Author: theyogakate

YSC 2017: Cultural Competency

I attended a breakout session on cultural competency at the Yoga Service Conference in May. I looked forward to it because I care about this topic a lot, and because plenty of my students are people of color.

A very specific topic sparked my initiative to share my thoughts. Then, I found myself needing to write another whole blog post on cultural competency in general, in large part so I could be more sure people would not think I was a racist. After that, one more. This post is the fourth! I share this now not because I feel like I’ve finally said it perfectly, or covered all there is, but because I really think this same sort of concern (I don’t want people to think I’m racist!) prevents a lot of valuable conversation on this topic.
One aspect of the conference and the session was that we want to be mindful of respecting the privacy of people within each session. Know that I’m limiting some of what I say in order to hold to that. One comment, though, worth sharing specifically, came from one of the presenters, that we need not only “safe spaces” to discuss, but “brave spaces”. In that spirit, of all the possible topics to write about, I’ve written about these:

 

Continue reading “YSC 2017: Cultural Competency”

Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop

I participated in a Yoga Service Conference session entitled Best Practices for Cultural Competency and came away with a lot of thoughts! What I think loved the most about this session is that it made me think – and write, on my own, later! – excessively, rather than list notes during the talk. I think this speaks to both the value of this session as well as the talent of these speakers as educators in a general sense.
It’s challenging to try to summarize what was presented on a topic which is potentially very sensitive – it’s also my goal to maintain the privacy of individuals who participated alongside me. It’s probably best to read this post as what I came away with and am sharing, keeping in mind that my focus may differ from what the presenters intended, and that I am omitting some information in order to keep the confidentiality of the group.
Professor of Journalism Tamara Jeffries, and Dr. Santiba Campbell, Professor of Psychology, framed their presentation in terms of their experience bringing a for-credit yoga class to Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. Bennett is a small, private historically black college. They were explicit that this was their experience, in a specific setting, which was distinct from some of the various settings yoga service teachers may work in.  I thought it still made a lot of sense to have a very specific starting point to serve as a context, rather than speaking only in generalities.

Continue reading “Cultural Competency: Points from the Breakout Workshop”

Cultural Competency in Yoga: What is it and why does it matter?

Cultural competency is a hugely important topic – and also a hugely scary one to write about, for me.
Why?
I am from the US and currently live here. This country’s human rights record is shameful, in particular in terms of treatment of people of color. Some things have changed, some have not, and even following change, past practices affect us today.
I also lived for 3 years in a country where civilians of Muslim background were targeted in conflict and went without international assistance for years. I spent a fair part of a two year dating a black man.  I don’t claim to experience racism or discrimination in the way people of color do, but issues such as racism and discrimination feel personal and close to my heart.
Selfishly, it would also just be painful to be called a racist. Plenty of people are unwilling to spend the time and take the risk of going out on a limb to start a discussion on this topic, but quick to point out fault when others do.
What is cultural competency? What is it not?
Does it mean I should teach yoga to black people differently than I’d teach it to white people? Does it imply all Latinos are the same? Does it mean I can’t teach people of color well because I’m white? You might already have guessed my answer is no, I don’t think so!
One definition I liked, stated succinctly in an NCBI article regarding cultural competency in health care  (helpfully provided by a simple google search) is:
“Culture is defined as patterns of human behavior that are part of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group…Some of the variance across cultural groups can be affected by immigration, family structure, educational attainment, and socioeconomic status…Cultural competence …is an acknowledgement and incorporation of the importance of culture, the assessment of cross-cultural relations, vigilance towards the dynamics that result from cultural differences, the expansion of cultural knowledge, and the adaptation of services to meet culturally unique needs.”
The concept of cultural competency does imply that different cultures exist, and sometimes these fall across similar lines as race and ethnicity…but obviously variation can occur within groups as our identities are intersectional.  To me, it’s important to balance this out with a reminder that we are all connected as human beings, and to avoid “othering” people by acting in a way that implies we are incredibly different. We can still become informed about experiences or practices that tend to go along with a particular culture.
Holding space for a discussion around this topic is, in my view, more important than me personally figuring out and sharing the “right” way to look at this topic. With cultural competence in mind, in particular, it makes sense to hold space for voices from people of color, not just “too” but primarily, instead of solely my view as a white yoga instructor.
That said, I am a white yoga instructor who thinks this topic matters, and really can only speak from my personal viewpoint! Here’s my way of looking at why this topic matters. What’s yours?
White people in the US benefit from privilege rooted in current discriminatory attitudes towards people of color, and also due to the legacy of racism and prejudice. This is true even though white people today may not have personally “done anything” or asked for privilege.
Even for those of us who haven’t necessarily “done anything”, it’s possible in any interaction to cause harm, including unintentionally.
As a yoga teacher – as a person! – I don’t want to cause harm! I can act like a human being with all people, but with culture in particular, we often take things for granted, that what is true for me in my culture, I don’t even think of it as culture, I think of it as truth. Particularly in a country with such a legacy of injustice, it behooves us all, and white people in particular, to pay attention to this topic and to learn and consider what others have to say.

