by Shakti Bell

I teach yoga to people living with complex, chronic and disabling conditions.  Most of my students have MS.  It's a modest class and we only meet once a week.   I keep the teaching schedule to a minimum to preserve my energy because I've got MS too.  So I've been asked by Jivana, my teacher and the one who got me doing all this, to write a series of blogs showing some of the ways I make yoga accessible for my students.

Without sufficient strength and balance a standing pose can quickly disintegrate.  Practicing from a supine position allows students to maintain comfort and ease while still benefiting from the asana.  By planting her feet against the wall Mary can experience lengthening through the “back” foot, up her side and through the extension of her hand and  maintain  grounding.  I can help a student who is having difficulty “tilting” by putting my foot against the hip, creating tension and gently pulling the arm toward the foot.

Next post we’ll look at bhujangasana.
REASON #3: Be Respected for Your Passion – Connect with Your Community
by Jivana Heyman

Have you ever noticed that in most of the yoga world adaptive yoga is simply an afterthought? Advanced poses are great, but the fact is most of us need Accessible Yoga. It’s time that we stood up for the important work of making yoga accessible to all bodies–not just the young, flexible and athletic.

Accessible Yoga’s mission is to focus on reaching into marginalized communities, and finding ways to bring yoga to people who don’t feel comfortable in regular yoga classes. This is our priority, our reason for being. If you have a similar interest, then this is the place for you!

The Conference offers a platform for community connection and mutual respect. Networking is an important part of any conference, and we are building a community of people dedicated to sharing yoga with the rest of us. When we come together in solidarity, we can share one voice–a louder voice–that can be heard over the din of mainstream media. With this voice we can say loud and clear: “Yoga is for all, we are all deserving, and we are all yogis.”

Here's the second installment in our series, "5 Reasons to Attend the Accessible Yoga Conference."

REASON #2: Unlimited Potential – Yoga is Service in Action: The number one feedback we got from last year’s conference was that there wasn’t a feeling of competition at the Accessible Yoga Conference. Instead, there was the feeling of a family reunion, a mutual respect and support that was unlike any other conference out there. There is a lot of work to be done, and we can’t waste time knocking each other down. Let’s come together, join forces, and watch our service expand.

Sevice, or Karma Yoga, is the key to making yoga accessible. It’s not that we have to teach yoga for free, it’s that we come to our teaching, and our practice, with a quality of selflessness that is at the root of the yoga teachings. This selfless service inspires us to make yoga available to many more people, because it’s the focus on others that shows us how we need to adapt and adjust yoga to fit our students. For example, you may not need to adapt asanas for your own body. But, when you start teaching yoga to people with different bodies, and with limited movement, then the need becomes clear.

Accessible Yoga is becoming a worldwide movement of yogis who want to share their gifts with everyone. We invite you to become a part of our movement. If we come together in the love of serving others through yoga, then there is no limit to what we can achieve.

Check out REASON #1: Challenge the Paradigm

We are thrilled to offer a press release regarding our activities for International Day of Yoga in 8 languages and LARGE PRINT. Click here for all versions. Below is English:

Accessible Yoga to Support 2nd Annual International Day of Yoga
Contact: Jivana Heyman
Phone: 1-805-335-4100

Making Yoga Accessible to All

As yogis worldwide anticipate commemorating the 2nd annual International Day of Yoga on June 21, 2016, California-based Accessible Yoga has stepped up to offer support to the Indian government to help ensure that yoga for those with disabilities is included in this year’s celebration.

The theme for this year’s international celebration is “Yoga for All.” As part of a campaign to support the International Day of Yoga celebration, Accessible Yoga will promote the organization of events and activities to be held internationally that are meant to expand awareness and inclusion as part of the international celebration.

Accessible Yoga is dedicated to sharing the benefits of Yoga with anyone who currently does not have access to these teachings, and with communities that have been excluded or underserved. All people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to the ancient teachings of Yoga, which offer individual empowerment and spiritual awakening.

Accessible Yoga founder, Jivana Heyman, said, “By building a strong network and advocating for a diverse Yoga culture that is inclusive and welcoming, we are sharing Yoga with all."

Yoga: India’s Invaluable Gift

International Day of Yoga was created by the United Nations in 2014 to celebrate yoga as a part of India’s cultural heritage. During an address to UN General Assembly in September 2014, Hon’ble Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi said, “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body, thought and action; restraint and fulfillment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and wellbeing. It is not about exercise but to discover the sense of oneness with yourself, the world and the nature.”

This message is dramatically relevant today, when the search for a meaning in life translates into destruction and violence, rather than communion.

Call for Volunteers

Accessible Yoga will support communities, individuals, yoga teachers and organizations willing to contribute to this mission with event and activity proposals, as well as with an integrated social media and outreach campaign.

The organization is creating an online resource page with information about how to make yoga more accessible to all. The information will also highlight accessible variations of the practices that make up the International Day of Yoga’s Common Yoga Protocol.

Accessible Yoga: "Connected, Included and Empowered"

Accessible Yoga envisions a world where everyone has equal access, and where the practices of yoga are brought to all excluded and underserved communities. By supporting, educating, and uniting the community of yoga providers through trainings and community building, we are developing a global network of Accessible Yoga.

Accessible Yoga projects include: Accessible Yoga Teacher Trainings, the Annual Accessible Yoga Conferences in Santa Barbara and New York City, and a global network of Accessible Yoga Ambassadors.

International Day of Yoga Accessible Yoga Press Release in Spanish, part 1
This profile is part of a series we are doing to highlight our Accessible Yoga Ambassadors around the world who are sharing yoga with every body!

Katja Sandschneider ist eine 33-jährige Yogalehrerin aus Deutschland, die barrierefreie Yogaklassen unterrichtet und seit Gründung Mitglied des Accessible Yoga Netzwerkes ist. Durch eine Rückenmarksblutung kurz nach ihrer Geburt lebt sie mit einer inkompletten Querschnittslähmung der rechten unteren Körperhälfte. Nach ihrer ersten Yogastunde, die sie vor fünf Jahren besuchte, war sie erstaunt über die positiven Effekte: nicht nur ihre Rücken- und Verspannungskopfschmerzen wurden deutlich besser, sie fühlte sich auch emotional ruhiger und entspannter. Es faszinierte sie außerdem, dass sie auch fortgeschrittene Yogaklassen besuchen konnte, indem sie die Asanas ganz individuell abwandelte und an ihre Bedürfnisse und Fähigkeiten anpasste. Gleichzeitig war sie überrascht, dass es bisher so gut wie keine barrierefreien Yogaklassen in Deutschland gibt. Vor diesem Hintergrund entschied sie sich, Yogalehrerin für Menschen mit Körperbehinderung zu werden und machte 2013 in Österreich die von Jivana Heyman geleitete Ausbildung „Yoga für spezielle Bedürfnisse“. Seit 2014 unterrichtet sie barrierefreie Yogaklassen in Berlin. Weitere Informationen unter


Katja Sandschneider is a 33 year old accessible yoga teacher from Germany and has been part of the AY network since the very beginning. After an internal bleeding in her spinal cord shortly after her birth, she’s been living with a right-sided hemiparesis from her hip down. After her first yoga class five years ago, she was stunned by the effects the practice had on her: not only her back pain and headaches got a lot better, she also felt emotionally calm and relaxed. She was amazed that she could follow normal yoga classes by adapting the poses for her individual needs. At the same time, it took her by surprise that accessible yoga didn’t really exist in Germany yet. Therefore, Katja decided to become a yoga teacher to other people with disabilities and took Jivana Heyman’s Accessible Yoga Teacher Training in Austria in 2013. She’s been teaching accessible yoga classes in Berlin since 2014. For more information visit her website 

This profile is part of our series of blogs on our International Accessible Yoga Ambassadors who are out in the world sharing yoga with everyone.

Karin (Maitri) Perkmann – Vienna – Austria

… has been teaching Yoga in Sivananda tradition for 10 years. For the last 4 years Maitri has paid special attention to folks who had thought about Yoga as something, which wasn't really made for them.  Since then, Maitri has been doing her best to make Yoga accessible for all – no difference which kind of limitations were given (physical, financial, or intellectual…)

In 2015, she graduated from  "Accessible Yoga“ – with Jivana Heyman as her teacher. In 2016 Maitri is going to have a training in "Yoga for the Heart“ with Nischala Devi which will bring more insight into the possibilities and needs of people who are suffering from heart disease or cancer.

Even though Maitris attention mainly is taken by special populations, she is practicing and teaching regular yoga classes as well. Yoga applicable in Every-Day-Life, lots of heart and a good sense of humor are very important in her classes and sometimes, if there is space for more difficult asanas, they just happen in her classes and her own practice.

