Thursday, June 27, 2019

Jivana Heyman Interviewed by Virginia Knowlton Marcus

This is a long audio recording (provided as a YouTube video) of Jivana Heyman being interviewed by Virginia Knowlton Marcus. In this interview, Virginia speaks with Jivana Heyman about some of the history of Accessible Yoga’s advocacy work. This includes efforts to get Yoga Alliance to review the standards for training teachers so that they include dedicated hours on accessibility. We hope you enjoy it!

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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° 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.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma and Asana Practice

Kopf (Head), Oskar Schlemmer, 1919
by Kathleen Owen, E-RYT200

In early April, I went for my annual eye appointment. I expected nothing unusual. The optometrist said after he looked into my eyes with some very fancy eye scopes: You have Acute Angle closure and need to be seen by an ophthalmologist ASAP. What! Me! Something emergency? No way. But the appointment was made; I was off to the ophthalmologist.

What is Acute Angle Closure (AAC) Glaucoma? How is it corrected? How would it affect my asana practice? AAC is an eye condition that makes the pressure inside your eye go up quickly and happens when fluid in your eye cannot drain. The condition is caused by a sudden increase in pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure (IOP).

By way of a system of canals, aqueous fluids drain out of your eyes. These canals are part of a meshwork of tissues between your iris and your cornea. When the iris and cornea move closer to each other, the angle between them becomes closed and there is no drainage route for the eye fluids. Without an outlet, these fluids build up and the IOP goes up, often sending someone to the Emergency Room with intense pain. If the IOP stays very high, even for a short period of time, it can put pressure on the optic nerve and cause permanent blindness. Unlike other forms of glaucoma, Acute Angle Closure needs immediate attention by an ophthalmologist.

Some of the symptoms can include blurry vision, severe eye pain, seeing halos, red eye, and nausea. When in crisis mode, AAC can cause very intense eye or headache pain. The main treatment options are laser iridotomy or lens replacement surgery, both performed by an ophthalmologist. The pros and cons of each procedure depend upon the age and general health of the patient. Acute Angle Closure Glaucoma is found mostly in older women and those of Asian or Native American descent.

I was concerned about how to adapt my yoga practice to make it more accessible to this new condition. As I read about the condition, the glaring truth from all expert yoga and medical sources was: stay away from inversions! Why? Because inversions add more pressure in the eye which we don't want if diagnosed with AAC. Ok, got it! But what about my practice?

It has been six weeks and both eyes have been corrected from AAC glaucoma. I chose to have the natural lens removed; exactly the same procedure one would have for cataract surgery. Although I showed no signs of cloudy lens, at 68 years old I chose this option to relieve the anterior eye pressures.

The surgeries were done within two weeks, one eye each week. The recovery is minimal; eye drops for about six weeks. But what about my yoga practice? When can I resume it fully? Including inversions? I was told I could resume yoga practice about a week after the second eye surgery. To be on the safe side, I wanted to be safe and waited an additional week before resuming my full practice and kept my inventions to gentle forward folds and lazy Down Dogs holding each for only a few seconds.

During the time I waited for my surgery and during the recovery from it, I created a practice that worked to keep me in “my asana practice” during this ordeal. Before beginning this practice, I referenced many modern yoga texts on asanas and found these gentle poses kept me strong, flexible, and away from any inversions until the AAC condition was healed. Talk with your ophthalmologist to get his/her affirmation before beginning this practice as your condition may have more restrictions than mine.

The primary restrictions for ACC are: No Headstands. No Handstands. No Shoulder Stands. No Plow Poses. No Karnapidasana (Ear Pressure Pose). No Down Dogs. No forward folds. No Legs Up the Wall. The key to this practice is very simple: Keep the Head Above Heart At All Times.

This is the asana practice I created and used until my AAC condition was corrected. I followed it in order from number 1-10, spending up to 8 breaths in each pose.

1. Corpse pose: on mat, 3 minutes, relaxing the body, following the breath.

2. Pelvic Tilts: lay on the back with both knees bent and raised to ceiling, feet on mat. With an inhalation gently press the tailbone into the mat, tilting the pelvis up; with an exhalation press the lower back into the mat; moving the pelvis the opposite direction. Part of pelvis always remains on mat.

3. Knee to Chest: one foot on mat, pull other knee into chest. Repeat other side.

4. Knees Side to Side: feet on floor, gently move bent knees side to side with arms at sides.

5. Knees Rest: with feet on floor take both knees to right, arms out like cross, hold. Repeat knees to other side.

6. Arm Hugs: lay on the back with both knees bent and raised to ceiling, feet on mat. Hug arms across torso, elbows pointing up. Repeat other arm on top.

7. Cross Openings: lie on one side with knees bent, arms extended in front of torso at shoulder height, palms together. Lift top arm to open to the other side. Repeat other side.