Continue reading “Cultural Competency in Yoga: What is it and why does it matter?”

Cultural Competency…not enough?

I’m white and it’s rare that I perceive someone to be reacting to me differently in a negative way because of my race (I wrote about one unusual comment more than a year ago here). It’s very likely that people DO react to me differently because of my race – but since I’m white, it’s in a positive direction that I perhaps take for granted.
When it may seem that I’m being treated in a negative way due to my race, it’s obviously painful. I can’t change my race. I care about making our society kinder and more inclusive and I like to think of myself as on the same “side” as people of color – it hurts to feel I’m being grouped with the white people I’d consider racist. So what to make of it? I won’t pretend my answer is right for everyone, and of course my perspective has evolved,  even somewhat since I wrote the post linked above last year.
I can’t read minds –  I could be wrong.
I could be mistaken that someone is making a judgement based on appearance. In her workshop on facilitation, Dr. Melody Moore touched on the concept of projection – assuming a person feels x because *I* feel x.. Personally, I DO feel guilt or at the very least unease regarding this country’s poor treatment of people of color. It’s possible that because *I* feel personal guilt, I assume that in a given setting a person of color considers me personally guilty –  even if they don’t.
What if I’m right?

Continue reading “Cultural Competency…not enough?”

Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

Why not?
One of the biggest things that spoke to me personally about yoga was that I could move and breathe and participate in the group without needing to talk. Practicing postures and breathing helps me get out of my head (for many of us, being in our heads can be related to anxiety, stress, or trauma) and into my body (often this means more focus on the present moment). The need to talk pulls me right back into my head, not only the work of putting things into words, but “What is the right answer? How are people going to judge me for this?” It’s one thing to talk about letting go of that stuff – I agree that we all should! – but in practice it is much harder than we’d like to think.

I don’t think everyone has to benefit from yoga in the same way I do (assuming that everyone has the same experience as me would be a form of privilege), but there is an intention behind making minimal use of student talking, aside from hearing myself talk!  There are various group activities where talking makes up the essence of the activity … while talking isn’t necessarily incompatible with a physical yoga practice, it’s also not an essential part of it.

Why else?  Continue reading “Do I encourage my students to talk in trauma informed yoga classes?”

YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away

I got to Omega Institute just before 10am after a full night of driving (and napping in the car!). The irony of attending a workshop that at least touched on self-care after depriving myself of a hotel room or a flight to save money was not lost on me. But we all have to make sacrifices to do awesome things!
I mainly teach physical yoga classes, so it was hard to know how much of the presentation would be relevant to me. It was! In fact, I now think it was even more ideal to speak more generally around facilitation, rather than assuming we all did the same thing and there was one “right path” for us all. I really enjoyed Dr. Melody Moore herself – she was both very human and very professional at the same time.
Our small group formed our own community agreements, including regarding confidentiality, so it’s important to point out that what I share is what I took away from this session in general, and I strive to avoid publicizing any individual personal experience shared. And, of course, my takeaways might contain mistakes that are mine alone.
Read on to see 10 things I can and will apply to my own yoga classes (public and service classes), and other forms of facilitation such as workshops and teacher training.

Continue reading “YSC 2017 – The Art of Facilitation w/Dr. Melody Moore – What I Took Away”

YSC 2017: Community Agreements & What I Took Away

I spent last weekend in Rhinebeck, New York at the Yoga Service Conference. I’d been looking forward to all of the sessions (and blogged about my thoughts on a few in advance!).  In true yoga form, our printed program started with some community agreements intended to foster connection, understanding and respect (see photo!). Dr. Melody Moore hosted the Friday intensive I attended, and she guided our smaller group through the creation of some of our own community agreements. Among others – confidentiality.

I think it’s important to share what I learned in terms of what I took away from this session and others – lots of people can benefit from the info; plenty likely would have loved to attend but could not afford the time away or tuition. But it’s important to be clear that what I share here is what I took away from the conference and the sessions I attended. I tried my best not to violate anyone’s confidentiality by speaking on any personal experience shared. Any inconsistencies (or outright mistakes!) on the topics at hand reflect my own errors and not the speakers’.

Do I talk about trauma in my trauma informed yoga classes?

Mostly, no.

