Inclusivity is on the rise in yoga studios across the region. Find out where to sign up
By Daniela Payne
The first time Demetria Jackson took a yoga class, she stood out—and others noticed.
In a sea of about 45 lithe, white people she was the only Black person and the only person in a larger body. She strategically positioned herself away from the full-length mirrors at the front of the room, but she could still see in the reflection that people were staring at her. At one point the teacher came up to offer what were probably meant to be words of encouragement: “Don’t worry about it if you can’t keep up.” But they felt condescending to Jackson—clearly the teacher just assumed she’d struggle because of her size.
Jackson had come to yoga in hopes it would help her with some mental health issues, but that first class only exacerbated the anxiety she was trying to overcome. “Everything that happened in that class made me feel that I wasn’t welcome,” she says.
Jackson bought two yoga DVDs and continued her practice at home alone. It would be three years before Jackson took another yoga class.
Inclusive yoga classes make the practice more accessible to those of us who have been taught that yoga isn’t for us.
But when she discovered Kundalini yoga, a form of practice that incorporates meditation, chanting and breath work, she signed up for teacher training. She hoped she might be able to offer something to those who typically doesn’t feel welcome in a yoga class.
“Inclusive yoga classes make the practice more accessible to those of us who have been taught that yoga isn’t for us,” Jackson says. “It’s an opportunity to provide another human with a moment of liberation where they can be free to be themselves: rolls, wrinkles, dark skin, disabilities, soreness and all.”
Now a body positivity advocate, Jackson has made her dream of inclusive yoga a reality. She teaches seasonal Kundalini yoga and meditation workshops at Lotus Yoga in Toronto, and offers classes and workshops on her website. When she teaches, she promotes inclusivity in a variety of ways. “I offer variations to poses; I use props; I offer classes and workshops specifically for people of colour and people in larger bodies; I offer land acknowledgements; I speak with intention and use language that prioritizes consent and self-empowerment; and I never turn anyone away for lack of funds,” Jackson says. “I’m hoping to create a way into the practice for everyone.”
When the idea of yoga conjures images of Gwyneth-Paltrow types downward-dogging in expensive Lululemon, lots of people feel they aren’t represented in mainstream yoga culture. But there does seem to be a shift happening. Some studios in the GTA have started to offer inclusive yoga classes, made for—and often taught by—people who have felt alienated from the practice in the past. “Inclusive yoga classes are becoming extremely trendy, not just in the GTA, but throughout Canada and the United States,” says Jackson. From chair yoga to trauma sensitive workshops to LGBTQ+ positive and seniors-only classes, options are popping up with the intention of dismantling barriers that have kept many people from pursuing their practice.
If you’re interested in trying a more inclusive class, Jackson recommends doing some research. “Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and give [the studio] a call,” she says. “If they say their space is inclusive, ask them how, specifically, they make inclusivity a priority.” To get you started, here are six inclusive yoga classes currently on offer in the GTA.
1. Rainbow Flow
Where: Yogaspace, 148 Ossington Ave
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
What to expect: A class for LGBTQ+ folks featuring a gentle sequence of stretches, strengthening exercises and relaxation guided by a queer-identified instructor. The description boasts a body-positive environment. According to Yogaspace’s website, Rainbow Flow attempts to acknowledge barriers that often prevent marginalized people from participating fully in mainstream classes.
2. Inclusive Yoga Community Toronto
Where: Trinity-St. Paul’s United Church, 427 Bloor Street West
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (on hiatus until fall 2018)
What to expect: Shana Sandler leads an integrated community class that welcomes people of all abilities to practice together. Everyone who attends the class uses a chair, and there are optional standing poses throughout.
3. CMHA Yoga
Where: Yoga Source Therapy Studio, 16925 Yonge Street, Newmarket
When: Wednesday, 1:45 p.m.
What to expect: This class offers a safe space for those with mental illness to gain the benefits of a yoga practice. Participation requires preregistration with the Canadian Mental Health Association (contact the studio for more information).
4. Special Needs Program
Where: Yoga Centre Toronto, 2428 Yonge Street
When: Thursdays, 11:00 a.m. (10-week program offered September through
What to expect: This class is for students with musculoskeletal problems of the joints and spine. With the use of props and guided poses, students can work with instructors to overcome their pain and develop strength and stability. Yoga Centre Toronto also offers multiple sclerosis, back-care and cardiac yoga programs.
5. Adapted Yoga
Where: Spiral Movement Centre, 20 Leslie Street
When: Various times, check website for details and registration.
What to expect: This is a class for teens and young adults with special needs. The goal of the class is to help students learn how to feel secure, relaxed and comfortable within their bodies.
6. Senior Yoga Class
Where: Ray Yoga Studio, 2550 Argentia Road, Mississauga
When: Saturday, 9 a.m.
What to expect: This gentle yoga class for seniors helps keep muscles supple and improve balance and through poses that take place both on the floor and in chairs.