Portland is a vinyasa-obsessed city—yoga studios are almost as ubiquitous as swank coffee shops. But like Portland itself, yoga classes can sometimes feel exclusionary to folks who are not thin, white, wealthy, able-bodied, and cisgender.
Thankfully, many yoga teachers are working to fix this. People’s Food Co-op hosts free Humans of Color yoga classes every other Saturday; Fat Yoga offers classes throughout the week on Southeast Foster. And on Tuesday nights, local yoga instructor Zeyah Roge leads a Queer and Trans Yoga class at the People’s Yoga. We talked with Roge, who started the class last April, about vulnerability, community, and prioritizing self-care.
What is your personal relationship with yoga and with the LGBTQIA community?
I am queer and have been practicing yoga since I was quite young. I was a community organizer who addressed the intersecting issues that impact folks in the LGBTQIA community for many years, while cultivating a career in holistic health. Something that both yoga and the LGBTQIA community have in common is that they are non-homogenous.
On your blog, you talk about how difficult it is to connect to a yoga class when you don’t see yourself reflected in the teacher or students. Do you think a queer and trans class fills a gap that existed in Portland’s yoga scene?
My partner and I experienced firsthand how amazing it felt to attend a class filled with primarily LGBTQIA folk in the Bay Area. We realized it wasn’t the teaching techniques or the sequence; it was being amongst others like us. My partner, especially, felt totally welcomed for the first time, was not distracted by being the “other,” and was able to totally absorb the practice. There were no studio classes offered like it in Portland, so I started one in hopes that it could provide a similar empowering experience to others within my community.
Unfortunately, even in Portland’s well-meaning, relatively progressive culture, homophobia and transphobia still exist. We experience it on both subtle and not so subtle levels, which can make participating in a vulnerable group practice like yoga discouraging.
In what ways do you think an LGBTQIA-specific yoga practice helps foster self-care and affirmation?
I think it is really important to be around other folks within the community who are prioritizing self-care. Those of us who survive adolescence are in need of healthy coping mechanisms. This class offers a safe space where we get the implicit message, just by being together, that we deserve not only to exist but also to thrive.
Folks who attend most likely share experiences of living in a body that is subjected to scrutiny. It can be difficult to maintain a healthy relationship to oneself, and particularly one’s body, within this climate. The class provides opportunity to shed tensions of discrimination and experience a sense of love, belonging, and rightness.
What are some of the teachings that you explore in the class?
One is providing anatomical alignment information. Another is teaching the principles of steadiness and ease, which gives rise to resilience, adaptability, and balance. Lastly, students are encouraged to move authentically and unwind their unique tension patterns. Blanketed on top of all these themes is a trauma-informed approach, which is important for any class and particularly important for the queer and trans class since so many of us have, and continue to, experience insidious trauma.
How has the class evolved since its inception, and what are your hopes for it moving forward?
The class is adaptable so that it can address the needs of the group of students who show up on any given day. I strongly encourage feedback and am very receptive to hearing what needs to happen to make the space relevant, accessible, safe, and satisfying.
My wish is that LGBTQIA folks who fall in love with the practice feel empowered to make it a big part of their life—maybe even teach classes themselves. Portland yoga teachers are primarily white, young, skinny, able-bodied, cisgender, and straight. I realize that I fit a lot of those categories myself, and I know that our lack of diversity alienates many from the practice.
Yoga in the West is unfortunately part of a larger story of cultural appropriation and colonization. Part of decolonizing yoga requires us to broaden our biases about who is worthy of practicing and teaching. I hope this class is a step in that direction.
Queer and Trans Yoga
7:15–8:30 p.m. Tuesdays
The People’s Yoga, 5428 NE 30th Ave