In this brave new world we find ourselves in, we’ve been able to witness right in front of our eyes just how quickly it’s possible to move even more of our lives online. (Wait, weren’t we just talking about digital detoxing?) But, here we are.
For many of us in the wellness world, this has meant shifting almost overnight into hosting our classes and clients remotely, either for the first time or just a lot more often than before.
This has definitely not been without its challenges, but I see you all out there figuring it out, and I really admire it. It’s been truly inspiring to see the innovation that’s come out of all this, from the virtual meditations and dance parties popping up all over the place like the spring crocuses outside to Dolly Parton reading bedtime stories online, making one thing very clear — the desire to maintain connections, show up for and be held by community, and hold space for each other is so real, and thank goodness, because it’s so needed at this time. If there’s anything social distancing has taught us, it’s just how much we need each other.
In between all of our efforts to become intimately acquainted with video platforms and transform our living rooms into makeshift studios, one question that’s maybe been harder to answer is, how do we do this inclusively?
Of course, virtual sessions are nothing new, but their ubiquity is, and there are still not many guidelines on bringing inclusion to this realm. Knowing that, Hannah and I wanted to put this out there as a way to start a conversation on what it means to be inclusive in the virtual space. We’ll offer a few ideas below and would love to hear yours as well.
Inclusive Considerations for the Virtual Space
Mobile friendliness: Not everyone has a computer, but more and more people do have phones. Making virtual offerings mobile-friendly is one way to help to make them more accessible.
Time friendliness: For people who are busy working and taking care of their households, or who don’t have wifi always accessible, the timing of a class may be the only thing holding them back. If you can offer them a recording of a class, they can have the option of attending at their convenience.
Tech friendliness: How can you accommodate folks who might be new to the tool or platform you’re using? Some ideas are including usage instructions to help people navigate tools that may be new to them, inviting people to ask questions, and taking time to give brief virtual tours/tutorials at the beginning of sessions (“here’s where to find the chat box”).
Financial friendliness: With so many people unemployed and underemployed at the moment, it’s an especially worthwhile time to ask, is there financial accessibility to my offerings? Some ways of doing this are making some offerings donation-based or sliding scale, if it’s feasible for you while still meeting your needs. If you don’t feel able to do this for all offerings, you might consider shifting to this structure for one to see how it goes. And don’t forget, there are other forms of energetic exchange outside of money! For example, for those who elect to attend a donation-based class for free, you might ask them to “pay” by spreading the word to friends. If you’re able, you might also consider donating a % of proceeds to an organization offering Covid-19 relief.
One Day at a Time…
As we move through this, let’s acknowledge that each and every one of us has essentially been thrown into a new and different realm where maintaining our personal connections and our livelihoods has to happen in virtual reality. This is unprecedented, so wherever you find yourself in this process and however you might be feeling about it is completely valid. We’re here to listen if you need space to talk through your challenges, and we welcome your ideas for ways we can continue to navigate virtual reality in ways that feel welcoming to all. Please send them to email@example.com.