8. Down Dog at the Wall: stand facing the wall, place palms on wall at height of head. Keep the spine elongated, knees straight, gently push on palms, step away from wall to where you feel a stretch in the spine from crown of the head to the tailbone.

9. Table Top at the Wall: stand facing the wall, place palms on wall slightly below shoulder height. Pressing the wall with the palms, gently step back as you walk the palms down the wall until the torso is almost parallel to the floor (don't let head go below heart). Keep the spine elongated, knees straight, gaze is at the floor. Stretch the spine from crown of the head to the tailbone.

10. Corpse pose. Relaxed belly breathing. Meditation 5-10minutes.

Three weeks after surgery, I am fully recovered and practicing my asana routines including my favorite inversions. I am also back to teaching chair yoga. I have learned that asana adaptation is the key to enjoying my life.

Kathleen Owen is a E-RYT 200 who has been teaching accessible yoga since 2017 in Decatur, Illinois. She completed her 200 hour Yoga Alliance training at Yoga with Connie Pease in Latham, Illinois. She continues her yoga with on-line training and recently with workshops by Max Strom and Gabriel Halpern. She teaches many mat and chair accessible yoga classes in Decatur and Macon County Illinois.

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

° 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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Featured Photo: Chair Reverse Warrior Pose

Yoga teacher Jenni Salomon sent us this beautiful photo of her demonstrating Reverse Warrior pose using a chair. This energizing pose builds upper body strength and improves flexibility both in the hips and the sides of the body. To come into the pose, start by taking Warrior 2 pose on the chair. —Nina

Jenni Salomon, RYT200, retired from direct patient care due to having sustained a number of injuries over the course of a paramedic and fire service career. She continues to lecture locally and regionally, writes, teaches, and consults for a first responder continuing education company. In order to rehabilitate from her job-related injuries, Jenni began practicing yoga. She eventually obtained her 200-hour registered yoga teacher certification from Soma Yoga institute and has trained with the Veterans Yoga Project and Yoga For First Responders. She obtained her WPA instructor certificate and Stand Up Paddleboard Yoga training in Aruba at Island Yoga. Teaching yoga, specifically restorative and beginner and to trauma-sensitive populations has given Jenni the opportunity to continue to help people, just with fewer flashing lights and sirens. You can find her on Facebook at

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° 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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Allergies, Asthma, and Yoga

By Ram Rao

Come spring and most of us see, hear, and/or experience allergies or asthma. In addition to making you sick and miserable, allergies and asthma share other common features and often occur together. An allergy occurs when the body’s defense system mistakenly identifies a harmless trigger as an invader. Triggers include external irritants (pollen dust, leaves, flowers), indoor substances (dust, mold, mites, dander), certain drugs and food additives or pollutants (smoke, chemical fumes, and strong odors). In an attempt to protect the body from any of these “foreign substances” (also called allergens), the body’s defense system releases its plethora of defense molecules that bind to the substance in an attempt to destroy it.

One of the consequences of this battle is the allergy signs and symptoms, such as nasal congestion, runny nose, itchy eyes, and skin reactions. This is termed an “inflammatory response.” For some people this inflammatory response also affects the lungs and sinuses, leading to asthma symptoms. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory condition characterized by shortness of breath. The condition is associated with inflammation of the air passages, making it difficult for air to move in and out of the lungs, resulting in coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and/or chest tightness.

Some types of asthma are non-allergic and are caused by stress, illness, extreme weather, or some medications. People with a family history of allergies or asthma are more prone to developing asthma. The pollen season manifested by high levels of airborne pollen dust in the air affects the respiratory system in susceptible individuals and trigger an asthmatic reaction. An allergist/immunologist will perform the diagnosis and identify the potential triggers to put a treatment plan in place.

While there is no cure for asthma, it can be managed. In the US alone, nearly 14 million people seek a doctor for asthma each year. Researchers estimate that asthma-related costs (health care plus indirect costs, such as decreased worker productivity) are around $60 billion annually. Since prevention is the best strategy, an individual with asthma needs to recognize what triggers an attack and avoid those whenever possible. Doctors also recommend that asthma patients develop their own personalized treatment plans. 

Many people with this condition manage it well and live a healthy and productive life by avoiding the triggers.
Asthma flare-ups can be controlled by steroids, bronchodilators, and mast cell stabilizers, although long-term use of these drugs carries a risk of adverse effects. One of the main recommendations is that regular physical exercise should be practiced in order to improve lung fitness and increase respiratory capacity. Many people with asthma look to yoga asana and pranayama practice to help relieve their symptoms.

