Anjali Rao 11:27:24
Namaskar Welcome to the accessible yoga podcast, where we explore the connections between the ancient teachings of yoga in the context of the times we live in.
This podcast is brought to you by the accessible yoga Association, a nonprofit organization focused on accessibility and equity in yoga,
Anjali Rao 11:27:43
and new co host Anjali Rao. My pronouns are she and her. And I serve as president of the accessible yoga Association Board of Directors.
And I'm your co host, Jivana Heyman. My pronouns are he and him. And I serve as the director of the accessible yoga Association. Hi, everyone. Welcome back to the accessible yoga podcasts. I'm Jivana. My pronouns are she and him. I'm so excited to be joining you today, I'm actually living on Chumash land here in Santa Barbara, California today. And I'm here with Anjali Hi, Anjali.
Anjali Rao 11:28:17
Hello. Hi, everyone. I'm Anjali Rao. And my pronouns are she her and I'm so excited to have this conversation with Jivana. about so many things today, but specifically going into accessibility.
And, you know, I think I've mentioned before that you're now the president of the board of accessible yoga, and it's just so exciting to work with you and constantly inspired by you and learning from you. So thank you for that. Excited for this conversation. I think the theme we want to really talk broadly today about accessible yoga. And I think our theme is really that right? Understanding accessibility. And I wondered if you want to start with some thoughts about that, like, what is accessibility to you? Yeah,
Anjali Rao 11:29:07
well, to me accessibility, I think we need to look at it from a broader, expansive way. Accessibility is not only talking about how we make Asana accessible, but how do we make the teachings accessible? How do we connect the teachings to the times that we live in make it make it approachable and relatable, and really identify like, in our mission statement, identify the barriers to access and see how we can remove those barriers in different ways. So to me, accessibility is about all of that it is not only offering the physical practice in a way which is accessible, but all the other parts of yoga as well.
Yeah, I agree. I think people really misunderstand what accessible yoga is about. I mean, I my work did my teaching started with sharing younger people, HIV and AIDS and people with other disabilities that came out of my AIDS activism. But accessible yoga to me, it's yoga is already accessible, like it's already there. It's a universal teaching that is that basically, is saying, we all share the same spiritual essence. And that what we're trying to do is, like you said, remove the barriers to that experience. So not only move barriers to yoga, but actually remove barriers to the experience of that, of that spiritual truth. Right, that we, that we have this wholeness that we are whole and full already. And I think that's what, that's what like capitalism is doing. And we're always being told that we need to get something and gain something. But yoga is like the opposite. You know, yoga is the opposite of Capitalism. It's just saying you already have it inside. You have everything you need. And that's ultimately, to me what accessible yoga is, is is that we're trying, I think we're trying to share that truth that we already have what we need inside and let's figure out what's in the way and remove that barrier, removing barriers.
Anjali Rao 11:31:19
And why is this important for us to talk about right now? Because I think we also hear that questions about does accessibility mean that we are oversimplifying something? Are we reducing it to reducing it to just a one a specific thing? So what are what are your thoughts? Do you know, does accessibility oversimplify something or does it add to it or does it expand the teachings?
Yeah, I think about that all the time. I think there's a lot of nuance there between making something accessible and over simplifying. I think there is a danger and over simplifying and I think that's what we've seen, happen. You know, in contemporary practice with this kind of obsession on Asana, as the goal of yoga, that's, I mean, that's oversimplifying, actually, the practice access civility to me is very different. That is, that means giving people access to the heart of the teachings, you know that yoga has a very complex philosophy that is varied and has changed over history. There's a lot of different threads throughout, as you know, you know that about the history of yoga, it's not all it, there's not just one simple truth there. There's a lot of complexity, but I think accessibility means helping people connect with it, rather than have both feel left out, and I think that there's many ways like we mentioned the obstacles, like what are those obstacles to access? And I think it's not simply physical barriers. It's not simply saying physical physically events us and as a goal, that's one barrier. But another kind of acts, a barrier to access is like, who holds the knowledge? Who has the wisdom? Right? Who the who's a trusted source for information about yoga? Is it a scholar, because they have some kind of diploma? Right? Like, is that who we trust? Like, I think we need to look at that, like, what do we look for? In our teachers even?
