Wednesday, September 30, 2020

The Connection Between Spiritual Practice and Yoga

Michelle C Johnson

by Michelle C. Johnson

Michelle C. Johnson will be presenting at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online, October 9-11, 2020.

Yoga means to “yoke.” It means bringing together things that seem to be in opposition like our mind and body or our heart and spirit. There are so many opposing forces and dynamic tensions present during the times in which we live. There is justice and injustice; wholeness and fragmentation; healing and trauma; wellness and disease coupled with who deserves to be well and who deserves to suffer; and resistance and acceptance. The practice of yoga teaches us to act skillfully and radically as we respond to harm, opposition, and injustice.

Yoga encourages a space for deep exploration, curiosity, and reflection. The practice asks one to look inside and view their experience as a witness. A practice of witnessing allows one to understand that most places where yoga is practiced are a microcosm of the larger culture. Whatever is happening outside of the yoga space is happening inside of the space.

The business of yoga isn’t void of power and privilege, and the manifestation of how power moves in dominant culture is reflected by a lack of building community when teaching a class, the sequence that is taught, the decor of the studio, and the demographic of people practicing. The practice of merging the internal and external reality would allow people to live their yoga. Discernment follows witnessing, which can create a space for one to reflect on their impact on the collective good. Or, their perpetuation of power and privilege to harm the collective good.

Yoga is a practice that is for everyone and one of its inherent purposes is to bring us into alignment, wholeness, and a healed state. Justice is the act of acknowledging and repairing the harm that comes from living in a toxic culture that values some over others. Toxicity that causes dis-ease and trauma to us individually and collectively.

The teachings of the 8-limbed path of yoga focus on principles that can be responsive to the injustices that are happening in the world. They call practitioners into action by suggesting that the only way to be on the path to enlightenment, and the only way to practice yoga, is to be compassionate and not cause harm to others. The only way not to cause harm is to understand one’s power and privilege and to understand that suffering is perpetuated by a lack of recognizing the imbalance of power in our culture.

The yamas and niyamas, along with every other limb of the 8-limbed path of yoga, lay out a blueprint for how we can create a just world. Non-violence, uplifting non-dominant narratives, being aware of how many resources we use, understanding our relationship to scarcity and abundance, and managing our energy are all practices that could support us in creating conditions for liberation, making space to breathe for everyone. Devotion and remembering we are interconnected with every sentient being allows us to create conditions for wholeness for all.

Humanity, dignity, and freedom are the heart of justice work. Interconnectedness, mindfulness, and the space to breathe freely are the heart of yoga. Justice and yoga feel one and the same to me.

Michelle C. Johnson
is an author, yoga teacher, social justice activist, licensed clinical social worker, intuitive healer, 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 affect the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and energy body.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The Intersection of Yoga and Social Justice

Anjali Rao

by Anjali Rao

Anjali Rao is due to present at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online, October 9-11, 2020.

Many shades of mahogany is how I would describe my skin color. Millions of people from the Indian subcontinent would describe their skin similarly. We Indians have a complicated relationship with color. We come from a land that celebrates myriad colors in our textiles, food, architecture, art––pretty much any and all materials. Except for our skin. Many Indians have deep prejudices about skin color, with lighter skin being preferred. My brother is darker than I am; he was a target of verbal jibes throughout his childhood.

In India, there is a booming market for skin-whitening creams, far more than Coca-Cola and tea. This national obsession with lighter skin could be a legacy of our history of foreign aggression by lighter-skinned invaders for thousands of years. Thus, power, privilege, and beauty is, and has been, deeply associated with lighter complexions.

India––a country that struggled with years of oppressive rule of British imperialism, as well as our ancestors in the not-so-distant past treated as second-class citizens at best, robbed of natural resources and immense wealth––is only now recovering and emerging out of its traumatic past. India is mind-boggling in its diversity of human experiences with deep divisions of caste and religion. Thus, I come from a land that has been oppressed and has been the oppressor.

One may ask, how is this related to what is happening now in the United States and the world over? Racism and oppression is are on a spectrum, ranging from openly expressed (and thus acted upon) hate and mistrust of another, to a subtler, deeper prejudice and bias about someone who is from a different racial or ethnic background. Now, in the United States, we are in the middle of a social revolution, a global upheaval from a dominant, white-supremacist culture.