There are conflicting reports on the practice of yoga for relieving asthma symptoms (Yoga for asthma). While this may be due to the degree of asthma in the subjects (early, moderate, or severe asthma), some researchers have noted significant improvements in quality of life among yoga practitioners compared with non-practitioners (see Yoga may improve asthma symptoms). Most of the research studies employed specific yoga asanas and deep yogic breathing to stimulate and strengthen the lungs and respiratory capacity. In several of these research studies, asana poses that were commonly included were: Forward Bending poses (Uttanasana), Supported Bridge pose (Setu Bandhasana), Downward-Facing Dog pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana), Upward Plank pose (Purvottanasana), Supported Fish pose (Matsyasana), and Reclined Hero pose (Supta Virasana) followed by gentle alternate nostril breathing. Back bending postures are very good to open the chest and improve the condition of the heart and lungs. Upper back bends and chest opening postures help with inhaling and forward bends help with exhaling.

Both asana practice and pranayama breathing can lead to an overall improvement in strength of the lung muscles that assist in inhalation and exhalation including the main muscle of breathing, the respiratory diaphragm. Stretching the muscles of the chest region, along with breath practices that lengthen the inhale and exhale, can improve lung capacity. If you have chronic asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD-emphysema), unless your doctor says it is safe to advance your practice, just focus on supported poses, gentle breath work, and slow, gentle dynamic poses such as Cat/Cow pose.

When you are ready to advance your practice, try a gentle, active asana practice as this may provide you with important benefits including less shortness of breath, better exercise tolerance, and improved sleep. To help in achieving comfort and maximum effectiveness, I recommend using suitable props while doing some of these asanas. Reclined poses (supine or prone) could make breathing more difficult for a person with lung disease so you try supporting your torso and head in supine poses. In prone poses, find more space for the belly for example, by widening your knees. If these adaptations do not improve your breathing, skip these poses and practice meditation or breath practices in a seated position.

If you become suddenly short of breath, stop whatever yoga practice you are doing, sit down with some support in a chair or against a wall, and wait for all the symptoms to subside. If symptoms persist, seek prompt medical attention.

If you are healthy, practice up to six days a week, alternating days of active practice with days of gentle and restorative practice. If you are currently experiencing asthma or other respiratory problems, try practicing four days a week, alternating between active days with restorative days. If you see positive changes, slowly add more days of practice.

So if you have some sort of allergy or asthma and wish to do yoga, consider having a steady and safe yoga practice!

Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).

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

° 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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

¿Qué es el Yoga? Descubriendo la Esencia de la Práctica

Por Jivana Heyman 

Original publicado en LAYOGA el 4 de junio 2019Traducción al español: Alma Durán 

¿Qué es el Yoga? ¿Hay dos tipos diferentes? 

Cuando converso con personas sobre el yoga estos días, me pregunto con frecuencia si es que hablamos de lo mismo. Pareciera que hay dos “yogas” diferentes. Una es la práctica de posturas físicas, y la otra es la práctica interna/espiritual guiada por la filosofía yógica clásica. 

Una práctica externa y otra interna. Esta conceptualización dicotómica refleja la división imperante en la comunidad y que conduce a una cultura contemporánea del yoga que parece estar llena de separaciones y de exclusividades. ¿Será que si logramos compartir una forma de concebir el yoga esto nos ayudaría a superar las divisiones y a crear una cultura mas unida e inclusiva? 

De Jur fotografiada por Sarit Rogers Photography. 

La pregunta, “Qué es el yoga?” es sorpresivamente difícil de responder. Persistentemente reflexiono sobre esto: ¿Qué es esta práctica misteriosa que me ha cautivado por la mayor parte de mi vida? Una disciplina que es física y espiritual al mismo tiempo. ¿Porqué cuando practico y empiezo a mover mi cuerpo, mi mente se embebe en esas acciones y yo me relajo? ¿Cómo hace el yoga para, de manera consistente y constante, salvarme de la confusión que genera el estar pensando sin pausa? ¿Cómo es que el yoga absorbe la oscuridad y el dolor? 

Para mí el yoga es más que guerreros y perros, más que árboles y bailarines, y más que águilas y cobras. El yoga es algo así como un pegamento que me mantiene unificado. Es respiración y energía que se enlazan generando una doble hélice en el existir. Es algo mágico y misterioso. Esta disciplina física de poner mi cuerpo en ciertas posiciones (intentado encontrar mi árbol interno) de cierta manera me ayuda a lograr lo que los textos sagrados identifican como la meta de la práctica: la paz interna y la autorrealización.
Los múltiples significados del Yoga.

