Self-care according to a gender-affirming yoga pro

For years, Avery kalapa loved practicing yoga – but didn’t feel very comfortable in most yoga studios. As a member of the queer community, they found themselves taking extra steps to fit into these spaces, like changing their behavior, speech, clothing choices, etc. to appear less different from others in space. Ultimately, however, those efforts didn’t match how Kalapa viewed himself.

“Because I’m deeply used to navigating straight and cisgender spaces, this silent code change was something I did almost automatically – but not without a cost,” says Kalapa, who is a queer Iyengar and not binary certified by the Yoga Alliance. yoga teacher based in Albuquerque, New Mexico. “It takes energy and attention, and can be vulnerable and tiring.”

Often times, this feeling will cause potential yogis to shy away from the practice. Instead, Kalapa dug.

They started their yoga journey in 1999. Kalapa was then part of a community that was interested in drugs and sex work.

“Yoga has opened the door to healing shame, reclaiming my power and building self-acceptance,” they explain. In retrospect, Kalapa says they realized that yoga helped them cope with the then undiagnosed Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). “Yoga has changed my life.

Kalapa started working as a full time yoga teacher in 2005 after obtaining her teaching certification. They have traveled to India twice to study yoga. And throughout it all, they’ve worked to bring the two worlds of LGBTQ + community activism and professional yoga closer together.

Now Kalapa wants to help ensure that people who don’t feel welcome in traditional yoga studios have other opportunities. Their workshops, retreats and classes focus on affirmation yoga designed for “queers, trans people, mavericks and change makers,” according to their website. On Zoom, Kalapa offers four weekly yoga classes and private sessions, as well as downloadable online workshops.

“I really want my community to have access to these beautiful, precious and life-changing teachings,” says Kalapa. “I want to say that yoga is a place for everyone.”

Today, Kalapa says they cannot imagine life without yoga. And yes, it is an essential part of their personal care routine. Kalapa hopes their gender-affirming yoga classes provide a space for others to take care of themselves as well.

Here’s how Kalapa says they define self-care – and why gender-affirming yoga is one of them.

Daily health: What is gender affirming yoga?

Avery Kalapa: It’s a word I made up. I felt a lot of discord between the yoga communities I was a part of and my queer community. We’ve come a long way in terms of accepting sexualities, but it’s a whole different thing to be gender non-conforming, non-binary, or trans in a yoga space.

There is much more [of a] obstacle that this group of people commonly encounter in yoga classes and other public places that can send a clear message that they do not belong, are not welcome, and may not even be physically safe. Examples include being misgendered; dealing with other people who are watching, asking intrusive questions, or exhibiting awkward behavior; being told they are in the wrong bathroom; hearing teachers impose gendered language on poses or parts of the body; worry if they will be interpreted as trans and if this puts them at risk of physical violence; ask who in the room is transphobic or an ally; or wonder if they are the only ones and who can help them if something violent happens.

Gender affirming yoga is not that different from what happens in other classes. But there is a real specific intention that this is not a space where the harms of gender binary social conditioning are replicated. They provide a space that welcomes and celebrates people who are fully themselves, and recognizes that the world is not a place where many of us can just be fully ourselves.

Just being in the world can feel like an assault – there are so many messages constantly telling you that something is wrong with you, or that you are out of place. It’s exhausting.

What would it be like to put down some of that armor, and the tension and stress of navigating it all? How would it feel to be able to be at home in your own body? This is, to me, what gender affirming yoga is.

RELATED: Here’s how yoga benefits your health and well-being

EH: What does the term “self-care” mean to you?

AK: Taking care of yourself is making room to live your life, not to work all the time or to try to prove that you are worthy of being on the planet.

Personal care is often sold as that chewy, fun, and luxurious thing like bubble baths and chocolate – and that’s awesome. I like baths and chocolate.

But sometimes personal grooming may not seem so glamorous. It might feel like getting your finances in order, so that you don’t have anxiety and debt. Or it can be like learning to set boundaries or heal trauma. It can sound like therapy which can be really uncomfortable and confrontational, but ultimately will help you move forward with more freedom and sovereignty.

I believe that for people who have a marginalized identity, personal care is closely linked and inseparable from community care. I don’t think we can do self-care on our own little island solo. There is an essential component of self-care that involves reciprocity, being seen, being loved, having someone to cherish you and doing all of those things in return.

EH: How do you practice self-care – and is yoga one of them?

AK: For me, the daily practice of yoga and meditation is about taking care of yourself. It has to do with my ability to show myself for others, for my children and my partner and all the people in my community that I am committed to. And it’s also something that’s completely beyond that – it’s a very deep and intimate rendezvous for my soul and the expansive universe around me.

My yoga practice has been one of the deepest havens. It is my best remedy for dysphoria. It’s just essential. I cannot imagine my life without a yoga practice.

RELATED: How to start a personal care routine that you will follow

EH: Have you ever struggled to take care of yourself and in what ways?

AK: Absoutely. I often struggle to get enough rest – I tend to overdo it and overwork. It’s a feeling I have to constantly exaggerate to prove that I belong here.

Sometimes it takes discipline when it comes to taking care of yourself. It can be difficult to practice yoga, for example. Sometimes it’s fun and enjoyable, but often times it can be a little uncomfortable or take effort and, of course, time.

However, we can recognize that the process of saving time and continuing to present to practice is part of the practice. Yoga teaches us that freedom and discipline are two sides of the same coin. What if taking time out for yoga was a way to say that you are worthy of such care? What if we saw yoga as a gift you give yourself that says you deserve the goodness of life?

RELATED: How to recognize when a self-care practice is no longer self-care

EH: How do you prioritize personal care when other things are in your way?

AK: I find having responsible buddies can be a big help, as well as naming your intentions (out loud or in your head), “Hey, I’m going to do this thing. And then at the end of the day, we check in and can say, “Alright, I did the thing.” “

Recognizing what it took to show up and celebrate when we follow through on an intention (such as a commitment to yoga practice) can be of great help. This helps us to establish a positive association with the practice.

It’s important to recognize that sometimes taking care of yourself means breaking a pattern. Self-care can be about getting some agency around what you prioritize and why. Take an honest look at how you spend the time in your day. Do you deny yourself rest, exercise, time for yoga, or time in nature because you always prioritize work, productivity, or caring for others?

Looking at the deeper stories we tell each other [about not having time to practice self-care], and then finding ways to get help around them, is a really good and useful practice.

RELATED: Why Free Time Is So Good For Your Health

EH: What if setting a limit around how much time you spend at work, with your kids, or with your partner not only allowed you to find new ways to set aside time to take care of yourself, but also helped you feel better in who you are? What excuses does your mind find and how can you get support to get around these obstacles?

AK: Many of us were raised to believe that productivity and consumption is the place to find happiness, and that taking care of ourselves is selfish or lazy. But when you are healthy and happy, everyone around you is also uplifted. When you prioritize your own rest, self-care, worth, and vibrant authenticity, you are also affirming everyone around you.

RELATED: What to know before your first yoga class

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