As Rev. Angel Kyodo Williams asserts in the brilliant book Radical Dharma, “Every institution, every organization, every culture, every community, every belief system, every frame of mind we currently have that organizes itself and operates within the social order…compel us all to believe that Whites are better than Blacks, and Blacks are worse than anyone.” For centuries, our Black siblings bare scars and wounds of the hideous crimes of slavery, causing indescribable grief and inter-generational trauma. We are in the eye of a stormy uprising of these voices now. It has been a long time in the making, a long, bloody time.

Racism is on a continuum; it is nuanced and insidious. As people of color and immigrants, many of us have experienced many acts of microaggressions, stereotyping, and racist comments. Coming from what is touted as a “model minority,” I have some Brown privilege, and unpacking this complex framework of privilege and a recipient of immigrant stereotyping, to be an effective ally to those who may need my allyship is a lifelong commitment. Each of us have our ancestral, communal, familial, personal frameworks that we have to unlearn, learn, and relearn again and again to cause change.

Yoga and social justice work deeply intersect one another. One may ask: “But how is this connected to yoga? Isn’t yoga about peace and oneness? How is the revolution for social and racial justice an extension of our practice?” I believe that the work of social justice is the very essence of our practice itself; our yoga practice is deeply embedded in the world around us. It is a mirror, a microcosm, of the world outside. Our inner lives are connected to the way we move in the world, our relationships with one another, how we practice integrity, speak truth in our work and community around us. We learn this as students of the Yoga Sutras, the yamas and the niyamas. We learn this from the ancient Upanishads. We learn this from the Bhagavad Gita.

The very essence of our practice, the very meaning of our practice, drawn from the root word, yuj is connection. The Chandogya Upanishad says Tat Tvam Asi––Thou Art That; the Self in each person is not different, that we are all inherently Divine. We are all, as a human race, deeply, inextricably, intangibly, and tangibly interconnected with one another, infused with the same spirit, the Brahman. And, yet, in reality right now, this interconnectedness is not manifested at all levels. For nearly a thousand years, there has been a systematic, institutionalized oppression of groups within a society by another dominant group based on race, caste, skin-color, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, causing inequities in access to resources in education, healthcare, employment, housing.

Our practice should not be, and cannot afford to be, oblivious to these divisive systems. We cannot actively and knowingly participate in institutions that cause separation, discrimination, oppression, injustice, and harm to others. How can we attain our goal of knowing our higher selves by ignoring or being in denial of the systemic racism and oppression, of white supremacy perpetuated by the dominant culture?

The call to action for social justice is not new to the Yogi. Yoga, as a word, makes its first appearance in the Bhagavad Gita, the Song of the Divine, taught by Krishna to his friend and student, Arjuna. This word makes its appearance not in an ashram, not in the mountains, not in a palace, but in a battlefield during a terrible war for justice. The Gita is unique in its message as it succinctly encapsulates how we have to follow our Dharma, our duty, to live and work in the world. It is as much about renunciation as an active call to participate in the world around us.

Krishna tells Arjuna that he, as a warrior, has to fight for justice, battle with his family to establish the path of his Dharma, righteousness, and justice in their kingdom. It will not be hyperbolic to say that we are in many ways in a struggle, in a conflict within our communities, in our workplaces and perhaps within our families. The moment calls us as allies to stand up to those in power at micro and macro levels and in our own ways.

Yoga has always been beloved by revolutionaries like Swami Vivekananda who said in his rousing oratory during the Nationalist movement in the early-19th-century British occupied India, “Utthishta Jaagruth, Praapya Varaanibodhat” (Arise! Awake! and Stop not till the goal is reached), a call to especially the Indian youth to wake up to their own inner potential to overthrow the mighty British rulers. He was an advocate for the practice of yoga as a tool for the freedom fighters to physically, mentally, and spiritually prepare themselves in their active fight for emancipation. The practice of asanas of Hatha Yoga, as we know it now, evolved from Yogis during a violent struggle against British occupation in the 18th century by Yogis in Bengal and North India.

Mahatma Gandhi who studied the Upanishads and the Gita designed the Satyagraha movement, a peaceful resistance to British oppression, inspired by the collectivistic and interdependent approach espoused by these ancients. This style of resistance has influenced leaders like Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement and Nelson Mandela in his fight against apartheid in South Africa.

