Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey focused on inclusivity within the wellness industry, but not sure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Avery Kalapa (they, them), a yoga teacher, community weaver, queer and trans wellness advocate, CIYT, eRYT500, YACEP, BFA, with 20 years experience. Avery's approach is rooted in anti oppression: yoga for inner healing and collective liberation.
Tell us about all your different offerings?
Having a committed yoga practice can transform people’s lives in tangible, empowering ways - unfortunately many mainstream yoga spaces aren't accessible, safe, or welcoming to those who hold marginalized identities.
I am passionate about creating affirming yoga spaces that meet people where they’re at. Everyone should have access to the revitalizing nourishment of deeply informed, classical yoga that goes beyond just fitness. I help people establish a deep, committed yoga practice that empowers their healing, vitality and joy.
My vast knowledge of integrative functional anatomy and stability helps my students to experience tangible, profound transformation in body, mind, and consciousness. We use asana as a conduit for all 8 limbs! Celebrated for my enthusiasm, accessibility, applied philosophy, and depth of technique, my teaching reflects deep gratitude for the Iyengar Lineage.
I help people heal from chronic pain, get relief from knee, shoulder, and back and pelvic floor issues, reconnect with their bodies as a way to help heal trauma and gender dysphoria, and develop radical self-care practices that center compassion for the self and others. Our inner healing catalyzes collective liberation!
I’m involved in various yoga equity projects and collaborations; for example, since 2017, I’ve stewarded ABQ Queer Trans Community Yoga, a free monthly yoga class for the LGBTQ+ community. I also provide inclusivity coaching to wellness teachers and studio owners.
I currently offer 4 livestream Iyengar yoga classes weekly via my website, yogawithavery.com where you can also learn about my Yoga Subscription, and access a beautiful video library of unique, uplifting classes. I offer specialty trainings and courses, workshops, corporate events, and private sessions. I teach in person too, and am offering 2 exciting week long Yoga Retreats coming up: Return to Joy! Yoga Retreat in Mexico at Mar de Jade, Nov 21-27th 2021, and a Queer Trans Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica, at Blue Osa, March 12-19, 2022. I offer a lot of affirming, inspiring content on Instagram too, at @yoga_with_avery.
What has been your journey so far? When did you realize yoga was the thing you wanted to share with the world?
I began my yoga journey over 20 years ago. As a queer teen in the late 90s, I was hungry for belonging, and incredibly curious about consciousness, human sexuality, and spirituality. This led me to find community that included raves, drugs and sex work. Yoga opened the door to heal from shame, reclaim my power, build self acceptance, and gave me tools to stop using.
I took my first yoga class at a community space in Baltimore, MD, where I was attending art school. I immediately loved it and committed to a regular practice. As a person with then undiagnosed ADHD, yoga and mediation also became crucial for navigating my neurodiverse brain. Yoga changed my life and by 2003, I knew I wanted to teach and help others access the immense benefits of yoga, too. I felt this was a subject worthy of a lifetime of exploration!
The path was long and winding though; I was closeted in yoga for many years.
I led a double life. LGBTQ+ community organizing and activism over here, yoga "professionalism" over there. As a serious practitioner, I have acquired many certifications and have embarked on immersive study: eRYT500, certifications in trauma informed yoga, yoga for the pelvic floor, and in 2018 I passed Iyengar Yoga assessment after 4 years of preparation to become a CIYT. I've travelled twice to India to study. I have been a full time teacher since 2005. Over the years I have increasingly worked to bring these two worlds together.
I’ve been teaching full time since 2004, as a private contractor, but with the mass closure of studios at the beginning of Covid, I launched my own virtual online platform. This change turned out to be liberating! Instead of trying to “fit in” to studio culture, I began to teach in a more authentic way. I realized the aspects of myself I thought I had to hide were actually things I could lead with, and in doing so I created space for so many others who have longed for embodied healing spaces where they can be their full selves, too.
In addition to teaching yoga, I have worked with kids, been an illustrator, a circus performer, queer community organizer, and more. But yoga has been a consistent thread through it all.
How do you weave inclusivity, queerness, social justice and yoga together?
I center queer and trans folks, misfits, and changemakers in my yoga classes, because I cherish my beloved community. Being queer is a blessing, but navigating a cis het world steeped in systemic oppression is exhausting, complex, and heartbreaking. It’s often LGBTQ+ folks on the front lines of social change - and I want us, and the movements we care about - to be deeply nourished, sustained and fortified by spirit.
It’s clear to me that systemic oppression is not only something in the external - it lives in our minds, nervous systems, bodies, and all the ways we relate. The inner work of dismantling oppression creates space, energy, and fuel for the radical re-imagining required to build something new, beyond the confines of white supremacy, capitalism, binary gender, and all the other hierarchies that we are navigating together. As the disabled Black femmes who led the movements for healing justice brought to light, inner healing and community care is central to true social change.
Yoga has always been about justice. We honor the roots of yoga when we practice with a lens of radical collective transformation, rather than just fitness or an escape into “feeling good.” Queering our approach to yoga is a beautiful way to reclaim and expand into the deeper potentials of Patanjali’s path towards freedom.
I work to create culture shift within yoga, too, because I know this work is liberatory for all of us - the places where we have been marginalized, and the places we hold privilege. We all have a place at the table of collective healing.
