Jordan Smiley, former yoga instructor at Kindness Yoga, recently opened Courageous Yoga in the Capitol Hill area of Denver, Colorado. Kindness closed as a result of other teachers speaking out against owner Patrick Harrington, spurred by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement. As difficult conversations were occurring across the nation, Smiley praised the resilience of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and LGBTQIA+ folks in his community. His goal was to create a space where all people could be courageous together in their efforts to inspire change and move their bodies. As a minority himself, Indigenous and transgender, this remains a cause close to his heart. I spoke to Smiley to learn more about this important, inclusive space.
What sparked the need to open Courageous Yoga?
We opened at the beginning of the pandemic. Within our online space, I saw that teachers are the conduit for communication. We started to connect with people via Zoom, which is a powerful mode for connection. Prior to practice, everyone wanted to talk and connect; everyone was here for conversation about themselves and what was happening in the world. As the world was bringing to the surface issues that had been muted, we were discussing them. It was critical for me to keep that community intact and ensure the conversation continued.
Why is a space like Courageous so important and necessary, particularly right now?
Quarantine exposed the real illnesses and suffering we’ve had beyond the virus. It felt like we were being asked by the universe to heal our energy and bring voices to the center that have been pushed out — the voices of BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities. It’s important to acknowledge and understand that whiteness hurts white people, that the patriarchy hurts men, too. These hierarchical systems that have been in place for so long are detrimental to everyone. The voices on the periphery are aware of this, because they have a different viewpoint. They’ve been on the outside looking in at a system that’s hurting people. Our healing can finally begin from minorities sharing their perspectives.
How are you incorporating inclusive practice in running this business, as well as on the mat via teaching?
We implemented a Board of Directors, who we collaborate with to reach a consensus about our operations. Our goal is to bring a multifaceted lens to the practice where all of our teachers can help students work on unpacking traditional modes of power poses. We also operate from a trauma-informed lens, because, unfortunately, minorities are more impacted in that area. When we cue asanas, we won’t use hands-on assists to avoid making a student uncomfortable. We want to have open communication with our students about body space, pronouns and their preferred name to ensure they feel welcome and safe.
Do you have accommodations due to COVID-19?
We have deeply reduced our class capacity, and we ask that you preregister for classes online. We offer tiered pricing for accessibility and continue to offer online classes through Zoom for students who prefer to stay home and practice. For students in the studio, we are wiping the floors and mats between uses, refraining from using props, avoiding physical contact and requiring both students and staff to wear masks.
What is your overall goal or mission statement for Courageous Yoga?
Courageous Yoga is a BIPOC and LGBTQ+ led yoga practice space and community committed to honoring the roots of yoga and indigenous healing methods as practices of liberation for all sentient beings. We are dedicated to being transformative agents and active contributors to a more equitable, inclusive and just yoga practice, community and world. Our three main values are connection — we believe that the root of liberation lies in honoring both our interconnectedness and the unique quality of our individual experiences — compassion — we commit to creating a culture of compassion through the cycle of action that embodies the eight limbs of yoga, deep listening and self-reflection — and courage — we are passionate about learning, providing and becoming agents of courage, as we understand that impacting systems of oppression both inside and outside of ourselves requires heart.
Learn more or book a class at courageousyoga.us.