Friday, March 9, 2018

Interview with Dianne Bondy on Teaching Those Who Feel Like They Don't Belong

Accessible Yoga Blog: Where do you teach and who is the population?

Dianne: My most accessible platform and the one that I’m most proud of is Yogasteya, which I created in 2012 well before the online yoga boom had started. I had a brick and mortar yoga studio, and there were groups of women who were having babies. In Canada, where I live, we get a year for maternity leave. Some of the women asked me to record the classes on audio so they could practice at home when they had a break, so at first my husband and I decided to set up a camera in the studio and record the classes. Eventually I decided to create an accessible platform for pregnant and postpartum women, people with disabilities, and people with larger bodies, essentially people practicing with a range of limitations. After some time, I broke it down more and created an accessible yoga website. It mostly catered to people in larger bodies, because when you show up to a yoga class and the teacher is not in a larger body, he or she doesn’t know what to do with you. There’s a whole group of people who feel really intimidated stepping into a yoga studio space, so I designed this website primarily for them.

Every Wednesday I do an Instagram Live class and I put it in the Facebook group or on the site so that people have an opportunity to practice live with us. I also teach at the park at the end of my street every Saturday from May to October. I like to teach in unconventional places because they’re less intimidating for people.

Last but not least, I have a group of ladies that have been practicing with me for over ten years—they come to my house and range in age from 75 to 80, so I do a lot of accessible yoga with them. Hip replacements, knee replacements, arthritis, and so on. I really appreciate them because they help me try to figure out how to vary and evolve this practice so more and more people with limitations can get to it.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you tell us about a teaching experience that particularly moved you?

I had a student who was in a wheelchair who suffered from genetic scoliosis. She couldn’t bear weight or walk on her legs but she could wiggle her toes. She was essentially strapped into the chair and couldn’t raise her arms higher than her chest. She had sent a group e-mail to every studio in the city and no one but me got back to her. At the time I was taking advanced teacher training and I thought it was a great opportunity to use my skills as a teacher and to serve somebody. I told her that yoga is mostly about breathing.

She lived in my neighborhood so we met at a church where I was teaching, and we tried to figure out what we could do together. Her mother came with her the first time and explained what some of her challenges were. I decided to reach out to her massage therapist and her physiotherapist, and we all worked together to figure out how we were going to serve her best in that chair. This went on for the better part of three years, and by the time she had moved on from yoga she was riding a bike that was powered by her hands—that’s how strong her arms had become. Eventually she got a minivan and I now see her driving all over the city. It was amazing to see the transformation of a person who was relying on her mother to a person who felt more physically comfortable in her body to ride a bike, to learn to drive and to eventually move out on her own.

She was one of my best teachers. I was inspired that she wasn’t afraid to reach out to people and to try. She’s one of the people who helped inspire this yoga.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Why do you teach this population? What made you choose this specific group?

Dianne: The population that I was primarily interested in was people of color because those were the people I did not see in yoga class. It inspired me to create a space for people who looked like me and to put my image out there, which was really hard for me initially. At first I used stock photos of thin white women because I was worried that nobody would come, but when I finally put myself out there in the larger body doing all kinds of different kinds of things—chair yoga, yoga at the wall, yoga with props, yoga without props—then everyone started coming because I looked like them.

So that was the catalyst serving that population… I knew how much the yoga practice had impacted my life and had allowed me to make peace with the body I was in and to be a better person, a better global citizen, and a better parent and spouse. I wanted that for everyone.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What are you excited to do next with your students?

Dianne: I’m excited to offer retreats and getaways and yoga opportunities for people that don’t feel like they belong. You see the advertisements for retreats with everybody running around in the string bikini and doing yoga on the beach. I offer retreats for full-bodied, melanin-infused yogis!

I’m excited to work with people who are either doing the work that I’m doing or students who I can help feel better about themselves and understand that this practice is for them, and that spending time being angry about your body or feeling bad yourself is not a life well spent.

Dianne Bondy is a celebrated yoga teacher, social justice activist and leading voice of the Yoga For All movement. Her inclusive view of yoga asana and philosophy inspires and empowers thousands of followers around the world – regardless of their shape, size, ethnicity, or level of ability. Dianne contributes to Yoga International, Do You Yoga, and Elephant Journal. She is featured and profiled in International media outlets: The Guardian, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan, People and more. She is a spokesperson for diversity in yoga and yoga for larger bodies, as seen in her work with Pennington’s, Gaiam, and the Yoga & Body Image Coalition. Her work is published in the books: Yoga and Body Image and Yes Yoga Has Curves.

This post was conducted and edited by Kathleen Kraft.

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