This interview is part of a series of articles focusing on yoga and activism. Today, numerous initiatives are emerging to promote a teaching and representation of yoga that differs from those promoted by the yoga and wellness industry. From this shared vocation, a diversity of approaches emerges, highlighting various issues: body inclusivity in classes, the alliance between activism and practice, active efforts to welcome marginalized populations, emancipatory pedagogies, and more. With these interviews, Citta Vritti aims to give a voice to those who are working to imagine alternative ways of transmitting yoga that are aligned with societal challenges.
Today, we are giving the floor to Faustine Caron, founder and president of the association Nour. I met Faustine because we both attended the yoga teaching training led by Muriel Adri, with a one-year gap between us. Nour was born out of the desire to make yoga accessible to people facing precarious situations. For Faustine, it seemed absurd and unthinkable to reserve the benefits of this practice, which is accessible in many ways, for the affluent public that usually frequents yoga studios. In this interview, she shares with us what it means to her to work towards offering yoga that is accessible to as many people as possible.
Citta Vritti : Bonjour, peux-tu te présenter pour nos lecteurices et nous raconter ta rencontre avec le yoga ?
Faustine Caron : My name is Faustine, I'm 32 years old. I founded and am the president of the association Nour, which promotes social inclusion through yoga. I was born in Nantes, and when I was younger, I practiced horse riding at a high level. However, when I moved to Paris for my studies in 2012, I had to quit. It was during this time that I discovered yoga. At that time, I thought it was a practice reserved for older people! I practiced in a small neighborhood studio in the 14th arrondissement, with a teacher named Yoko. I was working in the luxury industry and feeling depressed about adult life. After yoga classes, I felt so good, so peaceful, and I remember thinking, "It's possible to feel like this on Earth!" It was such a contrast to my daily state of being. Yoga has remained a pillar in my adult life and my active life. The studios I practiced in had a good mix of people, and I thought that was what the yoga community was like!
"How is it possible that only an affluent audience has access to such a beneficial practice when it requires no special equipment?"
After a world tour at the age of 25, during which I experienced various yoga practices depending on the places I visited, I wanted to receive formal training. At that time, there wasn't as much competition in terms of yoga teacher trainings, so I chose the one offered by Muriel Adri. My main goal was to explore the practice and not necessarily to teach professionally. Through this training, I started frequenting many yoga studios in Paris and realized that my initial experience of diversity within yoga classes was far from the norm in Paris! Despite being part of the population that typically attends these places, I didn't feel comfortable in these trendy Parisian studios. The luxury aspect made me feel underdressed and self-conscious, in short, out of place. I couldn't imagine myself teaching in such environments. It was at that moment that the idea of creating Nour started to emerge. I wondered how it was possible that only a certain type of audience, namely the affluent and upper-class ,had access to such a beneficial practice that required no specific equipment, just a yoga mat and that's it!
CV. How did you come to create Nour?
FC. Personally, I grew up in an activist environment, with parents who were involved, particularly with people in exile, who were engaged in the "jungle de Calais" and hosted migrants in our home. At the end of my training, I taught a yoga class during a family weekend. There were people of all ages, my grandmother who is disabled, children, my overweight mother, and migrants who were staying with my parents at the time. At first, everyone was laughing and goofing around, but gradually, they got into it and eventually settled into savasana. It was a magical moment, and I thought to myself, they all come from different life paths, different physical conditions, but here on the mat, for a few moments, they are all in the same place, regardless of their differences.
I filed the association's statutes in July 2019 and worked part-time on the project for two years. I left my permanent job in January 2021 and continued working part-time on the association while also freelancing. Then, in September 2022, I dedicated myself full-time to the association. It's still a recent development, and our finances are still fragile.
