Welcome to the accessible yoga Podcast where we explore how to make space for everyone in the yoga community.
Amber Karnes 11:15:42
This podcast is brought to you by the accessible yoga Association, a nonprofit organization focused on accessibility and equity in yoga.
Hi, I'm your host Jivana Heyman, my pronouns are he and him. And I serve as the director of accessible yoga.
Amber Karnes 11:15:56
And I'm your co host, Amber Karnes, my pronouns are she and her and I serve as president of the accessible yoga board of directors. Hey, everybody, welcome back to the podcast. Amber Karnes here. My pronouns are she and her, and I'm very excited to be hosting our guest today. Laura Sharkey. Laura, welcome to the podcast.
Laura Sharkey 11:16:19
Oh, thank you. It's good to be here.
Amber Karnes 11:16:22
So I'm really excited to talk today about your work and about how folks can work to make their classes, their practices, their community spaces, more accessible and more welcoming for folks with disabilities. I wonder if you will take a moment to introduce yourself to our listeners and tell them all about yourself. How do you spend your time? How'd you come to yoga? What's the work you do in the world? Whatever you'd like to share?
Laura Sharkey 11:16:52
Okay. Yeah, my name is Laura Sharkey, and my pronouns are they them. I'm currently living in Toledo, which is Ojibwe and Ottawa land. And I first came to yoga, oh, 12 years 12 or 13 years ago now. And what really drew me to it was that I'd taken one or two yoga classes before that in a gym setting, and just found it horrible and awful. And I just didn't want to have anything to do with it. But then, my favorite ever yoga teacher who's still my favorite after all these years, Hala Khouri, she did a talk at a, at an intake integrative medical place that I was going at the time, and she talked about how we store emotion in our bodies, and I'd never come across that concept before and I never thought of it and it just kind of blew my mind. And, and she did just a really quick little demonstration, hip opener with us. And it was just amazing to me to do to just do this little bit of a hip opener and, and notice the feelings that came up from that and from the sensation and, and to have somebody say, so you notice that and then think about it now. It's important. And it just, it just really, it seemed like it made sense to me in a way that nothing really ever had in terms of my physical body. I mean, up until that point, I was basically a, you know, a big meat body walking around to carry my head around, I think my brain around, and I was I I'm also autistic, so I have terrible interoception I was just not, not at all aware of my body or what it was doing and doing practicing yoga was the first time that I felt like, like, there was a there was a way to to become that whole person instead of these parts. And, you know, I think that's where it's a real cliche that, you know, I felt like I was home kind of thing, that coming home thing. It's, um, it's a big cliche, but I think it's a cliche for a reason, because there is that sense. And I felt it. Wow, I feel at home in my body for the first time in my life. I mean, I mean, I'm in my 40s and, and this is the first time I've ever felt like that. And so I kept practicing. And it was good thing that I did at the time that I did, because very shortly after I started my practice, I I became chronically ill. And at that point, the yoga practice was helpful to me, but I was sick enough that I couldn't really do much of a physical practice at that point. And I've never been able to do much of a physical practice since then. I do a little bit of physical yoga and I and I mainly focus on meditation and on, you know, an on the, the philosophical aspects of the practice. And it's, to me that's really where the value is. I mean, you could probably call any kind of exercise you wanted to yogic type practice if you set the right mindset to it, right, but so that's really been what's what's what's called me to it. The thing that that happened though is that when I started going to other yoga classes, since I only went to Hollis class for a long time and and I just assumed that all teachers were like her and that all classes all yoga was like her classes. And then I quickly I quickly quickly found out that that is not the case at all. And I came up against just an enormous amount of bias both based on both my my physical health and my mental health. And my, my, my size, I mean people, I started practicing yoga back when very few fat people went to yoga studios. And I think the reason most of us didn't, is because there's no end to the silent reticule, and strange looks and assumptions that I must not really practice yoga or know what I'm doing. Because if I did, I wouldn't be fat, right? So
I started to notice all that and it was really distressing and it was hard to cope with. And it was about the same time that I started getting back into social justice activism, which I grew up with my parents were activists in you know, during the Vietnam War, and they were, they were into civil rights activism. And so I kind of grew up with that, but they approached it from a very paternalistic we're angry that the world screwed up and we're gonna fix it, damn it kind of perspective and coming back to it from a yogic perspective, from based you know, was thinking about addressing it from the from the framework of yoga really brought me around to a place of recognizing both the need for, for the activist in this case, me to be very self aware, to do the importance of rigorous self introspection and self discovery, and also to use the tools of yoga for self regulation, so as not to burn out completely. And so I found it really helpful in that way. And at the same time, I was really becoming aware of how, how ableist how, how anti fat, anti, Queer, anti everything that