Maitri says, with Yoga she finally arrived „at home“ – „Yoga tut einfach gut“ (Yoga simply does good to you) will be her homepage’s Title.


Karin (Maitri) Perkmann
– Wien, ist seit 10 Jahren praktizierende Yogalehrerin, der Sivananda-Linie und widmet sich seit etwa  4 Jahren ganz besonders Gruppierungen, die bisher nicht so sehr daran dachten, Yoga zu praktizieren, weil sie meinten, Yoga wäre nicht für sie.

Maitris Ziel ist es, Yoga  allen zugänglich zu machen, egal welche Schranken diese Menschen zu haben scheinen (körperlich, finanziell, mental…). Das High-Light 2015 war für Maitri die Ausbildung zum „Acccessible Yoga“-Lehrer durch Jivana Heyman. 2016 wird Karin in Nishala Devi s Lehrgang „Yoga for the Heart“  tiefen Einblick in die Bedürfnisse und Möglichkeiten von herz- bzw. krebserkrankten Menschen bekommen.

Obwohl Maitris besondere Aufmerksamkeit den Menschen gehört, die nicht den heutzutage „klassischen“ Zugang zum Yoga  vor  Augen haben, praktiziert und unterrichtet sie auch herkömmliche Yogaklassen und legt darin sehr viel Wert auf Alltagsbezug, Herz und Humor. Und so werden dann, wenn es stimmig ist, auch hin und wieder schwierige Asanas in Angriff genommen.

Mit Yoga , sagt Karin, ist sie endlich „zu Hause“ angekommen –„Yoga tut einfach gut“  soll der Titel ihrer Homepage sein.

All the blogs I read seems to have lists, so I thought I’d give it a chance and come up with five reasons to come to the Accessible Yoga Conference. I can think of a lot more, but I’m trying to focus here. I’ll post a series of blogs each with one good reason to come to the Accessible Yoga Conference:

Reason #1: Challenge the Paradigm

The truth is, a few years ago I found myself feeling competitive with other adaptive yoga teachers. I had just moved to Santa Barbara and I had this terrible feeling that I had to compete with the local teachers for work. It was sad, ego-based, scarcity thinking. At one point, I realized how antithetical to yoga that was, and that as a yogi I had dedicated myself to work on quieting my ego-mind so I could have some peace of mind. I realized I had to do something about my own misperception of the situation.

So, I thought of one of the yoga teachings, pratipaksha bhavana, which means positive thinking, or replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts. It occurred to me, that the opposite of my ego-based thinking was to put all my energy into supporting other teachers and building a community of adaptive yoga teachers (who probably all felt as isolated as I did). That’s how the idea of the Accessible Yoga Conference was born.

I had always questioned the direction that mainstream yoga was heading; and I often wondered how to best counter the ego and celebrity-focus of modern yoga. The idea of working in community is the perfect antidote to this focus on individual teachers and yoga stars. If we can find a way to support each other, and build each other up, then we can achieve great things together.

The fact is, yoga is for everyone regardless of background, race, size, or ability. We all share the same heart – and it’s through yoga that we can touch that place of peace within us: A place of peace that exists within all of us! Like I always say, “If you have a body and a mind you can do yoga.”

So, my first reason for you to come to the Accessible Yoga Conference is to shift the paradigm in our yoga culture to one of mutual love and support: To create a yoga community based on respect for difference and inclusion. The Conference is a platform for this change - join us and help fuel this paradigm shift.

For more information about the Conference please click here.

Alessandra Uma Cocchi from Italy is part of our series profiling our international Accessible Yoga Ambassadors. We are hoping to shine a light on yoga teachers around the world who are sharing yoga with all.

Alessandra Uma Cocchi is a certified teacher from the Integral Yoga tradition of Swami Satchidananda. She trained in Italy, Portugal, Yogaville (USA) and Austria through the different stages of Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Teacher Trainings, Accessible Yoga, Yoga of the Heart, Prenatal and Labour Yoga, Therapeutic Applications of Integral Yoga, Integral Yoga for Children trainings. 

She is part of a research team in Italy carrying out medical studies the impact of Yoga on health, with special reference to Inflammatory Bowel Diseases and Irritable Bowel Syndromes.

In 2004 she founded YAP Integral Yoga Centre in Teramo, Italy, a non-profit organization recognized by the Satchidananda Ashrams. The centre is inspired by the Integral Yoga teachings of Sri Swami Satchidananda. Truthful to the message “Truth is one, paths are many”, the centre opens the door to various Yoga schools and traditions. A Yogatherapy and Accessible Yoga section is part of the centre’s activities under the name “Yap Therapy”.

