Friday, October 22, 2021

Yoga Revolution: Keynote Address by Jivana Heyman (AYC 2021)


Keynote by Jivana Heyman. Transcript edited by M Camellia.

Editor's Note: Below you will find a written transcript of the keynote address delivered verbally by Jivana Heyman on October 15, 2021 at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online. It has been edited to improve readability, though these edits do not change the substance of the keynote. Effort was made to retain fidelity to the address as delivered, including the retention of some (but not all instances of) 'filler words' (i.e. 'like,' 'um'), which attempts to approximate the natural spoken cadence and delivery of the orator. Ellipses have been used throughout to indicate a pause in speech and in no instance indicate the removal of words. Additionally, the live event included a brief introduction by Amber Karnes and informal comments (beyond the scope of the keynote) by Jivana Heyman at the conclusion--these have been removed from this edited transcript, though that content is retained in the video recording, including the captions thereof. Time stamps are provided to indicate where this edited transcript begins and ends in relation to the linked video recording.

Watch the Recording of this Keynote

[Transcript begins at minute 6:16 of the video recording.]

But anyway, I want to introduce myself again and just say, you know, I'm Jivana. My pronouns are he and him. I'm on Chumash land here, which is called Santa Barbara, California. We have a fire nearby. That's actually...the smoke has shifted away, thank goodness. So it's much better now. I thought I might have to evacuate yesterday, which was bad timing. And I just want to say before I do a centering, that it's really important to me that we share our pronouns and the land that we're on, because it creates a safer space for everybody. So if you don't mind putting at least the pronouns in your Zoom name, that would be awesome. It's actually also a policy we have in Accessible Yoga to help create safer spaces where people feel welcome, and I feel like this has already come up during this conference. I just want to say that it's important to me that we make the spaces that we're here...that we're hosting as safe as possible. We can't create ‘safe space.’ That's not possible, I realize, but we can do the best we can to make them safe, safer. Yeah. 

Let's do a centering about that. Maybe sit back, if that's comfortable for you. You can have the eyes open or closed. Notice your body and how it's feeling right now. Maybe see if you can move around a little bit and adjust to make yourself more comfortable. I thought we could spend some time exploring gravity and the effect it's having on our bodies right now. So I like to think about the places my body is touching the earth. And it's not really touching the earth, but it's touching the floor, right? My feet are on the floor. My seat is in the chair. Maybe on an exhalation together, we can inhale and exhale. So if you can let the body rest down a little more into that support, feeling gravity pulling us down into the earth, you can let the body be heavy. Gravity is an incredible force, right? It's this constant force of the earth, pulling us towards that. I like to think of it as, like, a hug. Right? We're being hugged from the earth--Mother Earth, embracing us, constantly pulling us down into her. Then you can feel that space of air lifting up on the inhale, pulling away from the earth. 

Maybe we can explore that for a moment--the inhale, the inhalation, lengthening and lifting away from the earth, and the exhalation grounding you back down. See how those two forces work in unison like a dance, right? Inhale, lengthening upwards. Exhale, relaxing down. And when you have energy and relaxation at the same time, inhale lengthening, exhale relaxing, letting go. See if you can release a little more tension on the next exhale. Maybe relax the jaw, the eyes, shoulders, the hands, belly--anywhere that there's tension in the body. Let's just take a few more breaths here, maybe three more breaths on your own.

When you're ready, you can slowly open the eyes, if they are closed, coming back to your actual reality, and then this virtual reality, maybe looking back on the screen.

Hi again. Thanks so much for being here at the conference and for coming to this talk. And for those of you watching on the recording: thank you, I appreciate you. It means a lot to me, you know? Accessible Yoga is a community. It's, you know, as Amber said...I founded this organization, but I really don't feel any longer that I'm controlling it. I mean, I'm doing my best to support it, and [I’m] nurturing its growth. But I've..I've let it go. Like, basically, it reminds me of my kids. I have a 20-year-old and a 16-year-old, and they're teaching me about letting go. And I feel the same way with Accessible Yoga. It's not that I'm still here, I'm still doing this--I’m also trying to let go and let Accessible Yoga grow into whatever it can become. This weekend is just beautiful for me, because I see that it has a life of its own. So your being here means a lot to me. 

But I'm here to talk about my new book, which is called Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage and Compassion. I actually have a copy here, which is exciting. It's a preview copy--the book won't be out for a while. There's actually delays with the supply chain, so they were supposed to come out in November, but now it's gonna be out December 7th. But you can pre-order if you want on...there, Robyn put it in the chat. And this book is more, really, a journey...about my journey in yoga, sharing about myself and my understanding of the yoga teachings in light of what's happening in the world. In particular, I started writing during Black Lives Matter, and I think that was a huge influence for me. The biggest civil rights movement in history, really. And that affected me profoundly because I felt like, “Finally, a change is coming.” You know? And I wanted to share about how I saw that reflected in the yoga teachings and in my life. 

One of the things I want to try and do tonight...I haven't given this talk before, by the way, this is the first time I'm talking about the book at all. So thank you for being patient with me. Because it's a whole, long book. It's really long. In fact, I think it's too long. It's, like, 250 pages and everyone who reads it says...I mean, most of them say nice things because they have to, but I also think their eyes roll back in their head slightly, and they just feel like, “Oh, wow, there's a lot.” You know? Like, it's a lot. It's a dense book, a lot of philosophy, but, you know, that's what I like! Anyway, what I want to try and do is to share the most vulnerable parts, because I think [those are], really, the important pieces of the book. I actually have a PowerPoint, because I'm a visual person. That helps me, so I'm going to share my screen. Let's see how this goes. Hopefully you can see that. It's a little wild--the background is the rainbow image that actually's the image that the book designer used on the book cover, and I think it's pretty cool, because ‘rainbow’ is a theme that I want to come back to.

