Consent cards turn yoga studios into safe spaces

Consent cards make it easier for yoga students to indicate whether they welcome hands-on adjustment. Image credit: yogabysarah.com

Consent cards bring respect for personal space back to the yoga industry

Consent cards / Image credit: Yoga Standards Project / yastandards.comA couple of months ago, I wrote about my feelings about yoga. I was tired of the commercialization and the guru culture that permeates so many studios. While I loved how yoga made me feel and the health benefits, I had conflicting feelings about yoga culture. As yoga shifted from a physical meditation practice to a lifestyle, we compromised the intention behind the act. However, we also gained new practitioners — open to challenging themselves and attempting a new approach to wellness.

The yoga studio developed a reverence akin to a religious space and spirituality was often intertwined with exercise. As yoga studios began to spring up everywhere — just walk three blocks in any major city and see if you can’t find a yoga studio — we also became complacent to some of the more unsavoury practices going on behind those walls.   

As the #MeToo movement has grown, we’ve seen yoga studios called out as locations for sexual assaults. From those who gave their names to entire practices to specific teachers who performed handsy hands-on adjustments, yoga joined the number of industries where abuses of power were not discussed. By shifting the focus from the yoga practice itself by exalting those teaching it, the power shifts dramatically from student to teacher. That quiet spirituality we were asked to embrace became synonymous with not speaking up.

Fortunately, through exposés and public sharing, we’ve started to reclaim yoga studios as the safe spaces they were always intended to be. At a recent visit to a local Toronto studio, I was asked to take a Consent Card and place it next to my mat. One side featured the words “It’s OK to offer me hand-on adjustments during this class.” The other read “No thanks I’d prefer not to receive hands-on adjustments today.

This is how yoga students are taking their power back and silently informing instructors of boundaries and offering consent. By actively flipping the card to either side, the student is making a conscious decision whether or not they want to be adjusted. And for those of us too shy to tell an instructor they don’t want to be touched, they are ideal. For many students, their reverence for their teachers put them in vulnerable positions. Also, consider some of the trickier poses that we hold in class. I know there have been times where I’ve been in camel pose and seen an instructor walk by … and have thought to myself “just keep walking … just keep walking ….” Depending on the day, hands-on adjustments can go from being helpful to intrusive. For those of us protecting injuries, we are fearful that a simple correction may push us beyond a place of comfort.

As studios realize, like most industries, how easily power has been abused — the responsibility is theirs to protect their students. Consent Cards will not separate the teachers from the abusers, but they are a step in the right direction. We need to proudly take one at the start of a class and display it honestly. We also need to encourage all yoga studios to partake in this practice. After all, how can you focus on inner peace when you’re worried about being touched inappropriately in the guise of correction?


 

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Spinning isn’t scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you’re wearing

Spinning class / Image credit: Duvine.com

Spinning isn't scary: a group workout that lets you forget about what you're wearing

At its very core, spinning is a cardio workout on a stationary bicycle in a group exercise environment. Despite the rise in studios with their expensive merchandise and inspirational mantras, spinning is not an elite activity that should be only attempted by those looking for a transformational experience. It can be intimidating to set foot in these highly curated environments and feel out-of-place in your worn gym clothes.

But if you are curious about trying spinning, here’s what happens once you enter the darkened world of the studio.  It’s not scary. It’s fun, challenging, and highly individualized. And you are in control of the workout the entire time.

At your first class, make sure to get the instructor’s help setting up your bike. Every studio has slightly different equipment so it’s worth checking in with the staff about proper form. If you need to clip in with special spinning shoes, don’t worry if it takes you a while to get the hang of it. Even between studios, each bike may have their own particular quirk. It helps to step into the pedal and snap down as if you were in motion. Like any piece of equipment, the more you are familiar with it, the easier it gets. Again, don’t be afraid to ask the staff for help clipping in.

Most spin studios are incorporating one session of arm exercises as part of the 50-minute class. Make sure to check the weights on your bike and adjust as necessary. The arm workout is not long but it can be challenging. Choose a weight that you think you can work with and will accommodate biceps, triceps, and shoulder reps.

