There’s been a reckoning in the wellness community of late, with criticism over lack of inclusivity finally being acknowledged in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement’s resurgence.
“Often, harm in wellness spaces is caused because of spiritual bypassing and toxic positivity, like, ‘This is a politics-free space. Good vibes only,’” says Robin Lacambra, founder of Goodbodyfeel in Hamilton. “That dismisses anything other than good vibes and you can’t overcome what you don’t admit is there. I want studio owners and teachers to understand that we can create the ‘love and light’ they’re so into when — and only when — we do the work of learning how we are upholding systems of oppression.”
Lacambra fell in love with yoga at 19, attracted to the sense of community and healing that came from moving with a bunch of people in a room. She had been a bullied and lonely child and experienced body dysmorphia — she recalls working out and trying to diet in elementary school — and found solace and belonging in the yoga world, practising and doing teacher training at studios across Toronto, and branching out into Pilates after the birth of her first child. But almost 15 years later, when she moved to Hamilton, she had a realization. “I started to wake up to what I’ve been calling the ‘glamour magic’ of Toronto wellness spaces,” she says. “I got hypnotized by the glamour, meaning I wasn’t fully awake to the harm that I was tolerating in them.”
That’s what led her to open Goodbodyfeel in 2019, offering movement classes and workshops (all currently via Zoom) led by a diverse group of teachers.
“I needed a space where I could feel safe, where bodies like mine could feel belonging without condition,” she explains. “In other spaces, you feel like you have to wear certain clothes, look a certain way or have a certain mat in order to belong. You feel you need physical ability … and money, so you can achieve the look, buy the equipment and be able to pay 20 to 30 dollars for a single mat class.”
Whiteness is also often a condition of belonging in the wellness industry. “It’s exhausting that people of colour have to claw our way into spaces or create our own spaces.”
While Lacambra points to a growing number of studios and collectives dedicated to creating safe spaces for movement it’s clear that all wellness spaces could serve their communities better by focusing on inclusivity.
“People come to wellness studios to heal,” says Lacambra. “Because wellness is a more affordable practice of self-keeping, it’s the thing that we do the most, so the instructors need to be leaders. We have the utmost responsibility.”
Here’s how a wellness space can be truly inclusive
Always be learning
“You need to be continuously engaged in anti-oppression learning and trauma awareness, and accept as a fundamental truth that the body is political. Everyone should take an anti-oppression course. And we should treat every single human that comes in like they’re sacred and important, and as if they’re holding trauma, because we all hold trauma.”
Be open to feedback
“I think a lot of harm can be pivoted or resolved if we learn how to receive feedback. If you as a teacher or studio owner aren’t trauma-aware, then you are causing harm, whether it’s intentional or not. And if you don’t know how to receive feedback on that, you are perpetuating and increasing harm.”
Engage diverse perspectives
“I recently implemented a council for the studio; its working name is the Restorative Justice League! The council consists of folks that are Black, people of colour, queer, trans, nonbinary and in bigger bodies. When new things are implemented or feedback comes, we workshop it together so that there are more experiences informing our actions.”
Offer a sliding scale
“We set our scale from $5 to $20, and folks can pay anywhere in that range to take a class. Everyone is treated like their contribution is important; there’s no judgment. Often, my father-in-law asks, ‘Wouldn’t the people paying $20 be upset that a person paid $5 for the same class?’ That’s not the mode of thinking of the folks that come here. People who pay at the top end of the scale know that their money allows me to create accessible offerings. Luckily for me, I’ve only ever run a business like this. I don’t feel I need to hit certain numbers to be successful. Sometimes we break even, sometimes we make money and sometimes we lose money, and hopefully it evens out.”
Use inclusive language
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“At the start of every class, we announce our pronouns, and when we create a new client’s account we ask for their pronouns if they wish to share them, so when they sign up for classes the teacher can see right away what pronouns folks use. We also have gender-neutral change rooms and showers in the physical space. We have accessibility notes on our website, like the fact that we are 22 steps up on the second floor. And during the class we use language and sequencing that encourages stability and sustainable effort over going faster or deeper. We remind students that they get to choose how they practise.”
Provide exclusive spaces
“We offer workshops and classes that are specifically for Black, Indigenous and people of colour, queer/trans/nonbinary folks and folks with bigger bodies. People in those demographics aren’t centred in wellness spaces and might need exclusive spaces in order to feel at ease. Once they feel at ease, they can feel less vulnerable and more trusting in the studio’s broader offerings.”