This slide says, “Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage and Compassion with Jivana Heyman,” and there's a rainbow background. And I want to go on and talk do I do this? I want to start with failure. Because I honestly can say that this book came out of my personal struggles, starting with what happened to me about four years ago. So, my mom died four years ago now. And it was August, and then a few months later, I had just turned 50 years old, which was kind of, you know, mind-blowing in itself--if any of you are 50 or older, you know what I mean--and then her death really got just knocked me down. We were very close. And she know, it was hugely important in my life. I mean, the loss of anyone's parent is just, I think, overwhelming in general, although I think, you know...I was lucky that I had a close relationship with her, but it really affected me, and also my daughter, Violet, who's 16 now and is going through a lot of major challenges. I try not to share too much about her because I want to protect her privacy--it's her life--but she has mental health issues. And [my mom’s death] was just overwhelming for me, so I had an anxiety attack, which I talked about with Amber, actually, on our podcast. I landed in the ER, was in the emergency room, and I couldn't breathe. I didn't know what was going on. I tell the story in the book, which is that they did all these tests on me to see what was happening. I was convinced that I was...I don't know...I mean, [having] a heart attack or allergic to something. I don't know. And then they--the doctor--came back and said, “You know, I think it's an anxiety attack.” And I started laughing, and I said, “It can't be, I'm a Yoga teacher. I can't be having an anxiety attack.” Which is pretty funny now. 

Anyway, what I realized was that I had this kind of idea about myself, and about my life as a yoga teacher, and my practice, and it wasn't really doing what I thought it was doing. You know? Here, I was going through a lot of really challenging stuff, and I completely fell apart, and it was good. I mean, I don't wish that on anybody. But I feel like I've kind of pulled myself back from that time, learned a lot. I've had to really restart my practice in many ways, not only physically, but also in the way I approach philosophy. And I...that's why I wanted to mention this idea of failure, because it felt like a failure.I felt like I had failed as a yoga practitioner, and I was really embarrassed. Yeah, like I, you know...I think I’d just been trained that if you're a yoga teacher, you're kind of ‘perfect’ in some way, you know? Like, that your life is perfect, and your body's healthy. And because I also [am] getting older, I have a lot of physical issues, which I don't want to bother you with. But anyway, the point is that it was a failure. But I feel like it offered me a chance to sit back and look at everything in a fresh way. 

This is a poem that I'm sharing with you--it's on the screen, it says, “‘The Failure’ by Kabir.” Kabir actually is an amazing poet, and he was part of the group of Bhakti poets that was writing in Persia, which was Iraq and Iran in the 14th century, which is literally, like, hundreds and hundreds of years ago. So that would be, like, around the 1300s. He says:

I talk to my inner lover, and I say, why such rush?
We sense that there is some sort of spirit that loves birds and animals and the ants--
perhaps the same one who gave a radiance to you in your mother's womb.
Is it logical you would be walking around entirely orphaned now?
The truth is you turned away yourself,
and decided to go into the dark alone.
Now you are tangled up in others, and have forgotten what you once knew,
and that's why everything you do has some weird failure in it.

That last part is a little bit damning. It feels like I've totally failed. Everything I do “has some weird failure in it.” You know, it just feels...yeah, it feels so horrible. But actually, to me, it's such a relief. Right? Like Amber said [in the chat], “Fellow weird failures unite!” Exactly. Like, that's how I feel. I feel like I've always been slightly off, you know? Slightly. On the outside. I think just being a Queer person, I grew up feeling like I didn't belong anywhere. Society didn't have a role for me. You know, it just felt...I don't know...I just felt separate, and like everything was wrong. But then also, through my practice and through yoga philosophy, I started to see not only...that the way I was perceiving the world was actually not even correct. I think...that's what I think Kabir is getting at here, that the ego, the ego-mind, and the way that we approach the world, you know, as our individual self, will never be correct. It'll never be perfect because that's not the truth of who we are. 

You know, the yoga teachings say clearly that we are spiritual beings. That's our essence. That essence is unchanging, and immortal, and perfect, and it's shared by all of us, that essence that unites all beings. The spirit, Ātman, Purusha--whatever you want to call it...those are the Sanskrit words: Ātman, Purusha...or Brahman. Brahman is the shared universal spirit. That's the truth of who we are, and what the yoga teachings are really all about: trying to connect back to that. So this poem, to me, is actually talking about that, about this journey of being human and that being human means to fail. And I often feel like, as a yoga teacher, I'm misleading people, because I'm teaching them to be ‘better,’ or to be other than they are, right? To change. And I actually think, you know, real healing comes when we accept who we are, completely, right now, including all of our limitations. 

I think that's what Kabir’s saying so clearly--that there's a weird failure in everything we do, and that it’s totally fine. In fact, I think we can celebrate the failure like Amber did. Yeah. Because you know, what? The body and the mind, this human being, will eventually die. Right? And that's the part, I think...Tracee Stanley just was so powerful this morning--I hope you get a chance to listen to her talk. You know, she said that clearly, again, to remind people of death...or was it somebody else? I don't know. But she really moved me, and I just want to say, like, that me, that's the healing of yoga. What it offers is the healing of acceptance. Yeah. Like Linda said [in the chat], being true to ourselves. It's not about changing into something else, other than to realize part of ourselves is fine, right? There's that spirit within us. That [spirit] is fine. The human part of ourselves is okay. It's okay to love your broken self. Like, that's okay. 

