Jivana Heyman 13:47:38
Hi everyone, it's Jivana. I just want to come on for a moment and thank our sponsor, Offering Tree. They're an all in one, easy to use, community backed business that saves you time, energy, and money as a Yoga teacher. Offering Tree allows you to create a website in less than 30 minutes. Plus you get a discount through Accessible Yoga. Just go to offeringtree.com/accessibleyoga to get your discount today. Okay, here's our episode.
Anjali Rao 13:48:08
Welcome to The Love of Yoga Podcast. I'm your host, Anjali Rao. This podcast explores the teachings of Yoga for self and collective transformation. We dive into how spirituality and philosophy can ignite social change. I share conversations with folks who are on the front lines of justice and liberatory movements, thought leaders, changemakers and healers.
Welcome to The Love of Yoga Podcast. I'm your host, Anjali Rao. And I'm so excited to be back recording live conversations again. The last few conversations you listened to with Dr. Tri Blue Wakpa and Dr. Padma Kaimal have were recorded before I left for India. So right now I'm back from a much needed break traveling in India meeting, family and friends. And, you know, it's with a renewed sense of energy and a roster of fantastic guests that I'm really excited to share with you all to talk about all things Yoga. Today we have with us a fabulous Yoga teacher, a skillful space holder, Rodrigo Souza. Rodrigo and I both are colleagues and we both serve on the Board of Directors of Accessible Yoga. I'm always struck with his dedication as a teacher practitioner, his passion for serving his community, and insight into the practice of Yoga. A brief introduction to Rodrigo, Rodrigo is an adaptive and Accessible Yoga teacher with experience in teaching Yoga to folks who have gone through trauma and disability. He sustained a spinal cord injury after a fall accident. And through direct personal experience with traumatic injury and chronic pain, he discovered the need to take charge of his recovery to optimize long term well being. And he became a Yoga teacher to teach from his own experience, creating Allihopa, accessible and adaptive virtual Yoga studio, where he teaches folks with a diverse range of abilities from all over the world. He also teaches for several nonprofits, community centers, and newly injured folks in an active rehabilitation center in Sweden. And he's focused on creating a supportive community for those who have experienced trauma, loss, and disability through adaptive and Accessible Yoga. Welcome to the podcast, Rodrigo, it is so good to have you here.
Rodrigo Souza 13:51:11
Thank you so much, Anjali, thank you for having me. I'm excited to have this conversation with you. Thank you.
Anjali Rao 13:51:19
Well, can we start at the beginning of Rodrigo, what made you start your journey into Yoga?
Rodrigo Souza 13:51:26
I got introduced to Yoga when I was around 25 years old. I used to live in London and I used to work as a DJ and as a bartender. And a friend of mine invited me to try Bikram Yoga, you know, hot Yoga that was very close to my house. And back in the days, I used to work in the hospitality industry and I used to drink a lot do long, long, late nights and I decided to give it a go and I loved it. You know, I used to go there practice for one hour and a half, sweat all the booze I have drunk the weekend before and life was good again.
Anjali Rao 13:52:04
Those were the young days, huh? (laughing)
Rodrigo Souza 13:52:07
There was there was the young days for me back then the practice was something more physical, right? I used to go you know, sweats and get healthy. Like, you know, my skin used to be really red. The whites of my eyes used to be really whiter and you know, I used to drink my carrot juice went back home and you know, it was you know, was that was Yoga for me back in the days. I got introduced through that, you know has a physical practice. Fast forward in time a little bit I fell in love with a Swedish woman, I moved to Sweden. And after two years I was here, I had an accident, as you mentioned. I fell from a cliff, I broke my back and I became a paraplegic. I'm paralyzed from the chest down. I was laying down in the hospital rehabilitation beds. And after two weeks, I complained to my physiotherapist, Anna, that I had a lot of muscle spasticity and pain. And Anna told me that she would teach me some stretch that could help me. And I remember that one of those stretches was the one that you pull your knees towards your chest and holds. And once she showed me that I I told her Anna, you were teaching Yoga and I know this. And because this is this is the pose, number 14 of the Bikram session and the wind relief polls. And she smiled at me. And then she left the room, which was I don't know if it's Yoga, Rodrigo but that's gonna help you anyway. And then she left and I was like, wow, I remember how you know how nurturing physically. Yoga was for me back in the days, right? And I was like, wow, I gotta see if I can practice Yoga. Right now. Because like, I was like, going through the night, the dark night of the soul. And I Googled, I took my arm, like out of the bed and I took my computer. There wasn't a bedside table. And then I Googled Yoga for paraplegics. And then I come across Matthew Sanford, which was practicing and teaching Yoga in a wheelchair, you know, and I got in touch with his nonprofit, and they sent me a DVD and I start incorporating mindfulness and adaptive Yoga right after my accident. And I was into my habilitation process, which for me, it was like, you know, Yoga for the soul, you know, Yoga, more what Yoga really is. And I've been I've been practicing since then, and, you know, was something very, like, a gift that I found, because it has, it has changed my life, for the, for the better.