general yoga communities are, and where, and that's improved to some degree over the years, but not really a lot. And so that sort of just naturally became my focus was, was, was social justice activism, from a perspective of a yogic framework and and within yoga circles, as a starting place. And so then I started working for off the mat into the world, which I will still be working for up until two weeks from now, when when the organization shuts down for good, which is a really sad thing for me. And I'm also very hopeful because there are other organizations now that are doing similar things. And, for instance, accessible yoga, I'm just like, really amazed with what accessible yoga does, and just really hopeful about the ways that that that the whole organization is working and constantly expanding. And I really love that. And so I hope to continue working, going forward in yoga spaces, maybe hopefully continuing to do social justice work and continuing to focus primarily on anti ableism and Disability Justice and and especially in my purse, my perspective, I feel like where the need is greatest is in terms of neurodiversity and and mad and what the general population calls mental illness, which many people who who experience it do not consider it suffering from or being an illness. And so that's one of the places where there's a lot of work to be done, and, and I have a complicated relationship with neurodiversity in the sense that I consider it a disability and I also don't feel like it should be considered a bad thing, that disability comes mostly from the way that the dominant culture refuses to acknowledge different types of brain wiring as valid and normal. Right. So I think that's one place where there's a lot of work to be done. And one of the places where that work needs to be done is in yogic spaces where there really is a lot of bias that is based on an assumption of how a healthy and normal mind works. And even the concept that there is such a thing as a normal mind, or is such a concept as health is a binary where you're either healthy or you're not, or we can grade how healthy you are, or, you know, one of the things that I feel is really harmful in yogic spaces is, is sort of this this under current assumption that somebody's spiritual awareness, or their dedication to practice, can sort of be gauged by a perception of how healthy they are, whether it's physically mentally both. And so that's one of the things that I really feel like needs a lot of addressing is that
that that value system that says that, that that implies that there is a sort of moralistic or or quality based aspect to a person's general state of health or well being. Yeah. Oh, go ahead.
Amber Karnes 11:27:17
Sorry. No, go ahead. Sorry, finish what you're saying.
Laura Sharkey 11:27:21
Oh, and I just feel like, you know, it's, it's supposedly this, you know, new agey, but taken from these ancient, you know, spiritual sources, but also considered to be sort of a new idea that nobody else has. But really, it comes back to, you know, Calvinist worth that work ethic, kind of, you know, American ideal, that, that your health, and your well being is a reward based on, you know, the quality of your, your moral being, which, you know, is just so harmful.
Amber Karnes 11:28:00
Yeah, for sure. And I, you know, I think that this is a really important conversation to have around health ism, and ableism. And how in dominant culture, our worth, is connected to our productivity, like, what we can do what we can produce more, it's connected to our health, or our body size, you know, I think about the work that I've done in spaces to, to bring awareness to and combat fat phobia. And a lot of times, you know, the conversation will come around to like, oh, yeah, of course, everyone should except Except their bodies, but like, as long as we're healthy, you know, and like to call out this idea that somehow, if we do all the right things in life, that health is going to be guaranteed to us, which is not the case, that just one binary way of looking at health, which is not the case, right, like health is a spectrum. And one person's, you know, peak well being is going to look very different than another person's. And I think, too, you know, this this, that a lot of times health is held up as a justification for how we're supposed to treat somebody, right? That like, yes, yeah, the fact is that we don't deserve, you know, dignity and respect and care, because we're healthy, and we shouldn't wait to give that to people until they're healthy is some people may never be the type of quote unquote, healthy that dominant culture holds up. But I think that it's very important for us to, you know, to learn to recognize the humanity in everyone and treat each other with respect, regardless of our health status, because we're all up for, you know, that taking a turn at any moment of any day, you know, if nothing else has taught us in the past few years, I would think that that would be you know, that health is not some sort of, like, reward we get for being good people. That
Laura Sharkey 11:29:58
absolutely, yeah, yeah. So,
Amber Karnes 11:30:00
you know, I wonder if you would talk a little bit more about that this some idea that something that you mentioned, was that, you know, you had a complicated, complicated relationship with neurodiversity that like yes, you consider it a disability, but also, it doesn't need to be a bad thing. And I think that a lot of times, you know, we're sort of taught both bar conditioning, but also maybe specifically in yoga spaces that like, if we have a student who's coming to us with a disability with an injury with a larger body with You know, bad knees like whatever the thing is that somehow it's our job to fix that person. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about this idea of like, cure, and say more about that.