So I have a question for you, actually. I was wondering if you can think about this in your own life--is there a time or place where you felt that you failed? And I'm going to say that you can maybe just write a note down, or you can put it [in the chat] if you really want to be brave and share it with everybody. That's awesome, like, share away. But you don't have to, you're welcome to just write a note for yourself. What I'm interested in in particular is: is there some “failure” that you've experienced that ended up actually being helpful in some way? Like, is there something you considered a failure that actually ended up contributing to your growth and to your evolution as a being? I'm going to give you maybe just a minute to reflect on that. I'll try to stop talking.
[Addressing participants who shared their responses in the chat]: All right. Okay. Thanks for sharing in the chat. It's really beautiful. Thanks, Kimberly, all of you. Kareena, Alyssa, Jess, Sarah--thanks for sharing, and thank you Jean. I know being a parent has made me feel like a failure, I have to say. Wow, thanks for sharing all that. I have to read all those. 

I am...I can honestly say that it is our failures and the places that we are different and not like other people where we're the strongest, you know? You know, I don't mean [it] in a cliche kind of way. I mean, it sounds like a cliche. But I really think that's the point of being human. Because here we are. I mean, I don't want to get too esoteric, but like, if you think about it, why are we here? Why are we here? Why are we on Earth? And, according to the yoga teachings, the idea is to see clearly, right? The Sanskrit word ‘viveka’ means ‘clear vision.’ According to the Yoga Sūtras, we need to have clear vision, which means we have to [clearly see] where we are ignorant, where we are not wise, and where we've failed, I would say. That's really the goal of the yoga teachings: to show us that. And not in a negative way, I don't think, at all, but in a way that is revealing and honest  so that then we can say, “Oh, wait, there's also this other part of me that is whole at the same time. So, part of me is whole, and part of me is struggling and failing. I guess I like to think of it as my heart and my mind. The way I try to talk about it in the book a little bit is...I feel like the heart is where the spirit lives. And according to the yoga teachings, that spirit, like I said, is perfect as it is. It doesn't need to be healed. It doesn't need anything. And I feel that way about my heart, that my heart is fine--it gets hurt, I need to protect it, yes, but my heart is where I'm trying to connect to yoga. At the same time, my mind is struggling, and challenged, and imperfect. It's not that we want to destroy the mind and just live in the heart, but we want to heal that relationship...that inner relationship between the heart and the mind. I think that, really, the goal of yoga is healing that inner relationship. 

So, I want to talk about the name of the book. Yoga Revolution is about that. It's not...I'm not trying to revolutionize yoga, which I'm afraid some people might think is what I'm talking about. I think yoga is fine. What I think we need is to allow yoga to revolutionize us, to create a revolution within us, internally, and then externally-- internally in the way that we perceive ourselves, and externally in the way that we act in the world. 

I wanted to share...let's see. I would say yoga creates an inner revolution. Actually, I did talk about this idea of inner revolution at the Accessible Yoga Conference in New York, the first one we had there--I can't remember what year that was. The idea of ‘yoga revolution’ actually started at an Accessible Yoga Conference, and it's been, like, lingering in my mind ever since. And that's just to say that I think these are incredibly revolutionary practices, like it says on the slide. That's what ‘courage’ is. ‘Courage’ is an inner revolution. And yoga transforms the relationship between our heart and our mind--it changes the way we think and how we perceive the world. What I mean by that is that, most of the time, we're existing either...well, I would say...I’ll speak for myself...most of the time, I'm existing just in my mind. Generally, it's just my mind. Thinking, and analyzing, and kind of worrying, having anxiety--which is obviously an actual diagnosed illness that I have, anxiety. 

I would say, you know, my mind tends to get really obsessive about things and go into some bad places. And I think that's okay. Because the mind is...that's the nature of the mind. I'm saying [that] what yoga can do is allow me, from my own heart, to be there, nurturing my mind, so I can have...create a healthier inner relationship where I'm my own mother, honestly. I mean, what came up for me after my mother died was that I needed to mother myself. And I...I use that word consciously, because I think fathers are also important--because I'm a gay dad. But I think there's something about ‘mothering’ that we need, you know...that we need to care for ourselves, be kind and supportive. So one of the things...maybe you've heard me say this before, but maybe I'll ask you this to reflect on your inner dialogue, and think about: how do you talk to yourself? And then what do you allow to occur inside your body, in that relationship between your heart and your mind? The thing I always ask people is, “Do you hear yourself talking in your mind?” Have you heard me say this? You're like, yeah, I've heard you say this a million times. Yeah. I said, “Do you hear yourself talking in your mind? Who's listening to that? Who's hearing that?” Maybe? 

Well, maybe you have an idea. Do you wanna…[reading from the chat] “Me.” Okay. Who's that? Sarah, who's ‘me?’ That's... what? It's the jñāna yoga practice of self analysis. [Reading from the chat] “Rama Krishna…” Was that when he was…?
Yeah, Sarah, who's me? Who's listening? 

I'm sure she’s gonna answer in the chat. Can you? Okay. [Reading from the chat] “Self inquiry.” “Self.” Okay, thank you. “Capital ‘S’ self,” “my conscious mind,” “myself.” “My ego talks and thinks it's listening.” “My conscious psyche?”

