Monday, December 31, 2018

Self-Massage

by Jivana Heyman

Because I’ve been teaching chair and bed yoga for many years, I’ve learned that people who practice this way can miss out on some of the “massage” benefits of the classic poses. So today I’m going to share my techniques for providing these benefits through self-massage for those who are only practicing chair and/or bed yoga. But these techniques may also be very helpful for everyone for those times where we have to stay in chairs for long periods of times, such as in an airplane, train, office, or waiting room or when we are resting in bed due to illness or fatigue. Enjoy! 

You can massage your body gently using your own hands, unless this is painful because of arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. If using the hands is painful, you can use a tennis ball or foam roller for self-massage. 

Neck Squeeze 
Interlace the fingers behind the head. Use the thumbs to gently massage into the base of the skull. 

Shoulder Rub 
Massage one shoulder with the opposite hand. Repeat on the opposite side. 

Lymphatic Massage 
Gently stroke the arms and legs towards the trunk in the direction of the heart to stimulate the lymphatic drainage. Lymph is the fluid of the immune system, and it relies on diaphragmatic breathing and movement to flow through the body. 

Abdominal Massage 
 
Massage the abdomen up on the right side, across the middle, and down on the left. If you’re looking at your abdomen, this is a clockwise motion. You can use the heel of your hand, with your other hand on top for added pressure. Keep the breath relaxed and begin gently. If it’s comfortable, you can press a little harder. Abdominal massage is an essential part of asana practice because of the importance of digestive health. In particular, it can help with bloating or constipation by stimulating peristalsis in the large intestine.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Monday, December 24, 2018

On Holiday This Week

Wassily Kandinsky, Color Study, 1913
Accessible Yoga Blog will be on holiday for a week, starting December 24, 2018. We'll return with a new post on Monday, December 31.

We're also pleased to announce that starting in 2019, Accessible Yoga's Director, Jivana Heyman, and Ram Rao, PhD will be writing on a regular basis for the blog.
  
We look forward to continuing to present informative and thought-provoking blog posts in the New Year! Wishing you Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

—Priya


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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Featured Photo: Wall Version of Locust Pose


We just love this beautiful photo by Sarit Z Rogers, which shows a simple and very accessible version of Locust pose. It's good for people who can't get up and down from the floor, for people who can't lie prone (face down), or for those who want the support of the wall for any reason. The support will also help you stay in the pose for longer holds that the classic version. In this pose, you stand a few inches in front of a wall, place your fingertips on the wall, and move into a gentle backbend. Standing further from the wall will create a deeper backbend.


This post was written by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Interview with Asya Haikin on Yoga for Traumatic Brain Injury

Accessible Yoga Blog: Where do you teach yoga and how would you describe your population of students?

Asya: I teach yoga in Falls Church, Virginia, for those with traumatic brain injury through a program developed by the LoveYourBrain Foundation. LoveYourBrain was started by an Olympic snowboarder, Kevin Pearce, who suffered a near-fatal brain injury while training for the 2010 winter Olympics. He discovered yoga during his healing process, so LoveYourBrain developed an evidence-informed yoga protocol with the needs of the brain injury community in mind. LoveYourBrain Foundation trains teachers and sponsors classes in the community. The student population is very diverse, from those who’ve had a concussion while playing sports to survivors of major car crashes with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Caregivers are also welcome in the class. This is important because they often need support just as much as the family member they are taking care of.

Accessible Yoga BlogPlease describe your teaching and explain how it benefits your students? If you have an unconventional way of instructing or working with students, you may want to elaborate on that.

Asya: When teaching students with TBI, maintaining a quiet environment with soft lighting is very important. You want them not to feel overwhelmed and to be able to focus on the instructions. The sequence I teach is consistent from week to week, instructions are straightforward, and transitions are slow since dizziness is often an issue post-TBI.

At the same time, some students may be able to transition into a regular class as recovery continues and they become more comfortable with yoga. My goal is to teach all the elements of yoga they might encounter in a regular class with the variations they'll need to use. We have props, such as blocks and chairs, and practice modified poses, such as only going down half-way in a forward bend. They also know that it’s okay to pause at any moment during the class.