Anjali Rao 13:54:56
Thank you for sharing that, Rodrigo. When did you then start wanting to teach when you decide when you wanted to teach it?
Rodrigo Souza 13:55:05
Well, after after, after my trauma, I come back to life really fast. After six months, my after six months, after my accident, I was I was living by myself, I was driving, I was working, you know, in a nonprofit with a disability. It's like, I didn't. I didn't took a lot of time to process everything, right. And I went back to my, to my rehab center one day, and my, my rehab instructor, he looked at me and then was like, Hey, what's going on? I was driving, and I was like, Well, life goes on, and I and he smiled, and then it's like, Man, I need to talk to you. And you know, he invited me to his office. And then he told me that between 150 and 170 folks go through spinal cord injury every year in Sweden. And a lot of these people take a lot of time to come back to life, you know, and some of them, they, they actually never go back to life. You know, they even killed themselves. And the suicide rate in Sweden is quite high. And then he told me that I could help a lot of people if I become a rehab instructor. Yeah. And I decided to do it. And I was like, well, let's do this. And I start working as a role model. As a mentor in the biggest nonprofit, active habilitation here in Sweden, actually in the whole Scandinavia, a place call it active rehabilitating, where we organize camps, where we train newly injured folks how to come back to life, you know, how to practice sports. We talk about sexuality, bowel program, you know, bladder management, you know, everything. And in one of these camps, I was responsible to, to get them to practice, you know, cardio, you know, to get in a better condition. And I remember that I used to take them around the, you know, the forests and they wheelchairs and I used to do 5ks, 6ks, teach them wheelchair techniques and so on. And one of these days, a peer of mine, he complained that he was very tired. Mathias. and I asked him I asked him why you're so tired, man? And then he said that he was tired because of the of the medication he was taking. You know, he was taking medication called Baclofen, which is muscle relaxant, right? And we get a lot of muscle spasticity. And instead of relaxing only the leg muscles, this medication relaxes all the muscles, so you get a lot of fatigue out of it. And without any potential anything I just say to him listen, Mathias, I've been practicing adaptive Yoga. I don't take any medication anymore. I'm not saying that, you know, you're gonna stop taking medication. But if you incorporate the stretches into your day to day, you may reduce your medication. So go back to the camp. Wait for me. And in the afternoon, you come, then I'm going to teach you. So, Mathias went back. And, you know, he is spread the love. And in the afternoon I had about, I don't know, 12, 13 people came to us and show us this powerful stretch. What is this? And I was like, Okay, cool was like, we're going to do this. Then I asked the physiotherapist students to help me out. We set up some futons to stick mattress on the floor. And I I took like four quadriplegics out of the chair, I light them in front of me with one assistant each. And then I close the circle with like five or six paraplegics right folks that were paralyzed from the chest or from the waist around me. And without being certified or anything out of embodied experience, I taught my first ever Yoga class. I remember that right out of the after the centering, Anjali, I when everything goes quiet, I remember this tremendous amount of grief, you know, collective grief that we experienced in that room. And I saw a lot of beauty there, too, right? I saw a lot of hope. I remember that. We put the quadriplegics back to the wheelchair afterwards. And, and some of them came to me and say, Rodrigo, that was the first time that I was in my body since my accident. I was safe in my body. I remember that I was very sensitive when Steve and I went to the bathroom was like, okay, okay, okay, thank you. Thank you. I went to the bathroom, then I start crying. Yeah. Because like until that point, I was used to get people dancing. I used to get people drunk. But I never got the chance to get people to feel good about the situation, right. And I could not