Unknown Speaker 11:30:47
Oh, yeah. Yeah, great. Um, yeah, that's, that's a subject that's near and dear to my heart, I think it comes from, I think the originating place of that idea of cure comes from two places. First off, I think it comes from the cultural assumption that disabled people are broken, and want to be fixed. And the truth is that there are some people who have some disabilities that they want to have taken away, they wish that they could cure be cured of them. And some of them work towards some kinds of cure and hope for it. But the reality is also that most disabled people don't want to be cured, they want to be respected as whole valuable human beings, and to have that, that the community and culture they live in respect and value the accommodations that they need, that are different from what's considered typical or quote, unquote, normal. And then I think the other place that, that we run into trouble with this is that I feel like one of the things that attracts people to yoga as as a, as a spiritual practice, or as an exercise modality, or it's both or as whatever hybrid form of that, that people are attracted to, there is definitely a component of that, that has to do with people looking for a solution to the unpredictable, unpredictable reality that nobody can guarantee that they will never be disabled, will never die, will never be harmed will never suffer horrible illness, whatever, all of us are vulnerable to that every single person alive is vulnerable to some degree, many of us more than others because of other cultural and societal conditions. Right. But that, that there's a tendency for people to want to be in denial of that to try to somehow bypass it and work around it. And I think one thing that happens a lot in yoga communities and and this is by no means am I trying to imply that this, that this is true of everybody who practices yoga, it's it's definitely not. i There is definitely though an undercurrent and a tendency, and because of the commodification of yoga, I think this this fear has been exploited by marketing and etc. And it's sort of wormed its way into the culture is this idea that if you practice good enough, if you're dedicated enough, if you're skilled enough, if you put enough into it, you can somehow guarantee that you're immune from these worldly problems that everybody else has to has to cope with?
Amber Karnes 11:33:51
Often, you're not going to have to deal with human problems, right?
Laura Sharkey 11:33:55
Absolutely. Yeah. And so I think what that does is that that sets up this condition where if, in order to maintain that belief, you have to see you cannot maintain that belief without seeing people who, who are overtly and obviously, disabled, or fat, or not fitting some other cultural ideal, you have to demonize those people some, or at the very least feel sorry for them or, or assume that they just aren't practicing good enough. And so you have to devalue them. Because you have to believe that you have to believe that practicing enough will will get you exactly what you want the perfect body, perfect health, you know, the ability to manifest wealth, whatever. And so there's, you know, that that's the other side of that coin, is that you have to assume that people who aren't doing that, who are obviously not doing that must be doing something wrong. Yeah. When,
Amber Karnes 11:35:00
you know, better than them, right? Yeah,
Laura Sharkey 11:35:03
yeah. Or somebody knows better than or you're, you know, you're trying and they're not. And you know, and then that then, then that kind of leaks into the idea of teachers wanting to help people overcome those kinds of things. Like, you know, I can't tell you how many times I've had a teacher tell me that. If I just meditate enough, I won't need my psychotropic medications. And the truth is, is that You know what? That's not true. I've tried it, it doesn't work. It helps you know that. And I think that's the thing that's the grain of truth in there is that all of these practices, of course, they help you be healthier. Of course they do. They help you, you know, their tools for self care. But that's it. They're tools, they are not cures. And they're not magic bullets. And they're not a secret trapdoor into bypassing normal human suffering, and unpredictability and the precariousness of our lives. That's something that we need to learn to accept. And I think that's really, what yoga practice should really be about is when we do our meditations or, or us and when we, when we, you know, do self interrogations, and when we get to know ourselves, what really need to come to know is, how are our fears about these things, guiding our lives? And how do we instead accept and acknowledge that, that precariousness, that fear that unpredictable bility, that's part of life, and what we have to do is learn to live with that discomfort, rather than trying to find a way to evade it. And I think that, you know, so that bypass the thing that really, I think in, in a, in an indirect but very, very substantial way, contributes so much to all forms of oppression, whether it's ableism, racism, anti Queer bias, anti fat bias, all of these things. There's a, there's an element of that bypass that that really necessitates shoving people into those groups and, and coming up with reasons that are their own fault for why they are oppressed. Right. Right. And so that then then, with with with disability, there's that added thing of this is something that maybe could change, and we can help these people. We aren't there yet, with disability, we still have this cultural belief that disabled people would really rather be like, non disabled people. And for some, that's true for most it's not.
Amber Karnes 11:37:56
Right, so what you know, if, if the wrong mindset for us to have as teachers is like, Oh, here's a person that I can fix that I can heal, that I can somehow, you know, make coal, that's what we don't, you know, want to do? What what is it that you would want teachers to have a mindset when they approach their students, I know that one thing we want to avoid is this sort of, you know, savior complex or treating disabled people, you know, children somehow or something like that. What does it look like instead, if we don't do it that way?
