Shannon Kaneshige, better known to their loving online community as @fringeish, is one of my favourite yoga teachers.
The reasons? They have a great capacity for being gentle but encouraging; they’re a rare combo of decidedly “not peppy,” while also not suffering from a bad case of “yoga voice”; and I leave their classes feeling relaxed, refreshed and more deeply connected to myself, without a side dose of “I feel superior/inferior because I was/wasn’t able to do those poses.”
On their website, Shannon writes, “I am a non-binary fat yoga practitioner and a registered yoga teacher helping others use the practice to connect with their bodies and learn to take up space both on and off the mat.” (Taking up space is one of my favourite practices to teach and learn, so you can see why I’m a fan.)
I got to ask Shannon a few questions this week about life, body liberation and being a fat yoga teacher. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
School of Bitchcraft: What informs your philosophy of teaching yoga?
Shannon: My teaching philosophy is closely tied to social justice and liberation. My background is in sociology. During grad school, I focused on critical white studies (privilege, power and race), and have worked in non-profits most of my life. Once you develop that lens, it informs your world view, and I view teaching yoga as an extension of that.
I try my best to help folx feel empowered wherever they are along their journey to liberation. Yoga is an incredible practice for reconnection and healing, which I really feel is a path to liberation.
I generally plan my classes around accessibility, not just in terms of variation, but that folx realize that this is a casual non-judgmental space. My teaching style is informal and heavily experience-based: you are the expert on your body.
SOB: I curious to know about your path to yoga. I gather that you are a newer instructor.
Shannon: I recently started teaching yoga in January of 2020. I have practiced on and off since I was six and would watch Lilas on PBS with my mom. I read yoga books and—I’m dating myself here—watched VHS and DVDs. I’d put it down for a while, but was always called back to it.
I never really felt like a “yoga person” because I hadn’t practiced in a studio and didn’t look like the folx on my DVDs.
It wasn’t until I met a fat yoga instructor, Shanèl Dear, that I really felt I had a practice. I realized that I wanted to help others feel as empowered as Shanèl helped me feel and decided to go to yoga teacher training (YTT).
SOB: One of the things I love most about what you’re doing on Instagram is eating on what you call “Fat Tuesdays.” As a viewer, I feel so much vicarious joy at you engaging in this very simple act of resistance and badassery. Yet my mind is simultaneously being blown that this is an act of resistance at all. How do you hold the tension of defiance and vulnerability there? Or are you just…eating?
Shannon: I began posting the videos because I was inspired by Chief Ladybird on Instagram, who used it as a way to reclaim sensuality. As someone who is superfat, I remember thinking that just eating in public was an act of defiance and a way to reclaim joy. I can’t count the number of times I have innocently been enjoying an ice cream cone and gotten comments or been straight up bullied by strangers irl (in real life). I was terrified of the trolls the first few times I posted, but over time have really just come to see it as…eating. I have been pretty overwhelmed by the positive response, especially from the fat and eat disorder communities.
It is kind of mindblowing that fat folx visibly enjoying ANYTHING is a real act of rebellion.
SOB: You are non-binary, so from your POV right now, is there much room in body positive /body liberation /fat liberation spaces for non-binary folks? How well are our communities doing with non-binary representation and inclusion?
Shannon: I feel like the fat lib, body lib, and body autonomy movements are much more inclusive than body positivity (“bopo”). The default in bopo is very much white cisgender woman at the moment, regardless of the history of the movement. I think there is a lot of selection bias at play. Bopo has become really trendy and is kind of a gateway to fat/body lib for a lot of folx, but some people are really there for the puppies, unicorns, and rainbows of spiritual bypassing.
I think once folx cross over into any of the liberation movements they have really begun to question the norms of society and probably started to see how social constructs like gender create violence.
There is a real desire to be inclusive within these movements, because it is just the right thing to do. I am 40 and there certainly is more representation than when I was younger and didn’t even have language for what I felt, but there is still a feeling of not quite being seen in a lot of spaces.
SOB: You seem both private yet honest about your son being a paediatric cancer survivor. How does your experience of being an “onco-parent” (I’d never heard that phrase before!) inform your yoga practice?
Shannon: I definitely feel yoga has helped me process my fear and grief. We spend a lot of time fearing discomfort and yoga is all about sitting in it in the moment.
I think that is the real gift yoga has given me—a way to sit with all the stuff that I would otherwise be pushing down and running from. The only way out is through.
Not that I don’t have times when I just cannot process the overwhelm or fear, but I have a framework. Yoga has allowed me to rebuild my mind-body connection so I can recognize when I am avoiding, so that when I have to spoons, I can revisit and do the work. I also have realized that I need to be able to model dealing with scary things in a healthy way for my son, especially as he gets older and has to process what being a survivor means.
SOB: Finally, did you make a conscious decision not to talk in that droning yoga-voice during your classes, or is the way you talk just the way you talk?
Shannon: I have always had what most would call a monotone voice. Some find it calming, others boring. Overall it is just the way I talk. I slow it down a bit for meditations, because I have a natural tendency to rush and don’t want to rob folx of a nice, long meditation.
Photo of Shannon from Shannon’s website. You can find Shannon in the following places: