Melanie Camellia: Yoga For Everybody | Mindful Strength Podcast

About Melanie Camellia

Melanie Camellia (née Williams), E-RYT 200 & YACEP, is a fat, queer, non-binary yoga teacher and accessibility advocate in Washington, DC, called to create profoundly inclusive spaces for self-inquiry and the inward journey by integrating spiritual teachings and accessible, trauma-informed movement practices with the spirit of social justice. Melanie believes that the goal of yoga, as of life, is collective liberation, and in turn, challenges contemporary yoga practitioners to dismantle the oppressive systems and beliefs, within themselves and society at large, that hold us all back. They’ve been called a “tour-de-force of encouraging radical self-love” and listed among the “top thinkers and activists in the field of body positivity.”

In addition to teaching group and private yoga classes, Melanie offers workshops that explore queer identity, body image, desire, pleasure, and agency. They champion diversity and equity in the yoga industry as a member of the Yoga & Body Image Coalition leadership team. They continue to serve as an expert adviser on diversity, accessibility, and ethics for the Yoga Alliance Standards Review Project and currently work with Accessible Yoga to help bring their teacher trainings and conferences to an ever-growing list of cities internationally.

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Yoga For Everybody:

Accessibility, Hierarchy, and Truth

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About This Episode

Melanie and Kathryn talk about making yoga practice more accessible, hierarchy, and reminding ourselves of what yoga truly is. Melanie shares advice on the idea of an “all levels” class, and why so many classes that are labeled “all levels” truly aren’t. They give some clear examples of ways we can make asana work for everybody. Melanie also talks about their activism work and the work that is needed right now in the yoga and movement community.

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Podcast Transcription

 

Kathryn: 00:00:08

All right Melanie welcome to the podcast.

Melanie Camellia: Thank you. Yeah.

Kathryn: Thanks for being here with us today. So for the folks who have not been following you online and don’t know a lot about the type of work that you do do you want to take a few minutes and tell people a little bit about yourself like whatever you want to share that you think would be important. And just to give some context for what we’re going to talk about.

Melanie Camellia: 00:03:06

Yeah totally. So my name is Melanie Camelia. I also just go by my first initial. Most of the time in person, so you can also just call M. My pronouns are they and them. The brief of what I do: I am yoga teacher. I am a yoga teacher trainer and mentor. I’m an advocate for accessibility and I work with the organization Accessible Yoga.

00:03:28

I work around issues of consent and agency and equity in the yoga space and that takes on a lot of forms and a lot of roles, but that’s the sort of simplified explanation of what I do. Lots of hats.

Kathryn: 00:03:41

So how did you originally get into yoga?

Melanie Camellia: I got into yoga I think the way many people do through an at the time focus on fitness and physical wellness. It was a perhaps darker period of my life. I was dealing with disordered eating and exercise and was also training for some very long races half marathons triathlons and the like. I was working at a health science university, which has its’ ups and downs in that context, reading a lot of health science research and kept coming across studies that indicated yoga as somehow beneficial. I also kept having colleagues tell me like you’re doing all of this exercise you should definitely take a day to stretch it out, right? Go to a yoga class as a nice complement physically.

00:04:34

I started doing that pretty regularly. I got really lucky. I had a teacher who taught asana but wasn’t solely focused on asana. They were able to sort of hold the space for that to be where I was at at that point., but also to teach some of these subtler aspects and to introduce me to the philosophy of the practice. This is what eventually really drew me and made me want to become a teacher myself and was also a fantastic tool in my own healing. This a forever process definitely, but I’ve made a lot of progress. I do credit my practice and my teachers with making that progress and that healing available to me.

Kathryn: 00:05:15

How long before you started teaching?

Melanie Camellia: 00:05:19

It was really only a couple of years. I had actually tried yoga a couple of times prior to that teacher that I’m talking about and the experience of starting to practice more regularly. Those had also been very physically driven experiences and really not all that helpful or good. I think my first experience was a “Yoga for Fat Loss” DVD, which is now completely antithetical to my understanding of the practice and why I personally practice. It was something that was sitting around the house when I was really in the thick of eating disorder land.