turn back what has been given to me after that I call my mother straightaway. And Mom, I need to become a Yoga teacher. I want to educate myself. I have felt this tremendous sense of purpose. But at the same time, Anjali, I feel this tremendous amount of responsibility. Because I was lucky to incorporate mindfulness and adaptive Yoga into my habilitation process. A lot of people that has gone through trauma that are going through a trauma has been has spinal cord injury, they have been treated with drugs. We found that with opioids. They don't even dream that Yoga is for them. They don't even dream, the power, the benefits that the practice has for them, right. Yeah. So it's like it's something that has been given to me, I need to change this. And I need to do something about it. Yeah. And it became a passion of mine. I think breathing and living, adaptive Yoga for the past three years. You know, I wake up and I go to sleep with adaptive Yoga in my mind.
Anjali Rao 14:01:45
That's wonderful. Yeah. And, you know, thank you, thank you for sharing that it is so you know, real, what you're sharing and it's, I relate to so much of what you're saying, because I know, I don't know whether you know, I'm a cancer survivor. So when I first went into my Yoga class, Asana class, after my surgery, the the experience that I felt of being reconnected to my physical body was so immense, and I went to my teacher and I said, I want to teach this and I want to share this with people who have gone through or are going through cancer. So I do get the renewed sense of purpose that comes after such a traumatic experience and connecting to people who who are are going through similar lived experiences, I think that, that I completely empathize and connect and commend you for something that you have transformed, and you continue to transform a lived experience that is deep, deeply traumatic to empower and be with and support other people. So I, thank you so much for sharing that. I appreciate that. Um, who are your inspirations? When I mean, you mentioned Matthew Sanford. So could you share some of your inspirations as a new teacher? What was your experience as a new Yoga teacher?
Rodrigo Souza 14:03:20
Yeah. When, when we become paralyzed, Anjali, you know, we don't know what we're going to do in our lives, right. I remember that waking up after my accident, and I got told that I never would walk again and I couldn't even put my socks on. So you, you start looking for role models, you know, you see, like paraplegics, who has become a father and then we start to think, wow, I can be a father. I can still be a father like, you'll see paraplegics traveling or, you know, folks in a wheelchair, you know, you look for representativity. Representativity is so powerful.
Anjali Rao 14:04:02
Rodrigo Souza 14:04:02
And when I found Matthew Sanford, it was just like a beam of lights because like, I saw him teaching I saw and I saw him practicing. And, and funnily enough, his injuries, like one vertebrae, lower than mine, I broke the the third thoracic vertebrae, I'm T3 and his injuries like T4, so like even our injury is very similar. Yeah. And I studied with him afterwards, after I decide to become a teacher. I studied who like I took his adaptive Yoga workshops. And I could see, like, you know, he helped me move from that physicality of the practice, to a more subtle and powerful like, sensation based like in body experience, which like, opened my eyes. Another teacher that I mentioned all the time as well, that has influenced me so much is Jivana Heyman, our friend, because like, I remember that I took the first Accessible Yoga training in the COVID in 2020, like three years ago, yeah. When it went online, the first the first cohort online, I took it, and wow, I was just like, can we really do that is like, can we, you know, because even though I was studying with Matthew Sanford and taking courses and 200 hours YTT and so on. My mind was very, very rigid, you know, and Jivana like, just took me outside the box and I say, wow, yeah, you can you can teach in beds, you can move your students you can we can give them agency, you know, you know, you can you can invite them to the practice. It was amazing. So like, these two, are my go to resources, my like my mentors. I'm very privileged to have been educated by both of them.