An important part of the LoveYourBrain yoga program is building community. For this reason, each LoveYourBrain class ends with a twenty-minute discussion. Students have told me that they find this to be the most valuable part of the class. The effort that people who take accessible yoga are making just to get out of the house and arrive in our classes can often be great, so I feel I should make it worth their effort and offer as much as we can. When I am teaching a ninety-minute yoga class for students with TBI, asana takes up just about half of the class time, the rest is guided relaxation and discussion time. So if you, too, are teaching a special population, making community-building part of the class makes so much sense.


Accessible Yoga Blog: Please share with us a teaching experience that resonates for you--for example, when a student understood something for the first time, when an unexpected event happened in class that turned out to be helpful, or some other noteworthy experience.

Asya: As teachers, we often feel that we are saying the same things over and over again. But, as an observant student, I know that no matter how many times I hear something, I may not have a full understanding of what the teacher is trying to communicate until I am ready to receive that information. Sometimes years later I'll realize the full meaning of a cue my teacher used to regularly repeat in class, or the full significance of a concept she was trying to teach.

I was very moved one day when a student showed me a collage that she made, inspired by some of the breathing instructions I regularly give in class. The image showed a woman standing in an archway, ready to step out of an enclosed garden. It was called “The Pause Between the Exhale and the Inhale.” The beauty of yoga is that it offers us inspiration on every level, and heals the body and the soul.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What made you interested in teaching this demographic of yoga student? (If you also teach “mainstream” yoga, you may want to say how the two modes differ or are similar.)

Asya: It can be very easy to find a yoga class, but if you are not your average young and fit practitioner you may often feel that those classes aren’t really for you. My interest in yoga has always had a therapeutic focus. I discovered yoga in the late 1990s, and the first yoga book I read was Yoga For Common Ailments by Dr. Robin Monro, Dr. R. Nagarathna, and Dr. Nagendra. I was looking for stress relief from graduate school, and for relief from back and neck pain resulting from scoliosis. The yoga landscape in this country has changed greatly since the 1990s, but we are now coming back full circle to the therapeutic understanding of yoga. Teaching accessible yoga brings the benefits of yoga to those who need it the most, and I find this kind of teaching most fulfilling.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What would you like to introduce into your teaching that might further benefit your students? (This could be from a training you’ve taken or an idea for the future that is on your wish-list.)

Asya: I love using Yoga Nidra with my students. I believe it especially benefits those living with a chronic condition, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or chronic pain. There are many great programs that teach Yoga Nidra techniques and I’d like to dive deeper into it and, perhaps, take a specialized training next year.  


Asya Haikin, MA, C-IAYT is a yoga therapist in Falls Church, VA. Her mission is to make yoga safe and accessible and to raise awareness about the benefits of yoga therapy. You can connect with her at www.peacefulmindyogatherapy.com.



This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Featured Video: Baxter Bell's Chair Version of Marichyasana 3

We've seen lots of twists done in chairs but never this one before! Baxter says this version is more for those who cannot get down to the floor easily, those with very tight hamstrings which make maintaining a neutral spine while sitting on the floor difficult, or those who might want a twist they can do in a chair anywhere.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Interview with Seth Powell, Part 4: Modern Misconceptions about Early Yoga

Yogi in Headstand, Bahr al-hayat Sufi yoga treatise, India,
Watercolor on Paper, 1600-04, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
Priya: Regarding access to yoga practice throughout India’s history, or more recently in the West, what misconception would you most like to see teachers revise for their students, and why

Seth: The first big misconception that still needs to be addressed is the notion that there is one single, unchanging, “original” or “authentic” yoga tradition that existed in premodern India, and that we have now somehow lost, corrupted, or altered in western modernity. The history of yoga is far more complex, and far more interesting, than narratives of singular static essences, which today tend to prop up fundamentalist views of “my yoga is holier than yours.” The vast history of yoga reveals, rather, that yoga has always been incredibly diverse, pluralistic, and multifaceted. While yoga has played a very important role within Hindu traditions (e.g., Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism), it has never been limited only to what we think of today as Hinduism. There is Buddhist yoga, Jain yoga, Islamic Sufi yoga, and more—all prior to the colonial period.