CV. In your opinion, how can yoga be a catalyst for social inclusion?
FC. It can be for several reasons. Firstly, it is a physical activity that can be accessible in terms of resources: there is no need for a dedicated space, specific equipment, or special clothing. It is also a practice that can be physically accessible; you don't necessarily need to be in good physical shape, unlike other practices that may be more cardio-intensive. In my opinion, it is a practice where, regardless of your background, you can potentially find yourself on the same level on the mat, whether you are in an exile situation or a Jean-Jérôme from the 16th arrondissement of Paris! ,I believe that there are not many significant social markers associated with the practice. It is also a non-competitive practice that sets aside performance and conveys the message that everyone does what they can.
CV. Who are the classes at Nour aimed at?
FC. Nour's classes are aimed at individuals in vulnerable situations in a broad sense, meaning those who do not have access to mainstream yoga offerings, whether due to financial, cultural, or social reasons. In France, there are 10 million people living in precarious conditions, so it can include individuals with precarious employment, isolated seniors, women experiencing violence, homeless individuals, adults with disabilities receiving a maximum monthly allowance of 900 euros, individuals in exile (500,000 people in France), those receiving support from medical-social centers, and children under the care of the Child Welfare Services (formerly known as Ddass). ,).
We primarily work within establishments that cater to individuals in precarious situations, such as ESAT (Establishment and Service for Assistance in Work, in English), ,health centers, emergency shelters, and reintegration centers.
We also offer open classes that are not held in specific establishments and are intended for both individuals receiving social support and those who have access to traditional yoga classes. People in precarious situations are informed about the classes through the institutions that support them, including social workers. We offer around fifteen classes of this type in Nantes, Paris, Strasbourg, and Marseille.
"Yoga is a non-competitive practice that sets aside performance."
CV. What obstacles typically prevent them from accessing well-being practices such as yoga?
FC. We often think primarily about the financial barrier, but it is far from being the only one! I would even say it comes last. I identify three barriers: social, physical, and financial. And the financial question arises once the first two have been addressed. The first step is the social barrier: will I feel welcomed and comfortable? This involves simple things that allow participants to be welcomed with dignity: finding an accessible place that is not sterile and luxurious (like most yoga studios), maintaining a neutral attitude towards participants (I say this because my grandmother has a disability, and I know the weight of the gazes that have been cast upon her, which eventually lead to withdrawal), remembering the participants' names, providing feedback on their progress.
The physical barrier is also important: it involves offering very simple classes in terms of postures, stretching, breathing exercises, and gentle movements. Sometimes from an external perspective, one might wonder if it's really yoga, but it doesn't matter.
CV. And what about the financial barrier?
FC. 95% of the people who practice with Nour are individuals facing precarious situations. Our goal is to have the cost of the classes covered by different entities, excluding these individuals. Approximately 400 people attend our classes each week, and 350 of them are unable to pay. I often hear debates suggesting that if a class is free, people won't commit to it. Personally, that doesn't interest me; it's not the main concern for individuals who have been so deeply affected by life. Therefore, the classes are free for them.
The cost is mostly covered by the hosting institutions, government subsidies, or private foundations. Non-precarious individuals who attend our open classes are welcome to contribute voluntarily, but we don't verify who is facing precarity. It's also possible for individuals to make donations to the association. Our main challenge is securing funding. Our goal is to be able to provide proper compensation for the teachers who lead the classes.
At the moment, the situation is relatively precarious. We pay our teachers below market rates, around 30 euros per hour. Some of our teachers have other jobs aside from yoga instruction and volunteer their time for Nour. The majority receive modest compensation.
Full-time yoga teachers find it challenging to engage with Nour because the yoga teaching profession is already so precarious. Our goal is for everyone to be able to make a decent living, both the freelance teachers and Nour's employees. This is particularly important because long-term volunteer commitments can be difficult to maintain, and it is crucial for us to have stability in our teaching staff when working with vulnerable populations.
"No toxic positivity, no closed eyes, simple sequences, dissected movements… we aim to make the class a joyful moment."