Anjali Rao 11:33:36
And I think a lot of like, Phil, if you were to look at the history of yoga, as you said, it just, it's a very checkered history, and there's a lot of contradictions in it's not been always accessible. It has been, it has been taken, it has been co opted by so many systems of oppression, including patriarchy, suicide, patriarchy, colonization, so to really dismantle those threads, and how those, those threads of the past continue to manifest in modern yoga. And I think that is the work that we need to do to see how, for example, how sad patriarchy has manifested, yeah, manifested in our history of yoga, who are the ones who we go to scholars? Who are the ones who are writing our texts? Who are the ones who we have given them the status of expert, you know, and, and then see, oh, yeah, those are the same threads that manifest in modern yoga spaces. Those are the same folks who are still getting attributed to, to knowledge holders, wisdom holders. So I think accessibility is really expanding, and understanding how the past has continued to impress upon and shape the present. And I hope that this will also inform everyone, including ourselves, even as we begin to unravel those threads, that this is the same way in which other systems and institutions are shaped, who are the ones who get have the power to shape those, and who continue to shape those. So to go back to your to go back to your point about, you know, who are the ones who we consider as experts. Those are the same folks who are the ones who are in power, their voice gets heard more. So our rework at accessible yoga, is to also say there are an uplift and center, folks who are wisdom holders, but Don't unnecessarily are not a part of the dominant cultural identity.
Yes, I love that. I think that's essential. I mean, I think we see it. I think we see it so often. And we almost it's almost unconscious, you know, the way that we've been trained through culture, it's hard to see that it's hard to see the, you know, so I think it's a good reflection for me and for all of us to do is to really think about who is it that you think is the expert and why. And I think we've seen this also through like a history of abuse in recent yoga, and maybe not just recent yoga, but maybe throughout yoga. But, you know, especially recently, there have been so many of us, so gurus that have been revealed and exposed and the amazing amount of suffering that has been caused in that way, because these people were put up as the experts, and yet their behavior was actually incredibly harmful. It just, it's so interesting to me, I feel like that's another barrier, like a lack of ethics. You know, there's so many there's so many obstacles to access. So there's I think what it is, is that accessibility has focused on ableism and physical access because Asana has been centered as the heart of yoga when that's not really true, but ableism is one obstacle but then this other like, you mentioned, sis had patriarchy, they could look at each aspect of that, like cisgendered people, heterosexual people, patriarchy got, like, you know, men centering male, the male voice? Especially, yeah, straight men. I mean, it's easy for me to say, as a Queer man, because I definitely have a lot of power as a man. But I see how the way, the way that straight men tend to be centered as experts. So often in this conversation, even though if you look in the West, like not that way, if you look at the contemporary yoga scene, it's almost all not straight men, I mean, look who's practicing, right?
Anjali Rao 11:37:57
But it's not our own conditioning. It's our own, you know, some scars that we go to those folks as experts. And also cast is a big part of who has defined and shaped yoga. And that, I think, is a whole another different conversation that we that we should talk about.
Can you say a word about it? Just, I just wonder if you could speak to how you see cast? Like how it still has influenced yoga today, right?
Anjali Rao 11:38:27
Absolutely. So cast is the one of the oldest and ongoing systems of oppression that even before white supremacy, it's the oldest and MODIS on the Raj and talks about in her book, the trauma of caste, it continues to impact every, every institution, every system, in the South Asian, continent and diaspora. And when it comes to yoga, the threads of cast are so impactful and powerful that an invisible because it is so omniscient, it is. And so to it's a whole different conversation, because it's just so prevalent, and continues to be so. And I hope to delve into that in upcoming episodes on on the podcast, but I had to just name that and bring that into the picture. Because a lot of our scholars or our yoga teachers of the past and the present, including myself, have cast privilege. So and you know, one of the big things about dismantling, dismantling privilege, or understanding privilege is to say that I have privilege to just acknowledge it, to name it. Otherwise, it goes unchecked. And I think unchecked privilege, and power is a big source of harm. Like what you were saying abuse has happened in yoga spaces in the past and continues to happen, because also of holding of power, you know, its power holding, it is individualistic leadership. And I think one of the things that has attracted me to work in accessible yoga sociation is the model of sort of a collective leadership, it's not one person deciding on something it is, multiple people deciding on something, and that can mean that it sometimes appears slower, it is slower. Because many, many of us have different positionality and different opinions, but at least it means that it's not just you, or me deciding on something, it's a it's a committee and, and staff, you know,
that's true. There's a lot of voices, and it's a little chaotic, but it feels it feels more of like collective decision making between a board and a staff that's very diverse, I feel like we we end up in a better place. You know, also, I think it keeps things more ethical, when there isn't one voice who is leading everything, there's checks and balances within a system that are much more effective than in I also just want to bring up racism because I think that is a huge obstacle to accessibility. You know, I think that, again, is a theme that we've talked about on this podcast in the past, but especially in contemporary and maybe in the past two, but contemporary practice, there's a huge racism has a huge impact, especially about who is the expert, you know, and it's just so often white people that are seen as the experts in yoga which is ironic.
