Last weekend I attended a workshop with Dianne Bondy, yoga teacher, social justice activist and leading voice of the Yoga For All movement (and also my new bff), hosted by the New Leaf Foundation. The workshop was titled “The Path to Empowerment, Self-Love and Body Acceptance” and I signed up as I have personally been struggling with these three things since the birth of my daughter in 2015. Going into the workshop I assumed that I would leave with some tools to help me learn to love this post-partum body that I’m still getting used to – and I certainly did. And perhaps more importantly, I also left with a new perspective on the wellness industry and the real issues it has with inclusion and accessibility.
“Wellness” is a buzzword that has been getting a lot of attention in the last few years and for good reason. Most of us are overworked, overfed, overtired, underexercised and stressed to our limits. And so it would make sense that wellness – the state of or the active pursuit of good physical or mental health – has become a booming industry as it’s something that every human could benefit from.
But is the wellness industry really benefiting all of us? Is it really for all of us? Take a look around your average yoga class or Whole Foods line-up or “clean eating” workshop and chances are most of the people around you look alike. Chances are they look a lot like me (minus the abundant body) – white, cisgender, straight, able-bodied, relatively young and with the means to buy organic groceries or a $25 one-time pass to an exercise class.
That needs to change. And the most important thing I learned this weekend with Dianne is that it’s up to ME as a Nice White Lady and wellness practitioner to put those wheels of change into motion. While the workshop discussion centred around yoga specifically, many of the concepts can be transferred to other areas of the wellness world. Here are a few of the ways that wellness practitioners can begin to create spaces that are more inclusive and accessible to all bodies.
Check Your Privilege
This is step one to creating inclusive and accessible spaces for all bodies: recognising your own privilege. Does the idea of creating a space for abundant/queer/brown/Spanish-speaking/bodies different from you rown in any way to exercise or learn self-care or how to cook or to do anything else make you feel like you’re being excluded in a negative way?
For more read this great primer on Privilege 101 from Everyday Feminism.
Consider Your Physical Space
Here in Toronto there are two universal truths: restaurant bathrooms are downstairs and yoga studios are upstairs – something I hadn’t much considered before Dianne, a visitor to the city, pointed it out.
While I’m sure that any yoga studio would say they welcome people of all abilities, the fact that you have to climb up a flight, sometimes more, of stairs makes that impossible. If you are hosting classes or workshops consider if the space is easily accessed by all types of bodies!
Get Out into the Community
Many of the people who could benefit most from wellness don’t have access to it for any number of reasons from language barriers to simply being unable to afford it. Gym memberships and yoga classes, especially in a large urban centre, are expensive. Chiropractic adjustments and therapy are expensive if you don’t have private health insurance. And while the entire world lives in Toronto most wellness services are offered only in English.
As wellness practitioners, there are many ways that we can offer our services to underserved communities. Offer a sliding scale or group rate. Host workshops and classes in unconventional spaces like churches, community centres or even a park. Volunteer or partner with organisations to offer your services at no cost. If you are fluent in another language, offer your services to that community.
Chose Your Words Wisely
Words matter and go a long way in making different groups of people feel welcome.
When I was building my nutrition business I knew that I wanted to focus on menstrual health and hormones, and so I referred to myself as a specialising in “women’s health.” Until one day I realised that periods and the issues that come with them are not related to gender but to female reproductive organs. Since then I have been careful to use “female health” instead of “women’s health.”
Another example is Oliva Scobie‘s use of the term “birthers” instead of “mothers” in her Birth Trauma Healing workshop. This subtle shift is to recognise that not everyone giving birth is necessarily a mother or identifies as one.
While these tips are by no means an exhaustive list of ways to help feel more people included or give them access to wellness services and practices, they are a start. Let’s keep the conversation going – If you are a wellness practitioner I would love to hear how you endeavour to include all bodies in your practice or what would make you feel more included or like wellness services are accessible to you.