Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Interview with Virginia Knowlton Marcus on Yoga for People with Disabilities

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

Virginia: Because I just completed a cross-country move from Sacramento, CA to Raleigh, NC, I am on hiatus from teaching a regular yoga class, but am maintaining a regular practice. I have taught yoga in Baltimore, MD and Sacramento, CA. I have taught in studios, gyms, community centers, work places, homes, over Skype and on the telephone. I have facilitated yoga practice for people with and without disabilities of all kinds.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you share an experience that stands out?

Virginia: I really loved leading a seated yoga class for my colleagues at Disability Rights California as part of that organization’s wellness campaign. I was a little nervous because I wanted the yoga class to be well received, and was going to have participants not only in the room with me, but also in various locations around the state participating via Skype. However, I was not going to be able to see everyone over Skype, so I would not have that ongoing feedback.

Over 50 staff from around California joined in this practice in the middle of their busy workday. This confirmed for me the tremendous interest in yoga generally, and within the disability rights community specifically. From this experience, I was reminded how happy people are just to have the opportunity to engage in yoga practice, and that it is okay to just jump in! With some good prep work and attention to cueing, it went very well, and not only did we have this wonderful experience together as colleagues, afterward I learned that some people were continuing to do some of the yoga they learned in our class in their offices. This made me so glad I ventured to offer the class, despite being less than 100% confident.

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

Virginia: I have worked for 25 years as a disability rights advocate and have invisible disabilities.When I found my way to yoga, the benefits were profound, and I recognized that more people with disabilities could also realize significant benefits from yoga practice. Yet I did not know other disabled people who practiced yoga – though many expressed interest when I asked – and I never saw anyone with a visible disability in yoga class.

When I took yoga teacher training, it was not even suggested that we should acquire skills to accommodate people with disabilities, nor older persons, young persons, disenfranchised persons, even non-athletes. The training was targeted to a narrow segment of the population — those who enjoy and benefit from a vigorous yoga practice — rather than diverse populations. I found this very disappointing. Not only was there no part of the training dedicated to assisting yogis with any kind of disability, no sensibility was even created that it would be a worthwhile aspiration to do so. When I shared with classmates my desire to make yoga classes more inclusive, they were supportive but clearly saw this as just “Virginia’s thing.” I literally found my Accessible Yoga tribe by entering “accessible yoga” in a Google search box in a quest to find like-minded people. I am so happy to have found dedicated, experienced yogis who are paving this way!

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

Virginia: I am excited that I can bring yoga to my new home. I’ve begun reaching out to kindred spirits in North Carolina and will eventually get back to teaching after I am acclimated in my new job at Disability Rights NC. Until that time, I love being a student myself and soaking up knowledge others have developed. In the past year, I have attended an Accessible Yoga (AY) conference and taken Jivana Heyman’s AY training, which had been on my “must-do” list since I first learned about it. The more I can absorb, the more I can offer, and it is not too difficult to create opportunities to share yoga. I look forward to what comes next in that regard!

Virginia Knowlton Marcus, RYT 200, began teaching yoga in January 2016 and is a nationally recognized disability rights attorney who has been advocating for disability rights at the local, state, federal, and international levels for 25 years. Her professional positions have included Executive Director at Disability Rights Maryland, Director of Legal Advocacy and Director of Public Policy at Disability Rights California, and Executive Director of the Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. Foundation in DC. Her volunteer work has included leadership positions on the Board of the National Disability Rights Network. She earned her J.D. and B.A at the University of California, Davis. She began her current position as Executive Director at Disability Rights North Carolina in September 2018.

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