During the class, the instructor may turn up the music or their microphone very loudly to encourage an atmosphere of intensity. Some studios have earplugs available so don’t be shy about grabbing a pair (or bring your own!) if you are sensitive to noise. It’s better to be comfortable than in pain — some of the instructors are loud. Really loud.

Throughout the class, you’ll be guided through each song. The instructor will suggest how much tension to add to the bike. You can adjust as necessary. Because spin is an individual exercise in a group activity, it’s ideal for people who are just starting out or recovering from an injury. You can work at your own pace or even feel free to change up the activity. Studios are usually dark, even candle-lit, so it won’t be obvious if you are unable to keep pace with the pack. Do your own workout or follow the instructor. As long as you are challenging yourself, you’ll be fine.

In other blogs, we’ve discussed exercise types that are conducive to forming cults of personality. Lead by charismatic instructors or studio owners who believe their own hype, these people can cloud the true purpose of the activity. Spin has recently become one of those places where aesthetics appears to be more important than athletics. Don’t be dissuaded. By focusing on what is happening inside the studio, and ignoring the racks of t-shirts with inspirational sayings, you will be treated to a 50-minute workout that will push you and have you returning for another session.

Strip away the scandals and focus on the benefits. There’s a lot to love about yoga

woman on pink yoga mat with hands extended

Strip away the scandals and focus
on the benefits. There's a lot
to love about yoga

How could anyone who embraces fitness, wellness, and balance dislike a centuries-old movement-based meditation practice? Yoga is linked to so many health benefits including calming your mind, toning your body, improving flexibility, and finding overall happiness. Why do you hate yoga?

And the fact is that I don’t hate yoga. I just hate how it’s perceived and what it’s a short-hand for in our society.

Unfortunate associations

Choudhury bikram yoga classI hate the corporatization of yoga and its connection to affluence. To be a real yogi, you need the right four-way stretch fabric and a special towel made from bamboo and unicorn tears. Yoga clothing carries astronomical price tags and is often made in unsafe work conditions. I think we can all remember when the CEO of Lululemon was caught out fat-shaming and insulting the very people who bought his clothes. It’s embarrassing, but it was part of a larger snobbery that separated appropriate yoga bodies from unsightly ones.

I hate the gurus. There are teachers who use adjustments as an opportunity to subtly touch their practitioners in a way that crosses the line. What about the power-hungry narcissists and sexual assaulters who gaslight their students to make excuses for bad behaviour? Or the enlightened individuals who preach humility and charity with one hand, while pushing unnecessary classes and workshops with the other? They abuse the trust of people who just want to be a little better than they were yesterday.

But I love yoga

With yoga comes the acceptance that we are all different. Just like we all struggle in life with different things, you can leave it all on the mat. You can sweat, flow, breathe, or just lie down. Every practice is different. The expectations you set for yourself differ every time until you learn not to set expectations. You learn to be present and take each pose as a mini-challenge.

TrainingSpaces owner Laura Rantin at the Grand Canyon.For many people, it’s hard to get back to the root of yoga because of all the bullshit. All the fake gurus and the cool clothes won’t take away the fact from the purity of breathing and focusing on the stretch. When you relax into a yoga pose, you’re treating yourself to some quiet time. You can tune out the world and all its violence, terror, and cruelty.

It’s easy to get caught up in the yoga lifestyle and the nastiness of it all. It’s easy to find ways to hate yoga. But it’s even better not to. Because yoga was here before the moisture-wicking fabric, and the predators, and the cool bags with extra pockets. And there’s something that endures about something that connects you to yourself — and challenges you to be a better person … one breath at a time.

Yoga meditation pose

Has yoga been good to you?

Tell us about your experiences with yoga! Any good stories? Any bad ones? An instructor you found especially helpful? A pose or position that was particularly difficult? Let us know in the comments!

