Tuesday, April 13, 2021

When Is Accessible Yoga Actually Accessible?

Three women seated in Baddha Konasana; photo: Sriyoga Ashram
by Elaine Jackson


I fell into accessible yoga by accident many years ago. I’d been an Occupational Therapist for sixteen years when I did my first yoga teacher training, and modifying activities to work around barriers was second nature. When I went to work in studios, my classes were recommended for people who were unable to manage Vinyasa Flow. Eventually I found myself leading chair classes, and a group that my students refer to jokingly as the “Heavy Metal” gang, since almost every person in the class had a joint replacement or metal implant.

As I realized that I’d become the “go to” person in my community for accessibility, I struggled with the idea. For one thing, I thought it would be better if all yoga teachers had more knowledge and more inclination to be inclusive. And I realized that physical limitations were really only a small part of the story. And what is meant by the label?

Accessible can be construed to mean that the facility where the yoga is taught is wheelchair or mobility-aid friendly, or that anyone of any ability can arrive in the class and feel at home, or that classes will be low-cost or free. But there are always complications. The studio I am teaching from at the moment is not wheelchair accessible, and I struggle to create groups that balance diversity and cohesion. I try to include enough options and gradients of challenge to keep everyone interested, while at the same time make sure that everyone present can do something without feeling singled out.

I’ve decided that for my current classes the students must be able to cognitively follow at least two-step instructions, manage self-care (I can’t interrupt the class to take them to the bathroom), and not call out or talk at inappropriate times—so I am excluding people. The term “accessible” always comes with conditions. It’s impossible to work successfully in a group of people without creating a safe “container” with agreed-upon boundaries.

I’ve spent many years pondering what yoga is, and what I’m actually teaching. As I’ve often noted, the students in my “accessible” classes often have better concentration, more interest in philosophy, and better self-study skills than the general population. And although as a teacher I’m responsible for planning the content of the class, my students teach me as much as I teach them. 

I’ve struggled to figure out what the end goal of my “accessible” classes actually is, and I don’t think it’s any different than any other yoga class. We all have problems yoga can help with (relationships, self-esteem, stress) but the label “accessible” implies difference, when, at heart, the reasons for coming to class may be the same. I’d prefer to say I teach a slow, gentle style of yoga that we can customize as needed.

My fear is that accessible yoga will become more “medicalized” and as more teacher trainings proliferate, the new levels of expertise will change the dynamics. For example, will documentation, “assessments,” and goal setting become the norm? As a former Occupational Therapist, my experience has been that the mechanics of this professionalization can drive a wedge of objectification into the student-teacher relationship. The student’s body/mind becomes a problem to be solved, and the production and measurement of outcomes, or lack thereof, become the priority. The organic processes of play, relationship-building, and exploration can be killed in the process.

I know this because I’ve lived it. Professional accountability is important but the mechanisms of proof such as the well-worn statement “not documented, not done” have an energetic and relational cost. Although I appreciate the value of personalized assessment and documentation that are part of yoga therapy trainings, I think many yoga students (and teachers) are hoping to escape the project of needing to be fixed or to have bodies that look and behave like the standard issue. It’s very easy to accidentally create an environment where “improvement” is an expectation—it’s useful to keep questioning our motives and our aims.

People are drawn to yoga for myriad reasons, some explicit, some unspoken, and perhaps even subconscious. My intuition is that for many, the sense of belonging in a class can be just as important as anything that is learned there. Many of my students have been with me for over fifteen years now, and their friendships and support of each other matters more than whatever movement or pranayama technique we’re learning.

I don’t have answers. As I’ve puzzled over my “why” as a teacher I’ve come back time and again to Zen teacher Bernie Glassman’s three principles: bearing witness, not knowing, and compassionate action. I have had to learn, painfully and repeatedly, that holding space and really seeing someone in all of the messiness and uncertainty of human relationships is more important than my so-called expertise. Second, the more I can suspend my need to want to “fix” people or solve their problems the more growth happens, the more they figure things out for themselves. And finally, Glassman always argued, and I think he’s right, that if we work on bearing witness and not knowing, compassionate action happens of its own accord. So labels, root problems, and class plans are far less important than vulnerability, kindness, and good ethics. And I really don’t know how you put a label on that.