Laura Sharkey 11:38:32
I think what it looks like is first and foremost, is I think the first most important learning not to be able to thing that a person can do is to recognize that there is no disability. There isn't a single one, that makes the disabled person less of a person than the non disabled person. That person deserves the same dignity respect and, and consideration as non disabled people. And there is no moral or no moral or character grading aspect to a disability that you can point to, you can't look at a disabled person and say, well, they must not have moral character because they're disabled or they must not be capable. And I think that and this is where we come into, you know, looking at the word disability. There's, I'm not going to go into too much detail detail on it, but but I think the general distinction that I like to make sure people are aware of that helps to explain how disability works in this culture, is that there are two general models of disability that that you can look at. One is the medical model, which places the disability in the body or mind of the disabled person as in say, there's something wrong with that person. They have to sit in a wheelchair because there is something wrong with their legs. They can't get up to the that building because they're stairs and they're in a wheelchair. So you know, it's because there's something wrong with them that they can't get up there. Then there is this social model of disability which says the source of disability is in the culture and in the way that we accommodate people who don't have the same physical or emotional structures as we, as a dominant culture, expect people to have. And so from that model, you would not say that person can't get into that building because their legs don't work, you would say that person can't get into that building because we have not built a ramp that their wheelchair can access, right. And so it's two different ways of looking at the disability. One places it in the body of the person in the body, mind and the other places it in the ways that the dominant culture fails to accommodate and make the world accessible to disabled people. And so that's why I was kind of referring to when I was talking about autism, for instance, being a disability, but also not a bad I don't consider it a bad thing. It certainly does have its limitations. There are certain cognitive, socio social interactive skills that neurotypical people tend to have that I do not have. And there's also some skills awarenesses sent to, you know, types of perspectives that I have, because I am autistic, that the vast majority of neurotypical people don't have any concept of. So what I feel is limiting and disabling about being autistic is not being autistic itself, but the way that this culture is biased towards neurotypical brain wiring. And I have to caveat here that when I'm talking about autistic and and and neurotypical, I really should be saying autistic and allistic allistic meaning not autistic, because autistic autism is not the only form of neurodiversity, and I am speaking from a limited viewpoint in that I am autistic, but I don't know, as much as I should about all other forms of neurodiversity. So I just want to put that caveat out there that I do not intend to to disavow or ignore other forms of neurodiversity, other than autism. But just speaking from my personal perspective, that's, that's what I experience.
Garrett Jurss 11:42:58
We'll be right back with the podcast after this message from Love Your Brain. March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. And did you know that yoga and meditation can support people healing after a brain injury? Love Your Brain is a nonprofit that improves the quality of life of people affected by traumatic brain injury, including concussion through free research back to yoga, mindfulness and retreat programs and certification level trainings for folks interested in neurodiversity, and yoga. This month, Love Your Brain is hosting their annual mindful March meditation challenge, sign up today and receive 31 powerful meditation practices from teachers at the forefront of brain injury, healing and social justice, like RJ Lisander, Tracee, Stanley, Michelle C. Johnson, and more. Their goal is to have over 1000 people meditating together in solidarity with the brain injury community. And by joining your donation helps keep love your brains accessible yoga and meditation programs free for the Brain Injury community. Visit loveyourbrain.com to learn more.
Amber Karnes 11:44:14
So I know that we've talked about the fact that, you know, the way that yoga has been commodified, or CO opted into this sort of moral model of health ism, and this commercialized wellness, that it actually tends to amplify ableism and yoga communities to a degree maybe more than you experience it in the sort of general dominant culture. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about, you know, for those of us who have noticed this, for those of us that want to do something about it, What can teachers do to owners, other practitioners? What's important for us to do, how should we start addressing this ableism in the spaces we occupy?
Laura Sharkey 11:44:57
I think the first thing is to start with those places where it's amplified and recognize why. And so as I was mentioning before, about, you know, the whole focus on wellness and sort of that undercurrent of an attempt to bypass that unpredictability and precariousness of good health and, you know, and, and typically assigned in ability that we need to start By recognizing and and sort of interrogating ourselves and second guessing ourselves on, do I have an unconscious assumptions about a person's character, or the quality of their practice, or if they're just their general quality as a human being Do I have any assumptions about based on what I either perceive or know to be their disabilities. And I think a real good example of that is that, for instance, it's really common for people to, for neurotypical people to assume that neurodiverse people are, are either rude, or socially inept, or, you know, any number of negative connotations that could go with with just thinking a person is different. And therefore, they're seen as they're seen as the problem, they're seen as awkward, or seen as, as deficient somehow. And that maybe what we do is we start to consider in our own selves, how, how, what's what's what's leading us to draw this conclusion? And what's our comfort level with this person? Am I uncomfortable talking to this person, and if you're talking to a neurodivergent person, the chances are pretty good, that you're uncomfortable with them, if you don't know them, well, because most neurodivergent people, to some degree, communicate differently than neurodivergent people do, unless they're masking, which most of us do, if, if we're able and willing. And, and so the first place to start with that is, is, I think is is dissecting the discomfort. And, and in trying to pull it apart from assumptions about what it means. I think we have a sort of a cultural assumption that if I am uncomfortable with a person, there's a reason and it's their fault. rarely, rarely look at somebody and say, I am very uncomfortable with that person, I wonder what's going on, in my mind, that's making me uncomfortable with them. And it's, and it's sometimes it is the other person, sometimes the person is mean, or nasty, or, you know, really wanting to cause harm or something. And in those cases, sure, you know, don't, by all means protect yourself, you know, be uncomfortable and do what you need to do. However, I think that most of the time, when we're uncomfortable with somebody, it it's just as likely to have to do with us as it is to do with them. And, and most of the time, it has to do with our, you know, familiarity with communicating with somebody. And so, and so this is where I think the really crucial one of the really Cornerstone practices in my mind of yoga, and what I consider to be one of the most valuable aspects of it is learning to accept discomfort and sit with discomfort and, and learning how to self regulate and, and to use that discomfort as a learning tool, rather than a thing to avoid. And, you know, if I can accept the discomfort, then I can sort of look at it and see, okay, well, what is exactly is making me uncomfortable. And is this something that it makes sense to be uncomfortable with? Or is it something that maybe I need to work on? And so that I think that that's the very first place to start. And that really kind of applies to all forms of oppression, because, you know, most forms of oppression are based on us, seeing ourselves as different from the person that's oppressed, right. So with disability, it's no different. I think the biggest thing with disability is that there is that with ableism, there's that tendency to infantilize and assume that the person needs help and that it's our job to figure out what to do for them.
