Recommendations for Gender Inclusive Language in Yoga and Fitness Classes


Adapted from Alysha Fung Koehler

Why Using Gender Inclusive Language Matters
Referring to someone’s gender incorrectly (misgendering) can cause significant harm to the individual being addressed. Especially in environments such as yoga classes, which should feel safe for all students, it is important to build trust and security in your class by using language that does not cause harm.

Recommendations

1. Do not openly refer to the gender of your class, unless you have asked every individual in that class previously what their gender pronouns are. It is a common urge for teachers to make comments openly about their students’ gender during class. For example, if a teacher walks into a room of what (appears to them as) all women, they may remark “Good morning ladies!” While the urge to greet your students in this way is natural unless you have personally asked every single student what their gender pronouns are, you do not know that all of the students in your class identify with the gender you have used to describe them. This misgendering can make people feel erased, unseen, and isolated in a space where they should feel none of these things. A better alternative would be simply to say “Good morning yogis!” friends, everyone, etc. Alternatively, you may eliminate the qualifier and simply greet your students with “Good morning.”

2. Do not openly refer to individual students’ gender during a class, unless you have previously asked them what their gender pronoun is. Avoid using gender pronouns of individual students without their permission or previous knowledge. For example, if you are pointing out something another student in the class is doing, try not to say “See how his arm is extended?” Unless you have spoken with this person before or know that they use he/him pronouns, it is best to refer to people by their name if you are calling them out in class.

3. Use caution when teaching and theming around “masculine and feminine” energy. Many teachers wish to bring in themes revolving around “masculine and feminine” energy at times during their class. It is important to remember that this “energy” exists on a spectrum and to try to ensure that your teachings communicate this nuanced language. That is, recognize people in a variety of bodies will take on a variety of energies; cis-women do not own “feminine energy” and cis-men do not own “masculine energy.” Too often teachers oversimplify the masculine/feminine in terms that are not true for everyone and can feel isolating, especially to people who do not identify in this binary language. Moreover, it may be more appropriate to simply refer to “yin and yang” energy instead, while using masculine/feminine to define the traits of these energies (i.e. yin energy may carry feminine qualities and yang energy may carry masculine qualities). 

4. Ask for gender pronouns in smaller consistent classes and teacher trainings. If you have an intimate class of students (less than 10 or so) who you connect with regularly, consider asking for their gender pronouns. Knowing and using everyone’s correct pronouns is a way to build trust and a safe environment with your students. In environments such as teacher trainings where there is a strong sense of community among the students, it may also be worth asking everyone to share their pronouns at the beginning of the training so not only you know - but the students - how to address each other respectfully.

5. Do not make generalizations about male/female bodies when teaching. Try to avoid making overarching generalizations about male/female bodies in your class. For example, instead of saying “malasana is usually a more easeful pose for women” you can say “malasana is an easeful pose for some bodies and not so easeful for others.” It has the same effect of comforting people who might not find the pose easily, but without publicly outing people who may have varying gender expressions, or without isolating people who do not identify as having a “male or female” body.

6. Refrain from publicly asking if students have “injuries or things going on with their body.” This may apply broadly to most students including cisgender students. Asking people to publicly share injuries or things going on with their body can be extremely vulnerable and even traumatizing to some people. For example, some transgender people may be going through a variety of medical treatments that they do not wish to share with an entire class. If you must know about injuries, make a habit of meeting new students privately before you teach to ask them this question. Moreover, it is important to remember that (most) yoga teachers are not doctors or physical therapists. Asking about injuries may set an unrealistic expectation with your students that you have “the answers” with how they should be practicing with said injury when they should be consulting with a medical professional. Instead, maybe share this disclaimer at the beginning of class and encourage students to trust/listen to their body if something doesn’t feel right.

7. Use caution when talking about “accepting” one’s body or “feeling at home” in one’s body. While it is a beautiful message to encourage acceptance and feeling “at home” in one’s own physical body, this message may isolate students who do not feel “at home” in their body. Instead of telling your students how they should feel in their body, consider instead asking them to simply notice what they are feeling in their body. This allows the student to be in control of their experience and know that if they don’t feel “at home” in their body today, it’s okay.

8. If you are a studio owner, consider additional policies and procedures. Studio owners are in a unique position to set a precedent for how the studio engages with gender in the classroom, and even in the way the studio engages with marketing or other external efforts.

    • Intake Forms: One possibility is to include a space on intake forms for students to include their gender pronouns.
    • Bathrooms: Make your facility welcoming by putting a sign on the door that says “gender neutral restroom”
    • Marketing: Take inventory of the way your studio has been advertising itself, its classes, and workshops. Are there workshops that are geared toward “women only” or “men only”? Do you use gender binary language in other promotional materials? It may be worth thinking about how someone who does not fit into this gender binary would feel welcome or unwelcome by the way your studio advertises. 
    • Normalizing use of gender pronouns: Using gender pronouns can feel strange, uncomfortable, and even unnecessary to people who are first learning this landscape. It is important to normalize this however as normalizing it removes any stigma around pronoun choice. In addition to asking about it on intake forms, studios who wish to do more to ensure a welcoming space may implement policies that require teachers to privately learn pronouns of each new student who attends their class. When teachers are introducing themselves they may also include their pronouns during their introduction to the class. Also including pronoun language in studio marketing (such as underneath names of teachers on a studio website) may show that your studio is committed to using inclusive language.
Language Substitution Guide

This is meant to be a guide, not a prescription. Please use your best judgment keeping these recommendations in mind and your own unique understanding of your students.

Instead of this

Try this

When addressing an entire class:

Good morning ladies and gentlemen!

Good evening ladies!

Great to have so many women, and a few men, in class today.


Good morning yogis!

Good evening everyone!

Great to have so many radiant students in class today.

Good morning!

When referring to individual students in class:

Do you see how her arm is extended up?

Can you two guys and you two gals partner up?






Do you see how Erin’s arm is extended up?

Ask for names: Can Pete + Tom and Kate + Molly partner up?
*If you don’t know names you may use descriptors like “the two students in the back corner” or “the yogi in the red shirt.”

When talking about “masculine/feminine” energy:

Women often have more feminine energy which represents a soft, slow, and intuitive energy...


The yin/yang energies described in traditional Chinese medicine can carry masculine and feminine qualities. These qualities exist in all of us and lie on a spectrum. We are not “only” yin/feminine energy or “only” yang/masculine energy.

When describing body types in a pose:

Malasana is often an easier pose for women who tend to have more open hips.



Men tend to have more upper body strength so chaturangas are easier but backbends may be more difficult.


Malasana is a different experience for all bodies depending on the mobility you have in your hips


If you tend to carry more strength in your upper-body, you might find chaturanga to be easier than backbends

When asking about injuries:

Does anyone in class have injuries or things going on with their body that I should know about?


**Don’t ask the entire class. Ask individual students privately, when you first meet them.

When encouraging students to accept their bodies:

Feel gratitude for this amazing body you’ve been given.

Settle in to this feeling of being “at home” in your body.


Notice any particular sensations and how’re you feeling in your body today.