Inclusive & Accepting Word Choice

Lesson Overview

In this lesson, we review the effects of a teacher’s word choice in creating an inclusive and accepting practice space.


Become competent in choosing words that inspire an inclusive and accepting environment in which to practice yoga.


Explain an implication of the word “minority” vs. “diversity.” Describe ways that teaching might imply a hierarchy of value or accomplishment. Provide potential benefits of using invitational language and provide an example. Describe the difference between invitational language and giving wishy-washy instructions. Give an example of an inappropriate assumption about students’ relationships with their bodies. Read and summarize the Accessible Yoga article, “Disability Culture 101.”


Here we offer specific examples of wording that can help you to:

  • Be inclusive, accepting and non-judgmental.
  • Inspire acceptance and self-love.


Minority is a loaded word. In my understanding it is a label that means “less than”… Diversity is a word that means “more than.” The term minority itself creates the idea or feeling of exclusion. It is time to retire this word. Diversity is a word that encourages inclusion by illuminating what is different in all of us. – Dianne Bondy

See Also

Avoid Hierarchical & Value-Based Wording

With Students

  1. Do your words imply a hierarchy of value that is based on experience or physical capability?
  2. Are you subtly encouraging competition among students?
  3. Consider ways that you might inadvertently use words that could be interpreted as demeaning or dismissive and lead to some students feeling “less than” or excluded.

With Poses

Be cautious about labeling poses and variations as “more advanced” or in other ways that seems to say that attainment of particular practices equals more value.

  • Consider, for example, how you teach the steps toward a challenging pose.
  • If you imply that the more challenging versions are better or “more advanced” for example, what does that mean about experienced students who will never be able to safely practice certain poses due to physical limitations?
  • Consider options other than “If you can’t do the full pose, you can use a block.”
  • Experiment with words that teach the why and how of the variations. Some ideas: “Press your hand into the block. Feel length in both side bodies. If your arm reaches the floor without losing that feeling of length, then remove the block and press your hand into the floor.” Another approach might be to use phrases such as “option A and option B.”

See Also

Use Invitational Language

Invitational Does Not Mean Wishy-Washy

  • Rather than telling students what to expect in poses, you may wish to invite them to take note of effects on their breathing and their mind, and what they feel in their body.
  • Another way to use invitational language is to teach two versions of a pose and invite students to choose one based on what serves them best today.
  • In Tips for Choosing Your Words Wisely, we advise “speaking directly.” That does not contradict using invitational language. To use invitational language does not mean to be wishy-washy with instructions such as ending instructions with “if it feels good.” Rather, it means to invite students to self-reflect and make mindful choices.

Why Use Invitational Language?

Using invitational language can accomplish a number of things:

  • It can begin to transfer any expectations for responsibility and awareness from an external guide to the student herself.
  • It can give students time and space to work with the teachings and listen internally.
  • It can avoid potential alienation from setting up expectations for a certain experience when the student’s experience might be different.

Inspire Body Acceptance

  • Notice and avoid language that is disparaging about bodies in any way.
  • Be cautious of making assumptions about students’ relationships with their bodies. Do not assume, for instance, that everyone wants to lose weight.
  • Consider how you can authentically inspire self-acceptance.


“This posture is a great way to get rid of your belly fat.” and “Let’s shed those holiday pounds.” Suggestion: Be conscious of the language you use when talking about yoga and the body. Notice if you tend to project your relationship with body image and yoga onto your students. Stay focused on what the posture is doing in the moment with the bodies you have in front of you. Try language that does not focus on losing weight or altering the bodies of your students. – Chelsea Jackson



The panel agreed that authenticity is what is most inspiring, beautiful and powerful. And in focusing on authentic representations of beauty, power and sensuality, we’ll be able to create fully-dimensional and diverse imagery of yogis and the yoga body that promote inclusivity, self-love and acceptance. – Melanie Klein

See Also

Learn About Disability Culture

When we refer to the “disability community” it may create a false impression of a homogenous or monolithic group, but the opposite is true. Disability intersects with every other form of identity to create a rich tapestry of human diversity. Our vision is that someday the world will see and appreciate this beautiful tapestry and recognize that disability is a natural part of human diversity, not something to avoid. – Virginia Knowlton Marcus

Virginia Knowlton Marcus and the Accessible Yoga blog have provided a beautiful service for the yoga community by publishing Disability Culture 101. It’s very well done. Please select the link to read the article in full.


Disability culture includes the words we use to identify ourselves, and there’s no one size fits all.

  • For many years, “people first” has been considered the gold standard of disability parlance. It is based on the premise that personhood is paramount and must be emphasized. Examples include: people with disabilities, person with cerebral palsy, woman with an intellectual disability, child with autism, and man with traumatic brain injury. People-first language was an important step away from outmoded words that are now considered offensive, such as “handicapped,” “crippled,” “deformed,” “infirm,” and “retarded.”…
  • However, a growing number of people prefer identity-first language. Examples include “autistic man,” “deaf woman,” and “disabled person.” … Some believe that “people first” language is unwieldy and unnecessarily downplays disability. To them, it is a matter of disability pride to “say the word.” Moreover, they find this terminology to be in keeping with the social model of disability, that is, a person becomes “disabled” by inaccessible environments and discriminatory attitudes.
  • Identity references within the mental health community are particularly dynamic, with regional and personal preference variations… Although often used, the term “mental illness” is increasingly falling into disfavor among people who have mental health disabilities.
  • Many people with disabilities dislike euphemistic terms like differently-abled, special needs, and physically challenged. Objectifying language, such as “the disabled” (without being followed by a noun), is considered demeaning. Words such as “normal,” “healthy” or “able-bodied” are inappropriate ways to describe a non-disabled person or person without a disability. It is best to ask the person their preferred reference, and not worry about making a mistake. Interaction is key… The following are some tips for disability etiquette to assist in your interactions with disabled people. Don’t get hung up on memorizing everything. It is extremely rare for a person with a disability to become upset by someone who acts in good faith and makes an honest mistake that they want to learn to correct. It would be so much worse to avoid the interaction.

Virginia Knowlton Marcus