We need, as warriors and workers, to build resilience and stamina, and dare I say, hold each other and ourselves gently with a fierce compassion or we will burn out and cease to be effective. Angela Davis, a luminary of the Civil Rights movement, has been a strong proponent of yoga for self-care for activists. As she says, “Anyone who is interested in making change in the world also has to take care of herself, himself, theirselves.” Yoga transforms the practitioner not merely on the physical, but also on visceral, cerebral, and spiritual levels. It is not only asana, and pranayama, and taking care of our physical bodies, but also the yamas and the niyamas which offer us tools for reflecting on the many shades of light and shadows within. 

How have we actively or unknowingly perpetuated the oppressive system? If we are white, have we begun to examine our white fragility? If we are non-white, non-black folk, have we reflected on the ways we have internalized oppression and colonial paradigms? Have we in our lives off the mat, or on it, appropriated from another culture or race without honoring the roots, because we could? Have we taken pieces of a culture or a race like music, art, selective travel, and not cared to understand people and their ancestors, their history, and grief? How can we lean into many truths on the way power is manifested in a society?

We have to conscientiously and consciously unlearn so we are true and long-term allies. These are questions we have to continue to contemplate, get familiar with our implicit bias, and act to cause change within and around. We can actively be agents of change and transform the collective by our choices, by our voices. This will not be easy, this will not be comfortable, this will not be smooth. We may make many mistakes along the way; in fact, we will as a whole and as individuals. We will fumble along the way, for many of us this is an awakening. For a few, this work is not new, and for some, these are deep wounds in the psyche.

Yoga offers us radical agency to use our privilege if we have it, by sharpening our discriminative discernment, so we respond to the world around and within with skill and compassion. We, as a collective, need to keep our inner fire, our tapas, ignited for a long time by educating each other on the past and the present, by deeply acknowledging the grievances, trauma, and suffering on macro and micro levels caused by complicit or overt participation, by lifting and supporting BIPOC work and lives in multiple ways, by amplifying and listening to BIPOC educators, national and local when they share, with humility and grace. We are in many ways, walking the talk of yoga when we do this work, so we must. Racism is an inside job, and so is anti-racism.

Originally posted on Breathe Together Online, June 2020

Anjali Rao
came to the Yoga mat at nearly 40 recovering from surgery from Breast Cancer. She studies, teaches, and writes about Yoga philosophy/ history from a socio-political perspective and is deeply interested in the intersectionality of race, culture, gender and accessibility of Yoga practices. She aims to make the practice Yoga on and off the mat accessible, helpful and joyful to people across ages, genders and abilities. She is a part of the teacher training faculty in 200 and 300 hour programs in the Bay Area and teaches Yoga for Cancer Survivorship for the Stanford Cancer Program. She serves on the Board for HERS Breast Cancer Foundation, a non-profit that helps survivors and those going through treatment regardless of financial status. She is a lifelong student of Indian Classical Dance, a sucker for puppies, loves dark chocolate, the ocean and old trees.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Friday, September 11, 2020

Five Language Tips for Accessible Yoga Spaces

by Amber Karnes

Amber Karnes will be presenting at the Online Conference 2020.

I talk a lot, y’all. More than most yoga teachers, maybe. In my yoga classes, we spend time setting up expectations, discussing safety, and creating an environment of permission and personal agency. As yoga teachers, our words are among our most powerful tools. Our language sets the tone for what our class (and this practice) is really all about.

My goal is for my class to be a place where each student feels empowered and safe in the body they bring to the mat today. Through the lens of that mission, I’d like to share effective ways of making language and asana cues more inclusive for students of all shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities.

It’s okay to have a body

Encouraging students to ask questions about the practice or share concerns about their bodies gives the message that it’s okay if a body isn’t in “perfect working order.” You can use your language to let students know that their current body is worthy and okay just as it is. This creates a culture of permission—it’s okay to practice with the body they have today. It also sends the message that bodies change from day to day and throughout the seasons of our lives, and that is a normal part of life.

Lots of us in bigger bodies, disabled bodies, or “non-conforming” bodies have faced hostilities in fitness environments like gyms and yoga studios. Give your students the space to feel welcome in the body they have today—which may be a totally new experience for them.
Normalize opting out of a pose or trying different variations.