How I teach, equity pricing, scholarships, nonbinary and gender affirming yoga frameworks, where I offer classes, and how I show up in professional roles are all ways this work is made real.
What tips would you give yoga teachers on building more inclusive spaces?
As a nonbinary queer, when I see another LGBTQIA person in a yoga space, a quiet recognition often takes place. This camaraderie recognizes the violence, erasure, disapproval and shame of a homophobic, transphobic society and provides a sweet connection and bit more space for us to fully arrive.
What most straight, cis people don’t realize is that queer and trans people bring brilliant, insightful magic to a space. Many precolonial cultures celebrated queer, trans, and nonbinary people as healers, leaders, and visionaries. Colonized society, with norms rooted in white supremacy, misogyny, and heteronormativity, has exploited, demonized, and tried to eradicate LGBTQIA people.
It’s important we do not replicate these harmful norms in our yoga spaces. Here are some things we can DO to be welcoming to our LGBTQIA Community Members:
• CREATE non gendered bathrooms and changing areas. Learn to recognize and confront any homo/transphobic behavior you observe, like staring at or avoiding LGBTQIA students.
• NORMALIZE asking for and sharing your pronouns. Ex: “Hi, I'm Suzi. My pronouns are she, her. What are your pronouns?” Ask, don’t assume. Binary gender is exclusionary, harmful, and counter to our non-dualistic practice of yoga. By offering your pronouns, you affirm trans and nonbinary people. If you misgender someone, don’t make it all about you. Apologize and move on.
• BE AWARE of how your discomfort affects the space. What arises in your body and thoughts when in the presence of someone who challenges your comfort zone about gender identity or sexual orientation? Notice the discomfort, get grounded, and then reconnect with the human being in front of you.
• STOP gendering bodies, body parts, and emotions. Anatomy does not determine gender. Embrace the opportunity to unpack bias about gender norms; after all this oppression harms us all. Ex: Instead of “ladies with periods” and “pregnant moms” try “people with periods” and “birth parents.” Women’s classes can be designed to include trans women; menstrual classes can include anyone with a uterus.
• UNDERSTAND intersectionality and privilege. Oppressions overlap and compound. For instance, the average life expectancy for a Black trans woman in the US is 35. Unpacking both where we have privilege and where we’re marginalized helps us orient, and find more satvic, balanced relationships with others. Embrace challenging your assumptions, language, and philosophies that uphold problematic norms as a healing practice.
•ALIGN intention and impact. “What’s cis mean?” If you don’t understand any of these terms google them. Read up. Marginalized people are often expected to bear the burden of educated others. Seek out, study with, and pay queer, trans and other underrepresented educators.
• CELEBRATE anti-assimilation. The movement for gay liberation, led by trans women of color, sought widespread change to uphold rights and protections for LGBTQIA people, especially the most marginalized. This movement was co-opted by affluent cisgender white gays pushing for respect through assimilation. Pressure to assimilate is strong in society and the yoga industry, including Iyengar Yoga. The cost of assimilation is high. Assimilation contradicts the vision for a more just, vibrant, expansive yoga community that is truly welcoming and affirming for all.
• UPLIFT LGBTQIA teachers. Include their unique wisdom and vital, much needed perspectives. Appreciate those who don’t fit your expectation of what a yoga practitioner or CIYT looks like. Be open to how they share in the common commitment to the method, transformation, and practice of yoga.
What tips would you give beginner yoga teachers on building a strong community?
- Prioritize your own practice, don't feel pressured to take on too much teaching too soon.
- Make strong boundaries. It’s not all about posting on instagram; be clear about your public facing role as a yoga teacher, and your behind the scenes, personal, private relationship to yoga and practice.
- Find teachers and yoga friends you can be yourself with. Learn to try what is offered, but take it all with a grain of salt. There are many “right ways” - find what lights you up!
- Embrace opportunities to be vulnerable. Don't think you have to be a certain way to be a yoga teacher.
- Don't try to please everyone - figure out who you most love to teach, and how, and focus on that!
- Learn about the older traditions of yoga, and yoga’s roots. Learn about Iyengar Yoga. Study the sutras. Challenge yourself to get beyond black/white good/bad thinking.
Where would you like to take your business in the next few years?
I’d love to cocreate more deep dive transformative yoga immersions and retreats for counterculture community, get funding for more community projects and scholarships! I’m working on some very exciting projects, such as a national Queer Trans Yoga Summit! I’d like to mentor more; as a tenured teacher who has received incredible teachings from now no longer with us teachers, I’d love to support the next generation of radical yoga teachers. I hope to build my online community as well to share a broad impact that has wide positive ripple effects to help us meet these challenging times!
Anything else you'd like to share about your story or words of wisdom for anyone on a similar path?
It’s all about balance! Commit - be tenacious, and also be forgiving with yourself. Tapas AND Santosha! Focus on ethics, weave the personal and political in ways that feel genuine, embrace the fact we all will make mistakes and are learning; do it anyway. Don't lose track with what matters to you most. Don't set the bar too high; or too low! … consistency with something small over a long period of time is more impactful than a brief intense burst. Be sincere, but not a perfectionist. Learn your strengths and tendencies, work with them compassionately. Be humble. Keep showing up! Lean into the fact that so much more is possible than your mind can believe.
There’s value to all the different types of practice.
Don't skip savasana!!
Where can people find you online?
Here's my website and Instagram.
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