Why yoga therapy can support LGBTQIA+ embodiment and well-being
By Skylar Haven
Research has consistently demonstrated the importance of culturally competent healthcare for LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer community) people and the negative health outcomes that result from lack of access to such care. Healthcare providers and yoga professionals alike can work toward better health outcomes for these individuals through developing awareness, attitudes, and skills that provide safer, more positive care experiences. It can also be useful to refer clients to specialized support, which could include health and wellness services led by (BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color]) LGBTQIA+ people as well as yoga therapy to promote embodiment and well-being.*
Supporting LGBTQIA+ people with embodiment and well-being is an area in which some yoga therapists focus. Along with developing biomedical, psychological, and yogic knowledge, a yoga therapist training in this way needs to develop the awareness, skills, and capacity to minimize risks of causing additional harm in spite of good intentions. This includes developing cultural humility, cultural competence, and a trauma-informed approach that encompasses
- awareness of systemic harm,
- one’s own positionality and social location, and
- the power dynamics inherent within the therapeutic relationship.
As a queer, trans, nonbinary educator; somatic coach; and yoga therapist recently certified by IAYT, I love being a part of the wave of healthcare initiatives led by (BIPOC) LGBTQIA+ people. Supporting other LGBTQIA+ people with embodiment and well-being topics is part of the work that brings me the most joy in my practice. Clients (LGBTQIA+ or otherwise) often come to me specifically with the desire to live from and feel more as if they are in their bodies. This is not surprising, given that many cultures teach people to live with a degree of disconnection from their physical bodies.
It’s worth remembering that many LGBTQIA+ people have a history of experiences that exacerbate the difficulty of connecting with, trusting, and making decisions related to one’s body. For example, many trans people experience
- frequently being second-guessed, pathologized, questioned, deemed immoral, and having to prove their transness as a result of living in a culture that places straight, cisgendered folx as the norm and perceives trans bodies and experiences as different than normal.
- living with the constant stress of risks to physical safety, financial security, etc.
- frequent exposure to microaggressions and other harm.
- harmful, non-affirming, and transphobic experiences in medical and other spaces—including yoga spaces—intended to support health and well-being.
- gender dysphoria, which involves discomfort or distress in one’s body specifically related to incongruity between inner experiences of gender, the body, or social perception of that body and/or gender.
- physical, emotional, and social changes related to transition processes.**
- living with the trauma of witnessing and knowing about violence toward other trans folx.
- harm related to racism, ableism, classism, and a long list of other oppressive systems that impact many trans people.
As a result of these experiences, LGBTQIA+ people may be used to needing to endure or override what their bodies are saying in order to survive. The ongoing stress and traumatic experiences can lead to feeling disconnected from the body, being stuck in a hypervigilant or dissociated space, and sensing that the body is not a safe place to be.
In the hands of a competent professional, yoga therapy can be extremely well-suited for LGBTQIA+ people seeking greater embodiment and well-being. It starts with a view of queer and trans people as inherently whole and as far more than whatever symptoms may bring them to therapy. This biopsychosocial-spiritual modality recognizes symptoms as part of a holistic picture involving the stresses and traumas experienced in society and offers tools that can be safely adapted to support healing, embodiment, and well-being.
Skylar Haven (they/them), MSc, RYT-200, C-IAYT, offers LGBTQIA+ focused yoga therapy and somatic coaching, plus mentoring and training for yoga therapists seeking to support LGBTQIA+ people.
*LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC are acronyms and umbrella terms which acknowledge the diversity within the many communities they represent. LGBTQIA+ is used to refer inclusively to all gender and sexual identities. BIPOC is used to refer inclusively to all people of color. (BIPOC) LGBTQIA+ is a shorthand way of referring explicitly to LGBTQIA+ and BIPOC LGBTQIA+ communities.
**I [Skylar] use the term transition processes here broadly. Western culture primarily elevates a binary (male/female) view of gender and heterosexuality as normal. Individuals whose experience does not match this view will likely go through both an inner transition and a social transition process commonly called “coming out.” Transgender and gender nonconforming individuals may also opt for a degree of medical transition, possibly including hormone therapy and a range of bodily modifications to increase congruence between their experience of gender, their bodies, and the way society perceives them.