Anjali Rao 11:41:50
Yeah, I think also because of colonization and Neo called Neo colonialism and it is you know, the white people get access to grants to research and write books and for folk and ages, generations of mentorship, right? We don't have our and when I say our I'm just naming myself as a South Asian as from somebody who is the first generation Indian immigrant. People like ourselves The new to the scholarship scene in a big way in a sustained way. So I think that's why accessibility is far more people who are getting access to, you know, research journals, for example, how many of us go into yoga research in yoga history? A lot of it is you have to pay to get the to get access to those obscure and esoteric texts, you know, so all those are all those points of accessibility?
Yeah. So going back to that question, then do you see all these things coming together in some way, like the, these obstacles we talked about? I guess I'm wondering about solutions, like it feels like the solution that we're working on in accessible yoga is more of a communal decision making system to try not to center one voice, to be conscious about the influence of all these, of all of these issues, in in the way that we present programming. Like what else can we be doing?
Anjali Rao 11:43:38
Yeah, I think I think for from where I am learning and seeing the work of expand or shift, or even just, you know, integrate, it is in, for example, we have programs, which are workshops, which we have which we are centering folks who are doing the work from different identities, who are experienced and expert experts, it's just that we are putting the spotlight on that person who's already doing the work and was already studied, or, you know, holding that knowledge base, and also having these community discussions. I think that that has been one of the most beautiful and emergent, as Adrian Marie Brown says, is that we are really bringing in folks who are in the frontlines of so many movements, advocates and or community organizers, and having those really con conversations which are challenge challenging, sometimes driven, yeah, but talking about white supremacy, talking about transphobia you know, all racial justice, and South Asian erasure, and being a Black yoga teacher, you know, all of that. So, having those conversations and centering folks from different identities and personalities, as well as work and lived experiences, I think bringing social change into the yoga world, because it has always been there, but because of capitalism that has not really focus much on because one can't really make money out of conversations. Unless you're, unless you're Oprah Winfrey, or something. But, but, but really, you know, trying to get those conversations in and so that people can start learning and unlearning and saying, Hey, this is also yoga, how can I really practice, interconnectedness and manifest that and embody that in in everyday life?
Yeah, that's beautiful. And I think for yoga teachers, I wonder if you have thoughts about what they can do, like what can yoga teachers did to approach this, it sounds like you're talking about maybe educating themselves like this becoming more conscious of these issues, even though you know, sometimes it can be painful to explore, like your own racism or whatever. But I think it's important, right? It's important that you, as a person with privilege, like for me, as a white person, I need to constantly working on my racism. As a cisgender person, I have to really look at my inner transphobia like, I really have to address these issues constantly, especially when I hold privilege in that area.
Anjali Rao 11:46:35
I think you're you all of us as yoga. First of all, we are all yoga practitioners. So, how are we practicing yoga and what are what are we saying when we say we are practicing yoga, you know, having a conversation rooted in non harming is yoga, you know, so, if you're not doing that, then what is your yoga practice? So I think going back to your own practice, as yoga teachers, as is I think one of the key things and also saying that you know, my yoga practice or my space when I practice is shaped by so many things. It is shaped by politics, it is shaped by the history, so To really see that connection. And notice who are coming to your classes I shared on Instagram the other day. And you know, people will I thought that was a very simple sort of set of questions. But it was, it seemed to connect to folks who really notice who are coming to your classes. who are who are the ones who you're quoting as experts? Who are the ones who you invite? Who are the ones who are left out who don't come to your classes. I mean, those are the questions that we need to ask and all and none of us are perfect, right? I mean, to say, hey, I have messed up in the past, that is a big deal to acknowledge that, that we are all imperfect, we are all learning to be generous for yourself to will compassion for your own. In sort of, for your own mistakes for your own enters, do for your own blind spots to notice you have blind spots? Because of what you said our cultural conditioning? Yeah, I think so. It's an ongoing process.