Elaine Jackson
began working in healthcare as a teenager and was a licensed Occupational Therapist for 29 years. She completed her 775-hour yoga teacher training (Scaravelli Method) in 2003-2004 at Esther Myers Yoga in Toronto. She has been teaching and learning about yoga ever since. In November 2020 she published Enough Already: 7 Yoga-Inspired Steps Toward Calm Amid Chaos. She can be found online at www.jacksonyoga.ca or about ten minutes by car outside of the rural village of Mount Albert, Ontario.


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, April 7, 2021

How Ableism Shapes Modern Yoga

Man doing handstand with knees bent, legs crossed behind buttocks

Culture, Power, and Modern Yoga: Insights from the East and West (Part 3)

by Anjali Rao and Lorien Neargarder



Changing American yoga culture is an act of love. Relationships take work. In the early years of Lorien's marriage, she and her husband would have what they called, "State of the Union" discussions. The talksgrew out of the wish to be better partners, so these talks were more of an act of love than condemning some action, although they made sure to name what needed improving because to skip over the ugly bits and ignore the feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment in order to keep the peace only made problems fester and worsen.

This is what happens when people gloss over the issues in our American yoga culture and apply the big picture, "We are all one" platitude; when we do this long enough we can start to see the world through a distorted lens. For example, Lorien spent years shifting her fearful/angry/dissatisfied attitude to focus solely on the positive aspects of her life that her yoga practice had amplified for her, a White woman of privilege.

When a friend complained to her about feeling singled out in yoga class because of her size and skin color which doesn't conform to the dominant culture, Lorien was ill-prepared to hear her friend's pain. And instead spouted something about gratitude and how her friend should think about the experience of the other students and not just herself because there is only so much a teacher can do for her, a single student in a full class. Lorien could tell almost immediately that her friend interpreted this response as, "Your experience doesn't matter."

This exchange is an example of how we can fall into the trap of spiritual bypass, the habit of ignoring discomfort and necessary growth by shifting our attention to disconnected spiritual practices and ideas. We love our practices and we don't want to miss any opportunities to be better partners to our BIPOC friends by advocating for more inclusive, safe yoga spaces, or by simply listening to them, believing them and building trust with them; we also don't want to miss the opportunity to be better to ourselves, who we harm by ignoring the discomfort of necessary growth, which is why we need to challenge and disrupt, with love, the parts of the yoga culture that don't work for all Americans.

Ableist Culture

Yoga emerged as a collection of practices and philosophies from Brown and Black people, from the Indus Valley Civilization (modern day Pakistan-India) from over 2,500 years ago. The evolution and the history of this ancient practice is complex and traverses through the region over centuries, and is rooted in deep spiritual meaning; Kemetic Yoga, from Egypt, believed the goal to be the ultimate union of the human with the Divine.

Asana is the physical part of the practice and is considered a very small part of Classical Yoga. Yet, the physical practice has now become synonymous with yoga because it has been taken over by Western sensibilities. A glance at any magazine that has the word "yoga" in it, refers primarily to asana and rarely includes a word about the philosophy and the belief system or culture that birthed it.

This approach harms so many. There is an erasure of South Asian culture, specifically, Indian teachers/practitioners/authors/experts, when the representations of yoga at all levels are predominantly White-centric, able-bodied, thin, young, and hyper-flexible women.

At the root of Western marketing is the exploitation of the human emotions of fear and envy. Look again at those yoga magazines and notice the extreme poses the models take, as if to say, "If you buy what I'm selling (magazines, expert advice, retreats, courses, clothing, accoutrements, etc.) you can look like me!" This implies that this level of physical practice is achievable for everyone (it isn't) and that once you are able to "do" yoga, all your problems disappear (they don't).

Humans come in a wide range visible differences––bodies that move well and those that don't, bodies with a different number of limbs or organs than others, bodies with extra flesh, or bodies with a different level of seeing and hearing, for example.

Humans also come in a wide range of invisible differences. Mental health, persistent pain, addiction, learning abilities, serious illness, and neurological differences don't fit the mold and are left out of the marketing definition of yoga. The picture of brown-skinned, larger-bodied humans whose physical prowess doesn't evoke envy would not sell magazines, so our representations of yoga leave these humans out.

Yoga has an ableist culture problem. We need more accessibility.