Yeah, and we are. So we are so honored and thrilled for you to be a part of the Board of Directors and share your experience and your brilliance with us with the community. So appreciate your being a part of that whole process behind the scenes of Accessible Yoga
Is a pleasure.
Jivana Heyman 14:06:30
Hi, everyone, I just want to pop in here really quick, and remind you about our sponsor, Offering Tree. As Yoga teachers, we our own business managers, website, designers and producers, it's a lot. And Offering Tree offers an all in one platform that makes it easy to succeed while we're doing all the things. And I just like to say that through this partnership with The Love of Yoga Podcast, Offering Tree has shown that it's committed to supporting accessibility and equity in the Yoga world. Offering tree is a public benefit corporation and they're driven by a mission of wellness accessibility, which we share with them at Accessible Yoga. As an Offering Tree user, you'll get to join a supportive educational community. You'll also get free webinars with top experts in wellness and entrepreneurship. And of course, you get a discount so go to offeringtree.com/accessibleyoga to learn more, and to get your discount. Okay, let's go back to the episode.
Anjali Rao 14:07:32
What is, who are some of your like, I remember when we first when you first start teaching what are some of your unforgettable moments because they still are very fresh in my mind, right? What did you, what do you learn when you go to teach?
Rodrigo Souza 14:07:49
One thing that I like about teaching Yoga is that, you know, I, it's something that I give and receive at the same time, you know. Teaching Yoga supports me, you know, it makes me feel like connected to a deep sense of purpose. So even when I deal with chronic pain a lot, so like, even when I am with pain, you know, I always feel uplifted after teaching, you know, in fact, I get a lot of relief from teaching, and I provide a lot of, you know, relief for my students as well. So is is something that, you know, is very nurturing for me and for them at the same time. And one good example of this was one of my students, he is a quadriplegic, he has a C6, cervical injury, so he doesn't have hand control, and he doesn't have any trunk control. And we've been practicing together, he has been taking, like one on one classes with me for the past one year and two, three months. And now he's able to, to pet his dog from his wheelchair. And, you know, for a lot of folks, that is nothing, but like, Anjali, this is so huge.
Anjali Rao 14:09:21
Rodrigo Souza 14:09:22
And there's like, you know, I went, I went to a stroll after that, and then my mother called me and then I was like, um, like, I am the happiest guy in the planet right now. Because my, you know, my student just sent me this picture, you know, it's like, he has been injured for like, you know, several years. And through the practice, you know, he got to he got to, to live a more, you know, fulfilling life, you know, his quality of life has gone up, you know, he has a better trunk control, he lives a more conscious, you know, life and that, for me is priceless. And I get and I get some, some little examples, and oh, here and there. And in my DMs almost like, every day, I have some coming in and, you know, Rodrigo you've been inspiring me. Like, for example, I've been teaching I've been teaching Yoga, Yoga teachers how to make the the offerings more accessible to these populations. And I have folks that are teaching disabled folks, adaptive Yoga in Northeast Brazil, in the middle of nowhere inside a church. Yeah. And just like that feels my, my heart with joy, you know, it just fills my, you know, my work with like, hope and energy, like, like, I'm, I'm doing the right thing. I'm going the right direction. Yeah. Yeah.
Anjali Rao 14:10:54
Absolutely. And I wanted to like, take, take the conversation to what you said about representation. In a very ablest Yoga world that we live in, I think representation is, representation of all abilities, is the most important way to disrupt ableism in the in the Yoga spaces and modern Yoga. So how would you recommend people to encourage people of all abilities to come to a Yoga class? What are some of the things that we can do to support people with disabilities?
Rodrigo Souza 14:11:40
The first thing is to educate yourself. Yeah. You know, we need to break the narrative what was taught us what was conditioned to us what Yoga is in the West, especially. Yeah, you know, we need to we need to take trainings and all like the ones Assessible Yoga is offering and we need to educate ourselves and and practice a little bit of Satya, you know truthfulness, like to the practice and Svadhyaya as well, like never stop studying, you know, and, and, and Karma Yoga as well. Serving, right? And because once you realize that Yoga is actually truly for, for everyone, not just you know, for the papers, to show off, like a performatic practice, you can you can go out there and make yourself you know, available to, to be of service to other people?
