Manchester is known internationally for its large and thriving LGBT community. Same sex marriage was legalised in the UK in 2014 and the annual Pride parade in Manchester is one of the largest in Europe. However, although, there are many great bars and clubs for LGBT people in Manchester, many gay spaces revolve around partying and drinking which can sometimes feel alienating and unfulfilling, particularly if someone is looking for other activities to take part in. Therefore practising yoga together is a great way to connect without alcohol, get fit and get to know other tolerant and like-minded people in the class to make some good friends.
Yoga meaning “union” or "to merge” is a spiritual practice with a physical element. It is a non-competitive practice which everyone can benefit from. We can use it to connect to our mind, body and spirit all at the same time and once we have connected inward we can reach deeper levels of self-awareness and self-acceptance that will better help us to navigate our lives. In yoga we are working to open our hearts, tune in to the breath and meditate. Therefore, coming to a yoga class for the first time can often make people feel vulnerable so it is important to find a supportive environment where you can feel accepted, let go of anxieties about your body shape or sexual or gender identity and simply focus on the yoga practice itself.
As a gay man myself, I started wanting to teach yoga to the LGBT community and friends when I was on my yoga teacher training in Ibiza in 2013. Often in commercial yoga studios or gyms it can feel as though you are surrounded by professional yoga students and it can be intimidating. I began to to consider that perhaps if there was a class in the Gay Village in Manchester then the local community would get more use out of it, instead of feeling uncomfortable in a more commercial setting.
Anxiety goes hand in hand with trying yoga for the first time but I think that particularly for individuals who are transgendered it could be really uncomfortable in a mainstream studio. Perhaps transgendered individuals could be challenged by people thinking they don’t belong in these changing rooms, those clothes or this environment etc. When such intimidation is removed from the environment I feel that students are free to focus on their practice.
Regular yoga practitioners may ask why I am teaching yoga in the Gay Village and may suggest that this could create more division and separateness. However, it is important to consider that although they may feel good in their own personal yoga practice, they need to consider that perhaps that is not everybody's experience in a mainstream studio and so I am trying to provide a way for the LGBT community and its friends to experience that same sense of calm and unity that they feel. We never ask the sexuality or gender identity of students attending yoga at the Lesbian and Gay Foundation because everyone is most welcome regardless of sexuality or gender but I hope to provide a safe, fun and down to earth approach in my yoga classes so that we can let go of our body image and have a fantastic experience through yoga practice.