Loosening our grips from the monolithic notion that there is only one single authentic yoga tradition, can in turn soften the notion that there is then only one correct way to engage in yoga practice—or what scholars refer to as the “orthopraxy” of modern yoga. However, on the flip side, I don’t think we should take this position to the extreme of cultural relativism to suggest that yoga can simply mean whatever we want it to. Historically, at least, yoga was always defined and understood in very particular ways—within very specific cultural, religious, and philosophical milieus—even if different texts and traditions disagreed over those meanings.
The tension and balance between tradition and innovation is a common theme that runs throughout the yogic literature of the past two thousand years.

It is also really important to understand the ways in which yoga and physical yoga practice have dramatically changed in the modern period, as India and yoga came into contact with the global discourses of western science and physical culture movements, as Dr. Mark Singleton has so importantly elucidated in Yoga Body (2010). The birth of what some today refer to as modern postural yoga was a synthesis of older forms of Indian yoga, reconfigured within new political, colonial, spiritual, and physical cultural contexts.

When Indian yoga gurus like Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, or the disciples of Swami Sivananda and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, first brought their yoga to Europe and North America at the end of the nineteenth and throughout the early twentieth century, they were yoga missionaries of sorts. Part of their mission was to bring yoga to the masses. Each in their own ways, the early waves of Indian gurus sought to make their yoga “accessible”—to new audiences, cultures, languages, minds, and bodies. In so doing, and like any cultural idea or practice, yoga changed as it moved across space and time.

One of the most striking differences between premodern and modern yoga, is the changing demographic of the yoga practitioner. Whereas the premodern yogi was predominantly male, celibate, and ascetic, on the fringes of mainstream Indian society, today the modern global yoga practitioner is predominantly female, middle class, highly educated, householder, and practices yoga in urban studios and centers within the nexus of a multi-billion dollar health and wellness industry.


2017 Accessible Yoga Conference, New York
Photo by Darshan Nohner
We can see this today in the west, but also in India, where there is a resurgence of interest in yoga, fueled by the current Indian government. Perhaps more than ever before in India today, yoga is becoming a mainstream householder activity, with yoga studios, gyms, and camps cropping up all over the country.

I think it is important to reflect more seriously on this changing public demographic, and to consider how yoga practice might be transforming today to fit the ever-evolving needs and expectations of the modern yogi, or in this case, the yogini.

Further Reading:


Birch, Jason. 2018. “The Proliferation of Āsana in Late Mediaeval Yoga Traditions.” In Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas, and Karin Preisendanz, 97-171. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.


Diamond, Debra, ed. 2013. Yoga: The Art of Transformation. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.


Jones, Jamal Andre. 2018. “A Poetics of Power in Andhra, 1323-1450 CE.” Ph.D. dissertation—University of Chicago.


Mallinson, James. 2011. “Haṭha Yoga.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism 3: 770–81.


Dattatreyayogaśāstra. Mallinson, James, ed.and trans. 2013. Draft translation.

Powell, Seth. 2017. “Advice on Āsana in the Śivayogapradīpikā.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.


Powell, Seth. 2018. “The Ancient Yoga Strap: A Brief History of the Yogapaṭṭa.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.


2018. “Etched in Stone: Sixteenth-century Visual and Material Evidence of Śaiva Ascetics and Yogis in Complex Non-seated Āsanas at Vijayanagara.” Journal of Yoga Studies (1): 45-106.


Singleton, Mark. 2010. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Seth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions, and is the founder of Yogic Studies. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University, where he is writing his dissertation on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern yoga traditions. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA). He has taught and lectured for numerous university courses on the religions and literature of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga traditions, and presents his research regularly at international conferences. Seth conducts online courses and teaches regularly on the history and philosophy of yoga at studios, teacher trainings, and universities around the country. You can find him online at www.yogicstudies.com.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Featured Photo: Level 5 is Learning to Levitate



This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.


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Monday, December 3, 2018

Bed-Bound Yoga

by Cherie Hotchkiss
Have you ever been bed bound? Truly bed bound? I mean, barely able or not able to move your body? Perhaps you can relate to a time you experienced a severe case of influenza or broke a limb that required a hospital stay with the limb in a traction swing. Perhaps you know exactly what I mean. My definition of “bed bound” is “not able to physically get out of bed on your own or it takes a day’s worth of energy to drag yourself to the bathroom and back to bed.”