Running 101: how to overcome your fears and hit the road

Running 101: woman in track suit at the starting line. Image via Gratisography

Running 101: how to overcome your fears and hit the road

In the warmer months, many of my clients tell me that they want to start running. But, haunted by the ghosts of gym classes past, they are fearful. But running is for everyone — unless you have knee/joint mobility issues.

But how do you get started? Here are some tips to conquer your fear of running.

Get a Walk to Run app

There are so many programs designed to help wannabe runners progress incrementally. Most of these apps slowly increase your running time and you’ll see how easy it is to go from 30 seconds of running to five minutes to 10 minutes to 30 minutes. I recommend the Run 5K – Interval Training Program (https://www.felttip.com/run5k/) app or the C25K (Couch to 5K) http://www.c25kfree.com/ which both have simple interfaces and let you listen to your own music or podcasts while you train three times a week. They are designed for first time runners.

Make a playlist

And speaking of music, there’s nothing that can terminate a workout like a terrible song. It’s enough to make you give up. If you can craft a special running playlist, timed to your workout, you can give yourself the motivation you crave when you’re running up that hill.

Run somewhere

Sometimes it’s difficult to get motivated to run in a 5K loop around the neighbourhood. But what if you are running to something or somewhere? Why not run instead of waiting for the bus? Make sure you have plenty of time to incorporate your walks and runs — following your program. By running with intent, you need to maintain a pace or you’ll be late. This is an easy way to incorporate your run time into your weekly routine.

Sign up for a race

Sure races bring out the super competitive professionals with legs longer than your entire body. But they also bring out families, first time runners, and people who really believe in a cause. There are a number of races dedicated to fundraising for specific charities and institutions. Find something that you really care about and raise some money to support their initiatives. It doesn’t matter how slow you run — knowing that you’re running for a cause is enough to keep you going.

It’s just you and the road

Runners love the meditative running high they get by taking on the road. Some days you fly down the street and hit your milestones with minutes to spare. Other days, there’s an elderly lady speed-walking and leaving you in the dust. But at the end of every day, you’ve accomplished something great. Every run is worth celebrating. Speed and distance don’t matter. The fact you did it … that’s the true accomplishment.

So… are you ready to lace up and hit the pavement? Good luck — and don’t forget to warm up and stretch to prevent injury.

First time at the gym

The gym: Internal studio view through fisheye lens
The gym: Internal studio view through fisheye lens

First time at the gym

The gym, studio space, or even outdoor bootcamp can be an intimidating environment. For many people starting on their road to fitness, these spaces are less than inviting.

A trendy spin studio can be dimly lit and a place where everyone knows each other — leaving you feeling like you’re experiencing high-school flashbacks. Maybe your yoga studio has so many equipment options that you don’t even know where to start. Do you need a block? A bolster? A strap? What even are these rollers?

And gym lockers. Will you remember your code or will you embarrass yourself by getting the person on the desk to unlock it for you?

Being in any new space can trigger anxiety, even from the most experienced gym-goer. But, like most things in life, the key is really to think about this gym time as your time. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. If you can focus on yourself and what you need to get out of your time at the gym, it can help all these distractions fade into the background.

Prepare yourself

Asking questions, even ones you think might be stupid, is a good way to familiarize yourself with a space. The people on the desk … it’s their job to help you. Anything you can ask has probably already been asked (in a much ruder way!) many times.

Google the gym or class before you go and read reviews. Everyone likes to complain online and while these reviews shouldn’t be held as gospel, they can help prepare you for what’s to come.

Arrive early and get comfortable in the space. If you’re taking classes, the instructors will probably introduce themselves and be honest about your fitness level. They’ll appreciate it and keep your issues in mind.

The trick with any studio or gym is to think of it as a space that exists for YOU. Without you, there wouldn’t be any business. They want you to have a positive experience and most gyms want active feedback.

We all had our first days in class where we felt like outsiders. And most of us accidentally walked into the wrong change room, opened a door that turned out to be a supply closet, and yes … forgot our locker combination. Just showing up is points enough so take that first step and be brave. Soon, someone new will be looking to you and asking where the bathroom is.