La palabra yoga tiene más significados en sánscrito que ninguna otra, lo cual nos sirve como un indicador de la amplitud de esta disciplina… y del porqué puede resultar tan confusa. Sé que usualmente definimos yoga como unión, pero creo que en realidad se trata de mucho más que eso. Para lograr una visión más completa podríamos apoyarnos en la perspectiva histórica. Hace mas de 1500 años Patanjali lo explicó con estas cuatro palabras en sánscrito: “yogas chitta vritti nirodha”. Éstas se han convertido, por cierto, en el tatuaje que más frecuentemente se imprimen en el pecho los practicantes de yoga. Seth Powell, académico especializado en yoga, traduce esta oración como “Yoga es el parar los virajes de la mente”. Por su parte Linda Sparrow nos ofrece una traducción muy dulce: “Yoga es el arrullar la mente hacia la quietud del silencio”. Mi conclusión personal después de tres décadas de considerar seriamente el significado de esas cuatro palabras es que nos llaman a trascender nuestra limitada visión egocéntrica. Mi interpretación es: “Calmar la mente, liberar el corazón”. Carecer de esta perspectiva nos llevaría a extraviarnos, a pensar en el yoga como una práctica primordialmente física. 

Esto es peligroso ya que lleva malentender el asana avanzada, confundiéndola con un yoga avanzado. Esto es falso, ya que no existe una correlación entre la habilidad física y la paz mental. ¿Se es menos avanzad@ en el yoga si se sufre alguna enfermedad o accidente? ¿O perderían las personas su llamado estatus como “avanzadas” si al envejecer sus cuerpos ya no pueden desempeñarse tal como cuando eran jóvenes? 

Recuerdo cuando hace unos diez años acepté dar una clase semanal en una unidad residencial para estudiantes con esclerosis múltiple avanzada. A mi llegada encontré cinco alumnos con cuadriplejia, sin movilidad cual ninguna, y cuya mayoría no podía hablar. Inicialmente me sentí agobiado y confundido : ¿Cómo poder enseñarles yoga? Con el tiempo me di cuenta de que las únicas limitaciones estaban en realidad en mi propia mente, y que si mi comprensión de la esencia del yoga era real y correcta podría muy bien compartirla con ellos. 
Jivana Heyman y De Jur, fotografiados por Sarit Rogers Photography. 

La naturaleza universal del yoga trasciende lo físico 

Aquella clase me ayudó a entender la naturaleza universal del yoga y cómo esto trasciende lo físico. Mi trabajo con Accessible Yoga se encuentra con frecuencia rodeado por el contexto de una visión occidentalizada del yoga; esa perspectiva idealiza las habilidades físicas, discriminando contra aquell@s con limitaciones o capacidades diferentes. Con frecuencia me dicen cosas como: “Que generosidad la tuya al hacer estas práctica asequibles para personas minusválidas“, o “Que inspirador resulta ver a personas con problemas practicando yoga“. Estos comentarios reflejan una idea errónea sobre el yoga al considerar que la práctica son las poses corporales –en vez de centrar la importancia en el contexto dentro del cual se esas asanas surgen. Lo que le interesa a Accessible Yoga no son tanto las formas externas de las poses, sino el hacer la esencia del yoga comprensible.

Lo que se descubre en el Yoga 

¿Qué es el yoga? Pregunté a varios practicantes contemporáneos por sus propias definiciones. Luvena Una Rangel, maestra de yoga nacida en la India, respondió: “Yoga es la integración y unión de nuestra mente, respiración y acciones con nuestro entorno –todas las relaciones, seres vivientes y materia articulados en presencia consciente y unicidad.” 

El artista de Kirtan Jacob Duran dijo que, “Yoga es el proceso, sistematizado o espontáneo, que disuelve nuestra identificación con el yo transitorio, descubriendo nuestra verdadera identidad como Espíritu Eterno“. Esta concepción del yoga propone que nuestra verdadera identidad es la de Espíritu o Alma Eterna, la cual es igual en todos y cada uno de nosotros. Somos seres completos. Nuestra plenitud no es a costa de la de nadie mas. 

Esto es claramente explicado en un conocido verso proveniente de uno de los textos Hindúes más antiguos: 

om purnam adah purnam idam
purnat purnam udacyate
purnasya purnam adaya
purnam evavasisyate OM 

Eso es la plenitud. Esto es la plenitud.
La plenitud surge de la plenitud
Quitando la plenitud a la plenitud
Lo que queda es plenitud

– Isha Upanishad (500 aC) 

¡Somos seres completos! Nuestra naturaleza es la integridad y la totalidad; nos embarcamos en la práctica del yoga para reconocer esa realidad. Aunque no puedas pararte de cabeza por una hora eres una persona en toda tu plenitud. Si has sido maltratad@ o abusad@, si dañaste a alguien: sigues siendo un ser completo. Si estás enferm@, ansios@, deprimid@ o sufriendo, eso no te quita nada de tu totalidad como ser humano. Yoga es el proceso de recordar esa plenitud intrínseca. Comprendiendo esto es claro que, por definición, el yoga es accesible. Se trata de tocar la parte mas accesible de todas: nuestro SER esencial. 