And so that leads me to another part of what we can do is don't believe that you have to know what to do for that person and don't feel intimidated or don't let yourself be overwhelmed or intimidated about learning about disability because you feel like you're going to need to know everything there is to know about every disability out there. That is not the case. And while I think it's really truly crucially important to for there to be teachers who understand various types of disabilities and to know how to scale Fully teach to people whose, whose bodies and our minds need accommodations. That requires a special skill set. That's very important. And I don't think it's really the place for anybody to start, I think what people need to start is with recognizing that the very first thing you got to do is recognize that person as a human being who, who, unless there's an indication, a definite indication that that person is unable to communicate with you what they need, you need to ask them, you need to let them collaborate, collaborate with you in the solution, and ask them, talk to them. Let them guide you as much as you guide them. And learn about it, you know, learn about if this is, especially if it's somebody who might come back to your class, if you're a teacher, learn what you can about them and their condition. And part of that learning has to be about has to be asking them, because just like with any other form of oppression ableism you know, disability is not a monolith, not even within us, you know, a specific kind of disability, autistic, I'm not the same as every autistic person out there, right. So you can't learn about all autistic people. By talking to me, you can learn generally about autism, I talking to me, but and you can learn generally about it by reading about it or doing research online. But the only way that you can teach to me is if you have both sets of knowledge if you have a general understanding. And if you're willing to engage with me to find out how I personally inhabit that reality. And and, you know, what I need from a teacher. And yeah, I think in a way, this is kind of good news for teachers in that. In order to learn to be less ableist, you do not have to know everything there is to know about every physical or emotional or mental disability out there. Start by learning to be open to disabled people and trusting that they can work with you, you don't need to do it for them, you don't need to, quote unquote, help them you need to collaborate with them, and be open to feedback from them. And I think that's the other place that where this is really important is that with being open to feeling that discomfort is a you have to be willing to be corrected, you have to be willing to be called out once in a while. And you know, the same that's true of learning any new thing, you're going to make mistakes, everybody does. And there should, you know, we're taught in this culture to be ashamed of that. And we need to practice resisting that shame. Because there's no shame in making a mistake, that shame comes, I think, where it where shame is valid is in how we respond to the mistakes we've made, and whether we, you know, hold ourselves accountable for them or not, and try to try to learn to do better.
Amber Karnes 11:53:42
That's right. Yeah, I think it's, you know, I'm really glad you're talking about this, because I think especially for you know, yoga teachers who maybe don't inhabit as many marginalized identities or any marginalized identities, you know, it can be very intimidating, right? We want to help people, but we don't want to offend and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, I get a lot of questions where people are like, Okay, I want to incorporate the social justice stuff, but I'm afraid to say the wrong thing. I'm afraid of offending someone, and I just tell them, like, you're going to, you're gonna offend people, you're gonna say the wrong thing, you're gonna mess up, you're gonna get called out for saying something racist, saying something ablest you're gonna embarrass yourself, but this work is worth it. And the more resilience that we can build up to, kind of sitting in those uncomfortable situations of like, okay, there's this student who just came into my classroom, I really don't understand what's going on with their body. And now I have to approach them as a human being and talk to them and listen to what they say and, and really fight the conditioning that I have from dominant culture that tells me this person is less than or all of those things that we come up against, right, like that is, you know, that's difficult. And it's also something that we can build as a skill. Just like we learn to, you know, teach a vinyasa class or whatever the other skills we had to develop, you know, as teachers like, this is another, I think, essential teaching tool that's worth developing. And luckily, yoga gives us a lot of technology for the whole sitting with that discomfort thing, right.
