by Emma Rabbitt

Gender Benders began as a workshop at Gathered & Grounded, a yoga studio specifically for kids and teens in Decatur, Georgia. A fellow queer teacher invited me to co-lead the 3 hour experience. It included art therapy, guided meditation, asana, and sensory exploration. We only had two participants, but what grew out of that workshop is a class that just hit it’s three year mark, with 90% of the original group intact. When I began the class in February of 2019, I had less than one year of teaching under my belt. The studio owner of Gathered & Grounded and I had taken our 200 hour YTT together, and she graciously agreed to host and advertise the class for a 6-week trial session. I’m grateful for that opportunity, as it has grown into a nourishing community for queer teens in the area.

Who’s in the group?
Some of the participants began the class when they were 11, and are now 14 – what a huge amount of change in a small amount of time! The teens in class right now range from 13-20. There is a large range of personal identities, sexual preferences, pronouns, and gender expression. Participants are invited to share their feelings about their identity in each class, including pronoun updates and name changes.

What are the classes like?
Classes vary by the participants’ energy level and external cultural events. If the teens show up with energy to burn, we’ll do a challenging asana practice followed by a game of “conversation jenga”. We’ve gone through three sets of the game, writing different conversation prompts and inside jokes as mementos. Playing this game can get them laughing, which turns into talking and sharing about other parts of their life.

On other days if they show up exhausted from school and other obligations, we’ll do a restorative class with guided meditation for relaxation, followed by a soothing activity such as coloring in a coloring book.

Some days we focus our conversation around events in the world. June is Gay & Lesbian Pride month, so we may talk about the history of Pride and how far the community has come, and what ground we have left to cover. October is LGBT history month and the Pride Parade here in Atlanta. Other times we’ll talk about current events, such as the recent anti-trans political activity in Texas.

A few special events have included dance parties (anything movement related is good in my book), putting on a fashion show for one of the participants, a Halloween/birthday party celebration, and celebrating high school graduations. I always give them good- bye notes at the end of each series, and Valentines on each Valentine’s Day.

Anatomy course led to additional introspection
Pranakriya’s 300-hour Anatomy course helped inform my work with my teens by getting me to ask BIG questions about my teaching style:

  • Why do I use that cue? What am I trying to convey?
  • Why this posture or shape?
  • Why this warm-up?
  • Why this posture at this time in this sequence?
  • What am I doing to keep my kids safe?
  • What special considerations do I want to make for their age, size, and abilities?
  • Why do I think alignment is the best way to teach?
  • What am I missing in order to get people in the “right” posture? (Safety excluded of course)? Could I instead be cueing to the yogi’s experience instead of tapping into an internal litany of “I’m doing this wrong”?

And, my most favorite & important question from the entire training:
What else am I not looking at?

If the things I take for granted in my teaching – for instance, language I’ve been using for four years with infrequent examination – what else can I re-imagine for my classes and students? It made me want to pursue more peer review, learn more about hands-on adjustments, take more classes, and further my accessible yoga training.

The Anatomy: Theory and Teaching course deepened my understanding of how different parts of the body move together and influence one another. It inspired a new wave of awe and gratitude for our human existence. It gave my teaching a much-needed injection of energy and curiosity. It reminded me of why I began this journey in the first place.

Closing Remarks
It’s challenging to be a teen, and it’s challenging to be perceived as different by your peers. While many lgbtq youth find more acceptance than they have historically (for instance, you have to be “out” to your parents for you to participate in this class) it’s nonetheless an overwhelming and frustrating time to work through. I consider it a sacred duty to model what a happy, fulfilling, and joyful queer adulthood can look like. I try my best to create a welcoming and safe environment for the teens to share, and I’ve been rewarded with the fruits of that labor by their confiding in me. I’m not a counselor, nor do I advertise myself as one, but I try to be another adult in their lives who can help them navigate this time, and as a lifelong student, I honor my continued to work to learn how I can best serve them. I’m constantly honored and wowed by their desire to continue showing up for their friends in the form of group conversation and support.