Practicar yoga es entender esto. Se trata de parar la identificación con el ego y la mente ­–que son tan limitados­– y de conectar con el corazón. No es algo muy sencillo de hacer, pero nadie espera perfección tampoco. El practicar algunas posturas puede ayudar a disminuir el estrés, la ansiedad y la depresión sin que implique un contexto espiritual. Esto significa que no hay que “creer en la espiritualidad del yoga” para que funcione. Pero: para compartir el yoga de manera equitativa es imprescindible que tengamos una visión más extensa. ¿Cuánta gente dice que creen no pueden practicar yoga porque no son flexibles? ¿Qué nos indica esto sobre la forma en que representamos/visualizamos el yoga y sobre cómo lo enseñamos? 

¿Cómo podemos incorporar este conocimiento a las ideas populares sobre el yoga y, hasta cierto punto, llegar a un acuerdo sobre lo que es el yoga? - respetando, claro, la diversidad de experiencias comunitarias. Una cosa que se muy bien sobre el yoga es que aún y cuando parece ser una práctica personal es en realidad una experiencia grupal. Cuando me concentro en mi interior, en realidad te encuentro/l@s encuentro a tod@s. En mi plenitud me encuentro con tu plenitud. 

Definiendo lo que es el Yoga 

De acuerdo con el maestro de yoga Marc Settembrino, “Yoga es el grupo de prácticas que me permite observar las interconexiones entre mi mente y mi cuerpo, y con toda mi comunidad.” 

Probablemente las siguientes definiciones sean de utilidad: 

Yoga es la unión
De respiración, mente y cuerpo.
No se requiere tapete.

– Myra Rubinstein 

Yoga es la práctica de tomar consciencia del cuerpo, la respiración y la mente que lleva al autoconocimiento para que así podamos servir mejor en este mundo.
– Priya Wagner 

Una visión compartida de la plenitud del Yoga 

Todas las definiciones del yoga hablan de su totalidad. Cada una lo describe como un viaje con el objetivo de descubrir nuestra naturaleza espiritual, nuestra esencia. Si nos unimos al compartir esta visión más vasta de lo que significa practicar yoga podremos cultivar una concepción compartida de lo que es el yoga. Una vez que logremos estar de acuerdo en este enfoque abierto podremos conectar de manera igualmente respetuosa con personas con todo tipo de habilidades y antecedentes. Será posible crear una comunidad ­–una sangha– de practicantes de yoga que en vez de centrarse en las habilidades físicas, cimiente sus bases sobre el amor a la práctica, y cuya meta sea el encontrar la paz, la integración y la plenitud en nuestras propias vidas. 

Jivana Heyman, autor de este ensayo y fundador de la Red Accessible Yoga,
fotografiado por Sarit Rogers Photography.

Fotografías de los embajadores de Accessible Yoga 

Fotografías de Jivana Heyman y de De Jur por Sarit Rogers Photography. 

Pide por anticipado el libro "Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body", de Jivana Heyman.

Jivana Heyman es fundador y director de Accessible Yoga, una organización internacional sin fines de lucro dedicada a incrementar el acceso a las enseñanzas del yoga. Accessible Yoga ofrece conferencias, entrenamiento, y el Programa de Embajadores que ha ganado gran aceptación. Es autor del libro “Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body” (Shambhala Publications, noviembre de 2019), que muy pronto estará a la venta. Es también copropietario del Santa Barbara Yoga Center y Ministro de Yoga Integral. Jivana se ha especializado en enseñar yoga a personas que enfrentan retos de salud. Su compromiso con esta labor dio origen a la organización Accessible Yoga Network que fue creada para apoyar la educación, entrenamiento y defensa de derechos; el cambiar la percepción pública del yoga forma también parte de su misión. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Michelle C. Johnson's Speech at the St. Louis Conference on Countering the Dominant Culture

Michelle C. Johnson, who is a yoga teacher and social justice activist, delivered a closing speech for the Accessible Yoga Conference in St. Louis, May 31-June 2, 2019. Here is some of what she said:

The invitation for all of you—if you're not from here, when you go back home—is to just research and ask about the land where you live and the tribes that were there inhabiting the spaces before colonization happened, which is like a global experience. The reason why I think it's so important to address the land and where we're from and where we're standing is because we need to understand our identities and our proximity to power. We need to recognize the cultures that have been silenced and made invisible, and we need to understand that culture teaches us to forget.

We've forgotten who was here before us. I think that means we're forgetting the truth of who we are, and when we forget the truth I think we risk death—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. When I think about accessibility it's not about death, it's about life, it's about space to breathe, it's about space to be, it's about being included. Part of what dominant culture has done to some of us, if not all of us, is that it has disconnected us from ourselves, from each other, from the land, from the space, and caused us to be disassociated from the truth.

I gave a Ted X talk last February at Lake Forest University and they gave me a week to prepare for the talk, which is unusual. They asked me at the last minute and they looked me up. And I said yes to them. My talk was about "skill in action." It was about yoga and social justice, and the intersection, and how they are really the same thing in my mind. I went in for the rehearsal the day before the Ted X talk, and I stood on stage and I said white supremacy, racism, and I talked about yoga and I left. Everything seemed fine.