Trauma informed yoga means different things to different people – my definition of trauma-informed yoga is yoga that is informed with info on trauma (how a traditional class might trigger to trauma survivors) to make it feel safer and friendlier to trauma survivors, and to the extent that I can, I bring this perspective into all of my classes.  I have come across instructors who make a distinction between “trauma sensitive yoga class” and “trauma specific yoga class”, which may also be a helpful way to consider the topic.

My trauma informed classes don’t focus on trauma. One of the most awesome benefits of yoga, in my opinion at least, is that the physical practice and breathe are incredibly powerful tools without the addition of words.  There are other modalities, therapies (some would call these “treatments” though I don’t think of yoga as a treatment), that focus on talking and words; many people benefit from these, and people are free to seek them out.  I offer yoga to those who want to try out something that is not focused on talking (and mostly don’t encourage my students to talk either).

My training (and/or How do you lead group therapy? I do not have the answer…) Continue reading “Do I talk about trauma in my trauma informed yoga classes?”

YSC 2017 – The Science and Research Evidence for Yoga for Underserved Populations

I’ve been blogging about upcoming sessions I’ll attend at the Yoga Service Conference – and I’m looking forward to hearing about the science and research on yoga as it pertains to underserved groups.

“This presentation with Sat Bir Singh Khalsa will review some of the basic science underlying the psychophysiology of yoga practices…[it will] also examine the scientific rationale for the benefits of yoga as a therapeutic intervention for underserved populations including veterans, the elderly, trauma survivors, and in public schools.”

My impression is that people in general, including many medical professionals and social workers, see yoga as primarily a tool for physical fitness. The “yoga industry”  – which I also work for – probably bears a lot of the responsibility for this image! Obviously any serious research will help to frame yoga more realistically for the benefits it can offer.

I’m also fascinated by the limitations of research, how those limitations impact what is studied, and consequently, what sort of evidence we can reasonably expect to have regarding the benefits of yoga. (Sat Bir Singh Khalsa’s work is particularly interesting because of its depth and focus on mental health factors that more basic research might not capture.) Continue reading “YSC 2017 – The Science and Research Evidence for Yoga for Underserved Populations”

Invitational Language

What is invitational language?

Invitational language is language that incorporates invitations and options rather than imperative style commands. In yoga, instructors might offer students options to choose from, or encourage students to notice how they feel and choose how to move (or be still) based on that.

Why use invitational language?

Particularly in a trauma informed context, making choices about how to move one’s own body can help return a sense of control that is sometimes lost in trauma. In settings where people may be very new to yoga or to movement in general, it can also often feel more inclusive to have people choose between options rather than frame these as “modifications” of the “full expression”.

Invitational Approach

I’ve come across the view – and agree! – that a teacher does not have to offer an option every single cue or use the word “invite” every single cue. It will often be enough to create an invitational environment, let students know you respect their ability to choose how to move, and then reflect that approach in your language and approach in general.

If you do choose an invitational approach, it makes sense to consider how other aspects of the environment and your teaching reflect this approach. For instance, although I don’t offer hands on assists outside of yoga studio spaces, I do in my public/yoga studio classes – where I still try to create as invitational of an approach as possible. I don’t think hands on assists are necessarily outside the scope of an invitational environment, but if I encourage students to choose the length of their warrior two stance based on how much intensity they’d like in their legs today, it makes sense to let them actually do that, rather than to assisting someone deeper into the lunge.

Examples

These are examples of cues I have heard or used, to illustrate some differences between more traditional cues and more invitational cues. Obviously there is no one “right”way to teach, or words, phrases, grammatical structures I would consider “forbidden”. Context matters! These are  just examples.

  • Traditional cue: Close your eyes
  • Invitational cue: I invite you to close your eyes or lower your gaze.

  • Traditional cue: Fold as far as you can; use your hands to grip your feet
  • Invitational cue: Fold any amount. See if you can feel gravity doing some of the work of the fold, maybe all of the work of the fold. If you’re curious about more sensation in your hamstrings, grip something with your hands – your mat, your feet, your legs.

  • Traditional cue: Create a ninety degree bend in your front knee.
  • Invitational cue: Notice your front knee; check that it’s right about over your ankle, rather than forward of it. Choose the length of your stance – a longer stance will usually bring more intensity to the legs, a shorter stance may feel more stable.

  • Traditional cue: Sink your hips lower in chair pose
  • Invitational cue: Draw your knees back in space so they stay behind your toes. If you’re interested in more depth, draw your hips both back and down. Experiment with a lower seat, either stay or come back up!

Other phrases

  • In some bodies, it will feel good to … in others…
  • In your own time…
  • We’ll be here another six breaths or so, or finish when you feel done…
  • Options in savasana (LINK forthcoming)

Continue reading “Invitational Language”