00:05:53

That had been my earliest experiences. Then I didn’t do yoga for years. I went to college. I woke up in terms of some social issues I was organizing. After that is when I ended up in San Francisco working at that Health Science University. From that point, it was a couple of years of practicing several times a week, usually in the studio before I took a teacher training. I hadn’t really planned to do it, but I was working for the studio at the time just doing some studio management duties. They were offering a two hundred hour program and kept telling me that I’d make a great teacher. It just kind of lined up that their offer of a discount to staff and my tax return all came at the same time. I was like: “Great. I will deepen my personal practice and I’ll get to explore the philosophy a bit more in more of a formal setting”.

00:06:45

That is at least a process that started in that training. That training certainly had its ups and downs. There’s plenty of things I could say about it, but that was in 2016. That’s when I started teaching. About halfway through that training actually the studio lost a couple of their main teachers to moves and family obligations, and really quickly needed replacements. Since I was already working there they had me take over some classes and I just sort of got thrown in. I’ve been teaching since.

00:07:15

I really thought it was going to stay a personal practice, and then I thought it was going to be a side gig that I did in addition to other work. Then it became clear over time that it felt a lot more like a calling. It felt like a practice that I was realizing was very much aligned with the social justice ethos and the work that I wanted to be doing in that realm. They were complementary and actually not just complementary but inextricable from one another. That led me to feel like teaching yoga was going to be the most aligned path for me full time. I felt like I needed to seek out a way to do that with all of my time to do that work in the world. I ended up starting to teach full time in 2018 and now here we are in 2020.

Kathryn: 00:08:05

You have so many incredible things going on. I mean, I got to look at your website a little bit and people should definitely go check that out. You do workshops, you do stuff for teachers, you do online work, and you do stuff with Accessible Yoga. It’s really incredible what you have built in a few years.

Melanie Camellia: 00:08:24

Yeah. I’ve been talking to some folks about work-life balance in the last year and a half or so. It’s an interesting conversation for me, particularly as someone who’s also an anti-capitalist, and who feels like work is part of our life. It’s not something that we can separate from the rest of our life and a lot of ways – at least not if we want to be aligned with our ethics and our passions in all of our time, which is something that I aspire to.

00:08:50

In that regard, I think of yoga as the practice for my life, as the guide for my life and it is also my job. Those things really go hand-in-hand for me. My work feels like work sometimes, but you know my life can feel like work sometimes, too. Integrating the two has been a blessing. It has also meant to that I am sort of able to engage this passion and practice all of the time. That means that even my social time, even my family time, I’m contemplating, I’m in my practice in some regard. I think that lends to doing a lot. It lends to doing a lot in a short amount of time when it’s something that feels holistic in life.

Kathryn: 00:09:36

Talk to me about what you do with Accessible Yoga.

Melanie Camellia: 00:09:41

I originally engaged with Accessible Yoga (the organization) as a student in one of their trainings. I was already really thinking about how to adapt asanas and how to make asanas more accessible. I was also thinking about other areas of accessibility in my work. I was very interested and what tools to be presented by the organizations through that training. I took the training and had my mind just as blown as I expected it to be. I got to bring a lot of my own ideas into it, which was really what I loved about it. That it was like this skills focused training that was really tapping into my creativity in a way that a lot of my training hasn’t done.

00:10:24

I’ve taken lots of continuing education and everybody has this methodology, and “these are the dos and these are the don’ts”. I think in some realms that’s totally called for. I’m not knocking methodology across the board, but I really loved that this was about being with people, seeing them as whole people, and then making the practice fit them – clearing away barriers. That feels very liberatory and aligned with my social justice inclinations.

I wanted to stay involved with the organization. I was already working with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, who I’ve been working with since 2016 when I was in my teacher training in some capacity. One of my colleagues there at the YBIC heard from Juvena that he was looking for someone to come on and help the organization out in a more administrative capacity. She recommended me. I had a conversation with Juvena and ended up coming on to work in that administrative capacity, as well as an accessible yoga trainer and leading that training for other teachers. I have a few roles even those within Accessible Yoga. Everything that we teach with Accessible Yoga and everything the organization strives to embody is also part of the rest of my body of work.

Kathryn: 00:11:45

I love what you just said about Accessible Yoga. It’s not some methodology with rights or wrongs, special alignments, special poses, or exercises that they do. It is more a way of training people to look at the human in front of them and figure out how they can make yoga or movement work for that person.

