The Antidote is Hope, by Jivana Heyman
Accessible Yoga was born out of my interest in bringing people together who believe in sharing the teachings of yoga with everyone. People who are dedicated to finding peace in their lives and sharing that peace with others regardless of ability or background. In the wake of the election, I found myself starting to lose hope and to feel that these efforts are just a drop in the bucket, and that we’re basically doomed. So, my question is, “How can we find hope in these scary times?”
Hope is such an elusive concept. Obama brilliantly used it to bring the country together and help us move toward a fairer and more equitable society. Now we are moving in the other direction – towards a place where prejudice seems to be the norm. I hear lots of yoga teachers saying that these times are when we need to dig deeper in our personal practice to find our center. That is always a good idea. But my question is, “How do we keep hope alive so that we have the energy to speak up?” My fear is that if we lose hope then we become complacent and powerless, and that would be a very dangerous thing.
I found hope when my 15-year-old son joined a walk-out with his entire high school to protest the election. It reminded me of my years on the street demonstrating with ACT UP San Francisco, fighting the politics of homophobia and the repression of the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. My son’s new interest in politics is giving me hope that there is a future generation that will be energized by these current events.
I find hope in the yoga teachings. In particular, the teaching that rings in my head is pratipaksha bhavana. It is sometimes simply described as replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, but it's really so much more than that. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2, Sutra 34, pratipaksha bhavana asks us to reflect on the outcome of negative thinking. So, in this case, the outcome of negative thinking is going down the rabbit hole of, "were doomed!" and sitting back and doing nothing. Instead, the antidote to this negative thinking is hope. Do something that inspires creativity, because creativity is the language of spirit. Sing a song, draw a picture, teach a yoga class, do anything that expresses love, compassion and fellowship. Do anything that lifts you out of that stupor and brings back your energy.
Once we are energized and engaged, we can look at how to move forward and fight against the sexism, racism, ablism, xenophobia, environmental destruction, and the politics of greed that seem to be on the rise. The way forward will be putting that hope into action, which, in other words, is service. Service is the hallmark of a loving compassionate caring heart. Through service we can transform the world, because service transforms us individually and collectively. Service is hope in action.
One more thing that gives me hope is our Accessible Yoga community. Community is the key to the resurrection of hope. Community will hold us up when we're feeling down, it will encourage our personal growth, and it will offer us a platform for service. By caring for each other, and supporting each other, we can make it through this. Thoughtful, loving communities like this one are the key to driving out the darkness that seems so pervasive.
In yoga philosophy, this darkness is understood as egoism. It is our job as yogis to vanquish the darkness of our own minds, and in turn, from the society that reflects our minds. Swami Satchidananda speaks of the darkness of the ego. “Every person dreams inside the egoistic shell which is totally dark. We all must break the shell to allow the light to come in. That’s the main purpose behind all the yoga practices.”
There is a well-known Vedic prayer that speaks to the triumph of light over darkness. My prayer is that through these dark days we remain hopeful and retain our vision of a loving peaceful world - may the light of truth overcome all darkness!
Asato Maa Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lead us from unreal to real.
Lead us from darkness to the light.
Lead us from the fear of death
To knowledge of immortality.
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and joy, love and light
Om peace, peace, peace
Recently, I’ve been a little hard on myself. I had a really big transition lately, moving into our first home (which happens to need lots of tlc). Combine that with building/running a business and being a mother and wife.
I can’t lie, I started to question if I am better off being a student rather than teacher. Then Wednesday night about 20 minutes into my evening class, a woman walks in very slow, and full of emotions. She says she was there for yoga and had been invited by the store manager. Myself and the other student, who happened to be the owner, greets and welcomes her.
As she steps onto the mat I just prepared for her, on the verge of tears, she begins to tell me her story. I assure her this is a safe, non-judgmental zone and we welcome everyone here.
That night we had a beautiful class. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that she was late, or felt she needed to explain her story, or that she kept apologizing for what she couldn’t do. I told her sometimes the best part of yoga is to just breathe and be on your mat. Most of the real magic happens on its own and that you are where you’re supposed to be.
After class, she told me her body felt good and thanked me for the reminders to breathe. We spoke for a little while longer, I invited her back to class and gave her a hug to seal the invitation.
You see she came searching for a class and was grateful because she doesn’t have to travel to studios that are 20+ miles away. What she didn’t know was that students like her remind me of why I teach and fight hard to make yoga accessible to all.
She was just recently diagnosed with osteoporosis and leukemia and wasn’t sure if yoga was for her. Can you imagine if I turned her away for being late or if I didn’t know how to make poses accessible for her or because my class wasn’t the “right” style or.…
Students like her are why I teach not only yoga but Accessible Yoga. Unbeknownst to her, she also encouraged me to keep pressing on with my mission.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2nd Annual Accessible Yoga Conference, which is coming up next week here in Santa Barbara, California. As I started preparing my opening talk I realized that I’ve gotten lost in all the details of planning and organizing this event. I’ve lost track of the most essential element of Accessible Yoga, and of this Conference, which is that we all deserve to be happy.
The 4th of July is long over, and I get tired of patriotism that feels more like xenophobia. But, there is that beautiful line in our Declaration of Independence that always rings in my ears:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” - The Declaration of Independence
This is a simple concept – that all people have the right to pursue happiness – but it has profound implications. As a yoga teacher, happiness is a concept that I work with quite often. The yoga teachings offer us many practices to find inner happiness, contentment, and even bliss. You could even say that yoga teachers are in the business of happiness. We help people relax, release stress, slow down and connect with the happiness, the peace, that is always there inside of us. Yoga is even being shown to heal our body and mind – and we know that health and wellbeing are good indicators of happiness.
The problem is that people with disabilities are often denied this pursuit of happiness. According to the U.N., this community is the world’s largest minority, making up approximately one billion people around the world, and one in five people in the United States. People with disabilities are often denied basic human rights; the ability to get a job, buy a home, build a family. For example, it’s legal in most states to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. How can you build a life on less than minimum wage - which is already too low?
Yoga offers people with disabilities, and everyone, access to time-tested practices that allow us to pursue happiness. Our poses, breathing practices, relaxation techniques, meditation practices, and lifestyle guidelines are intended to guide our bodies and mind to a place of peace, and eventually to happiness.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2 Sutra 42, our ancient teachers gave us a simple prescription for happiness, “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” This sutra has always struck me in its simplicity and depth. Contentment, which most of us disregard as boring, is actually the pathway to joy. Contentment means that we are alert to the present moment, and we are at peace with what is happening in that moment. Through this acceptance of what is, we can find supreme joy, or as I like to call it, “happiness.”
Giving people with disabilities access to the teachings and practices of yoga is not simply a nice gesture – it is an inalienable right. Sharing these practices with people who think “I’m not flexible enough to do Yoga.” Or “I can’t even get on the floor, how can I do yoga?” is our responsibility. Simply put: Those of us who have access to yoga need to find ways to share it with people who don’t.
by Shakti Bell
Bhujangasana is a wonderful pose for strengthening the upper back and opening the chest. To help a student feel the benefits of this pose I sometimes will suggest adding support under the upper chest. This allows students who have difficulty or cannot raise the chest to experience the engagement of the muscles of the upper back.
Here Mary is using a blanket, but for some students who may barely be able to lift their heads, a bolster allows them to experience what it feels like to lift up and even with this support, use the muscles of the upper back.
Here the class uses a bolster to assist the lifting of the chest. I’ve since made the observation that if I rotate the bolster ninety degrees then the palms can be aligned with the shoulders.
The bolster puts a smile on Jeff’s face! It can help to remind your students to practice with contentment.
Next post: Inversions!!
REASON #5: Be Empowered Through Practice:
The underlying theme of the conference is empowerment through yoga practice. This means that through our practice, whatever outward form it takes, we can find a way to connect with the power within. The key is learning the tools that we need to make that inward journey. As yoga teachers, our job is to support others as they turn within. Facilitating that journey can be incredibly rewarding.
Last year, practicing at the Conference with so many inspiring yogis of all shapes, sizes, and abilities, from around the world, I was struck by two things: yoga is powerful, and we can all practice yoga. It was amazing to see yogis who use wheelchairs practicing alongside able-bodied yogis, and to have so many aspects of humanity represented in one room. We had classes taught by senior teachers–some of whom have disabilities themselves–and we learned from their wisdom and experience.
Our ability to teach yoga is drawn from the depth of our own experience as yoga practitioners. By getting inspired we can inspire others. We need to spend time in study and reflection to find that light within, and then we can ignite a spark in those around us. At the Conference you may find a moment of transcendent peace, or inspired reflection. These moments can come from practicing together in community, studying with an inspiring teacher, or feeling connected to a world-wide Accessible Yoga movement. I hope you can join us In Santa Barbara, California, this September 16-18, 2016, and find inspiration, community and empowerment!
