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Yoga trainer brings diversity and equity to yoga one teacher at a time

Posted at 6:20 PM, Dec 27, 2021

Jordan Smiley is the co-director of Courageous Yoga. He has trained hundreds of yoga instructors.

“Our focus is bringing a lens of equity and diversity to the yoga practice that is sort of intrinsic to the yoga philosophy,” Smiley said.

He’s a trans-Indigenous man who's on a mission to uplift marginalized voices and awaken people to the idea that everyone can find healing through yoga no matter their race, gender, or body type.

“We don't not talk about race here, and we don't not talk about gender, and we don't not talk about politics because after all, our bodies come into the room and our bodies are highly politicized, right?" Smiley said. "As like a trans person of color, there are many laws about my body.”

Smiley says we all have biases and beliefs we may not be aware of that impact how we treat those around us. Yoga is a well-being practice to work through that.

“We have to look at those pieces of our reality and find ways that, for example, racism or homophobia or transphobia or fatphobia show up in our lives and work on being honest about those so we can actually see them and break them down,” Smiley said.

However, Smiley says yoga isn’t always accessible to all because of how the tradition has been interpreted in Western culture.

“What sells in our culture, let's face it, is skinny, sexy, typically white-bodied women doing the practice,” Smiley said.

A woman who recently went through his 200-hour training says her eyes have been opened to the healing that can come from yoga. Andrea Parés loves practicing yoga, and so does her cat, but it’s taken her a while to settle into her passion.

“I lived my life thinking that because I'm fat, I was inherently a bad person like I wasn't smart enough or good enough for cute enough or talented enough, so I had to, like, achieve," Parés said. "And once I started getting into more fat-positive, body-positive acceptance in yoga spaces and meeting those people and taking classes from them and hearing them speak, I started to peel off all of these layers that society is laid on me.”

Now she’s determined to create a safer yoga space for bigger-bodied people. For her, that means offering a variety of poses and encouraging the use of props.

“I got extra stuff in the way I can't always do all these twisty things," Parés said. "But like, you know, if I use a strap, maybe I can achieve the same thing.”

Another woman who recently completed Smiley's training hopes to bring more diversity to yoga through representation and financial accessibility. Bianca Biazevich is a Chicana Indigenous woman who values the sacred space yoga can give.

“It's everyone's birthright to be healthy, to be rested, and to have access to these things,” Biazevich said.

Biazevich says yoga needs better to represent Black, Indigenous, people of color.

She says financial barriers need to be broken down to get that representation.

Biazevich says she’s proud to work at a Black woman-owned yoga studio where free classes are offered every week to the community.

“We all need to have access to these wellness spaces for us to for us to have peace and to get along and for equity,” Biazevich said.

With the ability for more people to build strength, awareness, and harmony in both the mind and body, Smiley says people will become more loving and compassionate toward themselves, others, and society.

“My hope is that people that I’ve gotten to train to protect the people who have been made to be most vulnerable in our society and put those individuals’ well-being at the center of what they do,” Smiley said.