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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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Yoga Report from Berlin Part 2: Are Studios Open and Have You Tried Restorative Yoga?

Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

by Katharina Pewny

The term yogi:ni that appears in this article is used in the German language to refer to women, men, and others in between genders. The colon (:) indicates that it includes people between genders––similar to yogi*ni.



This report from Berlin's yoga community is informed by my experience as an Accessible Yoga (AY) teacher over the age of fifty with recurrent health issues. I started to teach yoga in the fall of 2019 and now work with mainly women, over the age of sixty, who have chronic illnesses such as rheumatic and asthmatic conditions, fibromyalgia, and post-cancer conditions. During the pandemic I have been offering nourishing practices that foster balance, trust, and courage with a strong Restorative Yoga focus.

In March 2020, my colleague Katja Sandschneider and I re-activated an informal network of AY teachers in Berlin for regular exchange of information and among our first topics were the pedagogies of online teaching. In this group, as in other international AY communities, one core question we faced was: Does the use of streaming technologies make yoga more, or less, accessible for people with disabilities/chronic illnesses, seniors, and all others commonly excluded from what is known as yoga today? For many yogi:nis, online teachings are more accessible than live classes, especially during the pandemic. Many people prefer to practice at home because this doesn't require travel with public transportation or transport services for people with disabilities that might expose them to the virus.

In Germany, most studios reopened after the first wave of Covid-19 in the summer of 2020 and closed again in late autumn. Few seniors or AY yoga teachers continue to teach "in real life" except if they can get a Covid-19 test before entering the studio building, or if they were recently vaccinated. Most independent teachers I know agree that it is safest to teach online now. Even meditation workshops and silent retreats are being offered online during the pandemic––I participate regularly in sessions offered by the Zen Buddhist Center Chan in Bern, Switzerland.

Some yoga teachers are collecting signatures for an open letter to the German government calling for the recognition of yoga as a “systemic relevant” field of work––a designation that would allow them to go back to work just like medical workers, police, and some other front-line professionals. Their reasoning is that due to the health benefits of yoga practice, they want permission to re-open studios now. When spring arrives, and summer follows right after, I guess we might again teach outside and look for safe places, maybe close to the studios and assisted living facilities where we can bring our students with chairs and mats.

These days I still teach weekly integrated mat/chair classes online via Zoom, and I offer a monthly Restorative Yoga workshop in the same format. This usually takes place on a Sunday or Friday evening, and I invite people to set up a safe and cozy space for themselves, collect a few blankets, pillows, and a bolster if available. We start the practice with a mindfulness meditation wishing every sentient and non-sentient being on the planet well, including ourselves, do some gentle warm-up movements, and then rest in longer held postures on the props. As many people are at home now, on their phones, and/or sitting a lot, I offer a reclined backbend, then side-laying Child's pose, a forward-bend with the head and arms resting on a chair in front of the practitioner if possible, and end with a supported Corpse pose and mindfulness meditation.

Therefore, I offer this quite classical Restorative practice as I learned from Judith Hanson Lasater's book “Relax and Renew," and I add some modifications that I consider crucial for accessibility. I encourage people to practice on their bed or couch, and I make sure the warm-up fits a diversity of bodies and ranges of movement. When I cue meditation, I encourage people to move if needed, for example to open and close their hands when they want to. By this I aim to encourage self-agency, especially for people with traumatic experiences who might end up in a “freeze” mode when in bodily stillness. Also, a couple of times I invite students to make themselves comfortable, to check in with the inner body landscape, especially with the lower back and the neck, to perceive more clearly what is going on there.

Last weekend, when I participated in the Therapeutic Yoga Training with Cheri Clampett and Arturo Peal, I again became aware of how crucial deep rest/relaxation is for every level of our health, especially in the times of the pandemic, because the body and mind need to spend time in the rest-and-digest mode, as opposed to fight-and-flight-mode. I am looking forward to experiencing the healing powers of therapeutic yoga more clearly through the above-mentioned training, and I am looking forward to serve others with it in the future.



Katharina Pewny
. Would you like to participate in Restorative workshops? Right now, mine are held in German, but I am happy to offer them in English if anyone is interested. I did my teacher training in Zen Yoga at Dynamic Mindfulness in Berlin, in 2019 I did both a Senior Yoga and an Accessible Yoga training. As I am having recurrent health issues, my mission is to offer practices for a range of movement abilities. You can find me here: 
birdyoga-berlin.de   and katharina@birdyoga-berlin.de.

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, March 3, 2021

If It’s Not Accessible It’s Not Yoga

Photo by Indian Yogi (Yogi Madhav)
by Jivana Heyman


My background is in AIDS activism, and in the 1990’s I started teaching yoga so that I could share these practices with my community of people with HIV and AIDS. We were in the middle of an epidemic, and many of my students were extremely sick and dying. What my students and I learned together was that yoga offered accessible and powerful tools for healing on a deep mental, emotional, and spiritual level. My students showed me that yoga could offer them healing even when they were dying. Since then, I’ve been trying to honor their legacy by sharing this message with the yoga community. The message is that yoga is not about physical achievement or even physical healing; yoga is about a deep internal spiritual connection.

What’s really remarkable about yoga is that it allows us to engage every aspect of our being –– our body, our breath, our mind, and our actions –– in our spiritual journey. This is unusual since most spiritual practices don’t offer us such powerful techniques for incorporating the body in our practice. Yoga offers us the opportunity to allow the body to flow in the moving prayer of asana. But we can’t let the beauty and power of asana fool us. Yoga is not about the body.

The truth of yoga is that the body and mind are temporary, constantly changing, and mortal, but the spirit is immortal, everlasting, and pure. This is the lesson of The Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna explains: “You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.” (Easwaran 2.20)

When we overly simplify yoga to just be about the poses, we strip it of its most essential meaning. We appropriate the practice from its traditional roots in India and turn it into a commodity to be sold by capitalist interests. So the issue is more than just one of respect and care for continuing the ancient legacy of the yoga lineage. It’s about holding these precious teachings in a way that respects their purpose, their background, and their proper application.

In order to do so, we need to consider the fullness of the practice. The essential teaching of yoga is that we all share the same spiritual essence no matter what our backgrounds or ability may be. We share the same essence whether we have a disability, whether we have a larger body, or if we’re a senior, or a child. We have got to let go of this idea of advanced asana equaling advanced yoga. There really is no correlation between our physical ability and the depth of our spiritual connection. This is why I always say that if it’s not accessible it’s not yoga. Because we all have equal access to the heart of yoga, and it’s up to each of us to find a form for our practice that allows us to unite with the spirit within.


Jivana Heyman,
C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Conversations, a Blog, and an Ambassador program. He’s the creator of the Accessible Yoga Training, and the author of the book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities and out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training, and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. More info at jivanaheyman.com


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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° 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.