Then the next morning—the day of the Ted X talk—I got a phone call. It was from one of the Ted X facilitators and she said, “Can you not say the word "white supremacy?" I actually knew in her voice that it wasn't her, like someone else had asked her to deliver that message to me. But still, she had a choice–she's a white woman who had a choice about asking me about not using the term “white supremacy.” I became very upset. She wanted me to use "discrimination," not "white supremacy," but they're not the same to me.

I told her I was going to use "white supremacy." She had seen me say it in rehearsal, it was what I was going to say, they had looked me up. If they knew about my book it's sort of their fault if they didn't know I was going to talk about white supremacy. Come on people, I talk about it all the time.... I went into teacher training that day and burst into tears and I said, “This is what white supremacy does. It tells me, a black woman who's living in a racist culture, she can't actually talk about racism and call it white supremacy because that's the system that created racism…. So I went to give the talk and I used "white supremacy." I said it about 15 more times than I would have…. I wasn't using it as a weapon; I was just speaking truth.

I think that so much of what I've observed and experienced at the conference this weekend is a bunch of truth tellers based on our marginalized identities and how we move in culture and how culture positions us. As I mentioned earlier, when we don't acknowledge where we're from, or where we are, or our identities, we risk spiritual death, physical death, emotional death, psychic death. That's part of what happens when we buy into this toxicity in the culture.

Part of the toxic culture tells us not to see what culture is made of. I don't mean culture connected to family, or traditions, or rituals–I mean dominant culture and the group that decides who's normal and who's not. So part of our work—and I've seen it this weekend—is to recognize what culture is made of, and how it's positioning us, and how it's moving us, and how it's constraining us and others, as we try to create these accessible spaces. Part of what has created the exclusion in yoga is this dominant culture, is the norm about who a yogi is, what they look like, and even what yoga is, and who has a right to be well and practice yoga.

A few things that I've learned this weekend is that we are co-creating a space that is based on different ways of being that is counter to dominant culture, that we're sharing space, that we've shared meals, that story has been shared, that we're focusing on sacred texts, that we're focusing on people who are not actually seen as "normal" yogis. This is like a counter culture within a larger dominant culture that puts pressure on the industry of yoga to make yogis be thin, white, female-identified folks.

I've had this experience of co-creation of a space that is very different than what is going on outside of this room right now. I've heard conversations about power and justice and creating space for all. I want us to hold on to some of the things that we've learned here and the different ways of being.

Michelle C. Johnson is an author, yoga teacher, social justice activist, licensed clinical social worker, and Dismantling Racism trainer. She approaches her life and work from a place of empowerment, embodiment, and integration. With a deep understanding of trauma and the impact that it has on the mind, body, spirit and heart, much of her work focuses on helping people better understand how power and privilege operate in their life. She explores how privilege, power, and oppression affects the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and energy body. Michelle is the creator of Skill in Action, a 200-hour teacher training program focused on the intersection of yoga and social justice.

This post was transcribed by Patrice Priya Wagner and was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

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To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, June 6, 2019

Interview with Matthew Remski about "Practice And All Is Coming"

by Donna Noble

Donna: Congratulations, Matthew, on the release of your new book Practice And All Is Coming. Can you briefly tell us what this book is about and why you decided to write it? 

MatthewThe book covers the serial and predatorial abuse of Ashtanga founder Pattabhi Jois, and how it was enabled, rationalized, and even spiritualized by his senior students and community. It uses tools from cult analysis discourse to explore how it wasn’t simply a matter of a single perpetrator committing crimes against individuals, but rather it was enmeshed within and perpetuated by a social dynamic. The conclusion of the book offers self-inquiry tools for examining signs of toxic social dynamics that foster or cover over abuse. These tools for critical thinking and community health are designed for students, teachers, trainers, and service providers in modern yoga and global Buddhism, but I hope they have broader applications as well, up to and including how we organize community in the shadow of climate crisis.

Donna: What can readers expect from the book? 

Matthew: A victim/survivor centered approach. Solid reporting, fact-checked. Riveting stories. Triggering stories. Good historical research, backed by top yoga scholars. Analysis of the tragedy using the tools of cult analysis. A normalization of those tools, so that they don’t feel so shameful and alienating. 

I’m especially proud to have been able to platform the work of Alexandra Stein in the fourth part of the book. She shows that attachment patterns are at the heart of the cult experience—that however you formed relationships from childhood is scrambled by a high-demand group into the pattern known as “disorganized,” a highly-aroused state in which love and fear are completely conflated. Being recruited into a high-demand group is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s rather a sophisticated hijacking of the way in which all human beings form bonds. 

