize. For trans-identified instructor Ashton Colby, Queer Yoga and yoga in general offered an empowering alternative journey. After transitioning, Ashton fell into the commonly seen narrative surrounding hyper- masculinity, until a friend at school suggested he try yoga to counteract muscle pain earned from constant gym time. “I remember sweating, and it was very powerful. I really got a lot out of it, and it really felt like it was a workout,” he recalled. “I was really surprised about how much I liked yoga, because when I first heard about it, I was like whatever.” But then it ended up being one of the most influential and reparative parts of his life.

Ashton teaching a Tuesday Queer Yoga class.

After leaving school, Aston was able to continue practicing yoga because of Queer Yoga’s accessible price (every class is $6!). Eventually, Ashton decided to become a yoga instructor — specifically to give back to the trans and LGBTQ community. “The way that I use yoga is as a tool to self-regulate emotions, and really find a sense of safety within my body. Not just be present in my body, but really make my body a friend,” Ashton explained. “There’s just such a lack of tools to cope with dysphoria, specifically gender dysphoria. I want to bring this to specifically the trans community, as well the gay community, where there’s a lot of narratives your body has to look this way to be acceptable. I definitely want to help use yoga as a tool to unpack those kind of narratives.”

In addition to being affirming and accessible, what makes Queer Yoga so important is that it’s a specifically queer-centered community space. Our current social climate makes finding these spaces of familiarity even more crucial, Carlos explained. “There’s just a pandemic expectation to hide who we are, to conform in ways that are not necessarily healthy to our own self-concept.” So the organization has cultivated a place where it is reiterated that queerness is okay.

Ashton brought up that it’s also important to offer a place for queer people to gather that is centered on holistic wellness, and is separate from the bar and club scene so engrained in our local queer culture. Queer Yoga is the perfect place to be a part of community beyond what is offered in other spaces like work, school or bars. “Yoga is a form of exercise. It’s a form of mental discipline, a form of relaxing,” said Becca. “To be able to do all of that in a space that is queer-centered, that has this level of comfort to begin with, is very special. I think it’s an important thing to offer.”

Queer Yoga classes are $6 to attend. All are welcome; just bring your own mat! For more information, visit them at facebook.com/QueerBehavior.

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