Yeah, I don't want to give you an answer. I'll tell you what I think myself, and that is just my guess. Another critical observer, Ramana Maharshi...that's that...that ‘thank you’ for getting ...Ramana Maharshi would say to everyone who came to him, “Who's asking?” You’d ask him a question, and he would just say, “Who's asking?” But I think that's the same idea. Who's listening to your mind? And I would say, honestly, to me, it's my heart. My heart is listening to my mind. And my heart is, I would say, yeah, consciousness, or spirit, or God within me, in my heart. The observer. The listener. I've decided that you can listen very critically, or you can listen with love. And again, Tracee Stanley this morning, you know, she had us...we broke into pairs. And then she asked us to do...I don't know what she called it, but basically active listening. You know, where you listen to somebody without just thinking about yourself? And I think that I...I'm trying to do that with myself too, so that as my mind speaks, constantly doing its worrying or whatever it's doing, I’m trying to listen to it with kindness. And what I find happens is that it often calms down.

I think listening is an act of service, when you actively listen to someone, and listen to their pain, and their heart that they're sharing with you. It's an act of service. It's an act of love. It's probably the most powerful thing we can do for another person, to listen to them. You know what I mean? Do you like being listened to? Okay, I'm not gonna make us break into groups and do that, I'm just telling you now, so you don't have to worry. Although, I really want to, but I'm trying to be nice. But I would just say, practice it yourself. See if, like, sometime in the next few hours, if you have a person in your life, or maybe the next day, you can practice some active listening, where you work on, kind of, creating peace in your own mind and just letting your heart be present with them while they're expressing themselves. You could reflect back what they're saying or not. You just hear what they're saying. Or, if you really want to do advanced yoga, you can do that with yourself. Well, like, [it sounds like] I'm saying I'm advanced...that's what I'm working on, which is, to listen to my mind. Kindly. I would say that's my current meditation practice: I try to notice my mind, and I try not to get...I try not to be hard on myself, because I think I made that way more complicated than it needed to be. But there you go. 

So, I think we know this already: yoga is an inner practice. I'm going to maybe just jump through this. Let's say--this is from the Yoga Sūtras--that the Yoga Sūtras are very much about the inner experience of yoga. So, part of what I'm trying to get at in the book is that. In fact, the first section of the book, “Inner Revolution,” is talking about the idea of yoga as a path to self-understanding and feeling that inner relationship. I think that's what the Yoga Sūtras are really about. Patañjali is teaching us how to work with our own mind. So in sūtra two, the famous sūtra, he's saying [that] calming the mind is yoga, or something to that effect. This is my interpretation. Sūtra three: “Then we experience peace within.” And four: “Otherwise we believe we are our thoughts.” Right? So Patañjali is giving us some tools here to begin to, hopefully not disassociate, but differentiate between the heart and the mind, to begin to see more clearly, like, the parts of us that are just...I hate to use the word ‘inner child,’ but I'm going to say that. Like...I don't know. That term is so cliche and corny, but, like, [I mean] the part of you that's hurt, and, you know, struggling, and [he’s giving us the tools to] begin to see that part so we can have a healthy relationship with ourselves. 

All right. I didn't know this was my next slide. Well, here we go. So what I want to talk about is death. I mentioned my mom. This is a picture of my mom, on the left. She's doing yoga, which makes me laugh so much, but she is amazing. She actually started yoga later in life. Her mother, my grandmother, taught me yoga when I was very young, and then my mom. I think it skips generations, you know, these things. My mom was kind of against it at first, and then, eventually, she loved yoga and practiced all the time.

Then the picture on the right is a picture of me with my best friend, Kurt, who died of AIDS in 1995. And he actually was about three months after I graduated from yoga teacher training. I had...he kind of convinced me to do it, actually. I'd been studying yoga for many years, and he just thought, you know...he kind of pushed me to take the teacher training and to really, actively serve. That picture’s kind of damaged--you see those white marks there? But anyway, to me, there's a connection there between finishing teacher training right around the time that he died. And so, I really dedicated myself to sharing yoga with people with HIV and AIDS, which is what I did for a long time.

The point of this slide was to talk about death, and I just want to say, I think the other thing that yoga does--this inner dialogue that I'm talking about--I think, [is prepare] us for death. Because, I think, what's scary about death is the death of the mind, the death of the body. So, in every single yoga class...almost almost every single Yoga class, what do we end with? I mean, tell me in the chat--what do we end with in every single yoga class? Almost everyone around the world? Savasana. Thank you. And what is Savasana? Corpse pose. So literally, we end every yoga class with an exploration of death. And, you know, it may not be something we're ready to talk about or deal with, and that's fine. I don't want you to...I don't want to upset anybody, because death can be a really sensitive topic. But I just want to say that it's there for us. Yoga is teaching that, teaching us how to prepare, how to be in conscious relationship with our limited body and mind, so that, eventually, we can let it go.

And I failed at it. Oh, that's quite good, that I failed. You know, when my friend Kurt died, I was devastated, and I lost, you know, many, many friends to AIDS. And it just...yeah, it was just overwhelming. And then my mother's death, you know...I'm still not totally healed. And I don't mean to make this all about me, but I'm just trying to share that, like, it doesn't make it easier. It's just that, you know, yoga gives us tools. That doesn't mean we know how to use them, or that we do them very well. So it's a journey. But that's the point of that inner revolution, right? To change our relationships with ourselves?

Then, the amazing thing about yoga is it also can create an outer revolution, and the outer revolution I'm talking about is not a healthy body and flexible hamstrings. Like, I don't care about that, really. I mean, I do, I'm totally...that's totally wrong. I totally want to look good and, like, be flexible, and do all those amazing poses. Like, that is true. But I know that it's not really what yoga is for. I wish I could do it more...I wish I could do more of those fancy poses. But the outer revolution is one of compassion. 

