Inclusive Language in your English yoga classes

Being Aware of Inclusive Language in your English yoga classes

What’s inclusive language?

Inclusive language mainly  refers to communicating in a way that does not exclude and that accurately represents people who have a disability or a health condition. These could be both mental and physical. Language that’s inclusive refers to some up-to-date guidelines that are generally agreed on. They list the  words and phrases people with disabilities or health conditions feel comfortable with and that represent them well. It also refers to making services and communications accessible and easy to use for as many people as possible. For you, as a yoga teacher, being aware of inclusive language in your English yoga classes is a must.

Inclusivity also refers to building  a society which reflects the diversity of humans in all ways. It means  creating  systems  that make sure everyone is treated equally and respectfully. It means developing inclusive culture in all areas of life, regardless of the experiences we have in connection with our (perceived) age, disabilities, health conditions, gender, gender identity or expression. Race, colour, ethnic origin, nationality, national origin and religion and (non-)belief can also define these life experiences. As can our sexual preferences and identity. It also includes our marriage and partnership status, pregnancy and maternity or paternity status, and our social and educational backgrounds.* It can include any of the other characteristics that cause us to move through the world differently from one another. In other words, a lot. 

Being aware is the first step to learning and to changing

This short blog focuses on raising awareness of the responsibility yoga teachers have to help build  a more inclusive and equal society. We can support equality by making our international classes more welcoming and accessible to people with a variety of needs and experiences. But let’s acknowledge something important. Using inclusive language is only one aspect of the systemic change needed globally to remove the daily obstacles in society that some of us experience. Those obstacles could be a result  of the way society responds to our educational background, sexuality, mental and physical health, race or gender identity, for example. We understand that using inclusive language does not solve the problem of injustice. However, we commit to educating ourselves and each other, and believe this is an essential part of any teacher’s job.

We hope this blog helps raise more awareness of the different experiences our students might have. Also of how they apply to  the multilingual context of your yoga classes. When we learn  to think of others’ experiences which are different from our own,  we can teach our students in a more respectful and informed way. The path to inclusivity and justice is a long one; it is our duty to invest   time in learning about it. 


Now let’s bring our attention to our own current context: the (virtual) yoga studio. 

Why’s inclusive language important in an international or English yoga class?

We might not realise that the language we use is important because it doesn’t hurt or disrespect us personally. Therefore it’s harder to notice. When it comes to inclusivity, it’s about listening to a person’s experience. It doesn’t matter how much we can personally relate to it; it doesn’t matter how much of your truth is my truth. They can be different and coexist. What matters is that we accept and respect each others’ truths. 

In yoga there are many phrases and expressions that refer to specific body parts, cultural characteristics, spiritual beliefs and emotional experiences. Language influences how inclusive our classes are because we speak from the perspective of  our own experiences. Or maybe from friends and family, or people we’ve read or heard about. Naturally, we teach what we know and, as a result, we sometimes make  assumptions and generalisations. We speak about things automatically  after a while. It’s worth asking ourselves if anyone might be misrepresented, underrepresented or even excluded by what we say or do.We can do this when we plan classes and as we gain experience. Being critical of ourselves and our work helps us stay aware of other people’s experiences and consider them more in our jobs. 

Reasons to put ‘inclusive language’ on our daily to-do list:

  1. It keeps our students’ needs at the centre of our work, making us more effective and knowledgeable teachers. In addition, it teaches us to be better allies to those who are not considered, represented or included at any moment.
  2. It raises awareness, respect and appreciation of diversity. We also learn more about how society receives and experiences our diversity.  We can identify problems and do our own work to help solve them.
  3. It normalises important and, at times, uncomfortable conversations that we need to have. Through having these conversations, we start to create more justice and peace.

There’s a lot to know about making your work adaptable to the different needs of different people. Research is always making new discoveries and many jobs are dedicate only to this topic. So as yoga teachers we can’t decide today to be more inclusive, change our vocabulary a bit and expect the work to be finished.

Acceptable language is constantly changing, as are the needs and experiences of individuals. This is about you doing the work consistently; doing your research and not waiting for others to tell you what to do and what to say. Dedicate time to finding out more about people who are different to you. Read their stories. It isn’t enough to just smile and be kind, so let’s educate ourselves. Let’s put our kindness into action and be active in making our yoga classes a place of safety. A place where everyone feels like an equal.

5 social aspects to take into account when using inclusive language in your English yoga classes

Next week, we’ll be back with a new blog in which we tackle 5 social aspects that often misrepresent or underrepresent our different life experiences. These differences may play out in your classes and ask for mindful inclusivity on your part as a teacher. 

In the meantime, have you seen our 10 tips for multilingual yoga teachers: video series yet? Register here to become a more confident, effective and language-informed yoga teacher.

Reference:
* Ministry of Justice, UK Government 2021: https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/ministry-of-justice/about/equality-and-diversity (accessed: 26th May 2021)