The Connected Yoga Teacher Podcast

Ep 92: Accessible Yoga Language with Kesse, Chantel and Katie

As yoga teachers, we’d all like to reach as many people as possible with our practice and share yoga with them. However, what we may not realize is that we may be inadvertently be excluding or even offending people – through something as simple (but powerful) as our language.

I met Chantel Ehler, Katie Juelson and Kesse Hodge at the Accessible Yoga Conference in Toronto last summer. I immediately knew they would be the best people to have a discussion about accessible yoga language, and delve into some uncomfortable areas surrounding the topic.

Language can be a very powerful tool for empowering people, but it can also instill fear, be hurtful, or downright offensive. My three guests share insights about the kind of language it takes to create safe spaces for people to be vulnerable. We touch on topics like using gendered pronouns, inclusive rather than exclusive language, and how to ask people about what they’re going through and build relationships with them.

We’re all going to make mistakes along the way. Even I had some fear around doing this episode, and sharing some of my vulnerable experiences. The key is to remember that every interaction is an opportunity to learn and grow.

If you’ve ever struggled with presenting yoga with accessible language, or worried about offending someone because of something you’ve said, this episode is going to be such an eye-opener.

About the Guests:

Chantel, founder of Amara Vidya Yoga in Ontario, Canada, began teaching yoga in 2002, and was the location manager for the Accessible Yoga Conference in June 2018.

Katie has been a yoga teacher for 5 years, and currently works with Canada’s National Para-soccer team and with other community programs. She focuses on sharing yoga with people who have cognitive and developmental disabilities. Chantel and Katie also recently co-founded Yoga Service and Accessibility Canada. Kesse is a self-professed fat, atheist, agender, spoonie (person living with chronic illness/ pain) who specializes in teaching adaptive, mix-level yoga to all humans. They are the founder of Change Yoga, the Director of Inclusion and Communications at Rooted Yoga, and have over 15 years of experience in the field.

Key Takeaways:

[5:00] Shannon introduces her three guests for this episode – Chantel Ehler, Katie Juelson, and Kesse Hodge.

[8:08] Language is very important in empowering students. What kind of language is not as empowering, unhelpful or downright offensive? Chantel shares her thoughts.

[11:19] Katie addresses language that is empowering vs not so helpful in the area of disability.

[12:46] Shannon shares a personal anecdote from her experience with a paraplegic in her class.

[13:33] Katie gives some tips on the cues that can be used in a yoga class.

[15:25] Kesse gives their take on how every opportunity interacting with students is an opportunity to learn and to grow.

[19:29] Emotional safety is a crucial part of creating a safe space for your yoga students. Kesse elaborates more on that idea, sharing some personal anecdotes.

[25:20] Language can exclude people who may benefit from whatever is being offered, be it yoga, or assistance, or anything else- being conscious, deliberate and inclusive can help with this.

[29:26] What are the after-effects of the damage that is inadvertently done through language, and how can they be addressed?

[34:25] Katie raises the importance of community relationships in the healing journey.

[00:36:30] Shannon and Katie discuss the issues with saying that people with disabilities are inspiring.

[39:45] What’s the deal with using gendered pronouns to refer to people? Kesse and Chantel share their thoughts on how best to approach this.

[49:25] Asking is the best way to educate yourself. Is it ever offensive to ask about disability, or what someone is going through, or even what pronoun they prefer?

[55:14] Listeners, we’d love to hear your experiences and how you’ve learned to change something you say.

[56:40] What were some of Shannon’s key takeaways from this discussion? We’d love for you to hear yours too – share them in the show notes!

[59:40] Shannon has a special bonus for you!


Gratitude to our Sponsor Schedulicity

Quotes from this episode:

“Someone’s going to find something offensive in anything.” – Chantel

“Where I think the disconnect is, is how to address it when you’ve noticed something’s going on.” – Chantel

“Language is an extremely powerful tool, and it can really empower someone’s sense of pride, identity, purpose.” – Katie

“Put the person before the impairment.” – Katie

“We think that our normal is everybody else’s normal …. but [realize] that that’s just absolutely not the case.” – Kesse

“I didn’t like that I was essentially complicit in hurting somebody without my knowledge.” – Kesse

“Once you say something, you can’t un-say it. And the person can’t un-hear it. And the damage that can be done, is done.” – Kesse

“You’re asking these people to come and be vulnerable, and you have a responsibility to make that space as safe as possible.” – Kesse

“The person who’s chosen to not say anything, is the person that is the most exposed to harm.” – Chantel

“Inclusion grows with relationship.” – Chantel

“If we are not getting to know the student, we won’t know how to include them.” – Chantel