So, I mentioned the word courage earlier--to me, that inner revolution is actually about the courage to be honest with ourselves. The courage to look at the relationship we're having with our mind, the heart and the mind, right? That takes courage, to be honest with yourself. And then compassion is the outer revolution of yoga, and the compassion comes from yoga because what yoga does...well, this slide says yoga creates an outer revolution. We see ourselves in others, service becomes a natural outgrowth of our practice, we want to reduce suffering in the world...ahimsa. Ahimsa, we talk about as non-harm. But, really, non-harm...this also means not hurting, not wanting there to be suffering around us. It's just a natural instinct we have. Like, we don't want to see suffering in the world. When you see someone suffering, or even an animal suffering, it's very painful, and we need to be...we need to notice that reaction we have, and respect that [that] reaction, that compassion, is the heart speaking. Right? That's that part of us speaking that feels connected to others, because it is the connection to others. 

And we talked...I said, for me, the heart, my heart, is my spirit. And that's a universal--my heart is the same as yours. You know what I'm saying...,that that is what we share. Our lived experience, our body and mind, [are] completely different. This is the tension that I see in yoga and with spiritual bypassing, for example. So often in yoga--or, modern contemporary practices--we talk about [how] we're all one, right? And you know,'s all good vibes only and all that stuff. I mean, I think what that is...that's an effort to connect to spirit, right? That's an effort to understand our heart, our own hearts, but the fact is, like, that…[Reading from the chat.] Yes, Kareena, we are all the universe manifesting itself, but we're all diverse manifestations. And the diversity of our mind and our body and our life, our lived experience, is also essential. So we need to acknowledge that, and that's where compassion comes in. 

Compassion, to me, is the bridge between the universal connection and the individual expression. I like to think of the image of a prism. I've used this in both of my books. In fact, that's what came out. You know, in my first book, Accessible Yoga, I mentioned this one image, and that's really what got me started on the second book. The image is of a prism, with light going through it, creating a rainbow, and the fact is that that’s what our lives are like, what we are like. In our heart, we are that pure white light, but our lived experience is like a rainbow. And so I talk in the book about ‘rainbow minds.’ 

The idea of ‘rainbow mind’ is that it's just this recognition of the diversity of our experiences, and, especially as a Queer person, I really love the rainbow. That's, like, the flag of Queer people, right? The gay pride flag, or whatever you want to call it? And to me, that rainbow is important. It's representing all different beings, all different people. Everyone has a different way of being in their body and in their life. And yet, at the same time, we have this underlying shared truth. Right? Now, when I...I think our practice of yoga can create an outer revolution, because I believe that if we're practicing effectively...I should speak for myself again...if I'm practicing effectively, I'm becoming more compassionate for others. And I would say, to me, that's the number one sign of a successful yoga practice, that you have increased compassion. 

And I have to say, it's not fun, and I don't...I think maybe that's why we don't do it, like, because it's painful. It's painful to experience the pain of others as our own, and I...actually, I think I have another slide. This slide says, “Enlightenment in the Bhagavad Gita.” I refer to the Gita a lot in this book, because I think the Gita really speaks clearly to these points about how to live as a yogi. That's the teaching that Krishna was giving Arjuna in the Gita. 

This is from chapter six, shlokas 29 to 32, as tanslated by Swami Satchidananda. It says, “As your mind becomes harmonized through yoga practices, you begin to see the Atman.” Again, the atman is spirit, right? “You begin to see the atman in all beings and all beings in yourself.” Capital ‘S’ self, right? “You see the same self everywhere and in everything. Those who see me wherever they look and recognize everything as my manifestation never again feel separate from me, nor I from them. Whoever becomes established in the all-pervading oneness of Brahman and worships me abiding and all beings, however he may be living, that yogi lives in me. The yogi who perceives the essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.” 

And I just...I find that last phrase haunting me. Because I don't want it to be true. But I'm saying that if you really...if you're practicing yoga and you're sincere about it, you'll naturally feel “the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own.” And I would say that Krishna...what Krishna’s saying here is very important, because first he says...if you really look at this section, first is this saying...first you have this idea of oneness, right? First, you realize we're all connected. And I often think that we equate enlightenment with that idea of the experience of oneness, right? We think that's the goal. At least, I believe that's what most of us do. Most of us think, “Oh, the goal of yoga is enlightenment. And that means I see everyone as one, we're all connected.” But he goes on, and I think that's why this last line is so important. He says, not only that, but then what happens when you experience that oneness. The next part, which I would say is, like, a higher level of enlightenment, to be honest, is [saying that] the yogi who perceives essential oneness everywhere naturally feels the pleasure or pain of others as his or her own. That kind of sucks. I think that was what led me to be an activist. 

So, I wanted to go back to my life. I'm just trying to make this grounded in my experience. So, you know, I...when I came out of the closet when I was 17, it was 1984. So, you can do the math. I'm old now. Not that...I'm 54 I think. And that was a different time, you know, for Queer people. It wasn't...I mean, it's still hard now, especially in other certain countries around the world. In the US it has gotten quite a bit better--we have gay marriage now, which is nice. But it was a rough time, and it was happening, and all of my...everyone I was meeting, like...I had just come out. I was, like, ready to party. Like, I was dancing at the [at the opening night party] last night, and it took me a while to start dancing again...But they were getting sick and dying. And I was like, “What? What's happening? This is horrible. Like, how can this be? I've been, like, dying to come out of the closet, and I do, and I come out to this, like, suffering, pain, death, illness?”

And so let's say...I have an image of “Silence=Death” in the middle here. It's a poster that was used by Act Up. The pink triangle represents was the logo that...the emblem that the Nazis used for gay men during the Holocaust was the pink triangle. And so during this time of the 80s, we tried to reclaim that pain triangle, and “Silence=Death” has to do with the idea that if we allow there to be suffering in the world, and we don't speak up about it, that will cause death. I mean, it's actually...that's how people die, if we don't say something. The picture is in the upper left. 

In the lower right...I don't know if I took husband says he took these, but I think I did. We were both at this event in Washington, DC. It was an Act Up protest at the Capitol, which is interesting considering what happened there in January. We're very far away from the capital. And on the far upper left, you see a man walking--that's Larry Kramer, who was the founder of Act Up, which is the group that I was part of. And the lower left was at a Queer Nation march that I was involved with. Queer Nation was a group that was trying to create, like, a positive association with the idea of Queer identity, and, I think, really was successful in doing so. I'm actually in there, if you can find me and that's your game. It's like Where's Waldo?! Find Jivana in the Queer Nation march! Can you find me? 

Oh my gosh, I'm almost out of time. Anyway, there I am. I don't even see...I'm kind of in the middle, wearing white. I was very skinny. I kind of already had a bald spot. I was wearing white, like, a white tank top, and a black belt. Yeah. Sarah helped find me--of course, Sarah! 

Okay, so I just want to end with a few thoughts about how this these concepts can be practiced in our lives, and it has to do with self care and service. So, to me, there's a tension there. Self care is basically focusing our energy inward to care for ourselves, and service is focusing the energy outward to care for others. I want to say...what I'm trying to get at here is that we all need to find the balance. For each of us, there's a different balance between the amount of self care and service we can provide. You could even think of self care as service to yourself. But within the yoga tradition, there's a long tradition of karma yoga, seva, or service, and I think we need to really get back to that, but with a clear understanding of the fact that some of us have more challenges and are struggling more than others. Those of us that have marginalized identities, that are further from power, that have less know. People with disabilities, Queer people, Trans people, People of Color, may feel like they're further from power, so then the yoga practice can come in, and spiritual practice comes in as a form of self care to actually give us back our power, [to] give us back the power that we feel we've lost. Spiritual practice can, like M Camellia always talks about, give us agency over our lives and our bodies. That's really what Yoga can do for us. At the same time, I think we need to be thoughtful about where we have power and privilege and how we can use that in service of others. When we see suffering in the world, how can we use our privilege to serve others and help them...just help there to be less suffering, without being attached to the result? Right? Because service is not about white...what do you call that again? God, you know what I'm talking about. [Reading the chat.] Oh, thank you for that! ‘White saviorism.’ Thank you, yeah, white saviorism. 

I think white saviorism is a dangerous, dangerous part of this, that comes when we think we're going to fix everything. And I don't want to give the impression that I'm saying that service begins with ourselves and then it expands outward to [the] closest people in our lives. It starts at home with your family, your friends, your know. We need to heal ourselves and the relationships with those around us first. We don't need to go and change the world. That will change the world, right? 

I have a link to--oh, and Robyn put it in the chat--that implicit bias test you can take for free through Harvard, which really helped us. I think it's an interesting process to see where you have unconscious beliefs and implicit bias. It can help us see our own minds more clearly, and it's a form of yoga practice. Yoga, again, is about seeing your mind clearly. Right? The viveka, a clear vision, seeing where you have privilege and where you have challenges, where you have marginalization...I think is really important. So, this is just a question I'll leave you with, to really look at that, and then to consider, also, what form does your service take in the world? 

I have some questions to leave you with. Let's see how much time we have...about five minutes. Maybe write down one of these questions, if it's useful for you. There's three questions here. One is, ask yourself, “What is the goal of your yoga?” Is your goal of your yoga practice, your personal liberation or the liberation of others? Maybe both.

If your practice is about your own healing, is there a way to expand your thinking to include healing for your community, your society, and the entire planet--which needs healing, honestly--and what would that look like in practice? So, maybe the question here really, if I could summarize this, is, “How can can my personal yoga practice contribute not only to my healing, but the healing of the world?” Really think about that in very concrete ways. If I can heal myself a little bit, am I contributing to the healing of the world? If I'm a little more clear in my relationship between the heart and mind, can I cause less harm in the world? Which is ahimsa, not causing harm? Perhaps by working on myself, I can be of service to others by not being horrible. 

Anyway, I'll stop there. We have a couple of minutes. There were some amazing comments in the chat. Thank you for that. Thanks for being here. 

[Transcript ends at minute 55:31 of the video recording.]

Jivana Heyman, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of the Accessible Yoga Association, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Forums, a Podcast, and a popular Ambassador program. He’s the co-founder of the Accessible Yoga Training School, and the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications), as well as the forthcoming book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Shambhala, Dec. 2021). More info at

° 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.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Your Body is a Means for Joy

Emily Anderson in foreground in lilac sleeveless dress doing a side bend
 at a shoreline, small waves in mid-ground, city skyscrapers in background

by Emily Anderson

We think about our bodies in terms of what they can do---for us, for work, for production. We measure our bodies in accomplishments---steps walked, push-ups completed. We track and compare against standards we ourselves did not create and terms to which we did not agree. All of us, every person with a body, suffers under these standards of body productivity and body image. And people with fat bodies carry the millstone of these rules and regulations with more weight, dare I say, than most.

These body standards, impossible to measure up to, divorce us from a relationship with our bodies. Some of us begin to hate our bodies---maybe even violently---and others slip into cold indifference. Our bodies become the enemy, and not the capitalist, patriarchal, white supremacist systems that have warped our relationships. Under these standards, we turn inward and we isolate. These systems show us an ideal body, and more than that, an ideal experience. Unless we obtain this ideal, we will always be measuring, counting, and weighing our value (and truly, even if the ideal is obtained, the measuring, counting, and weighing never ends).

But our bodies are meant for so much more than measuring. Our bodies can bring laughter, pleasure, peace, and yes, joy. Joy, the antithesis of what diet culture teaches about fat bodies. The path to joy is not necessarily easier than adhering to body standards---it is a different kind of hard work. The path to body joy is one of intentionality. It requires radically changing how you consume media, what you value, and why you’re motivated to get up in the morning. Intentionally choosing body joy means releasing the lifetime of training from media, family, and community about all the ways your body fails to meet “standards,” and realizing the way those standards have failed you. It means realizing the way those standards stopped you from basic simple pleasures, and from pursuing big dreams, and from holding an equitable place in society.

To reject those standards is to laugh in the face of our society’s oppressive standards. A big, loud, belly laugh that others will hear. And if misery loves company, joy engenders comrades, collaborators, co-conspirators. Joy is a candle that is meant to light others, joy is the overflowing cup. Joy is meant to be shared. Our bodies bring joy, disrupt the systems of oppression, and work together for each other.

How would your day change if joy was the reason you chose to move today, and that joy was the reason you showed up for your community? Could the decision to live outside of body standards and rules influence the way you think about other societal “rules,” and give you a more expansive view of the world? Could your joy in body liberation inspire you to work for the liberation of others?

Join Emily Anderson, Kimberly Dark, and Dr. Jennifer B. Webb in the Yoga & Diet Culture panel discussion moderated by Amber Karnes at Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021. They’ll share from their lived experiences as folks in marginalized bodies who incorporate body acceptance and disrupt diet culture in their work and yoga practice.

Emily Anderson
of All Bodies Welcome Yoga is an Accessible Yoga certified teacher based in Pittsburgh, PA, the unceded ancestral lands of Osage Nation and Shawandasse Tula. She left a corporate management job in 2021 to become a full-time yoga teacher. Emily supports folks as they connect with their minds and bodies in defiance of a fatphobic, diet culture fixated society. She is also the founder of Pittsburgh Fatties Social Club, a community led group creating fat positive experiences and resources. She enjoys making her own clothes as a hobby sewist, and a chaotic tabletop RPG night. She lives with three fluffy cats, one mostly hairless dog, and her sweet hearted husband.

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, October 13, 2021

Elevating Voices, Embracing Change: Join Us for the Accessible Yoga Conference!


by Jivana Heyman

This year at the Accessible Yoga Conference Online, we’re thrilled to platform an incredibly diverse group of presenters who will be sharing their wisdom and experience in making yoga accessible and equitable. We’re elevating the voices of teachers and practitioners who are often under-estimated and marginalized in yoga spaces. This is part of the change we’re embracing--a new vision of a yoga community based on ethics and equity, founded on care and compassion, with space for everyone to join in. 
Presenters at this year’s conference include Reggie Hubbard, Indu Arora, Colin Lieu, Tracee Stanley, Jacoby Ballard, Amber Karnes, and more than 40 additional teachers who are all at the forefront of revolutionizing yoga in the west. New this year, we’re also hosting a free pre-conference intensive on October 14th--Race and Equity in Yoga: Rebuilding and Reimagining a Whole Self and Community--led by Michelle Cassandra Johnson, Amina Naru, Colin Lieu, Dr. Terry Harris, and Lakshmi Nair. 

The Accessible Yoga Association is committed to the continual process of learning in community and moving towards greater equity within our own organization, reviewing our own internal structures to ensure they align with our vision. We are intentional about bringing this ethic into the way we choose presenters for our conferences. Presenters are chosen by a diverse committee of our Board of Directors, each of whom take great care in seeking out and nominating extraordinary members of the yoga community. We make it a priority to platform budding leaders and to amplify under-estimated, revolutionary voices, particularly those who have not had the opportunity to present with us before.
Our 2021 conference lineup offers an array of incredible educational opportunities including asana classes, workshops, lectures, keynote addresses, panel discussions, and more. These programs will focus on increasing equity and accessibility in yoga, and on addressing racism, ableism, and other forms of oppression. 
Beyond education, we’re also excited to connect our global community through a series of Meet & Greets, where you'll be able to network with other attendees and connect around specific topics of interest and areas of work. Through our connection, we can share the message that the transformational practices of yoga are available to everyone. By working together, we can address the ways that yoga has not been shared equally, leaving many excluded or left out. 
Creating more financial accessibility is a key component of our work, so we’ve implemented tiered pricing on conference registrations. We’ve also made self-determined scholarships available to anyone who requests one--no one will be turned away for lack of funds. Please consider applying for a scholarship today if finances are an obstacle for you. 
We’re looking forward to connecting with you virtually, and supporting your work in sharing yoga with all. Everyone who registers will have access to the conference materials and for a full year, including recordings of every session offered. Everyone who registers, whether attending live or catching up with the recordings later, will also have the opportunity to discuss what they're learning via our dedicated Accessible Yoga Conference Community, a digital forum you’ll receive access to when you register. Now is a great time to get signed up, to check out some early content releases in your conference portal, and to introduce yourself and network with fellow attendees in the Community!
For more information please check out our conference website. See you soon!