As Hannah and I began to meet together a few months ago, we almost immediately started talking about ideas of inclusivity* and how they could be brought more prominently into the collective and into wellness work in general. We knew that these conversations weren’t isolated to us. We were having them with friends, seeing them in the form of articles, podcasts, and events popping up, and wondered how best to take action and bring them into the larger conversation of the collective. Ideas of inclusivity being delicate, ripe with feeling and opinion, and crucially important, our main concerns were how to handle them both thoughtfully and actively. Interestingly, as it turns out, this is the pathway — first thought, then action. So the ideas below have been divided first into thought, and then into action. This is an ongoing journey by nature, and while the following practices will not necessarily apply to all types of wellness work — and we certainly have much to learn ourselves — we thought we’d share some ways we’ve tried weaving these ideas into Three Moon Collective and our own practices. *Inclusivity is used here as an umbrella term for considerations of diversity, equity, inclusivity, and intersectionality
1. Begin With Yourself
When you weave a philosophy into your business, it has to come from within the people involved. To be cultivating these ideas within yourself is necessary for bringing them into your chosen work. So it involves a lot of internal work, which then flows into the actions you decide to take. Read books, attend events, listen to podcasts, talk through ideas with trusted friends and communities, and if it helps, take notes and write out what you’re thinking, learning, and questioning — whatever ways you can continue to resource and educate yourself and figure out where you and your work fit into the picture. These are not new topics, and luckily there is a huge abundance of wisdom out there to draw from. At the sacred center of this work is listening to and trusting the voices from groups who have faced marginalization and have chosen to share their lived experiences in advocating for growth and change — the key being those who have chosen to share. Meaning, it’s of crucial importance to put the time and energy into educating oneself as much as possible before, for instance, going to someone from that population and asking them to do the heavy lifting. While it may feel intuitive to do so, this is not their job. An ally’s work should be centered on putting in that time and energy. We’ve been sharing resources that we like through The Intersection content in the newsletter and social accounts and will continue to, but we also want this to be a collective effort. Please email your favorite resources to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject “Submission for the Intersection.” To receive a free PDF of this article with a bonus collection of suggested resources (books, articles, podcasts, videos, and organizations), enter your email in the form below:
2. Move Through the Fear
This is not always easy or comfortable work. At first it can be woven with a lot of fear — fear of saying the wrong thing, of being misread, of bringing up a kind of squirm. But the truth is, we’re all squirming. And while it may feel uncomfortable at times, this squirming also comes from a place of knowing, where we desire to evolve and do what’s right and also know that doing so involves vulnerability. We fear messing up.
The hardest truth is, we have to be willing to mess up and keep on learning and owning up to our own fallibilities, forever, if we’re actively trying to unlearn our implicit biases. But the beauty of it is that once you accept that, you are ready to drop into this work and see where it takes you.
3. Be Ready to Question Everything
Much of the internal work of weaving inclusivity into our life and work involves unraveling beliefs that are threaded into us sometimes so intrinsically by the fabric of the societies and families we were born into that we may hardly even detect they are there. That’s the tricky thing about internalized biases is that they often develop without conscious intention and therefore easily hide in plain sight. Encountering our own biases through this work can be upsetting to say the least — no one loves realizing they might be carrying around beliefs that are sizeist, ageist, or any of the other -ists — but it’s also proof that the work…is working. Awareness is the first step. Admitting that we not only have much to learn, but also much to unlearn is crucial to being able to examine our own internal doctrine of beliefs with a critical eye.
4. Honor Your Clients and Your Role in Their Process
As a collective, we all desire to lift up and empower others. I know this because it’s such a part of the work that we do. As guides, nourishers, space holders, etc, we care deep down about the state of humanity, and that comes from within. This alone should make us uniquely suited to bringing genuine inclusivity into our work. On top of that, and most importantly, actively pursuing inclusivity in wellness work is a matter of ethics, given the tenderness of the work we’re so lucky to do, working with people who are coming from a diversity of backgrounds and deserve to be honored in all their uniqueness, especially when they’ve chosen to trust us with their healing process. The vulnerability they so bravely bring deserves to be met first and foremost with a sense of security that they can be safe with us and within our spaces. Honoring the role we are in and those we are working with means bringing a thoughtful eye to things like the language we use, the accessibility of our offerings and our space, and the outward ways we communicate our values through our work. This can take shape in many ways, some of which are included below.
5. Acknowledge the Power of Language
Words are one of the most significant ways we can empower our clients and our practice. Some ways we can bring attention to this include:
Recognizing preferred names and pronouns and being sure to use them. This is an ongoing issue with standardized healthcare and other types of forms that omit these details or only give space to a person’s birth name and gender, which may no longer be appropriate or safe identifiers. Beginning meetings, sessions, and events by allowing people to share their preferred names and pronouns is another great practice to ensure people are being referred to appropriately.
Adding language to our websites that express our values and how we aim to uphold them in our practices. This can go far in letting those in your audience know that they can feel secure in your space, especially those coming from underserved populations who don’t have the privilege of feeling comfortable in just any old wellness space.
Reading up on culturally appropriative language and continuing to educate ourselves on this topic. As language is constantly evolving, so are the associations people have with them. This is one area in particular where we may mess up inadvertently. Roll with it and be willing to continually evolve with language. If you’re not sure about a word, read up, ask around, and trust those from the population who view certain words as unique and sacred to their culture.