I myself recently experienced yet another episode of being bed bound. I’ve been managing a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years, just a bit less than I’ve been a certified yoga instructor. Last year I switched the disease modifying drug I was on for over five years because I could no longer endure the debilitating side effects of the every 4-week infusion schedule. This new drug is only given two times a year! However, the side effects, for me, are still debilitating, but in a different way and last an entire month. I felt like I was hit by a truck, which in turn dropped a dead elephant on top of my body—kind of like a really bad flu. The fatigue is overwhelming.

Now Y.O.G.A.: Where to start, when you don’t know where to start? Every BODY can ‘do’ yoga. Most people just don’t believe they can, for any number of reasons, even though they have heard of the many documented benefits. Yoga is a practice, not a destination. What you experience one day or one hour, may be completely different the next. It may even change moment to moment.

Yoga is definitely available to me on my ‘good’ days. Yoga is also accessible on my worst days. Observing my body, mind and spirit without judgment can be challenging. When I allow myself that experience, though, I know I tend to feel better, even if it is temporary. So, I am offering the following yoga instruction to every BODY, whether you are bed bound or not.

When I am bed bound, there is always one asana or physical yoga pose that is available to me or any BODY: Savasana, usually the final relaxation at the end of a yoga practice. Here are some instructions:

1. Lying on your back, or however you must arrange your body to be as comfortable as possible, become aware of the alignment of your physical structure. Living in an uncomfortable or painful body is the last place anyone wants to be. I am asking you to gently observe your body. I am also asking you not to judge these observations, just notice them.

2. If movement is unavailable to you, please try to visualize and imagine your body moving.

3. Observe your feet. Are they warm or cold? Are you able to feel them? Are you able to move them? Which parts of your feet are touching the bed or the sheet? Are there socks, shoes, or even a boot touching your foot/feet? If it is available to you or someone can assist you, move your feet hip-distance apart. Lengthen through your calves by extending your heels away from you. Now relax your feet. Notice if they stay in that position or perhaps fall out to each side. Notice how they feel now.

4. Observe your ankles, calves, shins, and your knees (the front, sides and even the space behind your knees). Try to lift your knees. Notice your heels pressing down and the muscles you engage in your legs with even the slightest effort. A pillow or bolster placed under your knees may feel good and relieve tension in your low back.

5. Next, observe your pelvis. Notice if you are holding any tension in your buttocks. Notice how it feels on your mattress. I know that extended periods in bed can cause pressure sores or points. Just be aware of how it feels, again with no judgment. Can you engage your gluteus muscles and then allow them to relax?

6. Breathe all the way down into your belly, if you can. See it rise and then fall as you exhale. If it’s available to you, place one or both hands lightly on your belly. Allow your belly to be soft. Now try to slip a hand under your low back while one hand stays on your belly. If your arm/hand doesn’t move that way today, just bring your awareness there and/or see if you can feel your low back pushing into the mattress when your belly breath is full. Notice if it changes when you exhale. Does your belly button pull in slightly to your spine?

7. Check back in with your hips and all the way down to your feet. Has anything changed? Do you feel grounded or slightly sinking into your bed as you consciously relax the lower half of your body

8. Now, try to place one or both hands on the lower part of your ribs. If this is painful or uncomfortable, again just bring your awareness there and observe. Can you see and/or feel your ribs expanding on your inhale? Maybe even feeling them pressing against the bed? Our ribs are designed to move as the lungs fill and deflate. Try giving a gentle squeeze at the bottom of your next exhale. Notice if you might have created just a bit more space as your next inhale fills your lungs and pushes the ribs outward. Rest.

9. Take a moment to experience your heart beating. Try to take a breath focused into your heart. As you exhale, allow your shoulders to soften. Are your shoulder blades all the way underneath your chest? If it’s available, turn your palms up. This will encourage the downward movement of the shoulder blades. Bring your awareness back to your beating heart.

10. Allow your arms to be heavy. Feel into the center of your palms. Feel the space around your fingers.

11. Observe your throat, the base of your throat in the front, the sides, and back of your neck. Swallow. Feel the movement that occurs. Soften your jaw. Allow a little bit of space between your teeth and lips. Feel your tongue in your mouth. Can you let the base relax down and the tip of your tongue float up?

