The Language of Yoga:
Part One We’re Stuck At What Not To Do
by Sarahjoy Marsh
Last week in our 300-hour yoga therapy teacher training program, a student asked an earnest and pivotal question about the language of yoga. I felt the fire of my passion for elegant language tools that elicit the experience of yoga for our students, in their brains, bodies, hearts, minds, and relationships.
In fact, her question was so stirring to me that I actually had a hard time staying in my own seat. I wanted to jump up and give a thorough demonstration of Language Styles, including a fervent exposé on what is not working in parts of our language culture in yoga.
I’ll go out on a limb here and say this:
In an effort to create more trauma-informed, more gender sensitive, and less body shaming language systems (all of which I wholeheartedly endorse):
In yoga many trainings, designed for increased sensitivity, what teachers are learning is What Not To Do.
- it’s possible that we’re missing some of the foundational skills about language in yoga classes at all;
- in some cases, trying to be more sensitive, we’re misusing language altogether; and
- based on brain science and developmental processes, we’re also missing a tremendous opportunity that language choices can uniquely catalyze in our students’ experiences, including developing a sense of self, lessening the impact of trauma, and increasing personal leadership and capacity in relationship with ourselves, others, and life at large.
(Having not attended all of these trainings, I am noting here what the trainees are learning, as expressed directly to me. I am not making an assumption about what the training intended to teach. Yet, uniformly, what I am hearing is the What Not To Do Approach.)
It’s actually more important to teach our yoga trainees What To Do.
Learning What Not To Do, a teacher can walk into a classroom armed with information, yet anxious about making a mistake. (Don’t use this word phrase. Don’t teach these sorts of poses. Don’t refer to the body in this way.)
What To Do Is Better Understanding What To Do, a teacher walks into a classroom with important information, with language that is empowering, reflective, and developmental in nature, and able to adapt to the students in their classroom. Their language choices are also magically attuning their brains and nervous systems to the “hum” of their ventral vagal parasympathetic rhythm, something from which their students in proximity to, will feel more understood, valued, relaxed, curious, and capable. Any fear students have that they could potential do yoga wrong dissolves (in them and in their teacher!). The realization that the yoga is coming through them increases their confidence in themselves and their rapport with their teacher and their classmates (and beyond!).
This truly elicits the opportunity for healing.
So, what was this student’s question that was so stirring for me?
“In another yoga training, on trauma-informed yoga, I was told ‘don’t tell students what to do, and don’t tell them what they are feeling. I understood that I ought to reference only what I am feeling in my body and report to the students from there. I was told that would be less invasive and would lessen the students’ expectations of what they should be experiencing, letting them have their own yoga and preventing them from feeling that they are doing yoga wrong.”
Now, it’s important to me that you (the reader) know that I very much line up with the aim of not telling students what they are feeling (nor what they should be feeling), not being invasive, not using expectation as a teaching platform (not stirring the part of human nature that lives in expectation), and allowing students to have their own sovereign experience of yoga, one that can’t be made wrong.
If I share the values of what I understood this other training to be emphasizing, wherein lies the trouble that motivates me to take action?
What’s the Problem? There are two issues I want to address, one of which I can begin here, the other of which I will hint at, but which needs a different context in order to satisfy the conversation.
One issue is the language design, crafted out of good values without deep enough understanding of What Not To Do (and without asking what challenges might this language style generate? We might be trying to solve a dilemma while creating another one.)
The other is the tender issue of genuine stewardship of a student’s yoga journey – while living in and being so conditioned by Western culture. How do we, as teachers, Wisely Steward our student’s experience of Yoga, not just a feel-better-physical-practice with lovely hints of soaring poetry? (Remember, I am a poetry indulger! This isn’t a comment about poetry.) This is the conversation that I will save for another time.
Back to the catalyst for this commentary…
The student demonstrated one piece of how the language was recommended while teaching yoga poses:
“What I am feeling in my body in this pose at my right hip is …”
“As I deepen into this with my right heel, what I am noticing is…”
“Now, I will want to with my right foot. And as I do that, I feel this happening…”
If I were a yoga student with a history of painful body experiences, the sort that conditioned me to live a short distance from my body (disconnect, dissociate, numb, resent, or be less kind to my body), this kind of language would help me continue my distanced relationship to my body. The teacher isn’t talking about me, after all. They are up there, on their yoga mat. Not over here, with me, on my yoga mat.
If I were a yoga student with a history that taught me that other people’s feelings or experiences or needs are higher priorities than my own, this kind of language would reinforce that for me. After all, I am hearing what they are experiencing. I wonder what they want or need from me about this?
Or, if I were a yoga student vulnerable to needing other people’s experiences and leadership in place of my own sense of self (including my inner compass about my body or life), this language could also reinforce this process. If that is what they are experiencing, is that what I should be experiencing? In fact, I want to have that experience. (I also want to buy that new car with the new life that comes with it.)
At some level, I might feel right at home with this language. It may not require me to drop into my body, to value my inner leadership, nor to embody the painful process of relying less on the compass of others and paddling in the unknown waters of a journey towards knowing my own inner compass.
Nor would important brain centers be awakened by this language process. These include the precuneus (responsible for having a sense of self), insula and anterior cingulate (part of our empathy networks), and other social engagement networks (dorso-lateral structures).
Where Do We Go From Here? A new language for yoga… While I am only able to begin the conversation on a new language of yoga here, and hint at the other neuro-biological teacher-student discussion I mentioned above, I hope I’m opening your ears to consider how language is being shaped by our yoga culture. Again, wisely and kindly intended, but the problems that I see with the current language of yoga—not merely in vulnerable populations, but also across the yoga industry in the majority of classes and programs out there – are both a misuse of language and a missed opportunity.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts where I will address What To Do with the language of yoga in order to evolve your teaching, and hopefully to nudge our larger yoga community to consider language and the teacher-student relationship through a few additional lenses.
Shared by permission from www.yogajoy.com
Sarahjoy Marsh, MA, E-RYT 500 is a yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and author with more than 25 years of experience in the field of yoga. She is the founder of the DAYA Foundation, Yogajoy and Living Yoga. Her book, Hunger, Hope and Healing can be purchased from Amazon.
Accessible Yoga Update
by Jivana Heyman
Accessible Yoga is growing and expanding – so much has already happened this year. We collaborated with Yoga International on our first Accessible Yoga Online Conference. You can watch a preview here. I’m thrilled that the Conference is being offered in this manner because it is truly accessible to those who can’t join us in person!
We are just a month away from our Accessible Yoga Conference NYC. This is our first conference on the East Coast, and its bigger than our previous conferences – with 25 presenters and 300 attendees. We’ll have so many of my favorite yoga teachers there: Matthew Sanford, Nischala Joy Devi, Cheri Clampett, Dianne Bondy, Steffany Moonaz, Marsha Danzig, JoAnn Lyons, and so many more. This is a wonderful opportunity to get inspired and feel connected.
Our Accessible Yoga Regional Teams are blossoming everywhere! We now have Facebook Groups in multiple languages to help share Accessible Yoga around the world. Check out our current groups:
Accessible Yoga Italian
Accessible Yoga Dutch
Accessible Yoga Greek
Accessible Yoga Spanish
Accessible Yoga Swedish
Portuguese, French and German coming soon!
We’re really excited about our collaboration with the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. They produced an inspiring video at our last Conference as part of their Representation Matters campaign. Check it out here.
We are offering ten Accessible Yoga Trainings around the world this year, including programs in Greece, Italy, Portugal, California, and upcoming trainings in Virginia, New York, France, Austria, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and St. Louis.
We also have a thriving Accessible Yoga Ambassador program, which includes over 200 Ambassadors around the world, who are sharing yoga with all! To become an Ambassador, you simple connect with us by completing this application form.
Our online Network is growing and expanding. You can have a free listing in this online directory, which we designed to help connect students to the right yoga teacher. There are many way for you to connect with our growing community. Please reach out to us at email@example.com and tell us how you'd like to get involved.
My Vision and Passion: Yoga for EveryBODY!
by Catherine Kalyani Sjolund
Yoga should be for everybody; not just the physically fit. It can be for all people; even people with back problems, shoulder weaknesses, balancing trouble, disabilities or whatever physical weakness a person has encountered in life.
Earlier this year, I attended an enlightened, amazing conference; created by Jivana Heyman, co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. The Accessible Yoga Conference, which had numerous guest speakers from across the United States, shared how to give access to yoga for all people; to improve their physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. They also provided workshops so participants gained skills to work with a variety of demographics including; yoga for Arthritis, lower back pains, MS, Yoga for the Special Child, and Accessible Yoga.
What I love about Accessible Yoga is it’s for all beginning levels. So if you need to do yoga in a chair or can’t get on the floor, you can still participate in a group yoga class. Say you want to do yoga standing but have poor balance and need a little extra assistance, try it using the wall. The beauty of this class is it builds community & self-confidence. The teacher skillfully sets everyone up for success as the class gets to center themselves through breathing techniques, and improves strength, flexibility and concentration as well as strengthening bone density.
I recently received an Accessible Yoga Certification so that I can provide these important and inclusive classes to our community! I have also learned from my students, by observing them using tools; blocks, straps, and the wall to help them be successful in our Hot Jval Yoga class. But I needed to do more for our “Beginning Level” class to provide directed instruction on how to use these accommodations. I have broken down our Jval Yoga Class into two parts to have time to demonstrate various ways to access each major pose of the series into parts that are doable using the right tools for the poses. Jval Basics #1, Jval Basics #2 are now being offered to our community.