Anjali Rao 14:12:42
Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. So Svadhyaya, to continue to study to be truthful about what your abilities are as a teacher, I think, and to also, you know, uplift, I think people with disabilities as teachers, I think, you know, I think that is really important. Big part of our work is to advocate for teachers with varied lived experiences. So I think that that I think is also very important. And also to share, you know, I've been seeing your pictures on Instagram about your travel to Japan. So it was really, really wonderful to see you traveling everywhere to the temple, as you're practicing Yoga everywhere outside, and it's so wonderful, and it makes me want to go and practice it outside. Can you tell us some more experiences about about your traveling in Japan? What was it like? How was it like to teach? Is it different? Is it the same?
Rodrigo Souza 14:13:55
Yeah, it was was like a magical experience. And yes, I like to practice sun salutations everywhere.
Anjali Rao 14:14:04
Yeah, I love it. I absolutely love it.
Rodrigo Souza 14:14:07
Yeah, I, I got invited to, you know, to teach and to and to and to give a lecture about Accessible Yoga in Osaka University, and was like, a beautiful experience, because I got to lecture to doctors and caregivers, and, and, you know, I always, I was, like, find it very interesting when I talked to, you know, to the medical model let's say, you know, because I'm not complaining about the medical model, but like...
Anjali Rao 14:14:43
No, we can complain, it's okay! (laughing)
Rodrigo Souza 14:14:46
Like, most of the time, I see them treating the patient like, you know, mechanic treats a car kind of thing. And, you know, it felt good for me to, to actually, you know, invite them to have a look at where we are now, and, you know, offer them a more holistic approach and more humanistic approach to, you know, towards, towards a human who has been through trauma. After the lecture, I, I, I hold like, an assessable class, as well as seated accessible class, and I had a very, very nice feedback afterwards. And everyone was like, saying that, I opened a, the horizon when it comes to Yoga, and, you know, how powerful it can be? Wonderful. Yeah, it's, it's, it's something very, very, very nice that happened, you know, especially afterwards that and I could see that folks would, would would, would take this inspiration and incorporate adaptive into the organ to community centers, rehab centers, hospitals, and so on, right?
Anjali Rao 14:15:58
Absolutely. I mean, Yoga, Yoga, big part of Yoga is about the therapeutic applications of Yoga, which, you know, which always was that it was not like something that was that's been created in the modern world. Yoga was also meant to be a therapeutic thing. So I'm so glad that you advocated for Yoga as a supplementary thing to offer for people who are going through all kinds of trauma right now. Yeah. What, what is what are some of the things that you're looking forward to in the coming year?
Rodrigo Souza 14:16:38
I am I am looking forward, Anjali, to write a book.
Anjali Rao 14:16:42
Rodrigo Souza 14:16:45
I really want to write a book.
Anjali Rao 14:16:46
I think you should, absolutely, write a book.
Rodrigo Souza 14:16:50
I think I will. Yeah, I am like, I am in the process now. Because I am like a one man band in my Yoga, you know, enterprise. So I'm organizing and, you know, and sometimes to live with spinal cord injury is a full time job. So I've got so much on my plate now and I'm trying to organize everything this year. So in the next couple of years or so I can, I can get it done. But I also like to educate myself and offer for like Accessable Yoga trainings around the worlds and you know, and I am looking for, you know, building a community of disabled folks, you know, who actually want to, to become Yoga teachers themselves and talking about representativity again, and, you know, and get themselves out there, and I think is so important to do. Yeah.
Anjali Rao 14:17:57
Well, I'm cheering you on, I really think you'll be a fantastic writer and your voice needs to be out there. I personally have so many people, I have at least two people who are on wheelchairs in my immediate family. So I always point them to what you do on and encourage them to take classes from you. So I'm looking forward to reading your book. And what would be the ways in which you nurture yourself? It's like you said, it's sometimes hard. It's challenging to hold space for people experiencing grief. In you know, and how would you, what are some of your self care practices and rituals?
