The 4th of July is long over, and I get tired of patriotism that feels more like xenophobia. But, there is that beautiful line in our Declaration of Independence that always rings in my ears:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” - The Declaration of Independence
This is a simple concept – that all people have the right to pursue happiness – but it has profound implications. As a yoga teacher, happiness is a concept that I work with quite often. The yoga teachings offer us many practices to find inner happiness, contentment, and even bliss. You could even say that yoga teachers are in the business of happiness. We help people relax, release stress, slow down and connect with the happiness, the peace, that is always there inside of us. Yoga is even being shown to heal our body and mind – and we know that health and wellbeing are good indicators of happiness.
The problem is that people with disabilities are often denied this pursuit of happiness. According to the U.N., this community is the world’s largest minority, making up approximately one billion people around the world, and one in five people in the United States. People with disabilities are often denied basic human rights; the ability to get a job, buy a home, build a family. For example, it’s legal in most states to pay people with disabilities less than minimum wage. How can you build a life on less than minimum wage - which is already too low?
Yoga offers people with disabilities, and everyone, access to time-tested practices that allow us to pursue happiness. Our poses, breathing practices, relaxation techniques, meditation practices, and lifestyle guidelines are intended to guide our bodies and mind to a place of peace, and eventually to happiness.
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2 Sutra 42, our ancient teachers gave us a simple prescription for happiness, “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.” This sutra has always struck me in its simplicity and depth. Contentment, which most of us disregard as boring, is actually the pathway to joy. Contentment means that we are alert to the present moment, and we are at peace with what is happening in that moment. Through this acceptance of what is, we can find supreme joy, or as I like to call it, “happiness.”
Giving people with disabilities access to the teachings and practices of yoga is not simply a nice gesture – it is an inalienable right. Sharing these practices with people who think “I’m not flexible enough to do Yoga.” Or “I can’t even get on the floor, how can I do yoga?” is our responsibility. Simply put: Those of us who have access to yoga need to find ways to share it with people who don’t.