Melanie Camellia: 00:12:05

Absolutely. I think that’s exactly the skill we teach. We try to incorporate a lot of practice teaching time and also practicing in your own body. We might take a posture and really break it down to its essence. “What is this posture meant to embody in the teaching that you are trying to make available to your students through this class?” “How can we access that teaching in an embodied way through every person that’s in front of you?”. This means being very connected and present with the folks that are in the room, understanding to the best of your capacity their experience, and really making it a collaborative process.

00:12:46

Since we can’t know everybody’s internal experiences that’s happening, we break down some of the barriers. Not in an inappropriate way, but some of the barriers to communication between teacher and student – understanding that we all already contain these teachings.

00:13:03

I think that’s something that yoga teaches us and that the philosophy of yoga teaches us. All of this is already ours and it is already within us to understand. Our role as teachers might just be then clearing that path and making those teachings accessible, but not necessarily like handing something off to the students. In the way that we train and in the way that we teach ourselves, it’s definitely more about what barrier can I take away from this and still get at the essence of the teaching that we’re trying to embody through the asana.

Kathryn: 00:13:40

What are some of these like maybe examples of barriers that you’re talking about.?

Melanie Camellia: 00:13:44

Sure. There’s a very obvious one, which is one of the areas that we center in that training. This to say: physical barriers to what we might think of as classical asanas or the “traditional way” to do a pose. “What is the picture of down dog or warrior pose in your head when you think about it in like classical or popular conception?”. Not all bodies are going to be able to make those shapes. That could be a barrier to that particular experience of embodying a value or a concept or teaching.

The way that we’re looking at it then is: this person (regardless of physical ability or body size, body shape, etc.) inherently has this teaching within them and we just need to find the right way to embody it to bring it out. It’s sort of changing this conception of the “classical version” of this pose that you’re thinking of being the only way to embody a teaching. We think about what is actually at the root of this? What is the essence of this? How else might we embody it? We then take that path instead.

Kathryn: 00:14:59

I keep coming back to what you’re saying about “what is the essence of this?” or “what is the essence of this pose?” How do you start to figure that out?

Melanie Camellia: 00:15:10

I think that any of the postures we might conceptualize probably have a lot of different benefits and various teachings held within them. You could think about a tree pose. You could think about all of the different elements of that posture, and what you might experience in whatever way you practice that posture. Maybe that’s balance. Maybe that’s grounding under the foot. Maybe it’s that sort of dichotomy of pushing down that downward force – helping you grow a little bit taller.

There are all these different aspects. I think there’s so much that we can learn out of each posture. We can also take those things individually when we aren’t for whatever reason able to bring them all together in your classical tree pose. We could still find that essence of rooting, of growing taller or balance in some other variation. That could be seated in a chair and bringing balance in some other way, if that’s what you’re looking to teach or if that’s the thing you’re looking to clear the way to bring up and out for your student.

00:16:17

We’ve seen lots of creativity in terms of how to do that. We could sit towards the edge of the chair, which might for some people test the balance and help them embody this aspect of drawing back to center. We’ve had folks put blocks on top of their head and balance the block rather than balance their body. We are thinking about all of the different ways we can embody that essence, whatever we’re trying to teach. Sometimes it changes. One day you might be looking to clear the way for folks to experience balance. On another day you might be clearing the way for folks to experience some kind of internal strength or fortitude. We can teach these poses in so many different ways. It’s just a different focus. Less focus on aesthetic and more on the experience and the embodiment of truth, which to me is sort of the point is yoga.

Kathryn: 00:17:13

What do you think about when a class is called all levels?

Melanie Camellia: 00:17:23

I think the idea of all levels is a great idea. I would love to see more truly all levels classes presented in spaces. I also know that teaching to all levels in my conception is not how we’re all trained to teach.

00:17:43

I am thinking of every single student, even if we think about your popular conception. I’m using scare quotes “general population studio class”, like your run of the mill vinyasa class where we sort of think of everybody as being similarly able-bodied . If that’s the assumption we’re making in this example, even amongst that group there is actually immense biodiversity. There is immense diversity in experience. There’s immense diversity in how resourced do you feel that day energetically.

There’s immense diversity in all of these different ways. We can never look at the two students or any group of students and assign one experience to all of them. I think that that makes it really difficult to teach to all levels classes – when we want to be very present with every single person in the room. We’re acknowledging that every single person is incredibly different and has different needs and desires in that space.

