Big world: ways of being inclusive when teaching English yoga classes worldwide
As teachers we have a duty to maximise the inclusivity of our communication. This is a responsibility we take on as a professional and as a friend and ally to other people. Finding ways of being inclusive in your English yoga classes is about being aware of what our different experiences might be. It means respecting each individual’s truth, every step of the way. That means considering our diverse experiences while we research, study, plan, teach and communicate with others.
Here are some examples of things I have noticed as a teacher and noted as things to accommodate in the future whether in yoga classes, at work or just in conversation. These are a few areas of life experience that are especially important in a multicultural and multilingual context. Use them to help you when finding ways you can be more inclusive in your English yoga classes. Then you can use them as building blocks to implement any positive changes in your teaching or generally in your business:
Ways you can be inclusive in your English yoga classes: Religion
Depending on the individual, yoga can be a very spiritual experience while some yogis these days do not feel yoga is a particularly spiritual or religious thing at all. And many people practise other religions separately. Our students’ experiences with religion, and with yoga and religion, are more complex and personal than we can imagine as teachers.
As with any personal experience, some will have no problem opening up about their beliefs. Others might prefer to keep it private. Even if your intention is to be inclusive, that doesn’t automatically give you the right to ask about people’s personal information. This is about knowing your students and assessing their boundaries. We can consider how a student might feel or how they might experience our classes. We can be mindful of these things just in case it’s necessary or beneficial. There’s nothing to lose by taking into account the possibilities of their experiences.
Respecting the boundaries
It isn’t our right to know or to ask. Some people might not know how to articulate how their religion fits with yoga. Others might simply not want to talk about if or how yoga is a religion to them. Some might go quiet because they had another experience of religion or just don’t associate religion or spirituality with yoga at all.
Therefore, we need to respect that our students will have different relationships with yoga, religion and spirituality. And how those three things fit together. So raise your awareness of the boundaries when finding ways you can be inclusive in your English yoga classes. Ask yourself: ‘what are my/their boundaries? Where in this class, might I cross the line? At what point might I start to exclude a follower of the Islam or a student who doesn’t follow a religion? How will I accommodate a variety of viewpoints in my classes? We have more in common than we don’t; there are always ways to include everyone.
Open your eyes
Increase your knowledge of religious celebrations and holidays in different cultures and nations. For example, wish your students ‘Eid Mubarak!’ when it comes, if you know they might be celebrating it. Acknowledge that some students may be fasting for religious or cultural reasons at different points in the year. Remind them to take it easy and be gentle when they’re feeling fragile during this period. Offer recordings of classes that students might miss during their celebrations for the Chinese New Year.
Word your instructions or mindfulness guidelines in a way that it is general enough for everyone to apply their own perspectives and situations. You can do this by choosing your themes and content wisely. It also helps to give options, use open-ended questions or ideas that can be adapted to and received by individuals in a way that serves them personally. Approximately 84% (2015) of the world’s population identifies with a religion; and not all the same one! There are many. Asking yourself about the role of religion and spirituality in your students’ experiences could guide you in finding ways you can be more inclusive in your English yoga classes.
Ways of being inclusive in your English yoga classes: Countries and Continents
There is also the simple stuff we often forget because we’re so worried about the details. Are you considering the different time-zones of your (potential) students and followers? Are some groups being excluded because of where they are in the world? Of course, we can’t match everyone’s timetables. But doing what you can to involve more people is part of increasing inclusivity.
Imagine where your students are in the world. What is the seasonal experience like in their part of the world? Asking your students to imagine snowflakes falling all around them excludes people who have never seen snow in their lives. You might find Christmas the focus of your winter spirit, but your students might not relate at all to snowy scenes of Santa Claus. Some people might know exactly what it looks like, but find it a challenging time of year for emotional associations. It seems small but when we make assumptions about what is a ‘normal’ experience, we allow ourselves to centre our classes around what is normal to us as one person or one part of the world only.
Lost in translation
We must also consider how the associations and connotations of words can differ dramatically between languages. Often when we speak our second or third language(s), we translate directly from another language that we know better, which can lead to miscommunication. Sometimes direct translations or words that sound similar have a totally different meaning in the other language. They could have totally different associations; possibly negative ones. Language is intrinsically linked to its political and historical context, especially when it comes to race, gender and sexuality. So researching the correct use of words across countries, cultures and languages is another responsibility we take on as international (yoga) teachers.
We know that finding out about our students’ lives is essential. But what about investigating our own culture(s) further? This can help us to understand two things. Firstly we can reflect on how our culture(s) affect our interpretation of something. Consequently, we can see more clearly how people with other cultural experiences might interpret the same thing differently. Eye contact, for example, is perceived differently around the world. You might want to communicate concern or reassurance by looking your student in the eyes, while they might associate this with a lack of respect. Behaviour and gestures can mean different things in different places. We can miscommunicate if we forget to translate our behaviour, gestures and attitudes as well as our words!
The average or norm is overestimated
Especially for teachers in the west, when finding ways you can be inclusive in your English yoga classes, remember that yoga didn’t use to be a western thing in the first place. Teachers and classes based in the west can minimise Eurocentrism by realising what is normal in that particular part of the world is not normality. Normativity is problematic and as teachers we have a responsibility to know about intercultural differences and not only accommodate them but welcome them. Recognise where and who yoga comes from. Reflect on how you adapted yoga to suit yourself. Realise that you can adapt your yoga classes to be inclusive of a mix of linguistic and cultural backgrounds.
How does your class and its content apply to other countries, continents and their cultural and religious experiences? It’s a teacher’s job to adapt to as many of their students as possible. It is part of being inclusive, and by really studying, researching and being thoughtful of our students’ experiences, we can make our classes truly inclusive and valuable to a variety of individuals.
Next week, we’ll be back with three more ways to help you consider inclusive language for your English yoga classes.
In the meantime, get access to the 10-Tips for Multilingual Yoga Teachers here. It’s a video series of 10 daily tips to not only help you become more language aware, but also gain confidence and effectiveness in your English yoga classes. You can register here.