Thursday, July 12, 2018

Accessible Yoga Conference Toronto, 2018 Recap

by Sarah E. Helt

Hello friends and fellow AY Ambassadors,

I have the great joy and responsibility of being Accessible Yoga’s Director of Communications. I think I’ve restarted this recap on the Toronto conference at least five times in the past two weeks, but there is just so much to say!

In the beginning, there were plans and dreams. In the end, there was an epic display of community, knowledge, and compassion. I want to congratulate the Toronto logistics team on a job well done!

The conference began with, what might have been a surprise appearance for some, an opening keynote from Yoga Alliance Director and CEO David Lipsius. Tears filled my eyes when David encouraged us to think of our mission to make yoga accessible to everybody as not a revolution, but a renaissance. After over a year of in-fighting on American soil (in politics and within the yoga industry), I will admit to being tired of the activist grind. These words reminded me of the beauty that comes from true pratyahara — gaining mastery over external influences. Even David’s presence at our conference is, I believe, a whole-hearted and genuine response to the growing unrest within the 20 billion dollar ableist-pyramid-scheme that is the modern industrial yoga complex. (I stole that whole pyramid scheme line from Matthew Remski’s closing words. He’s the genius, I promise you, not me.)

The following day, our first full day of the conference, was jam-packed! I was tasked with hopping in and out of as many sessions as possible to keep our Instagram and Facebook accounts aflutter with cool updates. I was fortunate enough to catch a few minutes of Shana Sandler’s Inclusive Community Chair Yoga Class, which she touts as a class for “nobody” when in actuality it is a class for literally any-body. Her quick-witted nonchalance is genuinely inviting.

Next, I stopped into “Your Brain on Pain”; an in-depth lecture lead by persistent pain and pelvic floor specialist Shelly Prosko. I knew Shelly would be brilliant, but what impressed me the most were the questions that came out of our participants. Clearly experts in their own communities, these teachers embodied the opportunity to be students again with fervor and joy.

After a few minutes, I slipped into Jivana’s talk on the Accessible Yoga ‘revolution’, which contrary to the last four conferences was almost full of more yoga “heavy hitters” than new and intrigued outsiders. Jivana split the group into small panels lead by the team from Yoga International (shout out to Kat and Kyle!), Dianne Bondy, Matthew Remski, and David Lipsius. Participants were given the opportunity to ask questions and brainstorm with some of the most influential people in our industry. All this before 10 am!

At the next session, I couldn’t tear myself away from the strong female leaders of the Intersectionality in Access to Yoga panel lead by New Leaf Yoga. It was a gift to hear the shared, yet completely different experiences of these women on the panel.

Perhaps my favorite discussion of the weekend happened on day two. I was able to take part in “Creating a Culture of Consent” with Tobias B. D. Wiggins; a yoga teacher and post-doctoral candidate from Toronto, who masterfully lead an open-hearted discussion on the importance of crafting an environment where touch and consent go hand in hand. I was able to open up about my own experience about receiving unsolicited and painful adjustments, as well as, the shame I felt after inadvertently giving one myself. In this workshop, and many over the weekend, I was touched by the sincere teachings of forgiveness, truth, and self-care; especially in terms of mental health.

As I have yet to master the ability to be in many places simultaneously, my one disappointment was that I could not see every presentation. Thank goodness for our well put-together, conference-specific journal! I was able to read the voices I wasn’t able to hear during the conference. Beautifully articulate articles from Carol Horton, Tama Soble, Chantel Ehler, and Mirabai Hubbell gave me a sneak peak into the environment they created in the classroom over the weekend.

And there was so much more! But, there you have it; another conference for the books. I didn’t even have the chance to mention my hero Mary-Jo Fetterly; a teacher whom I hope we will make a staple in future conferences! She put words to my sentiments for the weekend in her closing speech on embracing community, “This is the type of community we all want to be a part of.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Yours in Love and Yoga, 


° 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.

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