12. Next, feel the cool air coming into your nostrils as you inhale and the slightly warmer air as you exhale through your nose. Observe the length of your breath. Observe how shallow or deep your next breath is. There is no right or wrong way to breathe. There is nothing to do.

13. Observe your forehead. Can you relax the skin above your eyebrows? Can you allow your scalp and even your hair to relax? Notice what the back of your head is touching.

14. Scan your body from your toes, up through your legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, neck, and head. Observe how it feels now. Observe your breath. No judgment, just notice.

15. Now close your eyes and be present with your body. Stay as little or long as you like.

I know that I have regained function in my body through my yoga practice. Will you? I cannot say. Will you perhaps find a bit of ease in your body, mind, or spirit? That has been my experience. Will it be yours? Again, I don’t know. Is it worth a try? You tell me!


This article is an edited excerpt from a blog post Bed Bound Yoga by Cherie Hotchkiss at Your Own Gentle Approach

Cheri Hotchkiss has been a certified yoga instructor for almost 20 years, teaching all levels and various styles of yoga to people of all ages and abilities. She is also in the 18th year of her fight with MS. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body's central nervous system. Symptoms vary widely depending on the amount of damage and the nerves affected during that particular event. There is no cure at this time. This is one of the reason why she developed 'Your Own Gentle Approach™'.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Featured Video: Shelly Prosko Interviews Jivana Heyman



In this short video, Jivana Heyman, founder and director of Accessible Yoga, chats with Shelly Prosko, about a recent study suggesting that yoga and meditation may increase the ego. He talks about the possible shortcomings of how we interpret and practice yoga in the modern world and shares his perspective on yoga as service and ‘non-attachment. He also shares a piece of practical advice.

Shelly Prosko is a Physical Therapist, a Yoga Therapist and a Certified Pilates Instructor. Since 1998, Shelly has been integrating yoga principles and methods into her physical therapy treatments.  She travels across Canada and the United States offering specialty Physio-Yoga Therapy workshops, classes, private sessions, lecturing at University and College programs as adjunct faculty of Professional Yoga Therapy Studies, teaching at YTT’s, and actively promoting the integration of medical therapeutic yoga into our current healthcare system. Please visit www.physioyoga.ca for more information about Shelly’s mission and services.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Interview with Seth Powell, Part 3: Who Had Access to Yoga in Pre-Modern India

by Patrice Priya Wagner


Great Stupa at Sanchi. Madhya Pradesh, Stone Relief, (c. 50 BCE- 50 CE).
Image from Diamond (2013:28).
While taking an online course “An Introduction to the History and Philosophy of Yoga” with Seth Powell, I became very curious about the origins of yoga instruction for people who weren’t male and from an upper caste in India—the primary demographic we had studied. When, for example, did people with disabilities, women, or other marginalized groups gain access to the teachings of yoga in India? What allowed for these changes to happen? 

Despite Seth's busy schedule of teaching, writing a PhD dissertation, and having a family-life with children, he agreed to an interview to shed some light on these questions. Because the final interview was quite long, with detailed and fascinating answers to each question, I decided to divide it into separate posts, with one question and answer in each post in the series.

Priya: What circumstances in India changed to allow for greater access to yoga—for example, for people with disabilities, of lower castes, and women? Could you explain/describe this for our readers.

Seth: This is very difficult to say. Broadly speaking throughout Indian history, yoga as a discipline was practiced predominantly by a small handful of male ascetics, who retreated from society and devoted themselves religiously to the practice, full-time. Yoga was not viewed as a mainstream activity for cultivating mental, physical, and spiritual health, in the way it is commonly conceived today—both in India and the West. However, at the same time, we should be careful not to view yoga as a singular monolithic, unchanging practice or tradition. There were, and are, many different yogas—plural. With the development of Bhakti, Tantra, and eventually Haṭha Yoga traditions, we can detect the shift from strictly ascetic and initiate traditions, to more public and even householder traditions. In texts from medieval India, we see the proclamation that anybody can engage in the practice. As the fifteenth-century Haṭhapradīpikā (HP), the “Lamp on Haṭha Yoga,” states:

Whether young, old, very old, diseased, or weak, one who practices untiringly attains success in all yogas.” (HP 1.64) 

The Śivayogapradīpikā (SYP), the “Lamp on Śiva’s Yoga,” composed around the same time, suggests particular āsanas for individuals according to their station in life. Lotus Posture (ambuja) is for householders. Adepts Pose (siddhāsana) for ascetics. And Comfortable Posture (sukhāsana) is for all others (ŚYP 2.14). From this perspective, it does not really matter which posture one engages, so long as one is able to hold the posture.