00:18:47

I think there are ways that we can bring choice into the equation. We can give agency in the equation that makes classes more collaborative, more exploratory, and better suited to serving practitioners who are at any “level of practice”. Even just thinking about the word level, we could think about that very differently depending on our perspective. We could think of level as like this physical level where some folks are at a lower level. They’re beginners or they’re not able to do all of the complex or advanced. We can think about level that way and often do, but I don’t necessarily think it’s so linear. Nor do I think that we really need to be imposing that hierarchy onto our classes and onto our students. I think there’s plenty of hierarchy out in the world already that we’re all experiencing and it’s not necessarily something we need to recreate.

00:19:44

When I think about “all levels” I think about is any practitioner being able to come into the room – whether they use a wheelchair or another mobility device, or they are in a large body or a small body, or they’re area very flexible and very very strong an athlete, or not any of those things. I’m not putting any judgment on them and having them all be able to come in and have an experience that is as diverse as they are. I am using that diversity as a tool to help us understand a real meaning of the union and a deeper meaning of oneness. I think it’s actually impossible for us to really understand yoga as a union without also being able to understand diversity and duality and the way that we all come into this world differently.

00:20:37

You can’t understand the definition of sameness without also being able to understand the definition of difference. Those depend on one another. I think if we hold that and we come in to teaching with that spirit in mind, then we can really use all of that diversity to an advantage in our teaching. That’s the unity I’m looking for. That’s the bringing together that I’m looking for. Not everybody in the same expression of a posture looking very uniform to the classroom, but everybody looking very differently because each of our expressions. Each of our embodiments of maybe the same truth looks very different.

Kathryn: 00:22:03

I think there are a lot of classes out there that are called “all levels” where teachers are for whatever reason not prepared to teach anyone who may come to their class. If someone plans to be teaching a fast vinyasa class where there are handstands and it’s really hot and it’s you know whatever it is: do you think that those teachers should super clear in their class description about what it is that people might expect when they come to that class? Or do you think that teachers should be trying to make their work also more inclusive?

Melanie Camellia: 00:22:47

I think both. I think if you know what you’re teaching is fast-paced that should be specified. If what you’re teaching is inversion or requires a certain level of physical ability that should be specified. I think we should be always working to diversify our skills and create more inclusive environments. I think it would be lovely if we were all equipped to hold a class where you know if your expression of this truth or this teaching in your body is a handstand then that’s fine. You can do your handstand. I will give you the tools to do that. Being able to teach you know that same truth through some other variation in the same room could be really profound.

00:23:33

Like you said, not everyone is equipped to do that because that’s really not how we are trained to teach. There are trainings that are the exception to this rule. In my experience personally and in talking to my students and colleagues, most of us are trained to teach and this sort of ladder of physical ability. We’re trying to get more flexible. We’re trying to get more strong. We’re trying to do more and more advanced asana rather than focusing on whether or not the asana that we’re doing are physical manifestations of the values that we hold.

00:24:07

Yes. I do think that before we focus on the body and embodiment of truth at all we need to think about the larger context in which those bodies exist. That’s sort of the root that my work has started to take. I’m teaching a lot less asana than I did when I started because I don’t think the way our industry is set up currently to provide asana classes and yoga classes is equitable on its face. I don’t think it’s inclusive on its face. I think it is built within a world where there are particular systems of power and oppression – within this greater context of white supremacy, inside this greater context of capitalism, inside this greater context of ableism, fatphobia, and transphobia and homophobia. Until we can actually liberate the body how are we able to really use the body as a tool to liberate the mind? That’s sort of the tack that I have taken.

00:25:10

I’m teaching less asana and really turning my work to be: how do we liberate these bodies as part of our practice as yogis? The asanas and other physical oriented practices can then be tools in and of themselves for a more subtle liberation or a more internal practice. We have this tendency to want to jump right to the body because it is such a profound tool. I don’t want to dismiss that. When we jump right to the body and we ignore the fact that not all bodies are free, then we have missed a pretty big step. In terms of working to make our work our teaching more inclusive, I think it starts outside its studio.

00:25:58

I think it starts by at the very least making sure that the studio culture isn’t just mirroring the larger systems that it sits within. That dominant culture that’s highly hierarchical and problematic and harmful to a lot of people. We are actively working against the systems of oppression and freeing the bodies first. Then bringing the bodies into practice, so that they can be that really profound tool that we know that they are.

