“True yoga is not about the shape of your body, but the shape of your life. Yoga is not to be performed; yoga is to be lived. Yoga doesn’t care about what you have been; yoga cares about the person you are becoming. Yoga is designed for a vast and profound purpose, and for it to be truly called yoga, its essence must be embodied.”Aadil Palkhivala
In the Nepali language, the word “namaste” holds a variety of meanings. In addition to a delightful duality between “hello” and “goodbye,” namaste has the tertiary meaning of “I bless the divine within you.” In America and other westernized countries, we almost exclusively hear “namaste” at the end of a yoga class or see it in colorful sticker-form on water bottles and laptops.
Believe it or not, there’s more to yoga than white girls in lululemon leggings doing downward dog for an Instagram photo. Historians have been unable to pinpoint the exact date of yoga’s conception, but most folx estimate that the practice is between 5,000 and 10,000 years old. Without getting into too much detail, yoga masters traveled west in the late 1800s and early 1900s, but the practice didn’t really blow up until Indra Devi opened a studio in Hollywood in 1947.
While some folx think about yoga as a state of being, this intervention focuses exclusively on poses and physical practice. The mind-body connection (mentioned in more detail in the Mind-Body Connection tab) applies to yoga in the same ways as meditation—in fact, yoga was originally created as a precursor to meditation. The ability to focus on one’s breath while engaging in a myriad of poses was thought to help with concentration, thereby priming the practitioner for prolonged meditation.
While there are some yoga studios and LGBTQIA+ community centers that host queer yoga classes a few times a month, for the most part, there is very little documented overlap between queer folx and yoga. Formal research about yoga is sparse in general, with most studies lacking the internal or external validity (quality of the studies vs. ability to generalize the results of said studies) to claim yoga as a viable intervention for anything. This is not to say that yoga doesn’t help people—because it totally does—just that the studies that have been designed to measure the effects of yoga have not been good.
All of the research studies we reviewed ended with flimsy correlations between yoga and decreased depression and anxiety—possible symptoms of suicidality—but because the studies…had so much room for improvement…yoga can not be deemed an evidence-based intervention (we ranted about this a bit in the Research tab).
Many yogis think studying the practice inherently defeats the purpose of engaging. Practicing yoga has to be a voluntary and personal experience for individuals to get the most out of it, and by forcing or coercing an individual into plank pose or cat-cow, you take away that crucial element of choice.
Learning to use yoga as an intervention to combat gender dysphoria is hard. The last thing anyone wants to do when they feel dysphoric is roll out their yoga mat and reach for their toes. For this intervention to work, yoga must be something you practice regularly so your brain is trained to view it as a positive activity prior to a dysphoric meltdown.
Be kind to yourself throughout this process. If this is your first time doing yoga, we highly recommend the YouTube channel, Yoga With Adrienne. Adrienne does not identify as transgender or gender non-conforming (to our knowledge), but she is sweet, bubbly, and has a cute dog who does yoga with her. What more could a person want?
Also, when we say namaste, we don’t mean hello or goodbye. We mean that as a person, you are divine—both in a Jonathan Van Ness, fierce-fabulous-and-funtastic way and in the because you are part of the universe, you are important sense.