Friday, January 22, 2021

No Separation: Summoning the Healing Pulse of Nature to Find Ease in Dis-Ease

by Diana Margarita Hulet

It was late April 2010 in the Pacific Northwest. Pink blossoms covered Portland’s sidewalks and I was three months into teaching a 200-hour teacher training program. Early one morning, I taught the first asana practice––our focus was the posture ​Astavakrasana​, named after the sage who had been born “crooked in eight places.” That evening, I sat alone in my studio apartment and once again, reflected on the strange sensations that my body had been feeling for months: a tingling here, a numbness there, loss of balance, tremors, and an overall sense that something was off, not right, in a sense "crooked."

Panic set in, and with a fast heart rate and whirling mind, I went to the Emergency Room where I awaited test results while practicing ​pranayama​ and searching the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for guidance. The next day a neurologist confirmed my diagnosis of RRMS or Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis and I felt the ground slip away from underneath my trembling feet. The months that followed were a whirlwind of attempts to “fix the problem” from injecting myself with immune modifying therapies as I sat in front of a lit altar, calling on all the gods for support to confusion surrounding how and why I was going to continue teaching yoga, especially the physical practice.

From the very beginning of my time on the mat, I have been absorbed in the philosophical and mystical facets of the yoga tradition. Asana allowed me to experience the subtleties of the body, while meditation offered an entry point into the peaks and valleys of the mind and heart. The eight limbs folded in on themselves as I went from the external to the internal and back out into the world again. Wisdom from the Upanishads and other ancient texts shimmered with instruction on reality, impermanence, and fear of death and revealed personal insights on illness and aging. My own teachers and friends became my ground as I sought to inhabit the right balance of courage and vulnerability. However, no text or person could offer me the solace that I truly wanted. Healing, for me, comes by remembering my place amidst the reaching trees, shifting tides, and lunar cycles.

Vrksasana (Tree Pose),​ ​Matsyasana (Fish Pose)​, ​Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)––these are a few of the many postures inspired by our ecological landscape. Vedic god-forms emerged as elements such as Agni, the god of Fire, or Vayu, the god of Wind. Seeing that the forces and intimations of Nature appeared to be the very foundation of yoga, I wondered: How do I realize that I, too, exist within the rhythms of creation, not as an observer, but as a participant? Ten years after my diagnosis, my entire practice centers on this inquiry.

I have heard nature described as both compassionate and cruel. Sitting by a peaceful lake may invoke feelings of ease and calmness while watching footage of a pride of lions attacking a baby elephant can be remarkably unsettling. In either case, and everywhere in between, Nature is simply being...Nature, and it has always felt like healing comes in the form of trees whether their leaves are budding or decaying. The societal pressures of preserving youth and delaying aging and death at any cost did not hold when I was faced with an unpredictable illness. I needed to see that change was acceptable, and perhaps even celebrated.

The giant cedar tree I visit near the Salmon River has seen far more difficulties than I ever will, and the fish who run out of​ t​heir life force before making it all the way upstream lie surrendered on the riverbank. Here lies the world in its complex cycles of give and take––the cosmic exchange balanced within the passageways between living and dying. Over the past few decades, I’ve walked these paths, being both observer and participant, knowing that every day I remain wedded to those same rhythms. Gradually, I came to see that everything was alright. I was not crooked in any places, and my condition became a place of communion instead of desolation.

Poet and philosopher David Whyte suggests in his poem titled “Working Together” that, “We shape ourselves to fit this world and by the world are shaped again.” I’ve often felt permeated and overwhelmed by the troubles of our times, from social justice to climate change. Yoga practice offered me immense support for an overactive nervous system. It’s possible to bring the natural world onto our mats in order to remember what lies just beyond the front door of our homes, even as we rest our bones in ​Savasana​. An accessible entry point to these connections resides in the elements (earth, water, fire, air, space) and I’d like to offer here a few reflections that have helped me along the way. They can be incorporated into an ​asana​ practice or meditation.

Earth. Consider your feet and legs, and the ground you stand or sit upon, the people who crafted lives around the tides, animal migrations, and weather. Imagine the richness of the soil and the root systems of plants, the harvested vegetables, desert sands, and Alaskan permafrost. Then sense the earthiness of the body and the commitment of gravity. Fully inhabit your form, and breathe deeply into a sense of safety, ground, presence.

Water. Spend a few moments in silence and sense your own heartbeat and appreciate the flow of blood traveling through your veins, rivers in themselves, as another source of life. Whatever the circumstances of your experience, soften into the current that flows with obstacles rather than against them, weathering them away with time. Move like a gentle stream or rest your mind in a cool blue sea. Relax the peripheral edges and let yourself be, and be here, amidst the flux and flow of life.

Fire. The primordial and ever transformative element of fire invites you to engage in right effort in order to drop the illusion of separateness. Slow down whenever possible and observe the places where you exist in the self/other or human/nature polarities and get curious about your values, beliefs, and patterns. Challenging postures ignite a physical fire, while meditation practice builds a mental fire. Either or both will illuminate any level of practitioner. Allow your practice to change you, and meet those changes with the thirst to participate in the evolution of humanity.

