Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Invisibility of Disability

by Sarit Z Rogers
Thick, like cold honey, oh how hard it is to move, to breathe, to rise and dissolve the sleep from my eyes, with bones, stiff and swollen, this immovable framework tangled in bed-sheets.

An invisible disability is only invisible to you. To me, to us, it is glaring, screaming at us from within, beating the drum of felt insignificance. The “I can’t do this” becomes a mantra, the “I’m too tired” becomes a way of life, as we wear our loneliness like a shapeless shift. It doesn’t have to be this way.

I have experienced sideways glances as I park my car in a handicapped spot – I appear to be able-bodied so why am I parking there, right? I have heard people devalue the experience of those of us suffering from an invisible disability while comparing their physical disabilities to what they can’t see in us. I need to remind us all: Pain and discomfort isn’t a contest. Having to prove you don’t feel well just adds to the problem.

Experience can be varied. One common scenario is this:
You look fine.
Are you sure it’s not in your head?
Have you tried _____?
It can’t be that bad.
I heard _____ is psychosomatic.

The internal process is sometimes like this:

I’m so tired.
Can I die from being this tired?
Surely you can die from being this tired.
Sleep. Yes. Sleep.
I am so tired. I feel like I’m going to die.
Wait, what was I saying?
I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached. 

However, we ask this of our friends and loved ones:

Offer help.
Come by and give us a hug or have some tea or both.
Don’t take last minute cancellations personally.
Remember that just because you can’t SEE what’s happening with us, our experience is very real.
Don’t compare. Everyone’s experience is his or her own. 

With doctors offering meds to help everything from pain to sleep deprivation, it’s easy to get swept up in the pharmaceutical haze of assistance. Some meds are necessary, while others simply compound the matter. What’s helped me the most is staying present–staying in this moment, this breath. Meditation has proven to be especially helpful: The simple but difficult act of paying attention to right now. Right now, I am sitting, or lying down, or walking. Right now, I am breathing. Right now, my shoulder hurts, may it soften and move with my breath. Right now, I am scared, may I be safe and free from suffering. Right now, my belly is expanding. Right now, I am exhausted, may I find rest and care. Everything has become about right now. Not yesterday or tomorrow: right fucking now. And the best part? I can’t do it wrong!

Even my yoga has changed. A lot. The vinyasa and power yoga I once did have shifted to the yoga I do now: slow, and deliberate, focused on breath as a radical act of self-care and presence. I have learned to relish in the wholeness of my breath as it moves through me like a river. I relish in the connectedness of my body as it makes contact with the earth. My practice is accessible: props are my friend, resting in wisdom (child’s) pose is advanced practice, and handstands are a thing of the past. They didn’t make me any cooler anyway.

To those of you tangled in an invisible illness, may you be seen, may you be heard, may your suffering cease, may your heart be unguarded, may you be loved, and may you be at ease. To those of you who love us and don’t know what to do: we love you, we need you, hold our hands, wipe our tears, hold our tea cups when they feel too heavy, and do what you need to do to take care of you.

Sarit Rogers is a multi-faceted photographer based Southern California. She specializes in fine-art portraiture, creative commercial photography, musicians, yogis, and the occasional pinup. Sarit Z Rogers is also the founder the LoveMore Movement, which she co-founded with her husband, Joseph Rogers. Her years of activism, social justice work and fierce body-image advocacy led her to create a movement that focuses on highlighting individuals who altruistically help others so as to encourage others to do the same. Over the last several years, Sarit has photographed several book covers focused on shifting the paradigm of standard beauty within the yoga industry. Her work can be seen on the covers of 21st Century Yoga, Yoga Ph.D, and Yoga and Body Image.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The Antidote is Hope

by Jivana Heyman
Accessible Yoga was born out of my interest in bringing people together who believe in sharing the teachings of yoga with everyone. People who are dedicated to finding peace in their lives and sharing that peace with others regardless of ability or background. In the wake of the election, I found myself starting to lose hope and to feel that these efforts are just a drop in the bucket, and that we’re basically doomed. So, my question is, “How can we find hope in these scary times?”

Hope is such an elusive concept. Obama brilliantly used it to bring the country together and help us move toward a fairer and more equitable society. Now we are moving in the other direction – towards a place where prejudice seems to be the norm. I hear lots of yoga teachers saying that these times are when we need to dig deeper in our personal practice to find our center. That is always a good idea. But my question is, “How do we keep hope alive so that we have the energy to speak up?” My fear is that if we lose hope then we become complacent and powerless, and that would be a very dangerous thing.

I found hope when my 15-year-old son joined a walk-out with his entire high school to protest the election. It reminded me of my years on the street demonstrating with ACT UP San Francisco, fighting the politics of homophobia and the repression of the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. My son’s new interest in politics is giving me hope that there is a future generation that will be energized by these current events.

I find hope in the yoga teachings. In particular, the teaching that rings in my head is pratipaksha bhavana. It is sometimes simply described as replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, but it’s really so much more than that. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2, Sutra 34, pratipaksha bhavana asks us to reflect on the outcome of negative thinking. So, in this case, the outcome of negative thinking is going down the rabbit hole of, “were doomed!” and sitting back and doing nothing. Instead, the antidote to this negative thinking is hope. Do something that inspires creativity, because creativity is the language of spirit. Sing a song, draw a picture, teach a yoga class, do anything that expresses love, compassion and fellowship. Do anything that lifts you out of that stupor and brings back your energy.

Once we are energized and engaged, we can look at how to move forward and fight against the sexism, racism, ablism, xenophobia, environmental destruction, and the politics of greed that seem to be on the rise. The way forward will be putting that hope into action, which, in other words, is service. Service is the hallmark of a loving compassionate caring heart. Through service we can transform the world, because service transforms us individually and collectively. Service is hope in action.

One more thing that gives me hope is our Accessible Yoga community. Community is the key to the resurrection of hope. Community will hold us up when we’re feeling down, it will encourage our personal growth, and it will offer us a platform for service. By caring for each other, and supporting each other, we can make it through this. Thoughtful, loving communities like this one are the key to driving out the darkness that seems so pervasive.

In yoga philosophy, this darkness is understood as egoism. It is our job as yogis to vanquish the darkness of our own minds, and in turn, from the society that reflects our minds. Swami Satchidananda speaks of the darkness of the ego. “Every person dreams inside the egoistic shell which is totally dark. We all must break the shell to allow the light to come in. That’s the main purpose behind all the yoga practices.”

There is a well-known Vedic prayer that speaks to the triumph of light over darkness. My prayer is that through these dark days we remain hopeful and retain our vision of a loving peaceful world – may the light of truth overcome all darkness!

Asato Maa Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti

Lead us from unreal to real.
Lead us from darkness to the light.
Lead us from the fear of death
To knowledge of immortality.
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and joy, love and light
Om peace, peace, peace

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