6. Consider Accessibility
Accessibility is about placing emphasis on being welcoming to a diverse range of people, whether financial, physical, or otherwise. Some ways you can bring attention to accessibility include:
Considering sliding scale pricing or scholarships for offerings to help to dissolve exclusion and allow access to people of a range of socio-economic backgrounds (while honoring your own financial needs, of course!).
Examining the ADA accessibility of your space, renovating where possible, and clearly communicating limitations of the space. If there are stairs leading into the building, for instance, clients with mobility challenges deserve to know this and will appreciate you communicating this information.
Accommodating sensitivities people may have to scents, food/drink offerings, and even potentially triggering topics where you host people. On the latter, an example would be warning attendees if a topic like sexual trauma is going to come up in a workshop.
7. Examine Your Own Areas for Growth and Take Action to Address Them
If you sense a lack of knowledge in a certain area, such as best practices for working with transgender clients, don’t ignore it until they’re sitting in your space. Do some reading, attend a workshop, talk to other providers, or whatever you feel you need to do to ensure your clients’ unique qualities and needs are being recognized and that you’re not inadvertently doing anything that makes them feel less seen, heard, and secure.
8. Acknowledge the Land and Traditions You Use
It also feels especially important that we consistently acknowledge, honor, and act upon ideas of diversity, equity, and inclusion, given how much wisdom many of us pull from different cultures and traditions in the work that we do, not to mention the fact that no matter where we practice, we are doing so on occupied land. One way to do this that’s increasingly being practiced is offering a land acknowledgment at the beginning of meetings, events, and sessions. As many of us who bring energetic work into practice by “setting containers,” a land acknowledgment is a beautiful thing to weave in at this time. I’m incredibly grateful to those in my community who taught me this practice. To do this, do some research to know which First Nations occupied the land where you are gathering and offer a moment of recognition and gratitude in your own words. A typical acknowledgment may be along the lines of, “We acknowledge that we are here on occupied Coast Salish and Duwamish land, we honor the original inhabitants of this beautiful land, and we thank them for allowing us to be here.” And if like so many of us, you use and receive monetary gain from practices that pull from the traditional wisdom of cultures that are not your own, such as acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, yoga, reiki, qi’gong, and tai chi, explore ways you can express gratitude and recognition for the cultures these have come from. This is a big topic of conversation in the wellness world and one we plan to explore further in ongoing conversation within the collective.
9. Support Organizations Centered on Diversity, Equity, Inclusivity, and Intersectionality
If financially possible for you, consider donating proceeds to organizations in your local area and beyond that are working to uphold these values. Even a little can go a long way and is a wonderful gesture of support. If it’s not possible for you to support them financially, support them in other ways, such as spreading awareness of their work, attending their events, and making contact with them to see if there are other ways you can be of service.
10. Bring It Into Community
When you feel ready, give these ideas the room they deserve to breathe! Bring them into the light! While you may at first have some discomfort with bringing these topics from small talks with friends (and your own brain) into larger communities, it is absolutely worth it. Yes, there may be squidgy, squirmy bits, but remember this is all part of the process — they are signs of growth. And the only way we can hope to really evolve is to evolve together. How can you do this? Bring up these topics with coworkers, co-collaboraters, and other communities you’re involved in. It can be as small as questioning the lack of gender-neutral restrooms in a community space to intentionally planning talks that address these topics and inviting people to come and dialogue in a safe setting. Be sure to emphasize respect for your fellow humans as you navigate together. Remember, no single person is an expert or a perfect example — me especially, I will say! We appreciate you reading this and welcome any feedback, thoughts, or ideas you might have on how to make wellness more inclusive. For a free list of resources, enter your email into the form above! We truly believe that each of us has the power to make a difference.
Emily Wittenhagen is the Director of Community & Inclusion for Three Moon Collective. She is also the creator of CobwebMD and a certified nutritionist, herbalist, and trained hypnotherapist (currently doing sessions toward certification) who offers whole-person care that brings in dietary and herbal interventions as well as forest, sound, and hypnotherapy.