We disrupt ableist culture when yoga teachers center their student's experience over their own biases. This requires from teachers a high degree of empathy, trust, and humility which may be challenging for able-bodied teachers but the reward of supporting someone who has had to ask for these things from their teachers all their life is worth it.

Reflection Points:
  • What are the obstacles to build equity and accessibility in your yoga space?
  • How and what can help remove those obstacles? 

Call to Action: Collaborate for Change

This is a movement that needs all of us to come together to call out the exclusion, to call out the racism, to call out the inequity, and call in each other. There needs to be an acknowledgement of the harm done, accountability for the erasure and the silences. We can learn how to practice yoga without harming or taking away from another’s culture, thus practicing ahimsa, non-harming, the first Yama of Patanjali’s Classical Yoga. We can as teachers, center the student’s experience rather than have our own agenda and sensibilities projected onto them. We can, as students, learn from BIPOC teachers, diversify who we view as experts, and use our dollars to cultivate equity and build accessibility into our teaching and practicing spaces.

Diverse teachers encourage diverse students. The good news is that there are many BIPOC yoga activists/diverse teachers/practitioners with powerful voices who are working to disrupt the White capitalistic stronghold in Western yoga. If you identify as White, amplify brown and Black teachers, engage with the community, learn and listen to the stories shared, speak out clearly against White supremacy and ableism. If you identify as BIPOC, take up space, rest, call in and call out allies and accomplices to build a co-culture that celebrates and embraces differences in every way.


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. https://www.yoganjali.me/

Lorien Neargarde
r (E-RYT500, C-IAYT) has been offering yoga practices in a variety of spaces since 2004 and has learned from the diverse spectrum of students who show up to these spaces: adult education program, elementary / middle / high school, businesses, family psychology center, psychiatric ward, pain rehabilitation clinic, oncology ward, library and yoga studios. She specializes in working with people diagnosed with cancer and started her own nonprofit in 2018 in order to offer yoga (and other support care) to them free of charge.

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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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, March 31, 2021

How Capitalism Shapes Modern Yoga

Crowd doing yoga in Times Square, NY

Culture, Power, and Modern Yoga: Insights from the East and West (Part 2) 

by Anjali Rao and Lorien Neargarder



Look up "benefits of yoga" online and you'll see pages of search results that claim everything from physical to mental/emotional improvements, some with click-bait statements such as, "With just one practice!" A favorite is the claim that back-bends and other postures that stretch the area of the upper chest will "open" your heart emotionally. This implied contract––that I will no longer be ___ if I just practice ___ (fill in the blanks) invites a passivity to our growth and transformation.

The words "magic" and "magical" are even used as descriptors of yoga poses. Soon we begin to believe that the next commodity will erase all the bad things in our lives, so we sign up for that yoga retreat, buy those yoga leggings and that fancy headstand prop, thinking these things will improve our relationships and heal our trauma, only to find that yoga poses aren't magic and transformation is not passive––yoga is not outward-looking, and it cannot be bought. Uniting the human self with the Divine is an imperfect, messy, internal transformation that often results in external changes; when we focus solely on the external, we miss the internal changes and the uprooted teachings of yoga now become vulnerable to misinterpretation and manipulation.

Capitalist Culture

Yoga is a multi-billion dollar industry, but very few teachers can make a living out of teaching yoga. If we dig into yoga capitalism of the modern world, we see that this “industry” is expected to reach $215 billion by 2025. The revenue is generated by athleisure sales: clothes, props, and accessories. Corporations own franchises that market yoga solely as a physical movement practice, boutique studios cater to the elite, the ones who can afford to pay $20 per class. Sadly, the pandemic has decimated smaller yoga studios that focus on community and financial equity for students and teachers. Yoga has been folded into the economic landscape of White capitalism and has been turned into a lucrative industry, where the profits are meant for the corporations only.

Yoga has been co-opted by the dominant culture (White, middle-class, Protestant people of northern European descent, heterosexual, and cisgender) and being part of the dominant culture's economic landscape also means being co-opted by the prevalent corporate ethos: exclusion of marginalized groups such as BIPOC, LGBTQ, people with visible or invisible disabilities, and people who cannot afford the membership/class/clothes. Yoga practice and the practitioner are interpreted in and reduced to numbers, the number of teacher trainings run and the number of students who are in them, the number of dollars earned by the corporations, the number of people who stay as members in a studio, the number of followers on social media accounts, the number of accoutrements that one can market as being absolutely essential in a yoga practice.

