AT $6.00 PER CLASS, Queer Behavior’s weekly Queer Yoga is likely the best value in town, but that’s only a small part of why the program has had staying power, celebrating its 5-year anniversary this month.
Queer Behavior, an all-inclusive network of self-identified queer peoples, formed in 2009 in response to the demise of spaces like queer coffee shops and bookstores. Co-founder Zach Reau explains, “Queer Behavior formed to break down some of the barriers that exist in the queer community. We found that everyone was kind of self-segregating, and we weren’t OK with that.” In their quest to facilitate dialogue and connection, they soon began offering yoga classes, a project led by Caleb Founds. In October 2009, classes began at 83 Gallery in the Short North, with Lauren Strong as the original instructor. Five years later, Queer Yoga has been the only continual programming amongst the wide variety of activities the group has undertaken.
“One of the things that was part of the vision of Queer Behavior early on was creating a safer space, a space where people felt accepted and welcomed, where their differences were appreciated, rather than minimized. That’s been a constant,” says Michael Morris, who has been the class instructor for the past three years. “We start every class with a reminder that this is a safer space. What we mean by that is that we don’t assume things like gender and sexuality about one another. It also means we don’t assume things like race, age, ability, ethnicity, any sort of identification that comes with a value judgment. That’s the baseline we start from.”
Accessibility is a priority of all Queer Behavior activities, and Queer Yoga’s $6.00 price tag is a reflection of that commitment. “There’s always been a focus on making this accessible to people of different economic brackets or class backgrounds,” says Morris. Queer Yoga is also a drop-in class, so there’s no need to register in advance. There’s no set curriculum, and Morris structures the class in a way that allows the people who are there every week variety, while allowing any newcomers to start wherever they are. Participants do not need props—Morris teaches people instead to modify poses using their own bodies—and there are always a few community yoga mats available for those who aren’t ready or able to invest in one of their own. “Props can be useful,” says Morris, “but also can be cost-prohibitive. The body is already enough.”
What makes Queer Yoga queer, then, is not necessarily the self-identifications of the participants, but the approach to instruction. “I can’t imagine anything more queer than learning to resignify our bodies,” says Morris. For example, rather than having all participants trying to achieve an ideal posture and bring their bodies in line with each other, Morris offers variations of each posture, allowing `Reau believes that this makes Queer Yoga especially approachable. “It’s this weird phenomenon where we always have at least one new person every single week.” The group also gets a lot of visitors who are in town for art projects or conferences. “People say, I Google searched ‘queer,’ and this is what I came up with in Columbus, so we get a little bit of tourism as well.”
The wide variety of participants may also be a result of Queer Yoga’s changing locations across the city, as different neighborhoods bring out different participants. The class has seen several different incarnations. After its original home 83 Gallery closed, classes were held at The Garden Theater for about six months and have been at the current space at the It Looks Like It’s Open Gallery in Clintonville since June 2013. Classes have also been held outside at Goodale Park, at Feverhead in Grandview and at 400 W. Rich Street.
The current space is small—Morris reports that they have fit up to 22 people in it—but offers a dedicated space, while the class had to contend with other events sharing the venue in other locations. “83 Gallery was a beautiful space, and we loved practicing yoga surrounded by art, but sometimes people would drop off their art while we were having class, or the people at Mikey’s Late Night Slice would be really loud. At the Garden Theater, there might be tap dancing happening.” says Morris. Though a bigger space would allow Queer Yoga to serve more members of the community, Morris sees beauty in the smaller space. “Yoga is already a way of sensitizing ourselves to the other, ourselves as the other, but when you’re that close to other people practicing, you can’t practice as if you were in isolation. You have to practice with an awareness of others. People who haven’t talked to each other yet suddenly are talking to each other because they’ve gotta navigate space, and that’s exciting.”
In keeping with Queer Behavior’s goals of increasing dialogue, there is always a reason to stay after class and talk, usually a snack of fruit or tea. “While the class is from 7:30-8:30, people are usually there until 9-9:15,” says Reau. “We’ve built a little community around it.” Those after-class conversations have led to other Queer Behavior events, including a storytelling event coming up on October 16 at Kafe Kerouac.
Queer Yoga is always changing as well, as conversations about how to be a safer space and maintain the values of the group continue. “All of us are learning,” Morris observes. “Balance is not something you have or you don’t have, and it’s not an opportunity for self-judgment. It’s the practice of refining your ability to respond to changing forces.”
On this same note, participants leave class with a last reminder of self-acceptance. Participants are asked to thank themselves for their practice and honor themselves as they already are. “That’s one of the hardest messages to re-write is that you are already good enough,” says Morris. “You are already more than you imagined.”
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.
$6.00 (Cash or Credit Card)
It Looks Like It’s Open Gallery
13 E. Tulane Road
Columbus, OH 43202