Does that mean there was a medieval “Accessible Yoga” movement in premodern India? Not exactly. But for various reasons, the authors of these texts did feel it important to make these teachings “accessible” to a broader demographic, and continually stress their universality. Though we should keep in mind, the texts were still predominantly written in the elite and Brahmanical medium of Sanskrit, which would have limited their audience considerably. It is unlikely that most yogis in India (past or present) would have actually read these texts. Still to this day, among contemporary sādhu and ascetic orders, the oral and spoken word of the living guru is often valued higher than the scriptures (see e.g., Bevilacqua, 2018). And while the texts speak of a growing householder yoga audience, they are still primarily aimed at ascetic yogis.

Why these shifts took place within Indian society and within yoga traditions is still very much discussed and debated by scholars today. Dr. James Mallinson of the Haṭha Yoga Project, the world’s leading authority on medieval yoga texts and traditions, has recently suggested that many of the Haṭha Yoga texts were likely composed within south Indian monasteries (maṭha) and institutions which received heavy patronage during the early second millennium CE. 

Within these institutional environments, we can detect a range of issues that were being addressed by the authors of these texts, including who should have access to yoga, and of what kind. There were certainly a variety of prominent yoga systems in parlance during this period, and there was clearly some debate about which was the most effective yoga! The proliferation of yoga styles, schools, and lineages, and debates about “authenticity” and “tradition” is thus not a modern problem—though the discourse certainly looks different today in the face of beer yoga, goat yoga, et al.

Savasana, Watercolor illustration, Richard Schmidt, 1908, Fakire und
Fakirtum im alten und modernen Indien, Berlin: Hermann Barsdorf
We can also detect an important functional shift in the Haṭha Yoga texts in the ways in which the body and bodily posture (āsana) was to be practiced. No longer was āsana employed simply as a “firm and comfortable seat” (as in Yogasūtra 2.46 of Patañjali) used to still the body for breath-control and meditation. In Haṭha Yoga, āsana is used more dynamically to stimulate vital energies within the body (bindu, prāṇa, kuṇḍalinī), and we might even say, “therapeutically.” As Svātmārāma states:

Āsana is described first because it is the first auxiliary of Haṭha. One should perform it, for āsana [results in] steadiness, freedom from disease, and lightness of body.” (HP 1.17).

The Haṭhapradīpikā and other texts describe particular āsanas which are prescribed for specific ailments in the body. For example, the hand-balancing Peacock Pose (mayūrāsana) is said to destroy stomach ailments and diseases, while the famous Corpse Pose (śavāsana) is said to ward off fatigue and bring mental relaxation. I have suggested elsewhere that this shift in theory and praxis seemed to open up new anatomical potentials for the creative ways in which the body was used in Haṭha Yoga practice, and may help to partially explain why we see a surge in the number of āsanas taught in texts after the sixteenth century—as Dr. Jason Birch has recently shown.

As with contemporary sadhu culture in India today, it seems clear to me that historically Haṭha yogis came from a range of social backgrounds, and were certainly not all of elite Brahmin caste. Recently, at a South Asia conference in Madison, Wisconsin, I heard a great paper given by Jason Schwartz (PhD Candidate, UCSB), who spoke of a very particular lineage of artisan, goldsmith, Śiva yogis in medieval Maharashtra. These were sculptors from what is typically considered a “low caste” who were well versed in both traditional temple-construction arts (śilpaśāstra) and yoga! As scholarship continues to progress on these traditions, we are getting a better idea of who actually had access to the practice of yoga in premodern times.