We imagine that any independent contractors, small business owners, and entrepreneurs reading this article are now asking the practical question, We live in a capitalist system, so if we don't apply a capitalist structure to the business of yoga then how do we keep the doors open and the lights on for people to learn about yoga? It won't happen overnight but if we are to live in "a good and just society," as described by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have to work together to build, "A socially conscious democracy that reconciles the truths of individualism and collectivism." There is a tension between those last two words, individualism and collectivism. We have to hold that tension as practitioners, teachers, studio owners, speakers, and experts in order to find a balance between the needs of being in a capitalistic society (individualism) and honoring the philosophical foundation of the practice (collectivism).

Yoga has a capitalist culture problem. We need more inclusion and equity.

We disrupt capitalist culture when our yoga centers serve everyone in their communities, teaching practitioners to identify and unshackle themselves from the transactional mindset and support teachers.

Reflection Points:
  • How can you, as a yoga practitioner, support, hire, and learn from diverse teachers and experts? 
  • How can you, as a provider, collaborate with someone who has a different background than you? 
  • Can you, as a yoga studio/center owner, build equity by offering sliding scale payment options, scholarships, for workshops, teacher trainings, and classes? 
  • And what would it take for owners to invite BIPOC and other marginalized teachers into their spaces and offer payment for any intellectual labor or the emotional labor that comes up whenever racism is addressed in a mixed BIPOC/White setting?



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. https://www.yoganjali.me/


Lorien Neargarder
(E-RYT500, C-IAYT) has been offering yoga practices in a variety of spaces since 2004 and has learned from the diverse spectrum of students who show up to these spaces: adult education program, elementary / middle / high school, businesses, family psychology center, psychiatric ward, pain rehabilitation clinic, oncology ward, library and yoga studios. She specializes in working with people diagnosed with cancer and started her own nonprofit in 2018 in order to offer yoga (and other support care) to them free of charge.


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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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, March 24, 2021

Culture, Power, and Modern Yoga: Insights from the East and West (Part 1)

Photo by Jay Castor (lotus flower floating in pond)

by Anjali Rao and Lorien Neargarder


Yoga is a practice that liberates, transforms, is a path toward unity, and is inclusive of all humanity. As practitioners of yoga, we have all heard variations of this statement, but this is not accurate for many Americans, a reality we need to change. We are two yoga teachers from different backgrounds––Anjali Rao, an Indian American immigrant, and Lorien Neargarder, a natural-born American citizen––and we are united in our passion for sharing the practice that moves us and has transformed our own lives so deeply. 

This article is the result of us asking, "Can we talk honestly, without fear, shame, or guilt, about the challenging problems with American yoga? And what if we tell the culture and community that we love that it can do better... and then it rejects us?" We trust that our yoga community’s acceptance is unconditional and hope this article will inspire you to speak up and help us shape a better, more inclusive yoga culture.

American yoga has two major problems: it has become transactional and it is available only to those who qualify. This is at odds with yogic teachings, which describe the complex and rich practice of yoga as one that is rooted in deep spiritual meaning, the ultimate union of the human with the Divine. Interpreted without bias, this means that the ticket you need to practice yoga is to be human. But here in America you need more than your humanity to practice yoga; when you enter the yoga space with a class pass and a contractual mindset, you have already accepted a harmful concept of who should have access to yoga, set not by the yogic teaching but by the dominant culture (White, middle-class, Protestant people of northern European descent, heterosexual, and cisgender). 

The dominant culture imposes its value system and is the gatekeeper of what gets accepted as “normal” or “valuable” or “successful” and therefore is the power wielder. The term counterculture refers to a group of society who oppose the values and lifestyles of the dominant culture and can provide positive growth for a stagnant or concretized culture.

Power Culture

If you are unclear what the dominant American culture is, try the following exercise. Imagine you are in a yoga class, the one that you go to every time you practice or teach. (Well, now it's online because of the pandemic; nevertheless, it's your go-to class.) Take a look around at those rectangular mats. Who is showing up in your class? What is the age group? What is the gender and sexual orientation? What is the race that shows up? What is the range of physical and cognitive ability? Most likely it is someone who looks like you, if you are a teacher. If you are White, most likely the people who show up in your class are White. If you are White, chances are you are a teacher, or a faculty member, or a writer, or an “expert” in your chosen niche in yoga studies.