Rodrigo Souza 14:18:44
Yeah. Has I deal with neuropathic pain, which is chronic pain, I've got pain all the time, basically. And I need to be very aware of my stamina levels and my pain levels. So I don't have like, one go to practice. Like, you know, I don't say to myself, Okay, now you're going to practice. Yeah, I'm actually living it. And I wake up in the morning, and I wake up really stiff. And so I do a cheeky 50 minute practice in beds. And then I moved to my wheelchair, and then after three hours in the chair, I do another, you know, cheeky, you know, open my spine in the six directions or cat cows or anything that would help me you know, some pressure release. After lunch. I, you know, I lay down I do like a Yoga nidra 30 minutes plus stretch, and I'm very aware of like, okay, Rodrigo, now is now it's self care. Self love time. Okay, let's talk a little bit. Yeah, okay Rodrigo, now, it's like, you know, it's enough. Okay. So I, I go, like very, very aware throughout my day with like chunks of work, chunks of self care, chunks of work, chunks of self care. And I practice about five or six times a day, but not like continuously, just short, short, short, short practice. I also, yeah, I always like to practice gratefulness and mindfulness as well. I'm always, you know, when I found myself anxious, and, and I always have like deep and longer soft exhalations. And, you know, I'm always coming back to the breath, you know, looking around, naming things that I'm grateful for. It's very easy to to feel sorry for yourself sometimes, and to compare yourself and feel that life's not good enough. And I always tried to bring myself back. And now look to the bright side.
Anjali Rao 14:20:52
All very wise practices. Thank you for sharing that. And I am a big proponent of having these smaller breaks through the day so that we are always coming back to our own sense of center. I think that that, to me makes more sense and inform the lifestyle that I live and yeah, so I, I'm with you on that. Any other last messages for our listeners, anything that you want to share?
Rodrigo Souza 14:21:26
Yes, I want to. I want to invite Yoga teachers to educate themselves. And to learn a little bit about ableism and what about inclusive language. Think about chair Yoga, you know, how to create variations of asanas and go out there, you know, print a flier, put your beautiful face on it. And, you know, go to physical therapists office, rehab centers, community house, there's over 1 billion folks with disabilities out there. So it's like I'm sure there is a nonprofit in your neighborhood and teach, you know, serve this population, we need it. We need I think that we are the one that needs Yoga the most and we are the one that gets the least. Yep. And if you want to make your career more purposeful and and and I'll get that, I call it like the long lost joy and sustainable happiness. You know, when you you help others but at the same time you help yourself and then you help yourself and at the same time you have to help others is a beautiful bit of work. Meaningful. And also, I put out there, invite you all to at least once a week, you know, go out there and teach and get to me and you're going to see that, you know, how how'd you become a better human after that, you know, just to be able to serve to be of service.
Anjali Rao 14:23:03
Certainly. Absolutely. And for our listeners, you can learn from Rodrigo you can take a look at his offerings on on his Instagram, social media, and a web page. Right? By where I always wanted to ask you what is Allihopa Yoga mean?
Rodrigo Souza 14:23:27
Allihopa is my favorite Swedish word. It means everyone.
Anjali Rao 14:23:33
Oh, I love that. Yeah, everyone. I think that's a beautiful name. I always wanted to ask you that. So thank you for sharing. Thank you for sharing your heart with us your advocacy, your work, your experiences. I'm really privileged and honored to be with you and in shared community on the board and in the world that we are co creating together. So thank you so much Rodrigo.
Rodrigo Souza 14:24:01
Thank you, Anjali. Thanks for having me. And thank you for everyone that took the time to listen to this podcast. I send you all love.
Anjali Rao 14:24:08
Thank you for listening to The Love of Yoga Podcast, and offering from Accessible Yoga Association. Please support our work by becoming an Ambassador or by visiting our online studio at accessibleyoga.org
Transcribed by https://otter.ai