Laura Sharkey 11:55:14
Absolutely. Yeah. And that's, you know, it's, it's kind of ironic in a way that, that that, at least in my mind, that's a cornerstone of, of practicing yoga is learning to sit with discomfort and yet, it seems to be the the thing that's so elusive and I think partly that's because of North American culture is that we, you know, everything about our culture is about trying to sell us ways to avoid discomfort and not have to feel it. And yet here we have this practice where we're supposed to learn to do that. And so we, even though we embrace that to certain degrees as part of the practice, we don't necessarily do it. And if we do it, we don't necessarily know how to translate that into real life. But here's a way to translate that into real life, here's a good place to practice it, you know, is is? And you know, and I think I would add to what you were saying too, is that, I think it is, it's very true that a lot of people stay the hell away from activism, because they might say the wrong thing. But here's the thing. Your if you don't learn about it, if you don't engage in it, you're definitely going to say the wrong thing. It might not be as glaring a wrong thing, but you definitely going to be there you are going to because we're all born into that. I wish I could remember the guy's name. But there's that, you know, that quote that's been going around recently about racism is not the shark. It's the water. And that's true. It's like the isms oppression, whether it's racism, ableism, anti Queer bias, anti fat bias all of those. It's unreasonable to think that you could be swimming in that water and not get wet. We all get wet. And we all have to figure that out. And we all have to unlearn it. And yeah, so you're gonna make mistakes? And would you rather make a mistake? Because you're trying to unlearn it? Or would you rather make the mistake of not trying? Mm hmm.
Amber Karnes 11:57:13
That's right. Yeah. And I think too, you know, I, I think it's important for folks to not get caught up in this sort of, like, shame guilt spiral, when you make mistake, like, it's not a license to get called out for saying something racist, or ablest or whatever, like, that's your opportunity to go back to your, you know, kind of your why, like, why am I you know, interrogating and trying to interrupt this stuff in the first place, like, because it's the right thing to do, because I want to, you know, see the full humanity of my students like all of those things. And this is an opportunity to, like, really learn that in an embodied way. I know for myself, whenever I've, you know, encountered that shame that comes up in the moment when I've said something wrong or done something offensive, and I get, you know, called to task for it. Like, there's that big opportunity, there's an opportunity or like the desire, you know, to hide, right, that kind of is this human response to shame, or to say, oh, no, I'm not racist, I'm not ableist, you know, pull out your good personal resume, which a lot of people do in that moment. But really, that, you know, if our goal is to be able to start to dismantle these systems of oppression that we've been, like you said, trained into and born into that, those are the moments those moments of like, extreme discomfort, I think that can be the biggest learning opportunity. Because if we do, if we are able to listen, you know, to that feedback to the critique from someone who's lived experience is so different than ours, you know, we can, we can really change the way that our future interactions with, you know, those types of people in those types of bodies who we've been taught to be afraid of, or distance ourselves from, like, that's how we start to dismantle this stuff, kind of, I think, one interaction at a time. So I'm really glad. Yeah, absolutely, you address all that. So we're going to start wrapping this conversation up here in a few minutes. But I want to just take a moment to talk about something that comes up I think a lot with teaching, which is, with yoga, a lot of these practices that are so valuable in self regulation and stuff like that tend to be taught as sort of quiet and still practices, right, whether we're talking about vasana, or meditation, or pranayama, or whatever it is like doing a body scan, like all those things, where it's like, close your eyes and put all your attention on your body. I know that for a lot of folks who are neurodiverse, or disabled in some way, that's not the most supportive way for them to achieve self regulation. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how to work with the students in our class who we might notice our quote unquote fidgeting and talk about ways to make make those quiet and still practices a little bit more accessible to folks who might find that difficult.