It’s not an easy read. A lot of readers are saying that it sheds new light on their own yoga or Buddhism groups. This can be both startling and liberating. Hopefully readers stick around to read the upward arc of the workbook.

Donna: What has been the biggest takeaway for you whilst researching and writing the book?

Matthew: Two things. First, as Theo Wildcroft puts it, the abuse survivors of any culture are the canaries in the coal mine of the world. They have the most lucid view on how we actually treat each other as a species and what the stakes are when we pretend otherwise. While polite society carries on as if everything is fine, it hides the fact that it’s actually running on the silence of survivors. If the women who Pattabhi Jois assaulted over 30 years had been listened to and believed and advocated for, there would be no Ashtanga Yoga today. 

What does that mean? It means that if you look around, every institution you see—especially if it promotes and advocates for a better world, a more spiritual self—has to have its aspirations compared to its reality. It bears repeating: If Jois had been arrested in the U.S. in 1987, when it was clear to the majority of his senior American students that he was committing crimes, Ashtanga Yoga might have died then and there. We have to let that sink in. Not listening to survivors is at the root of social deception, and it perpetuates itself, becoming intergenerational. In the case of Ashtanga Yoga, that deception built an empire, and a pile of cash.

Perhaps it’s a poignant example of karma. That we go on with our lives as normal, but with an unacknowledged wound at the very centre of things that we must continue to cover over—with the next sequence, the next training, the next “deepening” of our practice.

Second, never underestimate the resilience of abuse survivors. They’re actually remaking the global yoga movement as we speak.

Donna: Why did you not speak out earlier about what you personally witnessed? 

Matthew: To be clear: I never personally witnessed sexual abuse in a yoga class. I was physically assaulted by a teacher “adjusting” me, and I came to understand that over time as related to my broader experience of male violence and corporal punishment. But that took a long time. I just didn’t want to view that incident through that framework. So in that sense I have just a bit of the experience of not feeling able to speak out.

Where I did fall down was in not supporting my friend Diane Bruni when she disclosed her knowledge of Jois’s assaults at a public event in Toronto in 2015. As I’ve told the story in the book—I just didn’t want to go there. If Jois was a serial abuser, as the then-quiet stories seemed to suggest, what did that mean about his legacy and influence upon the entire yoga world? What exactly had we all been ignoring or overlooking or rationalizing or spiritualizing? For a whole year, it was too much for me to bear, until I realized that Diane was bearing a whole lot more than my disenchantment.

Donna: Is there any difference or similarities between the #metoo and #yogatoo scandals. 

Matthew: The only difference might be in that #yogatoo adds in the dynamic of spiritual abuse, which is its own category. No one looked to Harvey Weinstein for spiritual teaching. So the betrayals involved with his crimes are not worse, but different. With Jois, the spiritual abuse comes with having manipulated people’s desires for communion or oneness.

Donna: What do you think about informed consent? 

Matthew: It would be a great idea for the yoga world! But we don’t have it. Teachers don’t even have a defined scope of practice, so by definition they can’t offer informed consent. Nor can they offer it in an unregulated industry that has no accountability structures. 

It’s a huge challenge, because the profile of the modern yoga master—we can take BKS Iyengar as an example—is literally built on the absence of informed consent, and the absence of scope of practice. The premise of being his student is that he knows everything about yoga and everything about you—so much so that you cannot understand what he understands. So you literally cannot be informed. It’s a surrender-to-total-knowledge paradigm, whereas implied consent demands that the practitioner surrenders knowledge and transparency to the client or student as a prerequisite to the contract. Iyengar didn’t become who he was by submitting to peer review or being held accountable by a college of his peers. He became Iyengar by doing the opposite. His students could neither be fully informed as to the nature of his genius, nor, given the power dynamics involved, could they consent to his interventions. 

Donna: How can we avoid this happening again? 

Matthew: In the 6th part of my book, I lay out a workbook for helping students, teachers, and trainers foster critical thinking and community health. It’s not going to solve abuse in the yoga world, but I do believe it will help educate the professional class in the detection of cultic dynamics, and raise the bar for demanding accountability from leaders. 

The section contains a number of thought exercises based on the analysis of the Jois event, and also defines a scope of practice for “yoga humanities” (as opposed to “health sciences”), because now it’s more on the level of history, culture, philosophy, textual study, and psychology that new students can be deeply manipulated. The functional movement crowd has pretty much degraded the notion that the Iyengar or Jois methods are biomechanically sound or useful. And they’ve done it with evidence. That’s not where naïve students will continue to be deceived, however. They’ll be deceived by being told that Iyengar and Jois were great philosophers or spiritual teachers. A scope of practice for yoga humanities will help students assess whether or not those marketing claims are true, because they serve as propaganda for the rest of the method.

Donna: What does the essence of yoga mean to you and has it changed since writing the book? 

