Self-compassion and mindfulness have been shown to be fantastic practices for people from all walks of life. Recently, some research has started to look at how queer people might be able to use these practices to improve mental health and overall wellbeing.
In this post, we're going to dive into some of the studies looking at how self-compassion and mindfulness can impact people in the LGBTIQA+ community, as well as some tips on how to make your yoga class more inclusive, both as a teacher and a student.
LGBTIQA+ = Acronym Acrobatics!
Let's break down this label real quick so we know who we're talking about. About 11% of Australians identify as being a part of this community, so it's such an important group to talk about!
This is an evolving and changing definition, and you might find the letters in a slightly different order, but here are the basics. Within the labels, there is also a lot of variety, and every person will usually have a nuanced identity within, between, or outside of these terms!
You'll notice that I often use 'Queer' and 'LGBTIQA+' interchangeably, see 'Q' below to find out why.
L - Lesbian (women who are only attracted to other women)
G - Gay (typically men who are only attracted to other men, but is also often used as a catch-all term for anyone attracted to the same gender)
B - Bisexual (people who are attracted to both the same gender and other genders)
T - Transgender (people who identify as a different gender than the one they were assigned at birth. This might be within the gender binary or as a non-binary person)
I - Intersex (people born with variations to biological sex characteristics that don't fit the typical gender binary. This is separate from gender identity)
Q - Queer or Questioning (Queer is a catch-all term that includes any diversity in sexual orientation or gender identity, and questioning is there to welcome anyone who is curious about exploring their identity. I often use 'Queer' to describe my work in the LGBTIQA+ community because I feel like it's an inclusive and welcoming term, and it also reads a little easier!)
A - Asexual or Aromantic (people who don't experience little or no sexual or romantic attraction to others.)
+ - Everyone else! The plus sign on the end is my favourite part because it encompasses so many different identities and flavours of human. There are so many identities within this community, and each one is valid.
Queer Mental Health
Sadly, people who identify as being in the LGBTIQA+ community are shown to have disproportionately poorer mental health outcomes. This is due to a lot of reasons, including stigma and prejudice, internalised shame and queerphobia, and sometimes barriers to accessing mental health services. But the good news is that with more awareness and more specialised services available, we're seeing those rates drop.
I plan on writing a whole post on this very soon, but here's a quick overview!
Self-compassion is the same idea as compassion for others. It means being open to suffering without judgement, and hoping or trying to alleviate that suffering.
Self-compassion consists of three components:
Self-Kindness vs. Self-Judgement
Speaking to yourself as if you'd speak to a friend in need, without harsh criticism or mean words
Common Humanity vs. Isolation
Acknowledging that suffering is a part of the human experience, and we are not alone in our hard times
Mindfulness vs. Overidentification
Holding space for your uncomfortable and difficult emotions, without getting tangled up and attached to the stories in our feelings
These three components together create an attitude and feeling of:
Loving - Connected - Presence
There are lots of ways that we can practice self-compassion. If you're interested in learning more, we have a whole eBook available now- click here!
What the Research Says
Let's take a look at a couple of studies that explore queer mental health and self-compassion. Of course, most of these studies are exploratory and correlational, but it does give us a good foundation to understand how these practices can be useful for people in the LGBTIQA+ community.
1. People who are completely 'out' have a higher sense of self-compassion
One thing you might be able to do for your self-compassion is to come out. This study
showed that being out was associated with more self-compassion, less self-judgment, less isolation, and feeling more connected to others. However, coming out might not be right for everyone at any given point. If you're in a position where this isn't safe or it doesn't feel right, do what's best for you.
2. Self-Compassion can protect against minority stress
Minority stress and the stigma that sometimes comes with being in a minority group can lead to poorer health outcomes. This study looked at whether self-compassion could buffer the effects of minority stress, and their predictions were supported by the data.
In particular, self-kindness and common humanity predicted better wellbeing. While
self-compassion can't remove the effects of stigma and discrimination, it can help with
feeling more empowered and less distressed.
3. Mindfulness increased psychological quality of life in an LGBT sample
This study looked at mindfulness, self-esteem, and positive states of mind on psychological quality of life, and found that all three were good predictors. Self-compassion is also strongly related to these, though they didn't specifically look at it here. These are similar results to what we'd expect to find in the general population, but this research is important to show us that these practices can be beneficial for queer people.
How we can make yoga more inclusive
I was recently fortunate enough to take a Trans Inclusive Yoga Teaching training with Allé from @nonbinaryogi (go check out their Insta page!). From this training and lots of other training I've done in my mental health career, and from personal experience, here are a couple of tips to create a safe and welcoming space as a teacher and as a student.
Ask for and respect people's pronouns: if you're cisgender and have used the same pronouns your whole life (she/her or he/him), this might not be something you've thought about before! But for trans, nonbinary, and gender diverse people, using their correct pronouns is incredibly important, so make sure you ask and remember to use them. Remember that some people go by they/them pronouns, and that might take a little more awareness to get right.
Avoid gendered language and sweeping generalisations: It can be easy to make statements like "men have tight hamstrings" or "women have open hips", but not only is that incorrect, it can make people feel uncomfortable, especially if they're gender diverse. Also try to catch yourself before addressing the room in a gendered way, like "ladies and gentlemen", "girls", or "guys", and try replacing it with something more inclusive, like "everyone", "all", or something else general.
Be aware of heteronormativity: Try not to make assumptions about someone's relationship or sexuality. Rather than making comments or asking questions about someone's husband or wife, use the term 'partner' that can suit anyone.
Be an ally and call out homophobia and transphobia: Calling other people out can be uncomfortable and scary, but it's really important. Queer people aren't always in a position to have conversations about queerphobia all the time, but as an ally, you can help to create a norm of standing against discrimination and nastiness. Ask the queer people around you what the best way to do this is.
Visible pride: Let the people around you know that you're a safe and inclusive space! As a teacher or studio owner, talk on your social media about being LGBTIQA+ friendly, and most importantly, follow it up with real action. You can register for the Welcome Here project to let your students know where you stand. And as an ally, go hug the queer people in your life and remind them that they are loved!
November is Feast Festival month here in Adelaide, and we have some queer yoga and self-compassion workshops running! Head to https://www.feast.org.au/events/coming-home-to-yourself-queer-yoga-and-mindfulness-workshop/ for more info!
And of course, our classes are always LGBTIQA+ friendly, so come down and say hi! You can see our weekly class offerings here.