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Yoga International Voice Guidelines and Best Practices
YI Voice is:
Welcoming, friendly, and positive
We want folks to feel comfortable here—not intimidated. We don’t use guilt or fear as motivators.
We speak to our members and readers as friends, not as authority figures.
Avoid using fear of injury or illness to promote something: Not only is this ableist, it can have the opposite effect that we intend (i.e., the “nocebo effect.”)
Avoid implying that there is a “proper” or “correct” way to do a pose or practice. This varies greatly depending on a person’s individual body, needs, and goals, as well as between different styles of yoga.
Instead of using terms like “proper alignment,” “correct alignment,” “good form,” “perfect form,” etc., focus on helping each person find the optimal/best version of a pose for their body.
Avoid “full pose” or “fullest expression of the pose” or “real pose.”
Avoid the word “just" to imply that a particular option or variation will be “easy” for everyone. (“If downward dog bothers your shoulders, just stay in table pose”—table pose might not be easy/simple for everyone!)
We generally prefer using “your” over “the” in asana cues. Example: “You can place a blanket under your head” instead of “You can place a blanket under the head.” Or “Lift your heels and bend your knees” instead of “Lift the heels and bend the knees.” This is our default, but we will make exceptions if writers/teachers have a strong preference for “the” or if there’s a particular instance where it makes more sense/is more clear to use “the” instead of “your.”
Use gender-neutral language and avoid stereotypes.
For prenatal content, use “pregnant person”/“pregnant people” instead of “pregnant woman” or “pregnant women.” (Transmen, nonbinary folks, and agender folks can be pregnant too and using “women-centric” language leaves them out.) For postnatal content, choose “new parents” over “new moms.”
Double-check to make sure you’re using a person’s correct pronouns. Don’t assume someone’s pronouns based upon their appearance.
Avoid using gendered pronouns for a hypothetical person, particularly if they relate to gender stereotypes (e.g., “If a student has tight hamstrings, he might have a harder time with this pose” or “If a teacher is inexperienced, she might not know how to work with a student’s injury.”) Embrace the singular “they”!
Remember that not all readers/members live in the U.S.
Avoid “East vs. West” comparisons and stereotypes.
Don’t moralize health: Some people will never be “healthy” but that doesn’t make them any less worthy of respect, dignity, and access to resources such as yoga.
When writing or speaking about disability, favor a cultural model (which perceives a disability as one aspect of a person that is not inherently “negative,” but has its own unique challenges, benefits, attributes) over a medical model (which perceives a disability as something negative that needs to be “fixed”).
When mentioning a particular disease, avoid language like “suffering” or “sufferers.” For example: Don’t say “people suffering from depression.” Do say “people living with depression,” “people dealing with depression,” or “people who have been diagnosed with depression.”
When deciding whether to use person-first or identity-first language use the preference of the person you are referencing if applicable and possible.
Avoid terms that are appropriative (such as referring to a group of friends as a “tribe”).
Avoid using the word "yogi" to describe someone who practices yoga. ("Yoga practitioner" or "Yoga student" can often be good subs).
The BuzzFeed Style Guide is really useful and super easy to reference. For our purposes, we particularly recommend these sections: Disease, Disability, Disorders, Mental Health , LGBTQ (though please note that at YI we use the acronym LGBTQIA+), Race and Ethnicity
Avoid language that is body-shaming or objectifying.
Avoid terms like “overweight” (which implies that there is a “correct” weight) and “obese” (which pathologizes larger bodies).
Do not mention “weight loss” as a benefit—not everyone “needs” or wants to lose weight.
As much as possible, avoid “detox” and “cleansing” language.
Avoid derogatory terms for body parts (“love handles,” “cankles,” “beer belly”).
Avoid moralizing food/categorizing certain foods as “good” or “bad.”
Especially pay attention to this when it comes to recipes/food articles and video content. “Low in calories,” “low in sugar,” “low carb,” etc. are not universal “benefits.” Folks’ nutritional needs can and will vary greatly. Some people need/want to consume more calories, carbs, etc. and not fewer. Our brains and bodies need sugar to thrive. Instead, focus on foods being nutrient-rich, tasty, or appropriate for people with specific allergies or restrictions when mentioning the benefits (e.g., you could mention that something was gluten-free or vegan or dairy-free, etc., thus making it something you could serve to friends with allergies or other dietary restrictions). Don’t assume that everyone wants to eat foods that will help them lose weight.
Avoid stating benefits that cannot be objectively proven as facts. For example, as much as we may personally feel ayurveda is beneficial, we cannot say “Heartburn is caused by a pitta imbalance.” In these instances, we must clarify that these ideas are attributed to a particular school of thought/discipline/belief system. Instead, we might say “Ayurvedic principles hold that heartburn is caused by a pitta imbalance.”
Avoid telling people that a particular practice will heal or fix a particular ailment. (Example: We would not say “This practice will heal sciatica,” but we could say (if applicable) “This practice may help ease the discomfort of sciatica.”
Avoid language that is fear-based (particularly if there is not actually much of a biomechanical basis for concern). We would not want to say “Keep your knee directly above your ankle in warrior II to avoid seriously injuring your knee.” Instead, we’d want to say something that is more empowering and biomechanically specific, such as “Keep your knee directly above your ankle in warrior II in order to engage your lateral hip muscles.” (Thanks to Jenni Rawlings for this example!) Or even “Classically, this pose is practiced with the knee stacked directly over the ankle,” if the reason for including a particular cue is mostly related to tradition/aesthetics.
In general, we want to avoid saying that a certain study (or studies) “proves” or “has proven” something unless the researchers themselves have used that language. Look at the language that the researchers use in their conclusion and aim to stay as close to that as you can. (Note: This article by Carol Horton offers some tips and suggestions for interpreting yoga-related research.)
Avoid correlating alignment with safety.
Avoid the appeal to antiquity fallacy. (Just because something is “ancient,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s correct, true, or better than something “modern.”) Talk about the ways in which something is helpful/good aside from its age.
When a Strict Alignment Focus Limits Your Practice by Amber Burke
What Yoga Teachers Need to Know About Pain in Asana by Shelly Prosko and Neil Pearson
Re-aligning Our Understanding of the Value of Alignment by Amber Burke
General Language and Writing Tips
Avoid the passive voice, unless you have a specific reason for using it. The active voice is often more personal and clear and can also make writing more accessible to people with learning disabilities.
Use shorter sentences at the beginning and ending of an article.
Favor short paragraphs.
Err on the side of kindness and inclusivity. If changing your language helps even one person feel valued, represented, and included, it’s worth it!
Err on the side of accuracy. Demonstrating to our members and readers that we’re a trustworthy source of information is far more valuable than making impressive but unsubstantiated claims.