Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Accessible Yoga Conference NYC 2017

by Danielle Nardi

As a yoga teacher and future physical therapist, I am passionate about making yoga accessible to all populations and blending it with my therapy, so when I heard about the Accessible Yoga Conference happening in New York, I knew it was something I wanted to go to – and I knew just the person to join me! When I moved to Cape Cod I was fortunate enough to cross paths with another like-minded therapist/ yogi, Meredith, and I had no doubt she’d be just as excited about this event as I was!

Conference Mission

The Accessible Yoga Conference’s mission is to provide a forum where the Yoga community can come together to connect, share, and support those who wish to expand access to the practices of Yoga for people with disabilities, chronic illness, seniors, and for anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

The workshop overall was wonderful. I met some really great like-minded people who believe in the benefits of yoga and are passionate about making the practice accessible to as many people as possible.

I took away so much from this weekend, there’s no way I could share it all, but here are some highlights – if you have any questions or are interested in more information about a particular workshop let me know and I’d be happy to share additional resources!

Accessible Yoga, A Revolution

This workshop began with a discussion of “What is Accessible Yoga?” and then we broke into groups and brainstormed on different topics related to how we can make yoga more accessible.

Through this discussion I really began to understand the difference between what this group means by “accessible yoga” and the term I am more familiar with, “adaptive yoga”.

I’ve always said that my interest is in teaching “adaptive yoga” and by that I generally mean, physically modifying the poses to accommodate for mobility impairments (from the mind of a future PT of course!).

What I took away from this workshop really was the idea that making yoga accessible is not only about making the poses (or asana) physically accessible with modifications or adaptations, but it encompasses the idea of creating an inclusive image and environment that makes the practice of yoga truly comfortable and equally inviting to all.
Accessible – able to be reached or entered
Adaptive – make something suitable for a new use or purpose, modify

Every BODY has a Story

The next workshop I went to was hosted by Cherie Hotchkiss, a yoga teacher who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 18 years ago and believes her yoga practice is the reason she is still walking!

The workshop was focused on the “invisible” challenges that students in our yoga classes may be facing and developing not only an awareness of them, but attempting to gain an understanding of them through “experiencing” some of them through the use of props.

  • Gloves – layers of gloves simulated neuropathy in the hands
  • Socks with layer of grit/ sand – simulated neuropathy in the feet
  • Glasses – different glasses simulated different visual impairments
  • Cotton Balls – we put them in our ears to experience hearing loss
  • Rubber Bands – banded around our finger joints they simulated arthritis 
Cheri also gave us some great ideas for postural support and pose variations when working with students using a wheelchair.

The Art & Science of Yoga for All

Someone I know from Cape Cod is currently taking a yoga teacher training with Dianne Bondy, so when she heard I was going to this conference she recommended I try to make it to one of her workshops and boy am I glad I did!

Dianne was not only a wonderful teacher who embraces inclusiveness in her message and practice, but she was light hearted and funny – just my type of teacher!

Dianne focused her workshop on 4 components of teaching and practice:

  1. Language – how we talk about our body and how we talk about the poses
  2. Informed consent when working with students
  3. Body image, compassion and self study
  4. Asana exploration – what is the objective of a pose and how can we accomplish it?
One thing I took away from Dianne’s workshop was the importance of a self/ home yoga practice, she called it an “asana lab” where you can discover poses and variations – I loved this idea and it reminded me I really need to get better about my home practice!

Yoga for Amputees

Yoga for Amputees was taught by Marsha Danzig, a below the knee amputee for over 40 years and yoga teacher for over 30 years – and I found out after the class, a former Cape Cod resident!

As we entered the room for the workshop we were each given a slip of paper with the amputation we’d be doing our yoga practice with that day – as you can see on my slip below, I was adapting my practice for a right above the knee amputee with a prosthetic.

My 2 biggest take aways from this workshop were:
amputees are WHOLE – help them remember that!
teaching yoga to amputees is all about using props & getting creative!

Adaptive Yoga Moves MS & Other Neuromuscular Disorders
Yoga Moves MS is an organization started by Mindy Eisenberg who has been teaching yoga to students with MS for over a decade – she’s even written an amazing book full of wonderful and creative yoga adaptations.

We spent a good portion of this class discussing how Mindy and her fellow teachers format their adaptive classes. One of my favorite things they told us about was how they start their 2 hours classes late. Yes, LATE.

Why late? Because adaptive yoga is about community. It’s a shared practice with a group of people that are each dealing with their own unique challenges and so they intentionally leave some unstructured time at the beginning of class for the students to socialize – what a great idea! (And for someone that is all about starting stuff on time, quite a novel concept for me to wrap my head around at first, but I love the idea!)


I took SO much away from this conference and I can’t wait to put it to use!

When it comes down to it, I believe that all yoga is adaptive yoga since each person’s yoga practice should be adapted for their own body, so not only can I incorporate a lot of what I learned into my current yoga teaching, but come this fall I’m actually going to be teaching an adaptive yoga class here in Boston!

More to come on that soon, but needless to say, I am really excited about it and can’t wait to tell you more once we get started!

A HUGE thank you to all the event organizers, presenters and volunteers for the weekend!

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube.

° REGISTER here for our next conference.

° 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.