I always start everyone in the class out with the same set of props—so no one feels singled out because they need a prop. I also like to specifically normalize opting out or taking variations on postures. I like to joke around that no medals are given out at the end of class for doing all the asana, and students should honor their bodies by taking a break or backing off to a different variation if that’s what supports them best. Then with my class sequence, I take students on a journey from more simple shapes to more complex, so they can choose where to work along the way according to their needs and abilities.

Eliminate hierarchy from your language

Using language like, “If you can’t hold Down Dog, you can just rest in Child’s pose,” suggests that holding a pose is “better than,” and not being able to do those things is “less than.”

I feel that it’s important to normalize variations on poses, with the understanding that everyone’s practice looks different. That includes removing any hierarchy of value (like beginner/advanced), and encouraging students to listen to their bodies while honoring where they are today.

I also recommend removing the word “just” from your teaching vocabulary. “Just walk your feet up between your hands” or “Just lift your leg” might sound innocuous enough. But for some people, “just” lifting their leg is a huge effort—or may not even be possible. “Just” implies that everyone should be able to do the thing you’re asking, which can make students who can’t do that thing feel othered and excluded.

A slight tweak in language can fix this: “Lift your leg as high as you are able.” “Step the feet up between your hands, or walk your hands back toward your feet.”

Make it clear that your classroom is a low-pressure, judgment-free, non-competitive, and inclusive yoga environment

I believe that reducing competition and judgment can help keep students safer. This environment tends to discourage ego and striving, while giving each student agency and permission to work wherever they are today.

Sometimes I have said that in my class there are two rules: no suffering and no judgment (with an explanation of how we track that in our awareness). Experiment with your own language that invites inquiry and encourages students to trust themselves as the expert of their own bodies.

Making clear that your class is about permission instead of perfection also allows people who won’t be best served by an accessible yoga class to seek community elsewhere.

Remember the other seven limbs

As capitalism has commodified yoga into an industry that is bought and sold, many “yoga classes” in America are basically group fitness stretching classes. As teachers, we can remember that often the most powerful parts of the practice are the most subtle and the most accessible. De-emphasize peak physical prowess as the goal of a yoga class and remind students about the fullness of the practice, which includes self-study, community, breath, presence, meditation, and so much more.

We all want our yoga classes to be welcoming. For me, making welcome means ensuring that my classroom space is body-positive, trauma-sensitive, and that students don’t feel like they need to leave any parts of themselves or their identities at the door to participate. Our language can set the tone for space that feels unsafe or a space where it feels safe to relax.

When our students feel safe in their bodies, then the practice of yoga can really begin.

Amber Karnes is a yoga teacher trainer, ruckus maker, the founder of Body Positive Yoga, and a lifelong student of her body. Amber trains yoga teachers and movement educators how to create accessible and equitable spaces for liberation and belonging. She also creates community for folks who want to build unshakable confidence and learn to live without shame or apology in the bodies they have today. Amber is the co-creator of the Accessible Yoga Training School and Yoga For All Teacher Training, an Accessible Yoga board member, and a sought-after contributor on the topics of accessibility, authentic marketing, culture-shifting, and community-building. She lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her husband Jimmy. You can find her at @amberkarnesofficial on IG

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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I Became a Yoga Teacher After Another Global Crisis –– Now What?

by Kate Lynch

There was a global crisis nineteen years ago that rocked all our foundations, and put me on my current path. On September 11, 2001, I was living far from home. I felt as helpless as anyone else whose dad worked near Wall Street and couldn’t be found for several hours. After the initial attack, my feelings of despair persisted. I knew I had to do something with my life to try to relieve some of the suffering I felt within, and in the world.

I had never envisioned myself as a yoga teacher, but it didn’t feel as if I had a choice. My practice was the answer to my helplessness. It felt as if I were being dragged to take the first step, and then the next. My training as a yoga and meditation teacher began. For almost 20 years, I’ve shared the tools that help me find joy, healing, and calm in the face of self-doubt, pain and anxiety.

During the pandemic, my practice has taken on the role of emotional triage.

I use breath as a first line of defense when faced with overwhelming feelings. Meditation has taught me to tolerate discomfort. This global pandemic is a collective moment of fear, grief, and discomfort. As I learn to tolerate just a little bit more, resilience grows and I can show up for others with more clarity and courage. My students, family, and community benefit when I can find my center. I show up on Zoom to share what has kept me emotionally balanced these many years, and especially these past four months. They say it is helping!

As a yoga teacher, I pieced a living together by traveling from gyms to studios to homes. Of course, I cannot do that now. Without the privilege of marriage giving me health insurance, my position would be even more precarious than it is. I am, by nature, risk averse. I was careful to never put all my eggs in one basket, and to take jobs which may have paid less but felt more secure.

They all laid me off on the same day, March 16. One employer with a week’s pay, another with none. Those who worked for studios fared worse. At one social justice focused studio where I am an occasional teacher, a request went out: if you have the privilege to donate or pause your pay, please don’t invoice us this month.

I thought to myself, “If I am scared, I wonder how some of my students are feeling. I must find a way to be there for them.”

Of course, I was also thinking of my family, home all together indefinitely, and the looming virus we had not quite witnessed yet. We were safe, but we didn’t feel safe.

A bounty of free and sliding scale yoga classes blossomed online overnight. All the yoga teachers who saw our studios suddenly shut down, or were laid off from our gigs at gyms, scrambled to boot up Zoom. Behind the scenes, there was a flurry of activity. Those more familiar with teaching online stepped up to show the rest of us how. My first few classes were a hot mess. I didn’t have the right tech. I didn’t know how to mute anyone. My son ran through shouting during deep relaxation. Some students didn’t return.

To those who did, and continue to, I’m grateful. We have seen each other through something unfathomable, and I know none of us will forget.

There was no way to hide my anxiety those first few weeks, and I didn’t want to.

Showing up in my vulnerability allows my students to let their guard down and work through their challenging feelings during class. When one of my students logged on to class after her colleague had died, we grieved together. There have also been births and other joyful celebrations. Throughout, I do my best to remain consistent, supportive, and present, just as I did in person.

A few weeks into lockdown, a ritual began. Whenever I heard an ambulance begin its trip down the parkway outside my window, I would stop everything to focus on the people inside. This happened countless times a day. Everything stopped for me as I sent loving-kindness to them on each exhale. Breathing in, I derived courage and hope from both the sick people and their helpers. I would pause even during class, until the sound had faded. My students understood, grateful for Ambulance Meditation practice that I shared with them. They see that I am vulnerable too, in my helplessness and empathy.

While maintaining faith in the tools of yoga and meditation, I have not relied solely on that. The support of a therapist, also on Zoom, has been essential for me at this time. I’m anxious and triggered, and it’s ok for my students to know that.

I decided to begin my yoga teaching career in the wake of a previous global crisis, because I wanted to be part of the solution to the world’s suffering. I know that the inevitable anxiety, grief, lethargy, rage, and isolation arising from living through this pandemic (and its resulting financial and emotional devastation) can be soothed with yoga and meditation.

I don’t know what’s next for me, or my fellow yoga teachers. I don’t see my job ever returning to a pre-pandemic “normal,” so I’ll keep learning more about how to hold space online.

Kate Lynch is a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher in Brooklyn, New York. She has been teaching and cultivating community since 2002. Her core values are empathy, integrity, equity, and respect. She offers accessible variations, and encourages self-nurturing, mindful breathing and awareness.

Kate has advanced education in meditation, mindfulness, anxiety, trauma, integrating equity, prenatal, and postpartum yoga. She specializes in supporting anxious parents of atypical kids with the mindfulness, resilience, and self-care tools that help her get through the day. See: HealthyHappyYoga websiteHealthy Happy Yoga PodcastHealthy Happy Yoga YouTubeFacebook, and Instagram.

Originally posted on

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Compassionate Leadership in Yoga: The Skills We All Need Now, Accessible Yoga Online Conference 2020

Pamela Stokes Eggleston and Amina Naru

This post is by presenters for the upcoming Accessible Yoga Online Conference 2020.

By Pamela Stokes Eggleston, MBA, E-RYT-500, MS, C-IAYT

(Amina Naru, E-RYT, YACEP will be presenting with Pamela Stokes Eggleston)

In the corporate world, leaders, managers and CEOs are often booked all day based on the societal proposition that it is both necessary and leads to greater work productivity, despite evidence to the contrary. If leaders believe they don’t have the time to work through all aspects of a problem or challenge, they are more inclined to be limited in perspective, reactive and impulsive. Their thoughts and actions become unconscious and reflexive.