Laura Sharkey 12:00:08
Oh, yeah, that's great. This is one of my, you know, near and dear to my heart topics. Because I spent the first I don't know how many years of my practice thinking that I needed to attain stillness, you know, and, and actually, I was pretty good at it because I've spent my life learning to be still because that's what this culture wants from autistic people. They don't want us moving they don't want to stimming they don't want us flapping hands. or rocking or anything like that. So I was I thought I was practically practicing stillness, when really what I was doing was just replicating what the culture had already taught me about suppressing what my body needs to do to self regulate. And so, as I started to, you know, to learn more about that, I realized that, that there is that there's an oppressive nature, to the assumption that if somebody is moving in a way, that would be fidgeting, if one person did it, it's oppressive to assume that that's always fidgeting, because fidgeting has a bad connotation, it's, it's, there's an assumption there that the person is trying to distract themselves or the brain not invested in the practice, or they want to be somewhere else. Or they're just, you know, not paying attention or whatever number of things. And it's possible that maybe that person is fidgeting, maybe they are, but if they are, so trust them to figure it out, and, and, you know, regulate themselves. If they're not, then that needs to be respected as something that is important for that person. And I think this is where we come into, again, this place of not assuming that a disabled person, especially a neurodivergent person, needs you to tell them how to be they don't need you to tell them how to be they need your guidance, and you holding the space so that they can explore what works for them. And for a lot of us there is a certain amount of physical movement, that that is helpful that is self regulating in a way that it would not be for annalistic person for neurotypical person. There's this thing called stimming, which I don't know, pretty much anybody who's autistic who listens to this will know what that means. But for those people who don't know what it is, is STEM is basically just a movement. And it's it's usually described as movement, it can also be a, you know, a sound or, or an echo in your head or a thought or anything, but it's a repetitive, kind of not necessarily unconscious, but but sort of not not intentionally motivated, movement, or a repetitive, usually repetitive in nature. And that's one of those things that this culture just cannot tolerate. In fact, right. You know, the medical industrial complex spends enormous amounts of time and energy trying to train autistic children not to stem when that is exactly what they need to do to self regulate. And there's no reason not to, there is nothing about somebody flapping their hands that harms anybody else. But yet, we try to train people not to do that, because there's this connotation. And so what we need to do is recognize that self regulation looks different for different people. And for some people, it involves movement, rather than stillness. And I can say for myself, for my own, my own experience, for instance, that my body tends to rock sometimes. And I also have some other small physical movements that that are self soothing for me, that tend to self regulate me. And if I resist them, if I try to remain still, when my body wants to do these things, it takes the same kind of energy as intentional movement takes. So by I guess what I'm what I'm trying to convey here is that by telling me to be still, when my body wants to do those movements, you're basically telling me to do the same thing you would tell somebody else to to move. So you're not really teaching me to be still in a in a energetic or, or spiritual or emotional way you're teaching me to move because my body requires that kind of energy to appear to be still.
Amber Karnes 12:04:56
Interesting, like I just want to capture like what you just said that if we have the intention, I just it's so brilliant how you put that that like, actually the intention we have as a teacher to maybe like get that person quiet and still so they can experience downregulation actually does the opposite because they're having to recruit that nervous system energy to be still that we are actually going to achieve the opposite. That's so yeah, that's so interesting. I don't want to do like recap that because I'm like, wow, yeah, that concept is
Laura Sharkey 12:05:33
a good way to To explain it to would be like, if you were floating in water, and you're trying, you know, you're just sitting there not moving around not treading water not doing anything, you're just floating, and the water is moving, your body is going to move, right? So it's going to take a certain amount of energy from your body to remain still in that water if the waters moving, right. So it's kind of that's kind of what it's like, for me, it's like, if you tell me to stay still, then I have to energetically internally, not in a way that you can see, but energetically, internally, I have to move to counteract that natural movement. So I hope that makes sense. But
Amber Karnes 12:06:15
yeah, yeah, it definitely does. Yeah, I wonder if you could talk about just a few ways that teachers can either with language or collaborating with their students, like how can we do a better job of this, of leaving some room for different types of experiences, when it comes to these downregulating type of modalities that we teach in yoga?
Laura Sharkey 12:06:39
I think the first thing is what we just talked about is don't make assumptions about what downregulation looks like, for everybody. Like, you know, if you know, especially if you know, your students, well, probably, you know, most of them are probably neurotypical and, and it's very likely that what you know to be, you know, the typical ways of doing that are probably going to apply. But if you have students who, who fidget or have some other form of movement that comes up, you can ask them about it later. But don't, the first thing I would say is don't tell them not to do it. And don't suggest that that movement is a detriment to their practice. And I think this is really crucial, because I think most students, most students, are going to feel a certain amount of authority coming from a teacher, whether or not you intend that to be there, there's that power dynamic. And so if even if a student knows better if you tell them, that that movement is bad for them, or it's not not conducive to, they're going to believe you, even if it doesn't agree with what they know, internally to be true for them. And I think that's especially true for neurodivergent people, because we've spent our entire lives being told by the culture at large that our internal experience is not what we believe it to be. And that what people perceive externally about us is what the reality is. And so it's very important, I think, to step back, and you can ask people later, I think what's best is ask questions, instead of giving direction, when you're not sure. If you're not sure, don't give direction, ask a question. And you kind of have to discern whether it's good to ask the question right now, or wait till later? Like, do you want to interrupt this person shavasana and ask them, or do you want to just sort of observe and if they're not hurting themselves, don't worry about it. You know, there's, there's like, it's not a tragedy, if somebody doesn't really downregulate as much as you think they should in savasana. Right. It's like, it'd be nice if they could, it would be nice, if everybody could, but the harm you're likely to do by indicating that they're doing it wrong, is likely greater than the harm that might come from them, not establishing that level of downregulation that you want them to. Yeah, and so I think that, you know, that that's the first thing is just recognize that you might not know. And then I think the second thing is that, you know, languaging is to change from using words like, still, to words like quiet, or, or words that reflect experience, rather than a presentation of something. You know, like, when, like, when you say, still it can, it can imply that you mean, you know, a feeling of stillness, but usually, it's interpreted to mean I can look at you and your body is not moving and that means, right, right. So, you know, think about the words you use and try to, and I think this goes for almost all disability related instruction is, I think it's it goes a long way to move when possible from words that convey a certain action to words that convey a certain experience, like what is it that you want that student to experience? And trust that if they don't know how to get them, they'll ask you and if you especially if you're open to being asked and you make sure they know that then a student can say to you something like, you know, I Every time I'm in shavasana, I start fidgeting, and I don't know why, then that tells you this person sees that as fidgeting and that they're not, it's not a natural thing for them, right? Whereas if they come to you and say, you know, so you said, Be still, but I'm fidgeting. Maybe it's not fidgeting, you know, maybe they're seeing it as fidgeting, because that's what you call it.
Amber Karnes 12:10:57
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah. What were you gonna say?
Laura Sharkey 12:11:03
Well, as I say, you know, I think the other part of that is to try to stay away from telling people what the conclusion is, if you see a certain behavior, like, if I see you fidgeting, or if I see you moving like that, then I know that you're not downregulating. And, and that what that teaches students is to perform rather than to experience. And so, you know, I've been in a couple classes where I've had teachers say, I need you all to do this, so that I know if it's working for you, and it's like, well, first off, oh, boy, that you just said, it's not necessarily an indication that it's working. Secondly, you're the teacher, I'm not the teacher, you know, it's not my job to make sure you know, you're doing your job, right. It's your job to teach. And if you don't know what's going on with me, ask me. And so I think that's that's kind of I think, the gist of it. Does that make sense? Yeah,
Amber Karnes 12:12:05
no, that's wonderful. There's some really good practical tools in there that I think folks can take into their teaching right away. And we've we've covered I think, a lot of things that are really important. In, you know, as teachers like, no matter how much we want our students to, like experience, all the benefits, the practice that we've experienced, or whatever the you know, that desire to help folks, like, the fact is that our students are the experts of their own bodies, and they're responsible for their practice, not us. And, you know, we can do everything that we can to get closer to, you know, precise language and making a space that feels welcoming to everyone and all of that, and that is our work, not the, you know, the outcome or the conclusion. If we can stay non attached to that, then I think that's more appropriate for us as teachers, right to, to be invested in, you know, meeting our students where they are, and collaborating and CO creating that experience and learning more about difference and different lived experiences. But it's not our job to, to really be attached to how, how that lands, our students, or whether they, you know, find all the benefits, we think they should. So I appreciate you saying, right,
Laura Sharkey 12:13:23
yeah, and I think especially with disabled students, there's a certain level of trust that non disabled people generally do not have in disabled people to be able to have that self awareness and ability to, to determine for themselves what's working and what's not. And I think that's what people you know, overall, teachers need to need to trust that a disabled person. In in general, all else being equal, a disabled person is just as likely if not more likely than a non disabled person to know what their body needs. And that doesn't mean that all this people, disabled people do know, but not all non disabled people know, either and the teachers job to sort of suss that out. It's not different for a disabled student than for an abled student, the non disabled student, it's the same applies, you have to trust them to a certain degree, and you have to teach to a certain degree and use what you know, and then you have to find that balance. And, and that's kind of the hard part of it, right? That you don't want to come at a disabled student with the assumption that they need your help, and they don't know. You need to, you know, kind of get to know them and learn about them and find that out based on your experience interacting with them, not because of what you know, or don't know, or or presume or assume about their disability.
Amber Karnes 12:14:53
That's right. That's right. Well, thank you so much, Laura. I'm really glad we got to have this conversation. I think we you touched on on so many important points that you know, we can continue to, to work on and embrace whether we're teachers or just yoga students who are encountering folks that may be different from us, and I so appreciate your perspective here. I'm wondering at the close here, are there any final thoughts you'd like to leave folks with or can you tell us how to folks find you do you have any anything coming up you'd like folks to know about?
Laura Sharkey 12:15:26
Keep an eye out everybody, just just pay attention to your TG the way that you interact with people that are either dis abled or that you presumed to be disabled, or about the way that you assume people are not disabled if you can't see it, and just kind of think about the assumptions you make, and that's, I guess that's that would be my my final thing to say is just learn. Learn to question your own assumptions about disability and ableism and, and what people need or want from you as a teacher.
Amber Karnes 12:16:03
Yeah. Thank you so much, Laura, for your time and your expertise. I really appreciate it. Great. Thank you, everybody, for listening. We'll see you all next week.
Thanks for joining us for the accessible yoga podcast. We're so grateful to be in community with you.
Amber Karnes 12:16:20
Please check out our website accessible yoga.org. To find out more about our upcoming programs, including our annual accessible yoga conference. At our website. You can also learn more about how to become an accessible yoga ambassador and support the work that we're doing in the world.
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Amber Karnes 12:16:39
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai