In a cozy office, Lana Skrypnyk sits on her rainbow-colored mat, stretching her feet out in front of her. She leans forward with her torso parallel to her legs and hooks her fingers around the tips of her toes as she leads a small session.

She tells the room to do what feels comfortable, placing their hands on ankles or calves rather than their feet if needed. She begins to pose questions.

“Maybe asking, ‘How do you define yourself?’” she says.

Skrypnyk leads with self-reflective meditation during a Sunday-afternoon yoga session in the office of the Guilford Green Foundation in Greensboro. Though she only started yoga herself a year ago, Skrypnyk has crafted a schedule of courses throughout the Triad which focus on LGBT+ inclusion, body positivity and inner healing.

Lana Skrypnyk’s LGBT-inclusive approach to yoga aims to create a safe space. (photo by Savi Ettinger)

Wrapping a strap around her left foot, she lies down on her mat. Wisps of blonde hair fall onto her rainbow-striped eyeglasses as she uses the band to help lift her leg straight up, at an almost 90-degree angle from her hips. Skrypnyk insists on personal limits, asking her students to keep the leg lower if necessary.

Her LGBT-inclusive approach to yoga aims to create a safe space in her mini studios. Skrypnyk requests students reflect on themselves and leave outside expectations at the door.

“I believe a lot in using my experience as a queer person to connect,” she says.

In 2018, Skrypnyk became curious about yoga during a rough patch in her life. She describes her depression as being at its worst at the time, while dealing with strain on personal relationships and mental health. However, after purchasing a yoga session through Groupon, she discovered that her mind quieted for an hour when she stepped onto the mat. For Skrypnyk, yoga allows her peace of mind that could help heal her LGBT+ peers.

“A lot of us in the LGBT+ community struggle a lot with mental health and trauma,” she says.

Skrypnyk’s currently teaches in both Winston-Salem and Greensboro. She will also be teaching a class on June 28 at Athleta Fitness in Greensboro for Pride month.

Skrypnyk finds that undoing the damage done by heteronormativity, homophobia and transphobia to be equally as important as welcoming and encouraging LGBT+ individuals onto the mat in the first place.

Her school of yoga, called Off the Mat, Into the World, prioritizes social activism as a part of the training. Skrypnyk says many exercise spaces can be exclusive, forcing students to carry their closets into a place that should help them grow rather than hinder them. She’s seen firsthand how transgender people looking for a chance to work out may face judgement or dysphoria-inducing instruction.

From a plank-like pose, Skrypnyk angles one leg forward underneath her torso, using the opposite arm as a cushion for her head to rest on as she pulls her other leg up towards her rear.

“This is probably not the most comfortable shape,” she says, “but know nothing in life is permanent including discomfort.”

Lana Skrypnyk has seen firsthand how transgender people looking for a chance to work out may face judgement or dysphoria-inducing instruction. (photo by Savi Ettinger)

She holds up a yoga block with a grey, marbled pattern and places it down in front of her. As she balances her left foot onto the stabilizing cube, her left arm extends out in front. Her right leg rises behind her and she grasps it with her right hand. As she elevates in a delicate balance, struggling to keep her limbs in line, Skrypnyk reminds her students that difficulty is part of the journey.

“Maybe it’s a little wobbly, maybe it’s a little precarious,” she says. “Self love is hard, y’all.”

The lights dim as she demonstrates how to cool down, laying on her back, her palms flat on the ground at her sides. Skrypnyk then gives a final breathing instruction.

“On each inhale, begin to say, ‘I am worthy’,” she says. “And on each exhale say, ‘I am enough.’”

For more info, visit Lana’s website here, or find classes at the Guilford Green Foundation or the Holistic Commons in Greensboro, and North Star LGBTQ Center in Winston-Salem.