Kathryn: 00:26:23

What do you think are a couple simple steps, maybe not simple that’s not the right word, bu steps people can take to start to do more of this work that you’re speaking about that?

Melanie Camellia: 00:26:34

I think it’s really important for the individual is part of maybe your practice of contemplation beyond just your asana to practice or your practice of yoga as a larger whole. Do the self-study and self-education that would allow you to be really discerning and to understand how these systems of power affect you, and how that is carried around within you and in turn affects your students. There’s some level of self-education. Then there is also beyond just educating yourself, which is certainly an important step to begin with, I think we have to be engaged in real liberatory work in the world.

00:27:16

We need to be engaged in the movement for Black Lives. We need to be engaged in dismantling transphobia. We need to be engaged in at least understanding if not completely obliterating capitalism. These are the things that are presenting barriers to all of us having free bodies that can then use this tool of the body. I think engagement can look like a lot of different things. I think we all have very different roles to play in this work, depending on our individual social positioning, our individual levels of privilege, where we are situated geographically, and in relation to power and privilege. I can’t prescribe any one step or role that everybody needs to take, but I think that this needs to underlie our practice.

00:28:02

We need to do the best we can to understand what our positioning is and to understand that none of us can actually be liberated or free until all of us are and make that our most important work. Beyond that, we need to be embodying that truth in whatever we’re teaching in a studio context. I’m not saying everybody needs to stop teaching asanas classes right now, completely free the world, and then come back to it. I am saying that both of these need to be part of our work as yoga teachers and practitioners.

00:28:38

When I say we need to embody this in our work in studios, I think we need to be really cognizant of the power dynamics that we are exploring and learning about and engaging with in the larger world and understand that they don’t go away when we come in to teach a class. If we have any level of privilege over our students, then that just compounds the already existent student-teacher power dynamic. I could go at length.

Maybe we’ll get there to talk about consent and agency; how these power dynamics when they are not recognized or unmitigated create harm and create a culture/condition within our studio spaces that is just set up to breed consent violations; and not teaching people in a liberatory way, but rather to reinforce this dominant culture, hierarchical obeying of commands. I could go on at length about that, because I guess that is the sort of underlying language and work that I am very focused now – even within my work with Accessible Yoga.

00:29:42

Before we started recording we were talking about the training that I led a section of last week with Accessible Yoga. The work that I was specifically sharing on was about this was about power dynamics, consent, and agency and what that has to do with access.

Kathryn: 00:29:58

Let’s talk. I mean, this is not what I was planning on asking you, but I feel like let’s just talk about this, if this is what you’re into and you were just teaching it. Let’s do it. You say power dynamics. Can you just explain to people what that means? Just in case they’re like “there’s no power dynamics at yoga class”.

Melanie Camellia: 00:30:18

Yes. To start at the very beginning: I would define power as resources in any context, yoga or otherwise, or maybe we think of it as all yoga. If we think about this larger dominant culture and we think about power as resources: we are thinking about money. We are thinking about available time. Who has access to free time to vacation. We’re thinking about everything that money might buy us or that status might buy us. That could be health care, that could be housing. We are thinking about status and platform, and who is represented in media and whose voice is heard. Those are all resources and those resources translate into power.

00:31:02

When you are somebody who exists at the top of the social hierarchy, if you are white, if you are straight, if you are a cis-gendered, if you are able-bodied etc, you are granted more access to these resources – literally more access to power within the dominant culture. Those systems all want to preserve themselves. There are mechanisms built in that blind us to the amount of power and privilege that we have. Then we continue to perpetuate these hierarchies and harmful systems that disempower certain groups of people over other groups of people.

When we come into a yoga space, first of all, we’re carrying in all of our conceptions of what the teacher-student dynamic looks like, which the majority of us (at least in this in this U.S. context and probably in a lot of the world) learn what teacher is and what student is through schooling. It is also set up in this hierarchical way where a teacher is full of their wisdom, full of the teaching, full of the knowledge. That is the resource that they are then giving to the student.

00:32:15

We come into the studio with this conception of the teacher having the power and then giving it to the students. I think as I was saying before: when I think about empowerment, when I think about accessibility, when I think about the role of the teacher in my newfound conception because certainly, I was not immune to this either. This was something I had internalized that I’m still working on excavating. When we come into the yoga space and we take on that role of teacher and we haven’t investigated it and we haven’t divested from the power that the teacher is supposed to hold in that conception, then we lord that power over our students. We recreate that original teacher-student relationship that was teacher having power and student not having power. In addition to that, that’s compounded by any privileges that we hold out in the world.

00:33:07

If you have not acknowledged your privilege as a white person, if you have not acknowledged your privilege as a cisgender person, and you are unaware that there is a resource imbalance between you and a student of color or you and a transgender student, that is a situation that is just ripe for an abuse of power. Even if that’s not conscious right, we don’t understand how our positioning and how our privilege influences our language or influences what we think our worth is and what we charge for class.

00:33:44

There’s plenty of influences into what things cost and that’s a much longer sort of separate discussion. If there’s no acknowledgment that maybe we have internalized certain people as lesser-than, then how are we going to mitigate that and create an inclusive classroom? I think part of that work then as teachers is about removing barriers, removing barriers to access the resources and the power in the studio space. That power/resource might be props, it might be variations of asanas that your students aren’t familiar with yet; it might be taking time to meditate instead of doing a physical practice; it might be the ability to say yes or no within a power dynamic to an adjustment or an assist. There are lots of implications for power in the yoga studio.

We can never separate our external experience from the experience we’re bringing into other spaces. That is exactly why it’s both important that we are excavating that within ourselves outside of our work in yoga spaces so that we’re not bringing it in with us. We have this ongoing dialogue and collaborative spirit when we are teaching. We are open to understanding the experiences of others instead of projecting our own singular positioning and experience onto them. That looks like creating a culture of consent that thinks about consent beyond just touch and beyond just the contexts in which we might learn about consent in the outside world.

00:35:20

Thinking about if consent is to be freely given and it’s not really consent under manipulation or under a power dynamic where if it’s not stated I am fearful that you might exert your power over me in a harmful or negative way right. That is actually coercion right. It is coercion if there is a power dynamic in existence that’s not being acknowledged or mitigated, and then one person is expected to submit to the will of another person.

We can think about that in terms of even what we offer right. If we think of the teacher as being the keeper of the resources that we want to access rather than somebody who is clearing away access to the resources that were ours to begin with that that are rightfully ours, then we feel like we need to listen to whatever the teacher says. We need to copy the movements of the teacher if they say do Downdog we have to Downdog. If they don’t give another option, then there is no other option.

That’s what I see in a lot of studio environments is a lot of this concept that’s internalized within all of us. We just need to “follow” the teacher exactly because that is what’s going to empower us. When I think it is more the opposite. We need to clear the way for others and for ourselves to access power that’s inherently ours. Was all of that followable or jumbled?

Kathryn: 00:36:52

Yeah yeah yeah. You mentioned acknowledging power is really important if we’re going to have a truly consensual experience – even if it’s just that yoga class. When you say acknowledge power: what does that mean for the teacher? Is the teacher talking about certain things in their classes? Are they maybe saying a couple of things before class? Are they may be acting a little bit differently? What does that look like?

Melanie Camellia: Yeah. I think it’s probably a little bit of all of the above. I think it’s probably going to be imperfect, as long as we continue to live in a system where the dominant culture enforces these structures. That said, I think that we can do our absolute best to mitigate an imbalanced power within the context of our classes.

00:37:39

To me that looks, we were already talking about this: being very explicit about what you are offering and who you are in your marketing. In your class description, in your bio on your website, be as honest as possible about what you are equipped to offer and what perspective you’re coming from. Is this a physical practice for you? Is this a philosophical practice for you? Do you have training in trauma-informed techniques? Or did you take an accessible yoga training? What are you anticipating the class looking like? Is this a class where you are teaching a very specified formalized sequence that’s not to be diverted from? Or is this a class where you’re planning to offer as many options as there are people?

00:38:26

I think it starts there. It starts before the class. When folks come into class we’ve already set them up with this level of expectation through the class description and through the marketing, which is in itself a layer of consent. They read that, they said “yes that sounds good to me”, and they came to class. We can think of that as a first layer of consent. One of the tenants of consent that it is ongoing and it needs to be acquired at every step of an interaction.

00:38:56

Now we’re in class. The student consented to what you said you were offering. So first of all, stick to what you said you are offering. Then second of all, I think an element of this is really understanding that the class needs to be as much of a collaborative process as possible. I do think that there is some room for maybe prefacing that at the beginning of class. I think folks tend to just because of this dynamic they go with the example that you set.

In my experience personally, if I just drift into the classroom right at the time that class is supposed to start and I start giving some like philosophical talk and then go right into the asanas without any other setup, no one is going to talk back at me during class. Nobody is going to be like communicating back with me what feels good right, because I’ve set this standard and this tone right from the beginning that I’m going to talk and you’re going to listen.

00:39:54

If I walk into the room and as people have been coming in I’ve been checking in with them, and then the first thing that I ask is like “how’s everybody doing?” and then I wait for their response. That sets a tone of we’re going to connect and collaborate and I’m inviting you to talk back. Then from there, I keep prompting. I keep asking because I understand that this is not necessarily the norm and that not every teacher is like “let’s talk about this”; “tell me how it’s feeling in your body”; “is there something that would feel better to you?”; “are you just not feeling this practice today, even if it’s a practice that you were into yesterday?”.

I continue to ask those questions. As I’m setting up the class, I’ll ask everyone how they’re doing and then I usually give a little bit of a rundown of like what to expect today. A lot of that is maybe talking a little bit of philosophy, because as I have said asana practice to me is the practice of embodying truth, of embodying the teachings of, embodying the philosophical and subtle aspects in this grosser form.

00:40:58

I’m going to maybe share the teaching that I’m finding profound and what my intention is for the class. Then I might say you know here is how I’m anticipating bringing that into our bodies today, like some of the tools that I’m going to offer in the form of asanas. I will then ask: “does that sound good?”. I will again like wait for a response from the class. Just doing that, just asking those two questions “how’s everyone feeling?” and “does my plan for class sound like what you were expecting?” sets up this layer of both consent to what I’m about to offer and this tone of conversation and collaboration. Throughout the class, I’m offering a lot of options.

I always set up the option, like if anything doesn’t feel good and you want to lay down, you want to leave, you want to get a drink of water, those are all options available to you. I say that explicitly because sometimes it’s not understood if you don’t say it explicitly. Then whenever I’m teaching asana I am giving as many different possible variations as I can fit into a sentence and into a class, and also offering that you are welcome to vary it even further from this.

00:42:13

I think the way I tend to teach and the way that I advocate for teaching to make space for this agency and make space for this consent looks a lot like stepping back from what we think of as teaching sometimes. It looks like you know ceding space and ceding decision making power and checking in over and over again with students to make sure that they feel like they are accessing options that really come from within them rather than just from my mouth.

Kathryn: 00:42:45

So many good things in here. Thank you for sharing all this with us.

Melanie Camellia: 00:42:49

Sure.

Kathryn: Thank you for coming on. Do want to say a couple of things about you know where people can find your work online and if you teach online and all that stuff?

Melanie Camellia: 00:43:00

Yes. So I have a website of my own it’s foundspaceyoga.com. You can link to any of my offerings off of there. Everything for teachers, everything for students and all of the other work that I’m doing just gets linked up through that sort of central hub.

00:43:15

I do teach online. I teach on a platform called Core to Core, which is relatively new. We launched at the end of last year or in January. I don’t remember. Of course, we have grown pretty quickly in a way that we didn’t necessarily foresee based on the pandemic and everything needing to go online. You can link to my online studio page from my website. You can also find me by going to coretocore.com and then searching my name amongst the teachers.

00:43:43

Like I said, my asana offerings right now are pretty limited. I’ve got three classes on there a week. I’ve got a chair yoga class, a gentle flow, and a yoga for larger bodies class that are all available online right now.

00:43:57

Then in terms of other offerings, I’ve got some stuff still in the works but not pinned down other than a couple more Accessible Yoga trainings that I will be leading. One that’s scheduled for August in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania we might be able to take online if we can’t do in-person. We’re still working that out. Then there’s another one scheduled to happen in-person in the DC area, which is where I’m based in November.

Kathryn: 00:44:24

Awesome. We will have all those links in the show notes if people want to go over to the website and click on your name and see some information. It will all be there.

Melanie Camellia: Great.

Kathryn: Thank you so much again for coming on the show today.

Melanie Camellia: Yeah, thanks so much for having me.