Air. Each breath reminds us of the constant exchange of what lies within us and what lies beyond us. The relationship between the air element and our lungs is critical to our survival, and in the same way, balancing the exterior and interior worlds within our own hearts and the heartbeat of the planet is just as essential. With each breath in, widen the vast expanse of the ribcage and let the exhale float out like the wind.

Space. Often seen as the container for the other elements, space grants us feelings of ease, agency, and levity. When we have spaciousness in our daily routine or cultivate breath retentions in ​pranayama,​ the space element draws us behind and beyond earth, water, fire, and air into the more subtle layers of ​prana​ and vibration. Deep restful states found in practices such as yoga ​nidra​ or silent meditation provide a doorway into the quietest chamber of the heart.

My hope is that these reflections offer insight on how to remember our home within Nature and how we can be of greater support to each other and the Earth. Watching how trees drop their leaves in October then produce green buds in April informed how I cared for my changing body and anxious mind. Not only did Nature provide solace, but she also offered instruction, just like any great teacher. As a form of reciprocity, I am committed to protecting her and sharing practices that return us to the relationships put forward by the first stewards of the land.

Diana Hulet
has been steeped in the practices of yoga for over three decades and has taught yoga and yoga philosophy since 2004. Her teaching style is an ongoing synthesis of hatha and vinyasa yoga, pranayama, and meditation. Diana’s instruction will often include teachings from yoga philosophy and other contemplative traditions. While she has been influenced by many luminaries across the tradition of yoga, Diana has always seen the unpredictable and beautiful circumstances of life as her greatest teacher. Whether through the doorways of loss or illness, joy or celebration, her teaching and writing invite us into the conversation between our interior and exterior experiences. Most recently, Diana returned to college and completed her B.S. in Liberal Studies, with a focus on environmental ethics, religion, and philosophy. Her next chapter of teaching will further explore the connections between spiritual practice and our relationship with nature. For her full bio and information on upcoming classes, please visit

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Engaged Yoga – the Intersection of Yoga and Politics

by Jivana Heyman

In the aftermath of the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, there has been a groundswell of voices from around the world joining together to denounce this violent movement by White Supremacists to overthrow the U.S. government –– except in yoga. Instead, in the yoga community, there seems to be some confusion about the relationship between yoga and politics. The argument I keep hearing is that yoga is not political, and that we should keep politics out of yoga spaces.

It’s pretty clear that this perspective comes from a place of privilege. Not everyone can choose to engage in a yoga practice that is divorced from the rest of their lives. As a gay man, I can tell you that everything in my life is political. Take for example my 28-year marriage to my husband, which was only legally recognized six years ago. I know that members of other marginalized communities would agree that our very existence is political. We can’t take politics out of our lives just for the convenience of our spiritual practice, or to make our practice more palatable to other people.

If you want to see the intersection of yoga and politics, you can look to India where prime minister Modi created International Day of Yoga to push his pro-Hindu, anti-Muslim agenda. Or, we can look a little further back in history to Gandhi, and the way he used the yoga teachings as the basis for nonviolent resistance. He led a movement that overthrew the colonial British government and inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. The seeds are there, but unlike Engaged Buddhism, "Engaged Yoga" isn’t a thing. Instead, we spend our days arguing about whether yoga is political.

People who say yoga isn’t political usually base their arguments on one of two things: First, some say that yoga isn’t political because they believe the practice is mostly about fancy poses and physical attainment. I’ve spent the last twenty-five years trying to debunk that claim, and challenging the commercialization of yoga as whitewashed fitness. We know yoga offers us so much more. It can offer us nervous system regulation, peace, agency, empowerment, and of course, spiritual awakening. To me, this argument just shows a lack of understanding of the complexity of the practice.

The second argument is more insidious. It comes from a more traditional perspective, which states that yoga is not political because yoga is a completely internal practice that focuses solely on working with our own minds. This is a pretty good argument, because much of the history of yoga is about monastic ascetics who focused on transcending their limited bodies and minds to attain states of samadhi and escape rebirth. Yoga philosophy is full of teachings on this type of freedom from the limits of the natural world –– for monks.

Even today, you can find traditional practitioners in India who go to extreme lengths to overcome their body’s limitations. Yogis who hold their arms up in the air for years, or who never sit down. These ascetics, like most early yoga practitioners centuries ago, are consciously trying to separate themselves from society, which they do through an austere monastic life.

The problem with this argument is that the vast majority of contemporary yoga practitioners aren’t monks. We haven’t taken vows of celibacy, poverty, and nonattachment. We haven’t released all our worldly attachments to go live in a cave in the Himalayas. Instead, most of us –– if not all of us –– are just regular people living regular lives, having relationships with other people. Yes, we’re yoga practitioners, but we’re also parents, partners, business-owners, lawyers, construction workers, customer service representatives, grocery store clerks, reporters –– you name it.

If, like me, you’re living as a householder, that means you are engaging with society through relationships, through work, and through other aspects of an organized society. These social systems are guided by politics and the laws that firmly insert politics into our daily lives. If you’re a householder yoga practitioner, then your practice demands an additional level of social awareness. You don’t have to call it politics, but there is a way that your practice automatically becomes socially engaged because your life is. Practicing yoga is not an excuse to ignore what is happening around you. So, unless you’re a monk, you really have no excuse. 

A perfect example of this is the misinterpretation of the teaching of nonattachment, vairagya, from theYoga Sutras of Patanjali. Most people think that nonattachment means becoming a monk, or getting rid of all their personal belongings. But nonattachment is a much bigger challenge than that. It is asking us to consider our essential selfishness, and to let go of the way our ego inserts itself into almost every interaction. Nonattachment is about transcending this basic self-interest and shifting to a place of compassion and connection –– which is a reflection of the truth of spiritual connection to all other beings. Unfortunately, this idea doesn’t sell well so we don't hear much about it.

In contemporary yoga we still hear the echo of that monastic desire to leave society, and it sounds a lot like spiritual bypass. That’s the conscious, or unconscious, desire to avoid the painful parts of life. You have to admit, it is deeply ironic that we’ve taken the asceticism of our monastic past and mixed it with enough new age gobbledygook to transform it into a path that we expect to be lined only in love and light. A path so focused on our individuality that we have lost our humanity. So the question that we’re left with is this: How do we cultivate an engaged yoga practice that is both respectful to its ancient roots, and yet responsive to the reality of our sometimes confusing and often painful lives today?

Some of the people who stormed the Capitol on Janury 6th claim to be yoga practitioners –– I’ve heard of at least three teachers or studio owners who were there. Is that who we’ve become? Has yoga been so appropriated that a White Supremacist can practice without gaining any self-awareness? Sadly, this is just the next chapter in a long tale of yoga cults and indoctrination.

Why have yoga practitioners been such easy targets for brainwashing? I can’t help thinking that a denial of reality is at the basis of the problem. Yoga does ask us to reflect on the way that our own beliefs create our reality, but this doesn’t allow us to deny the shared reality that we are all experiencing –– even if it's painful. The effort to distract or distance ourselves from the pain of others is not yoga. Instead, by working on our own attachments we can develop more compassion for ourselves and for others. Rather than allowing us to bypass painful feelings, the road to oneness actually leads us to a deep well of compassion. As Krishna explains in The Bhagavad Gita, “The yogi who perceives the essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.” (Swami Satchidananda translation, 6.32)

What we’re seeing with Q-anon in the wellness world, and the recent violent uprising, is not a movement based out of love but out of selfishness. We’re seeing a group of people who are so privileged that they think they have been harmed in some way, that something has been taken away from them, when they are simply being asked to share equally with others. This is the epitome of White Supremacy and the kind of self-delusion that yoga is designed to strip away.

So let’s stop pretending that we are monks living in caves dedicating 100% of our lives to yoga. The reality is that most of us are householders who are making choices all the time regarding the way we spend our money, who we vote for, and how we talk to our friends about politics. As householder practitioners we have an extra burden of responsibility in our practice. That is the responsibility to apply the teachings in every aspect of our lives –– in our relationships, at work, and in politics.

Jivana Heyman
, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Conversations, a Blog, and an Ambassador program. He’s the creator of the Accessible Yoga Training, and the author of the book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities and out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training, and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. More info at

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Saturday, January 16, 2021

L’évolution du yoga

Par Jivana Heyman. Traduction Agathe Sowmya

This article was previously posted in English.

Une récente recherche a révélé qu’au cours de millions d’années, cinq animaux différents ont évolué séparément en crabes. Oui, vous avez bien lu, cinq types différents d’animaux ont connu leur propre évolution et se sont tous transformés en crabes. Il est étonnant de considérer que les crabes sont si efficaces et performants évolutivement parlant que différents animaux sont devenus des crabes, ou similaires à des crabes.

Cette recherche m’a fait réfléchir sur la condition humaine et notre tendance à recréer des problématiques non résolues dans notre vie personnelle––ne finissons-nous pas par épouser quelqu’un qui ressemble à l’un de nos parents, ou littéralement devenir nos parents à mesure que nous vieillissons ? Cela me rappelle aussi la tendance des civilisations à répéter l’histoire. Tout étudiant en histoire ne peut s’empêcher de voir les parallèles entre le gouvernement américain actuel et le gouvernement nazi d’avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale.

Il semble qu’un aspect inévitable de la nature humaine est que nous sommes destinés à répéter nos erreurs passées. Je me demande s’il se passe quelque chose de semblable dans le monde du yoga ? J’espère que non. L’histoire du yoga en Occident fournit trop d’exemples d’empires du yoga construits sur la manipulation et l’abus. Les exemples les plus récents sont Bikram, Ashtanga, Sivananda Vedanta et Kundalini, qui ont tous connu d’importants scandales d’abus au cours des dernières années.

Sommes-nous destinés à répéter cette histoire, ou pouvons-nous trouver une autre façon d’aller de l’avant post-COVID où nous nous engageons assez efficacement dans notre pratique pour voir à travers nos samskaras (tendances de l’esprit)? La semaine dernière, la plus grande chaîne de yoga au monde, YogaWorks, a fait faillite. « La pandémie covid-19 a créé des défis sans précédent pour notre industrie et nos activités, y compris des fermetures de studios obligatoires et des restrictions de fréquentation imposées par la distanciation sociale, même lorsque les studios ont été autorisés à rouvrir », a déclaré Brian Cooper, chef de la direction de YogaWorks. Honnêtement, c’est le moindre des dommages qui se sont produits à cause de la pandémie. Qu’en est-il du fait que presque tous les studios de yoga indépendants sont fermés en permanence, et que la plupart des professeurs de yoga n’ont plus de travail ?

La question est la suivante : la disparition du studio de yoga moderne peut-elle offrir l’occasion de construire quelque chose de nouveau à sa place, ou sommes-nous destinés à recréer les mêmes problèmes qui affligaient l’industrie avant la pandémie ? Ces problématiques comprennent le manque d’accessibilité, le racisme, les abus et l’appropriation culturelle non abordée. Ces questions découlent toutes d’un système basé sur la cupidité et les profiteurs, plutôt qu’un système construit sur les fondations des enseignements de yoga.

En d’autres termes, l’industrie du yoga est devenue une coquille creuse, servant une forme de pratique divorcée des fondements philosophiques et moraux de la chose même qu’elle était censée vendre. L’industrie du yoga est devenue un crabe – elle a pris la même forme que notre avidité et notre égoïsme recréent souvent : un système construit sur le profit et les résultats.

La chose, c’est que les enseignements du yoga sont complètement en contradiction avec le capitalisme. Vous ne pouvez littéralement pas vendre le yoga. Vous pouvez vendre les accoutrements tendance qui l’accompagne, vous pouvez vendre un type de corps qui n’a vraiment rien à voir avec, mais vous ne pouvez pas vendre le yoga. Vous pouvez vendre du temps dans une salle avec un professeur, des livres et des cours en ligne, mais le yoga est gratuit.

Alors, comment pouvons-nous mieux reconstruire ? Comment créer une communauté de yoga plutôt qu’une industrie du yoga basée sur le profit? Pour être honnête, nous ne pouvons probablement pas. On va juste construire un autre crabe. Mais, il pourrait y avoir un groupe d’entre nous qui se détache et aurait une chance d’évoluer vers autre chose ... peut-être une méduse, ou une pieuvre ? J’imagine qu’à un moment donné le yoga commercial reviendra en rugissant. Je ne pense pas que nous puissions arrêter cette évolution, mais nous n’avons pas à y contribuer.

Nous pouvons créer un autre type de communauté de yoga fondée sur l’éthique fondamentale du yoga : ahimsa et satya, non-violence (compassion) et véracité (honnêteté). Cela signifie que nous devons reconnaître le mal qui a été fait au nom du yoga, et nous engager à changer. Il ne s’agit pas de honte, mais de clarté (viveka). Je ne suggère pas que nous créions une nouvelle organisation, de nouvelles normes de formation des enseignants, ou un nouveau style de yoga. Au lieu de cela, je vous demande simplement comment vous pouvez devenir plus dévoué à la vérité du yoga dans votre vie ? (Et je me pose ces mêmes questions.) Y a-t-il un moyen de nous consacrer à la vérité du yoga, plutôt que le mensonge du marketing de yoga ? Si c’est le cas, cela commence par l’introspection, en nous posant des questions comme celles-ci:

· Qu’est-ce que le yoga signifie pour moi ?

· Ma pratique et mon enseignement reflètent-ils cette vérité ?

· Est-ce que j’intègre l’ahimsa (compassion) et la satya (honnêteté) dans ma pratique ?

· Ma pratique et mon enseignement sont-ils accessibles, activement antiracistes et abordent-ils l’appropriation culturelle ?

· Suis-je dévoué à ma propre liberté et à l’autonomisation de mes élèves ?

· Quelle est la relation entre ma libération personnelle et la libération communautaire ?

Une des choses étonnantes sur le yoga, c’est qu’il est à la fois personnel et communautaire. Le travail que je fais sur moi-même contribue à la communauté parce que je crée moins de mal dans le monde. Ma pratique me permet aussi d’être vraiment au service des autres en me montrant comment remplir mon propre puits, plutôt que de constamment regarder vers l’extérieur pour que les autres me valident ou me soutiennent. La façon dont j’enseigne a un impact encore plus grand sur le monde. Mes paroles, et les messages que je partage, peuvent conduire à la dépendance et à l’insécurité. Ou, je peux montrer aux autres la voie de l’indépendance, de l’autonomisation et de la liberté.

Tous les pratiquants de yoga doivent tenir compte de la façon dont ils pratiquent et enseignent, et de l’impact qu’ils ont sur le monde autour d’eux. Cette exploration intimement personnelle nous permet de nous rassembler dans nos cœurs, et de créer une communauté de yoga basée sur le yoga avec ses fondements moraux. Sinon, nous finirons par évoluer seulement vers des crabes.

Jivana Heyman
, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, est le fondateur et directeur d’Accessible Yoga, une organisation internationale à but non lucratif qui se consacre à accroître l’accès aux enseignements du yoga. Accessible Yoga offre des conférences, des conversations communautaires, un blog et un programme d’ambassadeurs. Il est le créateur de l’Accessible Yoga Training, et l’auteur du livre Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Jivana s’est spécialisé dans l’enseignement du yoga aux personnes handicapées et de ce travail, l’organisation Accessible Yoga a été créée pour soutenir l’éducation, la formation et la défense des intérêts avec la mission de modifier la perception publique du yoga. Plus d’infos

Ce post a été édité par Patrice Priya Wagner, rédacteur en chef du blog Accessible Yoga et membre du conseil d’administration.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Insurrection at the US Capitol from the Desi Perspective

by Anjali Rao

It's Day 4 since the White Supremacist insurrection at the Capitol and I have to share what, upon reflecting, seems to be some dangerous themes, especially in the world of Yoga and the Desi immigrant community that I am a part of and love so deeply. Many seem shocked that this happened and that the White domestic terrorists were aided actively, and have had only a few dozen arrests as opposed to an estimated 13,000 Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters. Many express outrage, disappointment, grief, and heartbreak that this happened. This is understandable. However we can’t be shocked anymore, the system was meant to protect some, not all. The system has been in place for centuries since the birth of the United States of America as a republic.

In social media, some White yoga teachers are carrying on with business as usual, posting pictures of asana and invitations to workshops, marketing their offerings of “wellness and well-being,” or selling yoga mats and clothes at discounted rates. It is business as usual for the “Yoga industry.” Not a word about the Capitol terrorism and siege that was planned openly on right wing media, not a word about what this means to their fellow BIPOC citizens who are fearful, anxious, and traumatized about how this event can impact their present and future living conditions in this country. 

There are a handful of White yoga teachers and leaders who have outright denounced this heinous act that included many neo-Nazis, and a few who have alluded to it indirectly, but many powerful yoga teachers are silent thus far. Why is there such an aversion to speaking out? What will it take for all voices to come out in solidarity against White Supremacy? How many more lives need to be lost?

Many yoga teachers don’t want to be “political” and hence the silence. This aversion to “politics” comes from the broader cultural framing of conversations around political differences, and the notion that politics is something that is very private and, hence, it would be impolite to discuss it openly. This has created a culture of silence around anything to do with policy, governance, political affiliations, and exploring how politics is personal. The policies and political leaders are chosen by us. We, in turn, are impacted by those policies. 

This pandemic has exacerbated underlying discrepancies of access to basic healthcare, food, education, and employment, impacting the BIPOC communities deeply and tragically. The discrepancies are felt personally and if we don’t cultivate spaces and leverage platforms where we can be honest and truthful (Satya, the second Yama of the 8-fold Path), vulnerable, and broken, then are we practicing Yoga fully and completely? Yoga then is relegated to a physical practice and something that we do to self soothe, merely a capitalistic endeavor with an eye on the numbers.

Some who are decrying this violent insurrection start with this sentence, "I don’t care if you voted Republican or Democrat..." Well you should care because this whole thing has been a function of Republicans (GOP) being complicit or looking the other way or excusing Trump’s racist strong arming and calling on the likes of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and Proud Boys for five years. You should care that people still voted for this President after what he said and did about Mexico and immigrants. You should care. If you don't care why people you know continued voting for a racist bigot, then it is worth your time to examine why you don’t. Because if you don’t, this cancer of White Supremacy will metastasize into something even more devastating.

Then there are those yoga practitioners who ask for compassion, in the name of Ahimsa, for those who are Trumpists because they are in denial or ignorant. Perhaps as White people or those with privilege you can afford to deny or stay ignorant. As BIPOC people who feel directly attacked by this President and his enablers, to ask this of us, is causing us harm, Himsa. A great learning that we have in this moment is that we have different realities and outcomes in this country, the Whites and the Non-Whites; it behooves us all as concerned and engaged citizens to acknowledge this difference honestly. Or this will cause us harm again.

As a part of the Desi community, many, many of my siblings have worked tirelessly to ensure this racist bigot never enters the White House again. There are also many Desis who have voted for Trump because of either selfish economic interests or internalized oppression, and we, as Desi immigrants, have to acknowledge this too or we are in dangerous denial.

This is a call to mindful action for all of us. If you are a White yoga teacher, do consider using your platforms, your voices to denounce White Supremacy now; invite and amplify BIPOC voices into your platforms; ensure that your spaces and classes include and highlight teachers and practitioners from all races, genders, and abilities. If you identify as a member of the Desi immigrant population, and have the capacity, power, privilege, and know people who have voted for this President, have those challenging conversations with them now. If you feel grief, anger, and fear, know that it is human to do so now. 

Resting and acknowledging and tending to our mental and emotional needs is also Yoga. When you are ready to do more, do more. Yoga gives us a framework, a platform, tools, and practices to regulate our nervous system, to tend to our whole being with discipline and compassion, and a big part of that is our participation in our communities. The first step is Svadhyaya, self-reflection. We all have our work to do to ensure that this never happens again.

Anjali Rao
 came to the Yoga mat at nearly 40 recovering from surgery from Breast Cancer. She studies, teaches, and writes about Yoga philosophy/ history from a socio-political perspective and is deeply interested in the intersectionality of race, culture, gender and accessibility of Yoga practices. She aims to make the practice Yoga on and off the mat accessible, helpful and joyful to people across ages, genders and abilities. She is a part of the teacher training faculty in 200 and 300 hour programs in the Bay Area and teaches Yoga for Cancer Survivorship for the Stanford Cancer Program. She serves on the Board for HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, a non-profit that helps survivors and those going through treatment regardless of financial status. She is a lifelong student of Indian Classical Dance, a sucker for puppies, loves dark chocolate, the ocean and old trees.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Racial Justice: Beyond the Book Group

Jake Angeli on Jan. 6 after storming the Capitol as part of the Trump-backed riot

by Patrice Priya Wagner

While many people are calling what happened at the US Capitol last Wednesday an insurrection, it looked to me more like a major battle in an ongoing civil war. Keeping the yogic concept of satya, non-lying, truthfulness, close to my heart, I feel the call to speak these words. The more I hear and read about the events of the attempted coup by a mob of violent White Nationalists, Q-Anon followers, and other extremists, the more the situation appears like a war.

The US is a divided country and what I thought was a range of gray tones that differentiated political opinions appears to be a stark contrast in black and white. The Trump supporters who ransacked the Capitol on January 6 carried Confederate flags and wore shirts bearing racist and anti-Semitic messages such as Welcome to Camp Auschwitz and 6MWE which means six million wasn't enough, referring to the number of Jews killed by Nazis in WWII. According to New York Times' writer Astead W. Herndon, "The most ardent portion of Mr. Trump's white base are engulfed by a toxic mix of conspiracy theories and racism."

As I see it, you either agree with the US Constitution or you don't; you either want the country to offer the same rights and privileges that you receive to citizens who may look, sound, and think differently than yourself, or you don't. There isn't a lot of wiggle room there.

Please don't think of last Wednesday's events as actions of a group of citizens exercising their constitutional rights because what transpired was illegal. Breaking and entering, vandalizing a building, and defacing public property are criminal offenses that have been on the books for many years.

As a White woman working for racial justice and social change, I could see the ugly face of White Privilege on display as I watched the events of the day unfold. Listening to a CNN news segment on TV, I felt encouraged when Brian Stelter, @reliablesources, answered a question with: "White Supremacy. What happened was because of White Supremacy." I rarely hear this truth spoken aloud on mainstream television news and nearly fell out of my chair.

Most of the members of the riot mob were White or appeared to be White; their attitude of intolerance has existed in this country for centuries, and last Wednesday it reared its ugly head for all to see. Whether the mob is deemed to be a vocal and violent fringe group or a sizable element of the political spectrum, it's time to deal with the prejudice, White Supremacy, and White Privilege that has been built into the infrastructure of our society allowing something like the riot to occur.

President-elect Biden made a public statement that day saying, "The scenes of chaos in the Capitol do not reflect a true America, do not represent who we are." While I appreciate Biden's attempt to bring calm to a chaotic situation, I agree with some civil rights leaders who, according to Astead W. Herndon said, "took away the opposite message, that it was time to recognize the scope of the challenges facing the country" in addressing racial injustice.

Herndon continued with, "Rashad Robinson, the president of the civil rights group Color of Change, said the incoming Democratic administration should make racial justice a governing priority, not just an idea to pay lip service to on the trail... He added: We don't get racial justice out of a true democracy. We get true democracy out of racial justice."

When Trump posted a video after the riot, speaking to his supporters and others, I was chilled by his sentence near the end: "Our incredible journey is only just beginning." Trump and his supporters won't quietly slip away but are here to stay. Just because some of them will face legal repercussions for their actions, they'll continue to act reprehensibly.

I won't be silent and inactive at this juncture because that would make me complicit with them. I'll be reviewing lessons from Beyond the Book Group that taught me how to effectively converse with someone who holds racist views. The four-week online program, being offered again in a few weeks, gave me the tools to engage in conversation with someone who doesn't believe in the importance of Black Lives Matter or just doesn't care about BLM.

Amber Karnes, Accessible Yoga board president, provided in her recent post about the insurrection a list of suggestions on how to get involved in racial justice.

We'll see what additional opportunities for service arise in the coming days and weeks––there's so much work to be done and it's high time we roll up our sleeves and get to it.

This post was written by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Trauma Informed Yoga is People Informed Yoga

Hala Khouri

by Hala Khouri and Laura Sharkey


“Trauma informed” and “trauma sensitive” yoga trainings are getting more and more popular these days as research is showing the benefits of yoga for those struggling with trauma symptoms. Yet being trauma informed is not just necessary when teaching people who have trauma symptoms, it is important for everyone. Everyone has experienced some sort of trauma, big or small, as well as general stress, and both can impact our ability to self-regulate (to feel safe, grounded, and present).


The yoga postures offer a unique opportunity to both strengthen the muscles and stretch areas that carry tension. This combination, along with an emphasis on breathing and mindfulness, is why yoga is often called a “mind/body” practice––it can get us in touch with our sensations and emotions. This is different from other workouts that don’t emphasize body awareness.

Stillness is not a regular part of the average person’s life. When we step onto the yoga mat and move and breathe consciously, we can get in touch with emotions or sensations that are uncomfortable and that we’ve managed to avoid. For people with complex trauma or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), this discomfort can be overwhelming and even re-traumatizing.

Yoga has been found to have a beneficial effect for people struggling with trauma symptoms. Margaret Howard’s article in the Huffington Post, Why Trauma Training Should be Mandatory for All Yoga Teachers, is an important one. She argues that not only are we likely to have people with major trauma in our general yoga classes, but that we will also likely encounter “people who have been in car accidents, witnessed violence, been affected by national tragedy, or served or treated traumatized persons in helper roles such as medical and social workers, psychotherapists, crisis line workers, juvenile court personnel, victim advocates, police, EMS, and even parents whose children have been through traumatic events. Indeed, even the loss of a loved one can cause traumatic grief, which is different than ordinary grief.”
When a yoga teacher understands that students walk into class carrying lots of different experiences in their body and hearts, and that during class the students may connect with parts of their body and psyche that have been shut off, she/he will treat them differently if she/he sees them struggle or get distracted. She/he has an opportunity to normalize how uncomfortable it can be, and offer techniques to work with that discomfort.

A trauma informed perspective asks us to come at our students with compassion and curiosity rather than judgement or pressure. This perspective isn’t afraid of discomfort, and doesn’t ask everyone to be happy all the time (one of my pet peeves is the instruction to smile during a pose).

Here’s an example:

Celine had a very sick child at home. He was on a respirator and needed medical attention 24/7. One day she finally makes the effort to get to yoga. She’s constantly nervous that there will be an emergency, so she keeps her phone discreetly by her mat just in case. She knows this will be the only way she can get through class without getting up to check it. When the teacher sees the phone, she comes over and tells Celine, in a critical tone, that phones are not allowed and that she must put it away because phones are simply a distraction. Celine is terribly embarrassed and ashamed. She doesn’t have the courage to speak up to the teacher, so she quietly leaves class.

A trauma informed approach might have looked more like this: “Excuse me, I see that you have your phone with you. We don’t normally allow that. Is there something going on that makes it necessary for you to have your phone?”

Being trauma informed doesn’t mean we assume everyone is broken or hurt, we just err on the side of caution so as to not create shame, pressure, or pain unnecessarily as we take people into vulnerable territory. Just like we are taught to offer safe physical alignment to everyone, not just those with injuries, being trauma informed is a safety protocol that we should offer all students.
Whether someone is suffering from full blown Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or simply feeling stressed because they have a lot going on, they will benefit from a teacher who understands that human beings are complex, and that part of healing means feeling safe to go into the un-investigated parts of ourselves with courage and compassion so that we can shine a light on the areas we’ve been too afraid to acknowledge. A trauma informed teacher will first assume that a student has a perfectly good reason to do what they are doing whether they have their phone out, are resting, look distracted, or don’t want to use a strap.

Here are some guidelines for teachers wanting to be trauma informed in a general class:
  1. Assume people are doing the best they can. Approach them with curiosity and kindness.
  2. Take responsibility for your own triggers and reactions. Don’t come at a student if you are having a big reaction to them.
  3. Remember that it is not your job to fix anyone. Your job is to do your best to create a safe environment for students to move through what they need to at their own pace.
  4. Let go of your agenda. Some people may find peace through their practice, but others may connect with sadness, grief, or anger. Don’t make them feel wrong for feeling bad. Rather invite them to be compassionate.
  5. Know your scope of practice. If someone is in severe distress, refer them to a good therapist for help.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. For more information on being trauma informed check out the article 12 Simple Ways to Make Your Class More Trauma Informed in Elephant Journal.

Hala Khouri, M.A., SEP, E-RYT, has been teaching yoga and movement for over 25 years and has been doing clinical work and trainings for 15 years. Originally from Beirut, Lebanon, she has dedicated her life to the study of trauma, justice and building resilience. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from Columbia University and an M.A. in Counseling Psychology and an M.A. in Community Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Hala is trained in Somatic Experiencing, a body-based psychotherapy that helps resolve trauma and its symptoms. Hala is a co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World, a training organization that bridges yoga and activism within a social justice framework. She leads trauma informed yoga trainings nationally. Hala also works with A Thousand Joys training direct service providers and educators to be trauma informed and culturally responsive.  She leads a monthly, online membership program called Radical Wellbeing. Her first book, “Peace from Anxiety: Get Grounded, Build Resilience and Stay Connected Amidst the Chaos,” comes out in April 2021.

Laura Sharkey left the corporate world in 2011 for health-related reasons and used the challenge of chronic illness as an opportunity to shift their focus to their life-long interest in social justice. They teach meditation and have participated in several of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s campaigns, including a spotlight in YBIC and Yoga International's ""This is What a Yogi Looks Like"" series  and Mantra Yoga + Health's ""Every Body is a Yoga Body"" feature.   They are passionate about working to make yoga and meditation more accessible and welcoming to everyone, with a special focus on dis/ability and neurodiversity.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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This article first appeared in Accessible Yoga's Journal for the Conference Online in October 2020.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

How Can Yoga Help You Today?

by Nina Zolotow

We’re all going through this pandemic together, but, if you think about it, our individual circumstances still vary widely. Some of us are sheltering in place while others are working hard at essential jobs. And among those sheltering in place, some of us are alone, some are with just one person, and some are in a busy household with multiple people. So how yoga can help you right now is going to depend on the current circumstances of your life. For example, do you need a moment of quiet? Or are you feeling discouraged and sluggish from being alone all the time? Maybe you’re sitting all day and feel like you need to move. Or maybe part of your body aches from the work you’re doing, whether out in the world or at home?

And while it’s safe to say we’re all stressed out, how we experience stress also varies from person to person. Some people feel anxious, some feel angry, and some feel depressed. Others experience stress in very physical ways, such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, or even breaking out in hives. So how yoga can help you right now is also going to depend on the way you are personally experiencing stress right now.

There was a time in my life, back—in the nineties—when I was super stressed out. (I was working full-time at a computer software startup company that was trying to finish the Beta version of the product while co-parenting two children with my husband, who also had a high-stress full-time job.) I was actually doing yoga at the time—two days a week in a class in my office building. And when I was feeling the most stressed out and had terrible insomnia, I did try practicing some yoga at home because I heard that “yoga can help.” But the problem was—I can see that now in retrospect—I was just doing things we did in my classes, such as standing poses and Sun Salutations, without understanding how they were affecting me. Since these are energizing practices, they definitely weren’t helping to calm me down!

Since then I’ve learned so much about how different yoga poses and practices affect me, and when I’m feeling stressed or having some kind of physical problem, rather than just doing any old yoga sequence as I did back then, I start by asking myself: How can yoga help me today? Then, when I identify the kind of help from yoga that I need, I’m able to come up with a practice that will provide that help.

So, when you’re ready to do some yoga, even just a pose or two, I suggest that you start with the same basic question: How can yoga help me today?

Here are few things you might consider:
  • Do I need to escape from the family/housemates for some quiet time?
  • Do I need energizing and/or uplifting?
  • Do I need cooling down?
  • Do I feel scattered, distracted, or unfocused?
  • Do I need to reduce stress with quieting practices?
  • Do I need to move my body and release some energy?

Is there a physical ache, such as back pain, neck pain, leg pain from standing, that yoga might be able to help with? Then, after identifying what’s going on with you on a given day, try to figure out, which poses, sequences, or practices have helped you in the past with these types of issues. Without being prescriptive about it (you need to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t—see If It's Not Working For You, It's Not Working For You), here are some ideas:
  • Escaping from the family/housemates for quiet time: Try going somewhere by yourself, shut the door (and ask someone to watch the kids for a bit if needed), and do a favorite calming yoga pose or two, meditate, or do a calming breath practices—or combine those.
  • Energizing and/or uplifting: Try practicing back-bending poses, either passive or active, and/or moving in and out of poses with your breath (Sun Salutations and other vinyasas). End with a relaxing pose or practice so you don’t over-stimulate yourself.
  • Cooling down: Try practice forward-bending poses and/or supported inverted poses. 
  • Focusing: Try practice balancing pose or any kind (wide-legged standing poses count), chair yoga poses where your legs are active and feet are pressing into the ground, a concentration meditation (yogic style meditation where you focus on your breath, an image, a mantra, etc.), or a concentration breath practice, such as Alternate Nostril Breath, that takes a lot of mental focus. End with a relaxing pose or practice.
  • Reducing stress with quieting practices: Try practicing classic stress management techniques of your choice (see LINK for a large selection).
  • Moving your body and releasing some energy: Try practicing standing poses, moving with your breath (Sun Salutations), and/or twisting poses. End with a relaxing pose or practice so you don’t over-stimulate yourself.
  • Physical aches, such as back pain from sitting, neck pain, leg pain from standing: Try gentle movement and/or gentle stretches in the area where you’re experiencing the discomfort. For back pain in particular, some people find backbends help but others find twists or forward bends helpful, so you’ll need to experiment to find what works for you if you don’t already know. End with a relaxing pose or practice because relaxation can also help with pain.

The ability to identify how yoga can help you and then practice what’s right for you on a given day is one of the great gifts of home practice! And many say that this process of taking time to study yourself and exploring how various practices effect you—and help you—provides a deeper way to experience yoga than just taking classes. As Timothy McCall wrote in his book Yoga As Medicine:

"If you are taking yoga classes but not practicing at home, you may be missing the best—and potentially most therapeutic—part of yoga. Your personal practice is where the deepest work happens, when you go inward and go at your own pace."

Of course, if you’re feeling lonely, isolated, or disconnected and taking a class (in whatever form) feels like the best option for you today, then that’s the best option for you today!

Nina Zolotow
is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Accessible Yoga Blog, and
 current Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging. Nina is also the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.

This article was originally posted on 4/10/2020 as part of the Blog's Home Practice Series.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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