But there's this question about, like, who you're teaching, who's coming to your classes, I think for yoga teachers is very important, because I saw something recently about, you know, you're not the teacher for everyone. This is a line that I think comes up a lot. And I've even shared that I've even told people, okay, you're not the teacher for everyone. But I think we have to be very careful when we say that, because I think that can be an excuse to mask us from basing the work we need to do, you know, to keep us from really looking at why why aren't people coming to you? And it could be that because of your your scope of practice, like, oh, okay, I don't feel competent teaching people with disabilities, because I haven't been trained in that area. But actually, it's not okay, for me, it's not okay to say that. I think yoga is a universal practice as a yoga teacher. I feel like we take a vow to share the teachings to who comes. And sometimes you need to refer someone to someone like an expert, if they're, someone comes to me, and they have some kind of specific interest. Like, if someone comes to me now and wants to study the email, I'm gonna send them to you because I used to teach them. But now, I figured just go to Anjali. But you know what I'm saying? Like, I think it's one thing to know how you can refer out to other people. But I also think this can be used as an excuse to not expand your teaching to obsess on just Asana. and think, oh, I don't I don't have to teach everyone because I'm only changing teaching this one kind of thing. Yeah.
Anjali Rao 11:50:00
Well, yeah, I mean, I think like you said, it's a nuanced conversation. When you're saying, when you're saying, you know, I'm not the teacher, for everyone, have you done to have a look at myself, for example, and I say, Have I done the work? Have I been have, I thought that this something is important enough for me to get trained in it? And yes, we have to be truthful about what our scope of our teaching is, I don't think I can teach people who have a certain health issue, if I haven't been taught that. So being very truthful. Practicing Satya in your scope is very important. And also saying, this particular modality is not my, you know, expertise, but I can teach you something else. And that is also yoga and you know, having that conversation if, if you have the capacity is important. And yeah, so I think it's a far more nuanced conversation. And also, it's a good thing for us to always keep in the back of our mind, why is it that it is not what you want, what you can teach? And going back to the thing of who are the students who are coming to your class? That's a big one, because that's probably telling you, or it always tells me if I feel like only a certain group it's coming from a particular demographic is coming to my class, or if I'm only referring to a certain group of people, as teachers, as experts, or scholars, as authors, am I expanding my own understanding of a particular concept or teaching? So when I put for example, when I studied the Gita, when I shared the Gita, am I only going to a certain one author? You know, for our one translation, I always tell my students at least d3 for you know, because then you're really expanding your understanding of something.
Yeah. And I addressed this recently, I just wrote an article for yoga Journal about, you know, do 200 hour trainings prepared to teach everyone? No, I really don't yet. But I the point I was trying to make any article is that I had worked on a one a committee with yoga Lyons years ago to create a new code of conduct which is Really beautiful message. It's a message of inclusivity and openness that is really at the heart of accessible yoga. And they included that in their code of conduct. But I don't think we're following through with that, you know, I think just like you've mentioned earlier about a Ahimsa, I'm not sure that our ethical practices are found in the practical ways that we teach, right, like our art. So that I guess that's my question for yoga teachers is, is that it? Are your classes an expression of your ethical values based in the yoga principles? And I would say, that's really the question behind, Are You the teacher for everyone is like, whoever comes to you, no matter what their disability is, their race, their background, whatever it is, they're, you know, they might be coming to you for something you have, you know, like, everyone can learn from the about the Gita from you. It doesn't matter what disability they have, or race or gender or anything, or caste, even Well, that's an issue, I guess, talking about in the future.
Anjali Rao 11:53:30
Yeah. I think also, you know, people who were coming to you for a specific thing are typically coming for us now. So I think we are again, going back to centering asna as the practice of yoga, right? I mean, when those sort of statements say that people say, I'm not the teacher for everyone, I think typically are taught or told by folks who are referring to Asana, that are practices which under our teachings, which, like you say, we, we can share with anyone, but that's not the typical yoga student. People don't want when people say, even now I get when I say I'm a yoga teacher, people assume immediately that I'm an Asana teacher. And even from, from my friends who don't practice, quote, unquote, yoga, when I say I'm a yoga teacher, they say, Oh, I'm not into yoga, I, I am not flexible, like, even now, after so many years, I still get that and, and that shows how much of yoga has been appropriated and completely co opted into a physical modality, we have our work cut out for us. You talk about it, you know,
I would just say that's it that for me, when I when I go to adopt practice, you know, I'm not basing it on physical things like I change, you know, I adapt yoga for anyone. That's what I that's the work I do in the often ASA. I'm adapting Austin a lot, but actually, the way I'm doing it is based on the deeper teachings, a, you know, it's like, actually, what we're working on is more subtle layers. We're working on the breath or on the mind. Or on, you know, working with energy. And I think that's, that's the way we make the physical practice accessible, actually, is by letting go of this obsession with the body. And really looking at what yoga is about. Certainly, absolutely. Right. I think I think we've covered that pretty well. I want to spend time talking about something else is okay. Can we shift? Yes, absolutely. I'm excited. We have some an announcement to make, which is that you're launching a new podcast? Yes. Do you want to tell us about that?
Anjali Rao 11:55:55
Yes, I am. I'm really excited and really, really honored and thrilled that I will be the host of a new podcast, hosted and presented by accessible yoga. And the name of the podcast is for the love of yoga. And I chose this name because I think it is something that I always go back to that we need something in the world today. That is a connector that is enough of and more of people being divided. And so what is the thing that we are connected to in this context, which is our love and the teachings of yoga? So what if we use the teachings of yoga I love for yoga, to have conversations. And it's the vision that I have is to really share the ancient teachings of yoga and connect it in service to the times that we live in. And I see this happening in two different ways. One is to connect yoga scholars and researchers and experienced teachers from all over the world. Like I really want to uplift teachers from all over the world who are researching specific, specific, specific niche of yoga and connecting them to yoga practitioners and students and I really want to look at how we can dismantle the LSAT elitism of yoga scholarship, sort of bridging the chasm between yoga academia and yoga, everyday yoga practitioners, because I think there's a thirst, right? I know, I am still a nerd who really wants to study and learn and listen, right? And I also see happening in another way, which is uplifting social change makers, community organizers, and activists, frontline activists, who are actually just living the teachings of yoga, and bringing that into the yoga space, because it is actually that is, it is the living the teachings of yoga in service to the times that we live in. So in two different ways I wanted to do this. And that's the that's the podcast. yoga. Yeah.
I feel like it's going back to what we talked about earlier, or what you're just saying about yoga scholars. I mean, in a way, well, if you take scholars, researchers, experienced teachers, and if you can find a way to make their work accessible, right, that's the work of accessible yoga to be able to share it more broadly. And it doesn't have to be oversimplifying, but actually making it understandable. And I think that's a great plan for a podcast, right, those conversations where you can help to get to the heart of what someone is working on and what they're trying to say or share.
Anjali Rao 11:58:49
Yeah, I think you're, you're basically a vast ocean, right? And we only like look at a few drops and thing that is what yoga is. So I really want to like broaden everyone's notions of what yoga even is, what even is yoga like that is what is I think really going to be critical and fun to really delve into. And I hope to increase people's not only understanding or in a cognitive level of what yoga is, but then to really take it into their hearts and say, there are possibilities. Yeah, there are inherent contradictions within the yoga world itself. There are so many paradoxes, there are so many complexities. So right now we are so prone to like very binary thinking where we are like, this is good and bad. I'm us, and then you know, so by looking at complexities of that are inherent within the yoga practice and the teachings, I hope to then say, hey, let's look at the world. Let's look at each other. That's the whole, that's the intention.
That's amazing. And so exciting. I'm really, I'm so excited for us know, as, as an organization, that you are going to be doing this podcast, and I'm excited for the yoga world, that you'll be having these conversations too, and really trying to highlight this, this or trying to kind of make these bridges between different parts of the yoga community, and uplift, people who are doing important work, too. I think it's very, very exciting. So thank you all. I can't wait. Can't wait for that to come out, which will be soon, right? Maybe.
Anjali Rao 12:00:43
Yeah, thank you so much. You've been I'm so honored and thrilled to, you know, to have your trust, and to and to have the backing of the organization in this. So I'm really excited about that.
Yeah, it's very exciting for us. So please, everyone, stay tuned for unreleased new podcasts for the love of yoga. That'll be coming out in a few weeks. Thanks, Andre. Anything else you want to share today?
Anjali Rao 12:01:10
That's it. Thank you. Thank you, everyone. And thank you, Jivana.
Yeah. Thanks. Anjali. Take care, everybody. All right. Bye. Bye. Thanks for joining us for the accessible yoga podcast. We're so grateful to be in community with you.
Anjali Rao 12:01:25
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 ambassador and support the work that you're doing in the world.
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Anjali Rao 12:01:47
You can also submit a question or suggest a topic or potential guests you would like us to interview at accessible yoga.org See you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai