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Going Viral on Instagram Taught Me to Change My Assumptions About Yoga Influencers

asana jivana heyman queer teachers representation yoga philosophy Sep 09, 2022
Side-by-side images of Jivana Heyman remixing the asana demonstrations of various social media influencers.

by Jivana Heyman

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal in September 2022. Read the full article here.

Over the last few years, I’ve gotten really frustrated with the way yoga is portrayed on social media. I was getting sick and tired of seeing young, thin, white contortionists demonstrating elaborate postures. They seemed to me to be misrepresenting what can be a truly accessible and transformative indigenous practice from South Asia. I would even block people who shared pictures of themselves in skimpy clothes doing twisty yoga poses on the beach.

But then my 16-year-old daughter started sharing her excitement about Instagram reels. She showed me popular yoga videos, and we talked about making some together. It was a way for her to get involved with my work, so I jumped at the opportunity to create something with her.

At first, we created some basic tutorials on ways to make yoga accessible. Then I started asking other accessible yoga teachers to “remix” my chair yoga poses, recording their video reels alongside mine. It was a fun new way to practice with other teachers I know.

Still, the platform seemed to me to be mostly about voyeurism, until my friend Deanna Michalopoulos challenged me to find ways to use it to engage and inspire people. It occurred to me that I could use reels by yoga teachers who do complicated poses and remix them to demonstrate accessible chair versions of those shapes.

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Jivana Heyman (he/him), C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. He’s the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, November 2019), as well as the new book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Shambhala Publications, Nov. 2021). 

Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities with an emphasis on community building and social engagement. Out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. In addition to offering Conferences and Trainings, Accessible Yoga offers a popular ambassador program with over 1000 Accessible Yoga Ambassadors around the world.

Jivana coined the phrase, “Accessible Yoga,” over ten years ago, and it has now become the standard appellation for a large cross section of the immense yoga world. He brought the Accessible Yoga community together for the first time in 2015 for the Accessible Yoga Conference, which has gone on to become a focal point for this movement. There are now two Conferences and over thirty-five Accessible Yoga Trainings per year, as well as a strong underground yoga community supporting them.

Over the past 25 years, Jivana has led countless yoga teacher training programs around the world, and dedicates his time to supporting yoga teachers who are working to serve communities that are under-represented in traditional yoga spaces.

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