Jivana Heyman, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of the Accessible Yoga Association, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Forums, a Podcast, and a popular Ambassador program. He’s the co-founder of the Accessible Yoga Training School, and the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications), as well as the forthcoming book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Shambhala, Dec. 2021).

° 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, October 6, 2021

Five Things Ayurveda Wants You To Know About Yourself

Five soup spoons each holding a different colored powder
on a white table-cloth with green herb leaves, seen from above  

Chara Caruthers

Have you noticed that we are up to our ears in health and wellness solutions these days? The airwaves and inter webs are overflowing with pills, programs, supplements, and exercise plans all designed to keep us healthy and yet the data shows that even before the pandemic, the world was facing more health challenges than ever before!

We've also got more technological advancements and a greater understanding of the body and what causes illness and disease than ever before. But somehow a disconnect exists between what we think and know, and how we act and feel. Ayurveda is stepping into that gap.

Why “Old School“ rules

Ayurveda has been around for centuries. It comes from the same traditions as yoga, and like yoga, its ability to transform minds and bodies makes it a compelling choice for wellness seekers. It's not a diet or an exercise program and, contrary to popular myths, it doesn't require a voracious appetite for curry! It's a powerful way of looking at yourself and your world that connects the dots between who you are, how you think, what you do, and how you feel.

The beauty (and power) of Ayurveda is in its simple message... First know yourself, and then above all else love yourself. It's a time-tested body of wisdom that helps you understand why this is vital to your health and then provides some of the tools you need to do it. But first, there's just a few things Ayurveda wants you to know...

You're not like the rest

I bet you already know this, but according to Ayurveda, embracing it is one of the keys to your health and happiness. As an individual with a unique combination of physical, mental, and emotional qualities, the way you relate to the world is specific in every way to you. And your “formula” for health and happiness will be a unique combination of food, activities, environments, and relationships. Understanding what works for you (and you alone) is a matter of asking the right questions and knowing where to look.

You are forever in flux

According to Ayurveda, everything that goes on outside of us, goes on inside of us as well. Your mind and body experience daily and seasonal changes just like everything in the environment around you. In practical terms this means that who you were when you hopped out of bed this morning is slightly different to who you are now (and who you'll be later). Tuning in to YOUR daily, and seasonal, cycles provides powerful clues for understanding how and why you act and feel the way you do. It also reveals simple things you can do to be at your very best throughout the day and the year.

You're made of the same things as the stars... and your sandwich

Our current understanding of the universe is that it's made up of approximately 118 elements … (and counting). Ayurveda recognizes just five... Space, Air, Fire, Earth, Water, which combine to organize and define everything we experience including ourselves. Our elemental signature (or dosha) informs the qualities most predominant in our minds and bodies (e.g., hot and sharp like fire or stable and nurturing like earth). Simplifying our world in this way helps us easily understand how the things around us impact our health and well-being. Hot things such as fire, chilies, or anger heat us up and can lead to “hot” issues like inflammation, infection, or rage. Dry, light, moving things like air, travel, and processed snacks (crackers, chips, etc.) can dry us out, create agitation in the mind and body, and lead to things like constipation and anxiety. Our elemental signature also gives us clues to our mental and physical tendencies (i.e., depression, hostility, forgetfulness), allowing us to recognize and balance them!

Everything around you is either medicine or poison

Those clothes you're wearing today... how do they make you feel? How about the music you listened to most recently, or the burger you ate last night? According to Ayurveda, everything we come into contact with (yes, everything!) has the potential to either support or sabotage our health and wellness. Identifying your “poison” (be it gluten or the guy in the next cubicle) and your “medicine” (maybe it's sunshine or corny jokes) is a matter of paying attention to the way your mind and body respond to the things around you. Knowing our “poison” and our “medicine” empowers us to make better informed choices for prevention and treatment of issues.

Your digestion runs your show

In the Ayurvedic model everything we experience is a form of “food” for the mind, body, or soul, including all the sights, sounds, emotions, ideas, and sensations that we encounter every day. Digesting this volume of “food” is no small task (it makes Thanksgiving dinner look like a walk in the park!). The mind and body must work together to distinguish and assimilate the good stuff and let go of what doesn't really serve us. And when that process is undermined or overloaded it compromises everything! Moderation is the Ayurvedic mantra. And gratitude along with giving yourself (and your digestion) a break, are perhaps the most powerful health and wellness tools around.

The best place to start...

The bottom line, and the underlying message of Ayurveda is start with YOU.

Seeking outside of ourselves for answers to our biggest challenges (mental health, disease management and prevention, confidence, energy) leads us to feeling powerless and stuck. We can only change this by embracing that our ability to look radiant, feel energized, choose powerfully, and connect authentically and passionately with the world starts with a willingness to know AND love ourselves.

Chara Caruthers
ERYT-500, YACEP; Level 2 Yoga Teacher (Yoga Australia), C-IAYT, Ayurvedic practitioner/educator (CAP-NAMA), Registered Ayurvedic Practitioner(AAPNA). Chara Caruthers is a passionate and outspoken voice for the power of living your truth. An international teacher, speaker, advocate, and mentor for women’s wellness, she has inspired and motivated a global community of women of all ages to live juicier and more connected lives by embracing the principles of yoga and Ayurveda. She is a certified Yoga Therapist (C-IAYT), a professional Ayurvedic practitioner and a writer. Her most recent book is called “Eat Like You Love Yourself: A modern guide to Ayurvedic cooking and living”, and she’s the creator and presenter of an online TV series of the same name now available on Gaia.

Chara Caruthers will be presenting at the Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021.

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.