“I’m not into exercise,” Lizz Johnson said. They repeated this assertion throughout the interview; to them, yoga is more than just a Pilates routine with spiritual dressing. “It’s a framework for being a human in the world,” they told me with a smile. “That’s what I like about yoga.”
Trans/Enby Yoga is Lizz’s brainchild: a twice-weekly yoga class for the non-cis folks of Seattle. “It’s a break from microaggressions, that’s what I’m offering,” they said. “It’s a little reprieve from microaggressions where people can be honest and vulnerable in their bodies and not need to have walls up around themselves.”
What drew Lizz to yoga wasn’t as deep as you’d think. “I thought the poses looked cool and that people who did it were flexible. I thought that was something I wanted,” they told me. What hooked them in was how it improved their bodily awareness. “I was just noticing my own body in ways that I hadn’t before,” they said. “Yoga was the first time I was really able to be in my body.”
Navigating yoga spaces as a nonbinary person could be challenging. Lizz noticed yoga classes were gendered in lots of unnecessary ways. “Teachers will say women’s bodies are this way, men’s bodies are this way, and if you’re a woman this posture would be easier, and that’s just not true,” they said, still sounding frustrated with the instructors. They also misgendered Lizz in class, which took away from their practice. “When I’m misgendered in a yoga space…I have to protect myself for a bit, and if I’m protecting myself I can’t be as open to myself in the yoga practice,” they told me.
Frustrated with these experiences, Lizz decided to start a class where trans and nonbinary people could feel safe and comfortable. “I basically wanted to make the class that I wanted to take,” they told me. Their first Trans/Enby classes were DIY gatherings held in a friend’s living room. “That first month, the most people we had was like four people, which was really exciting for a living room,” they said, laughing.
Since that first summer, the living room class has become something more official. Last year, they began holding classes every Sunday at the Seattle Movement Project in Madrona. This was followed by another weekly class held in Rainier Beach. Curious about their class, I decided to attend one of them myself.
Yoga is something I’ve only dabbled in. I’ve enjoyed the classes I’ve been to, but it’s never quite hooked me in. In a yoga class, there’s a good chance I’m going to be the only trans person in the room. I anticipate strange looks, uncomfortable questions, unwanted assumptions. But as I walked into the Seattle Movement Project for my first Trans/Enby Yoga class, I was at ease.
Lizz sat in front of us, legs crossed, with a notebook lying on the ground in front of them. Before we began, we shared our pronouns with each other — which shouldn’t be of note, because it should be an ordinary part of any yoga or meditation space. Here, I didn’t have to worry about someone making a wrong guess at my pronoun. Being able to tell people “I use she/they pronouns,” let me put my guard down.
Lizz asked us to set an intention. It caught me off guard. An intention? I thought. No one told me I was going to have to come up with an intention. I searched through my head, worried that if I didn’t have a good intention, I might not get the most out of my experience. I then realized worrying about my having the “best intention” was probably counterproductive. Then something Lizz had said popped into my head.
In the interview, I’d asked Lizz what they thought their class had to offer enby and trans folks. “Something I see a lot on trans non-binary media is bodies being like ‘flesh prisons,’ and that’s real for a lot of people,” they said, “I’m trying to offer a couple of moments where it doesn’t feel like a flesh prison.” I’m among the people who’ve made these jokes. There’s a lot I love about this tangle of meat and bones, but there are parts I could do without: my slouch, the width of my shoulders, the shape of my face. I decided my intention would be to embrace these parts of my body with tenderness, to connect to them without judgment or shame.
There was a playfulness to the class that made tenderness come easy. Lizz made jokes and the class laughed. They reminded us that not everyone’s practice was going to look the same, which made me feel less anxious about screwing up. I wasn’t mean to myself when I lost my balance while attempting to stand on one foot for a pose. It wasn’t like a fitness class where everyone is trying to look better or become stronger. It felt like a playful laboratory for the body. A place where I could ask my it, “What can you do?”
In the afterglow of the class, I could feel that special awareness of my own body that Lizz had mentioned. I noticed every step I took, feeling the places where my foot connected to the ground. I don’t know if I’ll become a regular yoga practitioner. I do know that if I need a reminder that my body is not a flesh prison, there’s a place I can go for that.