CV. Exactly, how does your approach to yoga classes differ from what is typically found in studio classes?
FC. In Paris, the traditional yoga studio, with its representation and image, becomes a barrier to welcoming more vulnerable populations, despite the offering of some cheaper classes or "inclusive" discourse. With Nour, we decided to approach it from the opposite direction: first offering classes that are adapted to more vulnerable populations, and then opening them up to people who have access to the traditional yoga offerings. It is up to them to adapt.
Teachers who want to teach at Nour undergo a test class, not only to assess their yoga teaching skills but also their ability to adapt and be welcoming. It is important for them to understand that the classes may not always be conducted in silence and that there may be coming and going. We work with professionals who have knowledge of the various populations our classes cater to, including psychologists, social workers, and physiotherapists, who help us design classes that are suitable for different audiences. We also have an internal platform for teachers to exchange ideas, discuss any challenges they may have encountered, and provide advice to one another...
Overall, our teaching is apolitical and non-religious. We avoid any potentially triggering practices: no closed eyes, not necessarily barefoot, and we respect the clothing choices of the practitioners. There is no toxic positivity, and we are mindful of the visualizations we offer, as imagery such as beaches or the sea can awaken traumas in certain individuals who may have crossed the Mediterranean, for example. The sequences are very simple, and the movements are broken down. For some people, like women who have experienced trafficking, naming specific body parts may not work, as they often dissociate from their bodies to survive what they have endured.
We also avoid being overly sentimental or displaying an unhealthy sense of compassion towards participants. On the contrary, especially for individuals who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, such as women who have experienced sexual violence or trafficking, or people in exile, we aim to create a joyful atmosphere during the classes. We maintain constant movement, avoid silence, and incorporate music.
We are not therapists or doctors, so we do not ask personal questions about the participants' experiences. If they want to share, we listen, but our role ends there.
"If we, the privileged ones, do not mobilize to give our time, who else has the opportunity to do so?"
CV. How to avoid the white savior syndrome ?
FC. I remember a meeting organized by an association that supports asylum seekers, bringing together refugees and their sponsors. Some activities, like singing in pairs, seemed infantilizing to some external participants. However, what I took from it is that by the end of the day, we had stepped out of our comfort zones. Yes, I am aware of the class differences between teachers and beneficiaries, but if those of us who are privileged do not mobilize to give our time, who else has the opportunity to do so? Of course, we are not going to revolutionize people's lives, but we can offer them a moment of respite. Additionally, in addition to the training we provide, our teachers regularly attend each other's classes, which allows for feedback if there are any concerns about how to address the participants. In reality, we have not yet encountered this issue because people who are interested in teaching with us have often already addressed these questions through other volunteer commitments.
CV. What feedback have you received on the classes you offer?
FC. Often the people we reach out to don't know what yoga is, so there's no barrier of "it's a thing from Los Angeles!" The feedback we receive from practitioners on the social impacts, beyond the "feeling good" aspect, is what deeply moves me and impresses me the most. For example, someone told us that since they started practicing, they no longer hit their children. Another person, who confided in Marwa, a social worker, said that "since doing yoga, she has become friends with people like her," referring to individuals from the Maghreb community.
It's not so much about yoga or Nour, but having spaces where we take care of ourselves, where we breathe, and where we create connections.
CV. How can our readers support your initiatives?
FC. For practitioners, the best way to support us is to participate in our pay-what-you-can public classes in Paris, Marseille, Strasbourg, and Nantes.
Teachers who want to teach for Nour are also welcome: simply join the association, pass a test class, and follow the internal training program.
Lastly, as we are still a relatively precarious organization, you can support us through donations.
"With less hatred, we could accomplish so much more together, create things that will help us survive in a world that is burning."
CV. Do you believe that yoga will change the world?
FC. I don't claim that yoga will change the world more than anything else, as yoga practitioners we are not better than others. However, it is undeniable that yoga generates so much peace, serenity, and physical and mental well-being that we can hope that by practicing it, we will cultivate less hatred. And with less hatred, we can do so much more together, come together to create things that will help us survive in a world that is burning.