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Providing Space to Heal for the LGBTQ Community

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by Maygen Nicholson

I have been practicing yoga since 2008. I began practicing sporadically, enjoying the benefits when I chose to go to class and receive them. In 2014, my life took a plunge after I left a very toxic relationship that was a catalyst for me completely losing my dance career, and sent me into crippling anxiety and depression. I had no other choice but to move back to Oklahoma (where I grew up) for awhile to regain my mental, spiritual, and physical strength before being able to live fruitfully in Los Angeles. As a gay woman who presents as everything but “normal”, Oklahoma is not particularly the funnest place for me. I immediately dove into a daily yoga practice at a studio that became my saving grace and home away from home. With a daily practice, I was able to open myself up to all the possibilities yoga had for me. The main thing I noticed was that I could breathe deeply, anxiety was manageable, and depression had left my side completely. It didn’t take me long to realize and accept that I had to learn how to teach to share this practice to as many people as possible.

After doing a 200 hour training, I started teaching immediately. As I began teaching more and at various studios, it didn’t take me long to realize that members of my beloved LGBTQ+ community were very few and far between at the studios. I began to ask myself why this is and it didn’t take me long to start exploring the options of hosting classes that were catered to my community. I can’t say I yet have all the answers as to why it is very seldom to see LGBTQ+ individuals at yoga studios, but after having the honor of holding classes for the community for about 3 years now I can say that the trauma is huge and real. I’ve been shocked at student’s stories, especially the discrimination many of them have faced in Los Angeles…of all places!

I never accredited my past anxieties and experiences of depression to be an effect of being a gay woman that grew up in a society that was not welcoming to people like me. However, I have started to see a through line of the widespread mental sufferings that many of us face. After doing much research, I have found very alarming proven statistics. LGBTQ+ individuals are 3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions than the average person; 20-30% of the community abuse substances compared to 5-10% of the general population; and a darker yet honest statistic states that suicide is the leading cause of death for LGBTQ+ individuals ages 10-24.**

As a yoga teacher, I feel as though it is my responsibility to make space for my community to feel seen, heard, and to have a safe haven to learn this life changing practice and build community support. I was so lucky to be led to La Maida where the owner Omid so graciously allowed me to begin hosting classes for my community weekly at the end of 2017. Since then, the class has grown immensely. We always begin the class with a 45 minute asana class (physical postures) and spend the last 45 minutes in sangha (community) where we share our hearts on specific chosen topics that relate to our particular struggles and triumphs. It has become exactly what I wished existed for people like me. The students have become each other’s community and family. They all keep in contact, lift each other up, and spend time together outside of class frequently. I host this class every Tuesday evening at La Maida Institute beginning at 7:30pm. It is donation based and welcome to all levels of practitioners, especially beginners!

In 2019, I plan to expand my offerings and figuring out ways to make the magic that has been created at La Maida to become available worldwide. I feel this is my life’s work, and I am honored for it to be so.

**National Alliance of Mental Illness

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