Anti-Oppression at Union

When Union first opened its doors in August 2014, our priority was to be a welcoming space for everyone to practice yoga. By inviting our Toronto communities to heal, sweat, and breathe deeply together, we aimed to create an inclusive environment that was accessible to all. We believe that a safer space is created through a continual engagement with social issues, a willingness to learn, and aspirations to evolve.

As a part of this process, we would like to facilitate transparency with our larger community about the steps we have taken towards visioning and building an anti-oppressive space. We want to share our future plans, and we invite your feedback. We hope this openness spurs dialogue and helps the studio continue to address the issues that are most pertinent to the communities we serve in Toronto. Please don’t hesitate to share your feedback or visions for an inclusive yoga space on our feedback form here.

 

Anti-Oppression Initiative Timeline

Gender Identity & Trans Inclusivity

We strive to provide a space where all of our clients – including those who are gender non-conforming, Two-Spirit, non-binary, or trans – feel safe and welcome. The setup of our physical space was inherited from a previous business: we currently have two separate binary gendered change rooms, and showers. However, we have made changes to make Union more inclusive to trans and non-binary people, including adding four self-contained all gender changing stalls, and new all gender bathrooms that are for everyone. Everyone is free to use the bathroom and change area of their choice. 

 Our front desk staff and management have participated in a training with the 519 on LGBTQ2S inclusivity, and we continue to prioritize learning how to best serve and support our LGBTQ2S clients.

Initiatives:

  • August 2017: Addition of four self-contained all-gender changing stalls
  • March 2018: LGBTQ2S inclusivity training with The 519. Training mandatory for desk staff and management
  • March 2018: Gendered washrooms are made explicitly welcoming of trans people (signs read: “Trans folks welcome”)
  • December 2018: Parent & Baby Yoga series is made explicitly welcoming of gender non-conforming parents
  • Weekly Sunday afternoon Queer/Trans Yoga classes with rotating roster of Toronto’s best teachers
  • October 2019: Creation of two self contained all-gender bathrooms in place of previous women’s stalls
  • Sliding-scale memberships available for BIPOC + 2SLGBTQI + those on social assistance

Anti-Racism

Racism and cultural appropriation are rampant in the Western wellness industry and yoga is not exempt. Union’s leadership is engaged in a process of learning about, and addressing, systems of power that perpetuate racism and privilege whiteness. We seek to understand how we, as a Western yoga business, are complicit in systemic racism and colonization. By educating ourselves, we seek to minimize harm and to provide a space that is more inclusive, welcoming, and accessible to Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of colour (BIPOC). We further believe that education must be matched with real action, and we have taken steps to de-centre whiteness, including providing scholarships for BIPOC applicants to our trainings. 

List of Initiatives:

  • October 2018: Spiritual Activism workshop with Rachel Ricketts , on anti-racism, inclusion, and cultural appropriation. Training mandatory for staff and teachers.
  • Winter 2018, and ongoing:  Scholarships awarded for Union’s Yoga Teacher Training program, beginning in 2019.  The goal of the scholarships are to address the significant underrepresentation of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people of colour in the yoga industry.
  • Fall 2018, and ongoing: Our hiring practices aim to reflect the demographics of where the studio resides, and have prioritized hiring BIPOC & 2SLGBTQI team members with Trauma-Informed Yoga training.
  • April 2018: Staff training on intersectionality in yoga spaces
  • January 2020: New front desk staff required to participate in paid anti-racism training
  • March 2020: Workshop with Dianne Bondy for yoga teacher trainees and Union staff and teachers, “Diversity and Inclusion in Yoga Spaces”
  • June 2020: Initiated monthly recurring donations to the Black Health Alliance. We are also monthly donors to New Leaf Foundation (since 2016).
  • June 2020: Call out to the community for folx with white privilege to participate in the Me and White Supremacy Challenge (book by Layla Saad). 42 participants including many Union teachers, staff, members, and management. Learn more here.
  • July 2020: anti-oppression and yoga workshop with jamilah malika

Upcoming:

  • Spring 2020: Creation of new Diversity and Inclusion council made up of Union teachers and staff who are BIPOC. The goal of the committee is to provide support to Union students who hold marginalized identities, to advise and consult with Union management on issues related to race and gender identity, to provide feedback and support for Union teachers and staff.

 

Accessibility

Our space is on the second floor and is physically accessible by elevator. We have wide hallways, two accessible gendered washrooms, and one yoga studio (unheated) that is physically accessible. The larger heated studio has eight stairs down to its entrance with a handrail. The heated studio is warmed to 27-30 degrees for ‘warm’ classes, and roughly 35 degrees for ‘hot’ classes. We offer community classes at $10 a few times per week, and many of our workshops and trainings are available at sliding scale. Below are some initiatives to make Union more accessible to people with disabilities and those with limited financial means.

If you require a guide-dog or seizure / diabetes detection dog with you in classes or events, please call ahead so that we can reserve space for both of you– 416.516.0909

List of Initiatives:

  • Since Fall 2017: In partnership with LoveYourBrain, we offer free six week yoga courses, four times a year, for traumatic brain injury survivors  and reduced rate drop-in classes for graduates of the course
  • Fall 2018 and earlier dates: six week Chair Yoga series offered with Kassandra Prus. This class is available to anyone, including those with disabilities, those who are able bodied, and people wanting a gentle practice
  • October 2018, and September 2019: sold out Chair Yoga Teacher Training with Kassandra Prus
  • Limited number sliding scale memberships available for folks who identify as being part of a marginalized community (POC, queer, trans, disabled) and have limited financial means
  • June 29, 2019: Yoga for Every Body event with Dianne Bondy
  • October 2019: New weekly “Accessible Yoga” class with Kassandra Prus, offered at sliding scale. Wednesdays 1:30 pm.
  • Fall 2019, and ongoing: Sliding scale pricing for most workshops and courses
  • March 2020: All classes and workshop moved online during COVID-19 while social distancing is in place. Classes and workshops offered at sliding scale pricing.

Upcoming

  • Summer 2020: Will begin offering community subsidized class packs, prioritizing BIPOC applicants
  • LoveYourBrain teacher training to be hosted at Union in June 2020, 4 Union teachers to be trained

Consent & Trauma-Informed

As Tobias Wiggins wrote in a guest blog post for Union, “Western yoga spaces carry the taken-for-granted notion that adjustments are desirable […] Some people crave the deepening or alignment that can come from the steady and knowledgable hands of an yoga instructor, while others – perhaps those whose have survived trauma, who are socially marginalized, or who live with chronic pain – might have more mixed feelings. In reality though, everyone’s desire to be touched can change day to day, and even from moment to moment.”

At Union, we believe in the right to bodily autonomy and the right to say “yes” or “no” and to change our minds at anytime, and have implemented the use of consent cards in all of our classes to reflect this ethos.

Trauma-Informed Yoga refers to yoga offered in a way that is sensitive to the needs of those who have survived trauma of any kind. Trauma affects up to 70% of people at some point in their lives and yoga has the potential to be a healing practice on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. We feel a responsibility to provide basic training in trauma-informed yoga to our yoga teachers-in-training, and are working towards the goal of having all of our teachers trained as well. At present, roughly half of Union teachers have had some trauma-related training.

List of Initiatives:

  • August 2017: Creating a Culture of Consent workshop with Tobias Wiggins (mandatory all-staff training)
  • August 2017: Implementation of consent cards in all yoga and pilates classes
  • February, 2019: Yoga Teacher Training faculty training on intersectionality and anti-oppression
  • April, 2019: Staff training on intersectionality in yoga spaces
  • Annual trainings in Trauma-Informed Yoga, offered at sliding scale and with a scholarship option
  • Union’s Yoga Teacher Training includes mandatory one-day training in Trauma-Informed Yoga
  • In an effort to be more transparent, we have added symbols after our teachers’ names on the schedule indicating if they have training in Trauma Informed Yoga (T), if they play music in class (♫), and if they training in pre-natal yoga (P)
  • Spring and Fall 2019: SEEDS Yoga series for Survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence with Yamikani Msosa

 

Abusive, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or discriminatory language or behaviour of any kind will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to remove any patron creating an unsafe environment without refund.

Connect with us  here with feedback, suggestions, or just to drop us a note.