Yoga originated in India, a country colonized by many European empires and where British colonists actually banned the practice during their rule in order to prevent the many anti-oppression movements of radical Yogis. And yet we don’t see many yoga teachers from India/Pakistan/Sri Lanka/Bangladesh in mainstream classes and teacher trainings. There has been a modern neo-colonization of this practice and re-erasure of practitioners/teachers by the West. For someone whose ancestors were dehumanized for centuries, murdered, and impoverished by colonizers, to witness this ancient spiritual practice appropriated, commodified, and reduced to a solely physical practice for economic gain is re-traumatizing on many levels: psychological, physical, social, and financial.

Cultural Appropriation

Cultural appropriation happens when a dominant group in a position of privilege and power (political, economic, or social) adopts, benefits from, shares, and even exploits the customs, practices, ideas, or social and spiritual knowledge of another, usually target or subordinate, society of people (Barkataki, 2019). Think about all the ways that strands of the yoga teachings have been pulled out of their context and culture in order to elevate someone in the American dominant culture, disregarding the roots of the practice.

The Bhagavad Gita (composed around 400 BCE–200 CE) is one of the most sacred Indian texts; it uses the word "Yoga" 78 times in 15 of its 18 chapters, and is revered in India as the Yoga Shastra (Shastra means book/treatise). In the Gita, yoga is referred to in many different contexts, from the way we move and act in the world to our relationship with the Divine. In the West, yoga is White-washed and made “secular” by reducing the breadth and the depth of the practice to suit the commercial Western palate. 

When we taught yoga in corporate settings, we were told to refrain from using Sanskrit, the language of yoga, lest it scare away the student, or “consumer.” The feelings of the White student/consumer are valued more than the Brown culture that it came from. Thus, the racial dynamic of White social-economic-cultural power that is outside of a yoga class translates completely into the yoga class at all levels: from expert to teacher to student.

Yoga has a power culture problem. We need more diversity.

We disrupt the power culture when we de-colonize yoga and understand cultural appropriation by learning more about all cultures (including “White"), the context and the history of the yoga teachings, and diversify who we view as experts. We also disrupt the power culture by collaborating with diverse people, listening and trusting each other. Building trust takes time and consistent effort; it takes open and active listening and asking challenging questions of the other, especially when we come from diverse backgrounds. What has worked for us is an honest acknowledgement of our differences; we understand that our positions in this American culture, defined by the power and privilege accorded to us as White-bodied and BIPOC, are different, and hence our responsibilities and roles are different. Once these differences were named, we were able to find commonality in the way we view the world, through either Anjali's lens of subculture or Lorien's lens of counterculture.

Reflection Point.

Look around your yoga class, and make a note of the group that shows up:
  • How diverse is the make-up of your class? 
  • If the group is rather homogenous, how can you change this to build connections across different groups to invite more inclusion? 
  • White folks, what do you need to be able to really hear the voice of someone who is BIPOC, or is different from you in other ways, without the hum of guilt? 
  • BIPOC folks, what do you need to be able to share how you feel without fear of backlash?

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. https://www.yoganjali.me/


Lorien Neargarder
(E-RYT500, C-IAYT) has been offering yoga practices in a variety of spaces since 2004 and has learned from the diverse spectrum of students who show up to these spaces: adult education program, elementary / middle / high school, businesses, family psychology center, psychiatric ward, pain rehabilitation clinic, oncology ward, library and yoga studios. She specializes in working with people diagnosed with cancer and started her own nonprofit in 2018 in order to offer yoga (and other support care) to them free of charge.



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 Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 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.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Si no es accesible, no es yoga

Fotografia: Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav)

Por Jivana Heyman, traducción al español de Alma Durán

This article was previously posted in English.


Me formé como activista en la lucha contra el SIDA. Así fue que en los años 90s empecé a enseñar yoga para compartir estas prácticas con la comunidad afectada por esa enfermedad. Nos encontrábamos en medio de una epidemia y muchos de mis estudiantes estaban extremadamente enferm@s, prácticamente en agonía. Lo que aprendimos juntos fue que el yoga tiene poderosas y accesibles prácticas que nos ayudan a sanar a los niveles de la mente, las emociones y el espíritu. Mis estudiantes me demostraron que el yoga les aliviaba, aunque Desde entonces mi intención es honrar su legado compartiendo un mensaje muy claro con la comunidad de practicantes del yoga. Este mensaje es que el yoga no se trata de aspirar a logros físicos ni a una sanación corporal; la función del yoga es facilitar una profunda conexión espiritual.

Lo que hace al yoga extraordinario es que nos permite involucrar todas las dimensiones de la existencia humana en nuestro viaje espiritual–– nuestro cuerpo, nuestra respiración, nuestra mente y nuestras acciones. Esto es inusual ya que la mayoría de las prácticas espirituales no ofrecen herramientas tan potentes para incorporar al cuerpo. El yoga nos brinda la oportunidad de que el cuerpo fluya como en una meditación en movimiento cuando practicamos asana. Pero no podemos permitir que la belleza y el poder del asana nos engañe. El yoga no se trata del cuerpo.

La verdad yógica es que el cuerpo y la mente son temporales, están constantemente cambiando y son mortales; en contraste, el espíritu es inmortal, eterno y puro. Esta es lo que nos enseña el Bhagavad Gita, cuando Sri Krishna explica: “Tú nunca naciste; tú nunca morirás. Tú nunca cambiaste; tú nunca podrás cambiar. No nato, eterno, inmutable, inmemorable, tú no morirás cuando el cuerpo muera.” (Easwaran 2.20)

Cuando simplificamos excesivamente el yoga al reducirlo a las poses físicas, estamos despojándolo de su valor y significados esenciales. Burdamente nos apropiamos de esta práctica nacida en la India y la extirpamos de sus raíces tradicionales para convertirla en un producto que puede ser vendido de acuerdo con intereses capitalistas. Así es que el asunto va mas allá del respeto y cuidado merecido por los linajes ancestrales del yoga. Se trata de relacionarnos con estas valiosas enseñanzas en tal forma que respetemos sus propósitos, sus orígenes, sus antecedentes y su forma de adecuada de aplicación.

Para lograrlo es imperativo que consideremos la plenitud de la práctica. La enseñanza central del yoga es que tod@s compartimos la misma esencial spiritual, no importa cual sea nuestra historia o nivel de habilidad. Compartimos la misma esencia, aunque tengamos alguna discapacidad, no obstante nuestro cuerpo sea grande, si somos adultos mayores o infantes. Debemos olvidarnos de esa idea errónea de que las asanas complicadas equivalen a yoga avanzada. No hay ninguna correlación entre nuestra habilidad física y la profundidad de nuestra conexión espiritual. Es por esto que siempre digo que si no es accesible, no es yoga. Porque tod@s tenemos acceso por igual al corazón del yoga, a su centro y esencia; depende de cada un@ el darle una forma a nuestra práctica que nos permita unirnos con nuestro espíritu.


Jivana Heyman
, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, es el 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, 2019. 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. Para mas información favor de visitar: jivanaheyman.com


El original en inglés de este articulo fue editado por Patrice Priya Wagner, Gerente Editorial del ACCESSIBLE YOGA BLOG y miembro del Consejo de Dirección.


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Thursday, March 18, 2021

What Is Accessible Yoga––My Take

by Sheela Cheong


Although "yoga" is commonly understood as physical postures...
Yoga is not = asanaAsana is one part of yoga. 

What is asana? The word asana, in use in English since the 19th century, is from Sanskrit: आसन āsana "sitting down" (from आस ās "to sit down"), a sitting posture, a meditation seat. Asana and pranayama (breath control), are the physical components of yoga.

Accessible asana means I start with the student and figure out what they need. These are questions for THEM:
  • Do you have any injuries?
  • Any medical conditions I should know about?
  • Any recent surgeries?
  • Are you pregnant?
  • What is your current activity level (sedentary vs active)?
  • Do you have any pain in your body (chronic or current)?
  • Are there any movements or positions that are painful for you?
  • What would you like from your practice?

As an accessible asana teacher, I offer postural variations and the use of props. This is to fit the posture to the student (not the other way around)––so that regardless of body size, shape, colour, or physical ability, students feel seen, valued, and validated in my class.

Recently, I had a conversation with a fellow yoga teacher on our teaching styles. She said (quite proudly) that if she had planned to teach a handstand in her class that day, the class would not end until every student had done a handstand.