As avid yoga practitioners, yoga service providers, and yoga therapists, we have sojourned to unlearn some of these behaviors through the experience of sweet reconnection to ourselves, a keener focus and awareness, and a blossoming appreciative value for others. We have, through this transformative and embodied process, witnessed the unfurling of these experiences with the clients we serve and the students we teach. This significant shift can be described as compassion. Thupten Jinpa describes compassion as “a mental state endowed with a sense of concern for the suffering of others and aspiration to see that suffering relieved.”

It is exciting to note that these ideals are some of the core components of compassion in leadership. Compassionate leadership invites the leader, manager, and CEO to pause and become present with their colleagues and employees, and to see them as equal contributors. Indeed, it is the new paradigm of leadership. And what can be discovered is an exciting way of navigating––through integrity, authenticity, vulnerability, and purpose––the yoga service and yoga therapy communities.

... How can the leader seek to become more compassionate in their role? Through these queries: How much of this am I bringing unconsciously to a situation, challenge or issue? How much of this is story? How is this affecting my leadership? Through this self reflection, spaces can be created for allowing and bearing witness the rise––a recognition and remembrance of the true self––through regular inquiry. To do this: 
1. start your day with a contemplative practice; 2. before you get to work, remind yourself of the company's purpose and recommit to your role as a compassionate leader; 3. throughout the day, pause to presence before starting the next important task; 4. review the day's events at the end of the work day so it does not spill over into home life; and 5. before bed, read something inspirational.

Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer advocates leaders developing an “environmental mindfulness:” a constant questioning and listening––inquiry, probing, and reflecting––to gather insights and perspectives from other people. This active engagement leads to smarter questions, better learning, and a collaborative trust.

Finally, be curious. Leaders can enter conversations with close-mindedness and an unwillingness to see other perspectives. The mindful practice of the beginner’s mind, in which you make no assumptions about what has happened or needs to happen, but rather keeping an open mind, and seek out others’ perspectives in an open way will make the conversation more meaningful. This requires the compassionate leader to make fewer assertions and ask more questions. A few compassionate leadership strategies to help with self-reflection include:

— Cultivating love in abundance

— Developing self-care techniques

— Creating healthy boundaries

— Being brave and vulnerable

— Using peace, compassion, and healing energy tools

— Identifying strengths and challenges

— Cultivating relationships and partnerships

— Strategizing short- and long-term goals

— Uncovering what gets in the way

— Discovering what works

Compassionate leadership does not have to be a difficult task. Once we get out of our own way, address samskaras, soften the ego’s edges, tap into the power of yamas and niyamas, open our hearts and ask ourselves why we practice, serve, teach, and share yoga as service and as therapy, the answers will come.

“Compassionate leadership nurtures innovation.” ~Lionel Valdellon

Originally published in Yoga Therapy Today, Summer 2019, a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists ( Shared with permission.

Pamela Stokes Eggleston and Amina Naru are the Co-Founders of Retreat to Spirit, the former Co-Executive Directors of the Yoga Service Council, and board members of Accessible Yoga. While both are heavily immersed in trauma-informed yoga, 

Amina works with the jail and prison populations through POSH Yoga, 

and Pamela works with veterans, service members and their families and caregivers through Yoga2Sleep. In their collective work with Retreat to Spirit, Amina and Pamela focus on the subtle, energetic, and soul-inspired aspects of yoga, connection, leadership, and wellness.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing 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.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Accessing the Benefits of Yoga in Pain Management: Online Conference 2020

Yoga therapy for pain management

This post is by Presenters at the Online Conference 2020

by Shelly Prosko, Marlysa Sullivan and Matthew J. Taylor

We each have fascinating stories of how yoga has eased or prevented suffering in our lives. Over the past two decades, we three physios turned yoga therapists, have both personally experienced and witnessed others reaping the benefits of yoga in addressing pain and suffering. Has that been your experience as well? It is hard to find a yoga professional who hasn’t.

During our development, we moved from the thrill of rounding out our pain care through the holistic model of health that is yoga practice and lifestyle, to now addressing the very real limitations for so many to access that same experience. Each of us in our own way/dharma is now making contributions to expand access that far exceeds our initial applications of service.