Accessible Yoga Conference Registration
The Buzz Words: Accessible Yoga Conference: Santa Barbara, by Elle Potter
Yoga Buzz is excited to be a part of the 2nd Annual Accessible Yoga Conference in Santa Barbara, taking place September 16-18. Yoga Buzz Founder Elle Potter will be presenting on developing creative and successful events for your community, and thinking outside the box (something Yoga Buzz is good at!). Local St. Louis yoga teacher Natasha Baebler will also be presenting on yoga for the blind and visually-impared.
I remember when we first began Yoga Buzz, just over two years ago. I was patting myself on the back for making yoga less intimidating by taking it out of a yoga studio. But then it hit me; the main demographic that was showing up to our events was the same demographic who generally already shows up to yoga – able-bodied white women between the ages 25-45 who have access to a disposable income.
If I was going to make yoga accessible, I had to start asking what makes yoga inaccessible? Cost, physical limitations, access to transportation, lack of diversity represented by teachers… the list started expanding, and the conversation around “accessibility” in yoga began to unfold and become deeper and deeper.
Why is a conversation around accessible yoga important? For those yogis who have always felt nothing but welcome and at home on their yoga mat at a studio, this may be a confounding question. Isn’t all yoga “Body Positive” yoga? Isn’t yoga meant to look and feel different for each individual body?
In theory, yes. But in practice, if a teacher lacks the education and understanding of the wide array of experiences possible on the mat, a student may leave class feeling unseen, unsupported, or uncomfortable.
Check out Elle’s interview with Accessible Yoga Conference founder, Jivana Heyman.
Having a conversation around accessibility – which, in truth, can become a complex and never-ending discussion – means taking time as teachers to listen to our students, acknowledge their experiences as real, and learn how we can better support them. Sometimes this means acknowledging that as a yoga teacher, you are not always the best options for the specific needs of a student. Building relationships with teacher colleagues who have unique perspectives and different training experience will help strengthen you as a teacher, and the greater yoga community around you.
Here are just a few of the teachers in St. Louis who are making yoga accessible to our community.
St. Louis yoga teacher Natasha Baebler teaches yoga to visually-impared and blind students, both as adults and children. What she can offer to this group is truly unique, as she herself is legally-blind. Learn more about Natasha at UDforYoga. Jamie Austin, owner of Mindful Movements in Old North St. Louis, opened the first black-owned yoga studio in STL this spring. Representation matters on the mat, and her plans to continue to share the practice of yoga with people of color in St. Louis is something to keep an eye on. Check out the Mindful Movements class schedule here. Full-Figured and Flawless was founded this summer by Kelly A. Kelly, a recent graduate of Yoga Buzz’s 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training Program. Committed to making yoga available to those who live in larger bodies, Kelly is also interested in sharing yoga as a tool for coping with Type 2 Diabetes. Follow Kelly on Facebook. Lisa Roberts has been teaching yoga at Children’s Hospital for nearly a decade. Her ability to adapt yoga and mindfulness to kids who are recovering from surgery, treatments, and injury shows incredible dedication to children’s wellness. Through her YoYo Yoga School, she educates health professionals as well as children’s yoga teachers to spread the awareness of mindfulness for children in the most critical of times.
REASON #4: Get Trained to Go Out There and Share! Continued Education
Yoga is transformational–anyone who practices yoga knows what that means. The Accessible Yoga Conference offers an opportunity to study with leaders in the field. Our presenters are teachers who have been doing this work for decades and have so much wisdom and practical information to share. If you’re a yoga teacher, or thinking about becoming one, then the Conference will inspire you to find ways to bring yoga to the community that is most important to you. You’ll get continued education, and find teachers who offer trainings is all aspects of accessibility.
This is also an opportunity to get a taste of the full teacher training programs that most of our presenters teach. You can take a variety of workshops and find the teacher that inspires you. Here are some of the offerings at this year’s conference:
Yoga for the Special Child with Sonia Sumar
Therapeutic Yoga with Cheri Clampett
Yoga for Trauma with Hala Khouri
Yoga for Arthritis with Steffany Moonaz
Yoga of Recovery with Durga Leela
Yoga for the Blind and Visually–impaired with Natasha Baebler
Yoga for All with Dianne Bondy
Integrative Restoration Yoga Nidra with Stephanie Lopez
Chair Yoga with Lakshmi Voelker
Accessible Yoga with Jivana Heyman.
