Transport yourself back into a middle school gym class. From the dreaded presidential fitness test to the awkward-length gym shorts, you can probably think of a few reasons why you’d prefer not to relive those moments.

For Bobby Rodriguez, yoga instructor and Nike Well Collective trainer, this culture of physical education took the joy out of movement (read: a locker room full of cruel pubescent boys definitely did not feel like a safe space to a budding gay kid)—and it would be years before he was able to shift his relationship with exercise back into a positive one.

Years later, despite his persistent misgivings surrounding movement, Rodriguez signed up for a yoga class at the advice of his mother, in hopes of finding relief from the anxieties that were weighing heavily on him at the time. Although he left humbled by people in the class who were more advanced than him (we’ve all been there), he also experienced a sense of peace that he’d never felt before—one where he befriended his body, one where he felt safe.

“My body, my breath, and my mind felt a relief I had no physical reference to up until that point in my life,” Rodriguez says. In the 15 years and over 500 hours of yoga teacher training that followed, he has experienced firsthand the healing that can come from movement and the joy of finding a like-minded community—and now he’s able to help others experience that feeling of deep-seeded safety and belonging. Keep reading for more of his advice on how to find a practice that could serve as a safe space for you.

1. Reflect on what “safe space” means to you

Safe space doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all definition. While you might define it as a feeling, someone else might describe it as a physical location, which is why Rodriguez recommends taking a step back to reflect on what those words really mean to you before you go seeking out yours. The important part is finding the place, people, or practice where you feel most like yourself.

“Many of us have the good fortune of feeling at ease and safe at home, and for others their place of residence can feel like anything but home,” Rodriguez says. “For those who do not feel safe at home, in their work environment, at school, or within the context of the dominant culture they live in, finding a place where you can experience the safety to be yourself without fear of reproach, being ostracized, or subject to violence is a lifeline. The weekly yoga class, the knitting circle at a friend’s house, the dance class, can all be a place for someone without other resources to develop a home they may not have elsewhere.”

2. Discover a practice you love

FYI: Your chosen practice doesn’t have to involve movement—it should just be something you enjoy doing with a community, whether that be crafting, discussing literature, baking, or anything in between. Take chances, put yourself out there, and sniff out the things that bring you joy—it may end up coming from an unexpected place. For Rodriguez, it was his mom who proposed he try yoga. Without her suggestion, he would’ve never experienced the sense of belonging his yogi community has provided.

“When I found yoga, I was finally given a container in which to develop a relationship with my body that did not feel punishing,” he says. “I don’t think teenage Bobby could have imagined that one day, movement and the potential for stillness would allow me to not only heal, but to find an expression and tool for the joy and vibrancy of my life.”

3. Surround yourself with support

At the end of the day, finding a safe community space comes down to the support within it. It should be a place where you feel at ease enough to take off your everyday mask, Rodriguez says. “The teachers, students, and fellows I have made in and around my yoga studies have gleaned me from a community of people that have fostered so much support and generosity,” Rodriguez says. “It truly has given me a felt sense that there is room for everybody and that we all have something different to offer.”

Support doesn’t just come from the people around you, though—it also means support from within, and when you need that extra boost of confidence, you reach for your favorite outfit. Rodriguez has found this additional gusto from his coziest, slickest Nike staples that keep him stylish in and out of the studio (aka they’re way better than those middle school gym class outfits). What’re you waiting for? Get out there and find your community—and grab some of Rodriguez’s Nike favorites below to wear to your first gathering.

Shop Rodriguez’s Go-Tos

Source: Well and Good

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