Alessandra Uma Cocchi. Insegnante Yoga certificata dalla Scuola di Integral Yoga del maestro indiano Swami Satchidananda. Ha compiuto gli studi della disciplina yogica in Italia, Portogallo, Yogaville (USA) e Austria, percorrendo i vari stadi e specializzazioni formative: dalla certificazione all’insegnamento dell’Integral Yoga ai livelli Principianti, Intermedi, Avanzati e Bambini, per finire con la formazione in Yoga Accessibile, Yoga per le Malattie Cardiache e Oncologiche (Yoga of the Heart), Integral Yoga per la Gravidanza e il Parto, Applicazioni Terapeutiche dell’Integral Yoga.

E’ parte di un team di ricerca in Italy che porta avanti studi medici sull’impatto dello Yoga sulla salute, con particolare riferimento alle patologie gastrointestinali.Nel 2004 ha fondato il Centro Integral Yoga YAP, un’organizzazione non lucrativa riconosciuta ufficialmente dal Satchidananda Ashram. Il Centro si ispira agli insegnamenti dell’Integral Yoga di Sri Swami Satchidananda. Fedele al suo messaggio “La Verità è Una, i sentieri sono tanti” (Truth is One, Paths are Many), il Centro apre le sue porte a varie scuole e tradizioni di Yoga. All’interno di YAP opera una sezione specializzata in Yogaterapia e Yoga Accessibile che porta il nome di YAP Therapy.

Artur Arya, from Brazil, is part of our series profiling our international Accessible Yoga Ambassadors. We are hoping to shine a light on yoga teachers around the world who are sharing yoga with all.

Artur Arya practices and teaches Integral Yoga as a way to Love and Serve people even better. He is a keen student and dedicated teacher. He is grateful for having so many opportunities to learn with excellent teachers like Swami Ramananda, Swami Karunanda, Leticia Padmasri, Renata Sumar, Sivakami and Jivana Heyman. He is also so grateful for having opportunities to share this knowledge with many students with different ages and physical conditions. Besides practicing and teaching yoga, Arya also likes to cook, play the guitar and swim.

Artur Arya pratica e ensina Integral Yoga como uma forma de Amar e Servir as pessoas ainda melhor. Ele é um estudante entusiasmado e um professor dedicado. Ele é grato por ter tantas oportunidades de aprender com excelentes professores como Swami Ramananda, Swami Karunanda, Leticia Padmasri, Renata Sumar, Sivakami and Jivana Heyman. Ele também é muito grato por ter a oportunidade de compartilhar este conhecimento com vários alunos de diferentes idades e condições físicas. Além de praticar e ensinar Yoga, Arya também gosta de cozinhar, tocar violão e nadar.

Originally posted at Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Cross-posted with permission.

Ericka Bell has always had a love affair with movement. It began as a child with dance, and it has evolved into a yoga practice as an adult. She began taking yoga 14 years ago, and has taught yoga for the past 7 years. She’s had the privilege of sharing yoga with a diverse group of students; varying in age, ability, size, also fitness level. Early into her teaching journey she was invited to sub for a Chair Yoga class. She had never heard of such a practice. While intrigued she was skeptical of the process and the benefits, since most of her yoga experience had been through the style of Vinyasa Flow. Not knowing what to expect, she prepared for her first practice by pulling movements from her yoga and dance background. After sharing the practice with her students she was not only inspired, but she was also a believer in the practice too. Immediately she researched teaching methods and trainings specifically for Chair Yoga. Gratefully she found the teachings of Lakshmi Voelker and earned her certification with Lakshmi entitled, “Get Fit Where You Sit”.

Through her studies and teachings she has found that Chair Yoga doesn’t make yoga easy, it simply makes yoga accessible. So, when she leads a class she approaches it as any other practice. There is breath awareness, sun salutes, warrior series, balance practice and everyone’s favorite relaxation. With every class she leads she witnesses the true fact that yoga has no age, no size, or no limits! She believes yoga is beyond exercise, it’s also about transformation of mind and spirit.

She also enjoys witnessing the growth of confidence and courage within her students…they are consistent with their practice and they desire to learn more. From these experiences ebyoga has been created to help expand diversity in yoga, empower individuals in their practice, and in their lives…join us, it’s time for yoga to include everyBODY!

Watch below for her head-to-toe chair yoga practice.


Accessible Yoga