Seth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions, and is the founder of Yogic Studies. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University, where he is writing his dissertation on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern yoga traditions. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA). He has taught and lectured for numerous university courses on the religions and literature of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga traditions, and presents his research regularly at international conferences. Seth conducts online courses and teaches regularly on the history and philosophy of yoga at studios, teacher trainings, and universities around the country. You can find him online at www.yogicstudies.com.

Further Reading:

Bevilacqua, Daniela. 2018. “Let the Sādhus Talk. Ascetic understanding of Haṭha Yoga and yogāsanas.”Draft.

Birch, Jason. 2018. “The Proliferation of Āsana in Late Mediaeval Yoga Traditions.” In Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas, and Karin Preisendanz, 97-171. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.

Diamond, Debra, ed. 2013. Yoga: The Art of Transformation. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.

Jones, Jamal Andre. 2018. “A Poetics of Power in Andhra, 1323-1450 CE.” Ph.D. dissertation—University of Chicago.

Mallinson, James. 2011. “Haṭha Yoga.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism 3: 770–81.

Powell, Seth. 2017. “Advice on Āsana in the Śivayogapradīpikā.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.

Powell, Seth. 2018. “The Ancient Yoga Strap: A Brief History of the Yogapaṭṭa.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.

2018. “Etched in Stone: Sixteenth-century Visual and Material Evidence of Śaiva Ascetics and Yogis in Complex Non-seated Āsanas at Vijayanagara.” Journal of Yoga Studies (1): 45-106.

Singleton, Mark. 2010. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Yoga and Human Rights

By Jivana Heyman
Mural of Human Rights: The Seeds that Give the Fruit (Detail) by Via Zanetti
Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world, Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.” — Universal Declaration of Human Rights, United Nations, 1948

I imagine that for most people talking about yoga and human rights in the same sentence may seem strange. But this connection became clear in my mind when I had the privilege of attending a special event at the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva in 2015. The event was the celebration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, December 3, a holiday established by the UN. That year, I was invited to teach Accessible Yoga as part of a variety of offerings focusing on the positive steps that people with disabilities can take to achieve full equality and human rights. 

Most of the other presenters were leaders of disability rights groups from around the world. They spoke about how people with disabilities make up the largest minority group in the world: well over 1 billion people! And they discussed the basic human rights that they are seeking for people with disabilities. In 2006, the UN’s Human Rights Commission set the gold standard for these human rights in their Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. They declared: 

The purpose of the present Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” Article 1, United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

I was struck by the correlation between basic human rights, and the fundamental teachings of yoga philosophy. According to the yoga tradition, each person has a spiritual essence, which is called the atman or purusha. The work of yoga, the poses, breathing practices, ethical living, and meditation, are all about opening the pathways to the experience of that essence. I’ve always loved the fact that yoga begins with this positive assumption. The idea is that every single one of us has an atman, and that there is no differentiation made between the atman of any two people, regardless of their ability or background. Yoga begins with equality, as we are all equal in spirit. And because we are all equal in spirit, yoga is equally powerful in helping anyone, of any background or ability, to find the inner peace that we all crave.

Of course, embracing diversity is an essential part of human rights, and the disability community is extremely diverse. There is currently a shift in the disability community towards disability pride, towards embracing difference. As a gay man, pride has a special meaning to me. I grew up thinking that being gay was a deficit, and learning to be proud of my differences has been a great source of my healing. Now, I am not only proud of being gay, but I see how being different makes me stronger.

Swami Sivananda, a famous yoga master, used to say that spiritual life was about seeing the “unity in diversity.” This means being able to see that we are all connected, and to simultaneously embrace our differences. Yoga and human rights both stem from this dual vision—the ability to hold both equality and diversity simultaneously. It’s really a paradox: we are all the same and yet all unique. This perspective is challenging in a modern world where some people are empowered and some are not, a world that is filled with division and the separation of groups based on race, class, gender identity, political affiliation, etc. Our job as yoga practitioners, and human rights advocates, is embrace those differences and at the same time to see the same essence in everyone we meet.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, one of the most essential texts of yoga, as we become more in tune with ourselves, we begin to experience that underlying connection with others. Lord Krishna, who is teaching Arjuna how to be a yogi, explains:

As your mind becomes harmonized through yoga practices, you begin to see the Atman in all being and all beings in your Self; you see the same Self everywhere and in everything. Those who see me wherever they look and recognize everything as my manifestation, never again feel separate from me, nor I from them. Whoever becomes established in the all-pervading oneness and worships me abiding in all beings – however he may be living, that yogi lives in me. The yogi who perceives the essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.” (6.29-32 translation by Swami Satchidananda).

Just seeing through the diversity of nature to experience the oneness of creation isn’t enough. Krishna is teaching us that once we go down that path, we will literally feel the pleasure and pain of others as our own. That’s the ultimate level of awareness – true connection. And that is the first step on the path to equality and human rights. If we feel intimately connected to others, then we automatically take care of them. But this can only happen if we understand our personal privilege and the perspective we are coming from, otherwise that concept of oneness can be used to avoid the harsh reality of human rights abuse and leave us complacent. This is called spiritual bypassing.

Spiritual bypassing perpetuates the idea that the belief “we are one” is enough to create a reality where we are treated equally and as one. It is not. Spiritual bypassing permits the status quo to stay in place and teaches people that if you believe in something and have a good intent that is enough. It is not.” —Michelle Cassandra Johnson

Those of us in positions of power and authority can use our yoga practice to reveal hidden truths in our own behavior and attitude—things we may not want to see in ourselves. The practice of svadhyaya, or reflection, is an essential part of yoga. In svadhyaya we attempt to witness the workings of our own mind, to see our ego and its prejudices. In the self-reflection that our practice brings, we can consider this question: Are my efforts reinforcing the status quo or is my practice inspiring me to actively work on achieving human rights for all?

Regarding ableism specifically, yoga teachers can reflect on whether unknowingly they may be teaching yoga in a discriminatory way. For example, am I teaching in a wheelchair-accessible space? Am I teaching in a way that values physical ability as superior or advanced? Am I giving all students the same respect, attention, and kindness regardless of ability? Are my offerings advancing equality in the yoga community? What can I do to cultivate svadhaya in myself, in my students, and in my peers?

We can also examine our language: Am I reinforcing stereotypes that I am also the victim of? For example, do I hide my own physical challenges out of an effort to seem like the perfect yogi, rather than honestly share with students about where I am at? Can I examine the culture of the yoga studios I teach or visit to see if they are in line with my own beliefs? Do the social media accounts I follow make me feel better about myself or reinforce insecurity and self-doubt?

For those of us who are oppressed or lacking in human rights, we can use our yoga practice as a source of power and healing. That means seeking out supportive yoga communities that don’t make us feel less than but rather help to lift us up. In this way, we can use yoga as self-care and as a source of empowerment. According to Audre Lorde:

Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.

This paradox of unity and diversity is at the heart of yoga and at the heart of human rights. With practice, self-awareness, and action, we can deepen our experience of yoga, connecting with our true self and simultaneously begin to honestly and openly address human rights and discrimination of all kinds. 



Jivana Heyman is the Founder and Director of Accessible Yoga, co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center and an Integral Yoga Minister. With over twenty years of training and teaching in a traditional yoga lineage, Jivana has specialized in teaching the subtle practices of yoga: pranayama, meditation, as well as sharing yoga philosophy. His passion is making Yoga accessible to everyone.

Accessible Yoga has grown into an international advocacy and education organization, and now offers two Conferences per year, trainings around the world, an ambassador program and online Network.

Jivana has taught wth the Dean Ornish Heart Disease Reversal Program through UCSF, California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute of Health and Healing, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He has led over 40 Yoga teacher training programs over the past 16 years, and created the Accessible Yoga Training program in 2007. On December 3rd, 2015, Jivana taught Accessible Yoga at the United Nations in Geneva for their International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Jivana’s strengths are sharing esoteric and complex teaching in a readily accessible way, and applying the ancient teachings of Yoga to our day-to-day lives.

This post was originally published on the 
Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, where it was edited by Nina Zolotow.

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Friday, November 23, 2018

What It Means to be an Accessible Yoga Ambassador

                                                                                                                                     

In this video, Mary Sims and Ryan McGraw talk about what it means to advocate and be an Accessible Yoga Ambassador.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

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° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.