I generally reject the concept of the “yoga tribe”, as I find the term is often thrown around at large scale festivals and events while I’m surrounded by thin, young, affluent, mostly athletic, and caucasian practitioners. Yoga, for me, has always been a journey to myself through acceptance. Therefore, I never felt particularly at home with the subdivision of yoga people who are building an industry based on making their students feel self-conscious about their appearance and the intensity of their practice.
“First, are you our sort of person...”
A disabled student of mine messaged me a link to the inaugural Accessible Yoga Conference and within a week I had bought my conference pass and plane ticket. I knew I had made the right choice when Matthew Sanford began the keynote by touching on the unifying concept of loss, and reminding us that we were there for reason. He told us that we were building a ‘tribe’. I felt a surge of emotion as together we applauded. Within 30 minutes I knew I was home.
“Do you wear a glass eye, false teeth, or a crutch?”
I was overjoyed to find myself surrounded by like minded individuals. I was overwhelmed with the passion of my fellow teachers. I learned equal amounts from presenters as I did from attendees. We were encouraged to network, and you couldn’t have stopped us if you tried. Each teacher brought forth a myriad of experience from working with amputees, to transferring students in and out of wheelchairs, to working with MS, to woking with children with different needs, to non-profit organizing, to fund-raising, to keeping clients, to facilitating healing.
“Stitches to show somethings missing?”
I didn’t realize until I attended this conference how lonely my teaching had made me. I love my students, I love my yoga, but something was missing. I asked the panel of presenters Saturday afternoon how I could inspire more able-bodied teachers to integrate their classrooms and to explore trainings for those that are differently-abled. I admit I was surprised by the panel’s responses: Marsha Danzig told me to get out of my frontal lobe and listen, Judy Weaver told me to ground my work in authenticity and to teach to the newest student first, Rev Sam Rudra Swartz said, “you’re Iowan, right? Just build it, and they will come.” And Mathew Sanford reminded me that it’s okay to say I did a good job, that my passion was wonderful, but that I can not do it alone.
“Open your hand. Empty? Empty. Here is a hand.”
My greatest take-away from this conference was the emphasis on teacher self-care and sangha (community). I had let my passion overwhelm my need for rest. I had forgotten that the most important thing is to create a neutral loving environment where your students can facilitate their own healing. That we don’t ‘teach’ yoga we share our practice. I had forgotten that I was already part of a family, this community; my tribe.
Sarah Elizabeth Helt, E-RYT from Chicago, Il & Des Moines, Iowa
What brought you to the Accessible Yoga conference?
My yoga work over the past four years in Chicago with athletes and yoga students that are differently-abled.
What was your experience?
My experience with yoga students was primarily with people who had suffered a spinal chord injury, but in the pst two years I have expanded my work to teach visually impaired, amputees, CP, and basically anyone that can find me.
My experience with the AYC was wonderful. I can’t wait until we expand and have an opportunity to set our goals as an organization. That being said, one of the things I appreciated the most was the intimacy of the conference. I was able to ask a question at every panel. And hear a plethora of responses from people who’s work I had admired from afar for many years. If there wasn’t enough time during the panel, teachers made themselves available for conversation after. I was really overjoyed to be meet some of my favorite teachers from around the country and realize how much of their pioneering work began similarly to my current work.
I learned a lot from each presenter, and a lot from the attendees! I hope we expand the “community” portion to a larger location and make it almost like a little job fair.
What did you take away from the AYC?
As I said in my blog post, the most important emphasis for me was on self-care and community. You can’t teach if you yourself don’t feel whole. You can’t expect your students to follow the advising you give if you clearly can’t take yourself. I also took with me an integral piece of advice from Jessica Rhodes that when you’re starting a movement, or an organization, you need help! And most often the people you need aren’t your best buddies, or the people you get a long with the best. They are the people that balance you, and compliment you, and facilitate your growth as a business or an individual.