Why is this problematic?
  1. Not every student is physically capable of doing a handstand. This would include anyone with wrist/elbow/shoulder instability or injuries; vertigo, retinal or eye pressure issues. Some studios have handled this by labelling their classes "beginner," "intermediate," "advanced;" or specifying clearly that students can expect inversions in the intermediate/advanced classes. But this is not without its issues because...
  2. Not every student is mentally prepared to do a handstand. This is where the experience, wisdom, and character of the teacher necessarily come through. They must know how far they can physically prepare the student (by breaking down the posture into its individual components and teaching those well) as well as how much they canencourage the student to attempt the posture. Someone can be physically capable of doing the posture, but for whatever reason, may not wish to on that particular day. I am not a circus ring-leader holding a hoop for my students to jump through one by one. We teachers tell students: "Listen to your body"––but when they do, we don't listen to them.
At the heart of my teaching philosophy is the question: Am I teaching poses, or am I teaching students?

In my early teaching years, students would tell me they liked my clear instruction and sequencing. Great, I thought, I must be doing something right. Almost every one wants to learn asana to get strong and flexible. That is the physical component of the practice which is fairly easy to teach. But then there is also the mental/emotional/psychological component which each student embodies in their own unique way. 

Some students crave peace and quiet––for them, yoga is their down time. Many like to chat with me––about family, relationships, politics, current affairs, food, and health. And more than a few have cried during their time with me. Last week, after getting up from Savasana, one of my students started chatting with me about her family. Then she asked: "Do you have a class scheduled after this? Can I lie down?" I laughed and fortunately for her I did have a few free minutes. "This is like therapy," she added.

I'm not saying that chit-chat time is a part of yoga or being a good teacher––but that yoga is more than asana.

Teaching accessible asana means my students learn strength, control, proper breathing, proprioception, and improve their flexibility, mobility, etc. That is the "outside stuff." The magic happens when you use the outside stuff to access the inside stuff...

Accessible yoga means I start with the student and figure out what they need. These are questions for ME:
  • Is this their first time meeting me?
  • What is their body language (tense / hesitant vs relaxed)?
  • Facial expressions?
  • How is their manner of speaking (shy / reserved vs loquacious / talkative)?
  • How are they breathing?
  • How can I read safety (or fear / tension / anxiety) in their being?
  • How are my words, tone of voice, body language affecting them? 
  • How can I convey safety (verbally / non-verbally) to them?

Ultimately, my purpose as a yoga teacher is to guide them toward making their inner stuff accessible to themselves. This is something that cannot be forced or controlled. The yoga class is a safe space for my students to be present physically and mentally with their bodies, their selves.


So too, if a student has practised with me long enough, they notice that I often re-direct their questions back at them. (Them: "Should I point my toes or flex my foot?" Me: "Which feels better/more stable?") They begin to:
  • Develop awareness of their physical body
  • Trust their bodies as strong / capable
  • Trust themselves i.e., their own inner authority over my outside authority.
There is a synergy of flesh, blood, and bones into embodied presence.

Recently, one of my students (a gifted young woman in her early 20s currently in medical school) couldn't stop laughing as she tried and repeatedly failed to do a sit-up into Boat pose that I'd explained/demonstrated. "I can't!" She said laughing uncontrollably. At first, I smiled but after a few times, I got a little short with her and said: "You can't do it because you're laughing and not trying."

Most of the time when teaching asana, I've been able to strike a balance between being gentle/supportive and giving my students a nudge out of their comfort zone. Most of the time, they are surprised and delighted that they can do something they didn't think they could, safely and without pain.

This time however, I was quickly humbled when she turned to me and told me that her wrists and fingers were so weak that they didn't have the strength to support her head even while using her core strength to come up. I apologised, feeling my cheeks burn with regret at my unkind words. Her laughter was a protective mechanism against anxiety or simply a natural light-hearted reaction which I had misinterpreted as her not taking her practice seriously.

Creating safety for my students means that when I fall short, I take responsibility and apologise immediately. This shows that their teacher is not above them; that their intuition is wisdom. When they see their teacher trusts them, they begin to trust themselves and step into their own freedom.

In the book "The Little Prince" by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, it is written: "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

Can I guide my students toward recognising the essence of themselves?


