YJ Asked: How Can Teachers Make All Students Feel Included?

Discrimination is the last thing you want to convey as a teacher -- or feel as a student. Here's how yogis are bringing mindfulness to this important topic, so everyone feels welcome on the mat.
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Discrimination is the last thing you want to convey as a teacher -- or feel as a student. Here's how yogis are bringing mindfulness to this important topic, so everyone feels welcome on the mat.
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Sign up now for Yoga Journal’s new online course Inclusivity Training for Yoga: Building Community with Compassion for an introduction to the skills and tools you need as a teacher and as a student. In this class, you’ll learn how to better identify student needs, make compassionate and inclusive language choices, gracefully offer pose alternatives, give appropriate assists, reach out to neighboring communities, and expand and diversify your classes. 

"Teachers, get to know your students and learn about communities that you are not familiar with, including the tragedies that have impacted your students’ identities, families, or ancestry. It’s also important to call upon your own yoga practice and turn inward to explore feelings about race, sexual orientation, religion, and gender expression. By developing a thoughtful awareness around potentially harmful behaviors, words, and thoughts regarding any specific group of people, we are practicing ahimsa (nonharming)."

—Jacoby Ballard, Trans yoga teacher and health educator, Third Root Education Exchange, Brooklyn, New York

See also Jacoby Ballard: Building a Welcoming Yoga Community

"By definition, yoga means “to come together and make whole,” so as leaders, it’s important to keep in mind our choice of language, our sensitivity to cultural differences, and our ability to teach from a place of truth and love. I ask students, and myself, to contemplate where we create more separation than connection. Only when both students and teachers are grounded and embrace humanity as equals can we commit to selfless service and contribute to sustainable change."

—Sasha B. Cohen, Vinyasa and Yin Yoga teacher, life coach, and Off the Mat Into the World ambassador. Boulder, Colorado

"It’s very easy as yoga teachers to apply a perspective of oneness to students, which is a beautiful concept. However, we must take care not to dismiss each student’s race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. While we cannot know every detail of our students’ lives, we can create a dialogue around these issues. We can also reflect on our own privilege as yoga teachers in regard to our race, class, gender, ability, and age, and the ways that this privilege impacts our teaching. Because privilege without awareness cannot be inclusive."

—Chelsea Jackson Roberts, PhD,��Yoga teacher at Kashi Atlanta Urban Yoga Ashram, Atlanta, Georgia

teacher laughing

See also The Art of Teaching Yoga: 5 Things Your Students Wish They Could Tell You

"There is no single way to create an inclusive environment. However, a first step is to recognize that systems of privilege and oppression do exist—and that the spaces where we teach yoga are not outside these structures. I encourage students to share their experiences after class, and I try to ask questions rather than make assumptions about people or their practices. With this information, I make adjustments to my teaching, which I believe should be flexible and responsive to students’ needs."

—Tria Andrews, Founder of the Race and Yoga Working Group, UC Berkeley, California

"As a yoga-studio owner and teacher, it’s my job to be aware of inclusivity. To be sure all students feel welcome, we offer classes like “Yoga en Español” and “Full-Figured Yoga,” and we also provide diversity training to our staff. To become truly welcoming, yoga teachers need to take an honest look at how we teach and the language we use, and strive to express ourselves in a way that doesn’t unintentionally marginalize or traumatize people."

—Erica Barth, Co-owner of Harlem Yoga Studio, Harlem, New York

See also Seane Corn Interviews Yoga Community + Social Justice Leaders

Something on your mind? Send us your questions to start the discussion at letters@yogajournal.com.