Matthew: The book has only deepened my sense of what’s truly important to me in practice. My current understanding of moksha revolves around the possibility of seeing oneself, one’s relationships, and the world as clearly as possible. This means understanding projection, transference, idealization. It means seeing through the anxiety by which we organize our power structures. It means trying to understand interdependence and everything that invisibly makes up your world and your position in it. It means seeking out a pause when possible and feeling all of the threads of connection hum and vibrate. 

Working on a book about abuse and healing in the yoga world amplified all of these things. It broke through my desire to idealize the yoga world—a habit that was wrapped up in spiritual bypassing. It forced me to listen carefully to the experiences of people who carry traumas I have never known. That exposure has opened me up to a vision of how necessary empathy is, and how supportive we can be when we feel it, if we’re also open to feedback.

As my interview database for the project expanded, the network between people’s experiences became more visible. Eventually it revealed an entirely alternative yoga world, which didn’t look anything like the marketing at all. It looked like the rest of the world, only painted over in gold and distraction and wishes for a perfect life. And isn’t that what coming to reality feels like? An evaporation of infatuation? Seeing things as they really are, and learning how to love again from ground zero? 

Donna: What is your hope for the future of yoga?

Matthew: That it helps us form stronger and more resilient connections with each other so that when things really fall apart, we’ll tear each other to pieces a little less quickly. 

To order Practice And All Is Coming, go to (which also offers wholesale pricing at or your favorite online retailer, such as Amazon

Donna Noble is the Founder of CurveSomeYoga, which is about helping to make yoga more inclusive and accessible. Her passion is sharing the transformational benefits of yoga and showing that everyBODY is a yoga body. She is a Body Image Ambassador and is about all things body positive. You can find out more about Donna at

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

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Monday, June 3, 2019

Yoga for Anxiety

By Annie Piper

Annie Piper presented at our 2017 Conference in New York and here is her article from the Journal distributed at the event.

Here in New York City, where I teach, pretty much everyone who walks through the door of a yoga studio is looking to calm down. I remember years ago meeting with my doctor for a routine check up and confiding that I had “anxiety disorder." He smiled politely, completely unfazed, and said “90% of my patients have chronic anxiety. It’s what draws us to New York, right?”

I wondered then, why, if we’re anxious, do we want to live in a city that might exacerbate our condition? And I guess the answer is, we gravitate towards what we know. We draw on, and pay attention to, aspects of ourselves which are readily available and familiar. Having an adrenalized city mirror our own tension back at us feels almost cozy.

So what I have spent 20 years trying to teach people isn’t so much asana or pranayama, although that is largely what we ‘do’ in my classes. I seldom, if ever, lecture on The Bhagavad Gita or The Yoga Sutras or the Eight Limbs, although I draw deep inspiration from these sources on my own path. I rarely stop to explain a pose or demonstrate. In fact, I don’t find teaching people how to do a yoga pose interesting at all. 

What I do find interesting is the challenge of helping students feel the physical practice energetically and emotionally, encouraging a deep and indisputable connection to the present. What I do is try to guide a group of people into energetic coherence and group meditation (via asana, pranayama, and some qi gong), using language that prioritizes the moment to moment experience of moving and breathing and feeling and thinking.

If we gravitate towards what we know, as humans seem to do, then what I want my students to begin to feel, as deeply and coherently as they can, is the possibility of Yoga, union, connection. I want them to find a deep ease that comes with being introduced over and over again to a steady and unwavering version of themselves. I want them to uncover the Self that gets buried under all that noise.

To tap that kind of energy in the room, I use slow, steady, flow; meditation before, during and after; breath counting; music that calms and/or helps us release emotionally and feel our hearts; psoas release; humming; shaking; yin practice. I use things I’ve borrowed over the years from other teachers (God bless them) or learned in trauma yoga trainings. Of course, I also draw on things that have gotten me through all sorts of my own pain and discomfort.

My hope, always is that the space feels safe, that trauma and broken hearts and anxieties have a home here to ventilate, to be seen and felt and not feared.

Annie Piper teaches at Kula Yoga in Tribeca, The Shala and Prema Yoga in Brooklyn. She is on the movement faculty at NYU's Tisch School of Graduate Acting and The Yale School of Drama. She is the co- teacher of 'The Open Voice' with Jessie Austrian at NYU's Gallatin School. She is certified to teach trauma-sensitive yoga by both the Trauma Center in Boston and with the national organization Warriors at Ease, and continues to bring yoga to veterans throughout the New York area. She has served on the faculty at the Brown University / Trinity Rep Consortium as well as undergraduate Theater Studies at NYU. Formerly an actor and director, She received an MFA in Acting from The University of Minnesota and a BA in Theater from Oberlin College. She certified to teach in 1997 at OM yoga, and studies Qi Gong with Thomas Droge. She is also a Reiki practitioner and the mother of two beautiful and feisty boys in Brooklyn, New York.

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

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To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.