Sheela Cheong.
I found yoga at the University of California where I was pursuing my doctorate studies in Sociology. After returning to Asia in June 2012, I earned my teacher’s certification (200-hr, Absolute Yoga, Thailand) and have been teaching yoga ever since. In June 2018 I did a 500-hr training with the American Yoga School (Stockholm, Sweden). My teaching style and philosophy have been shaped mostly by my two main teachers whom I practised with in California and Singapore -- they both come from an Iyengar background. My teaching experience includes many studios in Singapore, private and corporate classes.



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Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Yoga for All


by Daniel Simpson


Editor's Note: In "The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga's History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices," Daniel Simpson offers us an overview of yoga from its ancient origins to what it has become today. Simpson said in a YouTube interview that he wrote the book that he wanted to read when he started out with yoga and had lots of questions like: Where did yoga come from, How has it changed, Why do these texts not sound like what I'm doing in my weekly yoga class?

In this book, Simpson brings to bear twenty years of exploring the material for himself, seeking practical truths about life beyond abstract theory. He also draws on his training as a journalist for the New York Times and Reuters News Agency, as well as his academic exploration of yoga in graduate school at the University of London’s 
SOAS (formerly the School of Oriental and African Studies). He says, "My attempt with this book is to bring clarity, to shed a bit of light on these subjects, and hopefully to make it fun." Simpson graciously accepted Accessible Yoga's request to post an excerpt from the book and here it is.




Texts on hatha yoga democratize practice. They are composed in straightforward Sanskrit, with minimal philosophy. Although it seems unlikely that they would have replaced a teacher’s guidance, their instructions are clearer than secretive Tantras. Generally speaking, hatha is a practical method, not a rarefied doctrine.

One of the earliest texts to describe hatha yoga says anyone can try it, whatever their background or belief. “Whether Brahmin, ascetic, Buddhist, Jain, skull-bearing tantric or materialist, the wise man endowed with faith, who is constantly devoted to his practice obtains complete success,” says the thirteenth-century Dattatreya Yoga Shastra (41–42). “Success happens for he who performs the practices—how could it happen for one who does not?”

The focus is on physical techniques, by which “everyone, even the young or the old or the diseased, gradually obtains success” (Dattatreya Yoga Shastra 40). The sage Dattatreya, who presents these ideas, seems less impressed by tantric rituals. Calling chanting a practice “which can be mastered by all and sundry,” he says: “The lowest aspirant, he of little wisdom, resorts to this yoga, for this yoga of mantras is said to be the lowest” (12–14). Even ways of dissolving the mind, some of which come from Tantras, get short shrift. As Dattatreya explains, there is a hierarchy of practices. “Yoga has many forms,” he tells his student. “I shall explain all that to you: the yoga of mantras (mantra yoga), the yoga of dissolution (laya yoga) and the yoga of force (hatha yoga). The fourth is the royal yoga (raja yoga); it is the best” (9–10).

Other texts list the same four yogas, generally agreeing that the last is superior. Dattatreya says little about it, except that it results from success in hatha. “[The yogi] should practice using these [techniques] that have been taught, each at the proper time,” he says at the end of his detailed instructions on physical methods. “Then the royal yoga will arise. Without them it definitely will not happen” (160).

This message is echoed in later texts. The fifteenth-century Hatha Pradipika defines hatha yoga as a “stairway to the heights of raja yoga,” and says it was composed out of compassion “for those who are unaware of raja yoga, through wandering in the darkness of too many different opinions” (Hatha Pradipika 1.1–3). The interdependence of both is often mentioned: “Without hatha, raja yoga does not succeed, nor does hatha succeed without raja yoga. So the yogi should practice both until they are complete” (Shiva Samhita 5.22).

In practice, raja yoga is samadhi, the ultimate absorption in deep meditation. The innovation of hatha is to make this accessible by physical methods, which are said to still the mind if performed correctly. Conversely, warns the compiler of the Hatha Pradipika (4.79), “I consider those practitioners who only do hatha, without knowing raja yoga, to be laboring fruitlessly.”


Daniel Simpson teaches at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, in teacher trainings around the U.K., and at Triyoga in London. He is a graduate of Cambridge University and has a master's degree from SOAS University of London.




To purchase a book and for more information see:
https://truthofyoga

Excerpted from THE TRUTH OF YOGA: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga’s History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices by Daniel Simpson. Published by North Point Press, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Copyright © 2021 by Daniel Simpson. All rights reserved.

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