We’ll also have panel discussions on running a small yoga business, teachers who have a disability and teach people with disabilities, and the intersection of yoga therapy and Accessible Yoga.
Most importantly, we offer a Community Session, where anyone who's attending the Conference can present on how they are sharing Accessible Yoga. This is one way we can fight the celebrity culture of modern yoga, and give a voice to the people who are out there in the world serving. Come lend your voice to our chorus.
Join us in Santa Barbara, California, September 16-18, 2016 for the 2nd Annual Accessible Yoga Conference! Register here!
“I have three neurologists.” said the cheerful cadence of Cherie Hotchkiss over the phone last week. Anyone fortunate enough to meet her would attest to her infectious positive energy, “and they all say I should be in a wheelchair permanently, but I’m not. That’s why I teach adaptive yoga!”
Cherie is a panelist at this year’s Accessible Yoga Conference, and will speak on the subject of teaching adaptive yoga with a disability. “If I can help someone maintain their independence for any time, then that’s a gift.” Cherie was living in California with her teenage son, 11 year old daughter and husband in the late nineties when the symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis began to affect her body.
“I was numb from the bra-line all the way down through my toes.” With a clear spinal tap and not enough lesions on her brain or spinal cord to be certain, Cherie lived undiagnosed for more than five years.
At that time, Cherie was engaged in a healthy, active lifestyle, running her own successful massage therapy office and teaching regular yoga classes. Everything changed after her first slew of symptoms. “It felt like my spinal cord was shattered glass. When I was numb, I could be bleeding and I wouldn’t know. It’s so unpredictable. I’ve woken up and not been able to use an arm.”
Cherie became very focused. “My life had changed completely, but I was also rewarded….Able-bodied people have a different view of their body.” Cherie, who had been studying the Yoga Sutras, practicing and teaching yoga for years leading up to her first Multiple Sclerosis event, had to discontinue her physical yoga practice to rest. She adapted her practice to the other limbs of yoga. After months of recovery she was able to take up her classes again teaching from a seated position at the front of the room.
“Experiencing limitations in my own body made me all the more aware of how people were, or weren’t, able to move in my classes.” This discovery led her to create Adaptive Y.O.G.A. (Your Own Gentle Approach) Workshops. Her work as a massage therapist gives her an in-depth knowledge of anatomy and physiology, but her unique approach to teaching comes from a strong understanding of her own finite reserves of energy.
In her teacher training workshops she gives each student an opportunity to experience what it’s like practicing with a disability. To begin, she places a chair forward and chair backward, allowing each student to sit however it resonates with them. Each student is then confronted with a prop(s): visual impairment goggles, a lead apron to simulate fatigue, weights or straps are applied to a limb to effect mobility, resistance bands to the waist to simulate the MS “hug” on the diaphragm that inhibits a full breath, a swim fin on one foot to feel the sensation of drop foot, etc. Whatever you are given is what you’ve got to work with. She then invites her students to practice, see what happens. Then they experience the adaptations.
“This last teacher training almost everyone had an ‘aha’ moment. It gave me the chills.”
Cherie’s greatest desire as a teacher is to assist in each student’s cultivation of ‘ease’. Ease in your body, mind, and spirit. She encourages each student to identify their story, and try writing a new one, even for one day: “Today I am pain free!” or “I can run!”
Cherie currently splits her time; during the Summer months she and her husband reside at their lakefront home in Biwabik, Minnesota. During the winter they call the Monterey Peninsula in California, or Las Vegas, Nevada home. Cherie describes the first annual Accessible Yoga Conference as a profound experience; heartwarming and supportive, where a clear sense of family was created. This sense of family and interdependence is what keeps Cherie traveling and teaching throughout her life. She volunteer teaches Adaptive Y.O.G.A. Workshops for several chapters of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society across the country, the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas, local YMCAs and other community organizations staying with family and friends wherever she teaches.
Cherie is an integral part of Accessible Yoga as a leader of the Inreach/Outreach committee. She enjoys her yoga practice, meditating,, kayaking, lying on the dock, some gardening, and writing. She recently authored the Yoga webpage for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society - Yoga and MS.
She spends most of her days planning classes, being a new Grandmother to her two beautiful Grand Girls and three step Grand Kids, rubbing jasmine oil on her toes and being grateful for every part of her body that feels!
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.”