Our most recent project was authoring the ground-breaking, 14-month project of the white paper on Yoga Therapy and Comprehensive Integrative Pain Management for the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). Full-text copy here. In this paper, you will find that we’ve outlined major impediments to accessing yoga’s support for people living in pain. Those of you familiar with the mission of Accessible Yoga will recognize many of the familiar challenges around disability, inclusion, affordability, ethnic and gender biasing, etc., etc. We don’t need to preach to you, the choir, here about those issues.

Publications by Shelly Prosko, Marlysa Sullivan and Matthew J. Taylor

What we’d like to share in this short piece are the subtler aspects we’ve discovered and are now addressing in our respective work. That aspect is the expanding appreciation for the merging of the traditional yoga perspectives of suffering and modern day pain science [Latin scientia, knowledge; noun; a branch of knowledge or study dealing with a body of facts or truths systematically arranged and showing the operation of general laws.]

It turns out that those ‘general laws’ span human inquiry and weave into every aspect of human culture. For example, the pain and suffering of musculo-skeletal complaints have roots shared in the pain of racism, ableism, classism, etc., whose systemic roots weave into planetary eco-collapse. One big fabric to be appreciated and cared for, rather than divided or parsed apart. With that yogic/unitary perspective emerging in so many venues, it begs the question of who is ideally suited to birth it forward? Is it the yoga teacher, the yoga therapist, the yoga student, the school educator teaching mindfulness, or any of a myriad of others? The answer of course is just “yes.”

Each of us is a thread within that weave of unity. We each have our unique gift to bring forward, whether as provider or receiver of yoga instruction. It is our hope that coming together in community at this first-ever Accessible Yoga Online Conference 2020, we can celebrate and bring forward our collective passion and skills as yoga professionals and yoga students. Together we can sustain each other working toward Patanjali’s Sutra II.16: Heyam Dukham Anagatam…Future suffering can be avoided.

Shelly Prosko is a physiotherapist, yoga therapist, educator, author and pioneer of PhysioYoga with over 20 years of experience integrating yoga into physiotherapy within a variety of specialty areas including helping people with chronic or persistent pain, pelvic health issues and professional burnout. She guest lectures at numerous yoga therapy and physiotherapy schools, presents at yoga and medical conferences globally, contributes to academic research and writing, provides mentorship to health and wellness providers, and offers onsite and online courses and resources for yoga and healthcare professionals and the general population. She considers herself a lifelong student and emphasizes the immense value gained from clinical experience and learning from the patients she serves, the professionals she teaches, and the colleagues with which she collaborates. Shelly has authored book chapters in yoga therapy and integrative rehabilitation textbooks and is the co-editor/author of the textbook Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain. She maintains a clinical practice in Sylvan Lake, Canada and believes compassion is the foundation of pain care, healthcare and overall well-being. Please visit to learn more.

Marlysa Sullivan is a physiotherapist and yoga therapist with over 15 years of experience working with people suffering with chronic pain conditions. She is an Assistant Professor in Yoga Therapy and Integrative Health Sciences at Maryland University of Integrative Health and holds an adjunct position at Emory University, where she teaches the integration of yoga and mindfulness into physical therapy practice in the DPT program. She is also the author of Understanding Yoga Therapy: Applied Philosophy and Science for Well-being and co-editor of Yoga and Science in Pain Care: Treating the Person in Pain as well as several peer-reviewed articles. Marlysa has been involved in the professionalization of the field of yoga therapy through the educational standards committee of IAYT, which helped to define the competencies for the field, and in characterizing the yoga therapy workforce through research. Her research interests focus on defining the framework and explanatory model for yoga therapy based on philosophical and neurophysiological perspectives.

Matthew J. Taylor, PT, PhD, C-IAYT has been leading integrative rehabilitation since 1994 and is the editor of the graduate textbook, "Fostering Creativity in Rehabilitation.” He is past-president of the board of directors of the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) and teaches nationally on business development for yoga therapists. Matt is on the IAYT PubMed-indexed International Journal of Yoga Therapy editorial board. He represents yoga therapy in integrative pain care and addiction policy development on two national interprofessional task forces, as well as IAYT’s interprofessional collaboration business development projects. He’s also authored a book for yoga professionals titled, “Yoga Therapy as a Creative Response to Pain.” He is presently on the AY board of directors and is engaged in a joint venture with a major health insurance company to integrate yoga therapy into healthcare.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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