You are welcome to experience Warm beginning leveled classes to give you the knowledge of alignment and the confidence to successfully complete these classes. Stay in these or move on to a Hot Jval Yoga 1.5 class. Hot Yoga Haven is located at 25044 Peachland Ave. #106, Newhall, CA and in Valencia. Visit our website at hotyogahaven.com (661) 255-1500 or contact Catherine at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reposted from The Mind-Body Shift
I am super jazzed to announce that I will be attending the Accessible Yoga Conference in NYC at the Integral Yoga Institute NYC on May 19-21 of this year! The aim of the Accessible Yoga Conference is to provide education, supportive resources and community for those who seek to increase the accessibility of yoga to meet the needs of people with disabilities and chronic illnesses, seniors, and other folks who may not feel like they fit into a regular yoga class. As someone studying and teaching yoga with autoimmune disease and a movement disorder–dystonia– attending this conference is truly a dream come true. My personal mission for many years has been to help people with chronic illness and pain to gain the knowledge and tools for greater healing and empowerment.
At the Accessible Yoga Conference, I will be so thrilled to learn from incredible and inspirational adaptive yoga teachers, including Matthew Sanford, founder of Mind Body Solutions and author of the memoir Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence; yoga therapist Steffany Moonaz, PhD, founder of Yoga for Arthritis; Cheri Clampett, founder and director of the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program; Mindy Eisenberg, author of Adaptive Yoga Moves Any Body and founder of Yoga Moves MS; and Yoga For All (Shapes, Sizes and Abilities) teacher Dianne Bondy. It will be a full weekend of educational workshops, classes and panel discussions on making yoga more adaptable and accessible to people of all abilities.
I received word today that I have been offered a full Accessible Yoga scholarship to this conference, allowing me the amazing opportunity to attend. I am so thrilled and honored to represent the spoonies, dystonia warriors, lupus warriors and others to bring awareness and increase knowledge about these chronic health conditions. I cannot express how grateful I am. In return, I will be partly following the path of karma yoga by contributing my time and service to the Accessible Yoga volunteer team. I am so excited to find out more about the conference as the date draws closer. If you are interested in attending the Accessible Yoga New York City 2017 Conference, you do not have to be a teacher to do so! Plus, early bird pricing for the conference has been extended and is still available through March 9th. Learn more and register at Accessible Yoga.
Making Yoga Philosophy Accessible – Part 1: The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
by Jivana Heyman
The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is an ancient text which presents the philosophy of yoga in a succinct and organized manner. This study is referred to as Raja Yoga, the royal path. There is some disagreement about the age of the Yoga Sutra, with current estimates ranging anywhere from 1,500 to 6,000 years old. The author, Sri Patanjali is referred to as the father of yoga because he organized the teachings into this format. However, it is believed that the teachings of yoga existed as part of an ancient oral tradition long before this written format appeared. The history of these texts are often debated by historians, but as yoga practitioners, it’s important to try to understand the teachings that they offer and decide if they can be applied in our contemporary lives.
Sutra, meaning “thread,” relates to the distilled quality of the text, which is made up of 196 aphorisms, or sayings. These sutras were memorized and chanted by yoga students, and the teacher would add their pearls of wisdom to these basic threads. As students of yoga today, we have an opportunity to connect with an ancient lineage that has been kept alive through the dedication and service of generations of yoga practitioners who have come before us.
What’s remarkable about the Yoga Sutra is that it simultaneously offers subtle philosophy and specific guidance on how to practice yoga. The point being, that these teachings are not just for philosophical contemplation, but are tools for transformation. Swami Satchidananda, my teacher, encourages us not to simply read about the teachings but to implement them in our lives through our practice. He says, “It's a recipe book, and to get the benefit, you have to follow the directions, cook well, and eat. Only then will your hunger be satisfied.”
He goes on to describe the role that Raja Yoga plays in experiencing happiness and wellbeing: “The teachings of Raja Yoga are a golden key to unlock all health, happiness, peace, and joy. Everyone, everything, in the creation wants to be happy. If you put a plant in the shade, its leaves will turn toward the sun, because the plant wants to be happy. Place a worm in the sun, it will crawl into the shade for the same reason. Ask a thief, "Why are you robbing the bank?" and he will no doubt reply, "Because if I have more money, I'll be happy.” And if you ask the policeman why he is pursuing the thief, he will tell you, "My duty is to catch the thief, and when I do my duty, I'm happy.” So, everyone is seeking happiness. The problem is that not everyone knows where or how to find it. Some people want to be happy quickly, so they take short cuts and get temporary happiness. But borrowed joy comes and goes. The happiness that we seem to be getting by our daily efforts is fleeting and mixed with a lot of troubles, worries, and unhappiness. Happiness cannot come without unhappiness before and after. We keep trying to find that happiness and missing it. When we finally tire of searching for happiness outside, we sit quietly and wonder, "What is this? Why am I unhappy? Why do I lose the happiness that I have?" If we're sincere and analyze well, we find, ultimately, that happiness never comes from outside.”
MS: Multiple Sclerosis, My Strength, My Story – Yoga
by K. Muktidevi Demafeliz
I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in October 1998, when I was 18 years old. I am 37 now and blessed to say that my current condition is “stable”. MS is known as the “invisible illness” as symptoms vary from patient to patient. Intermittent symptoms both visible and invisible include: fatigue, balance, gait, unsteady walking, fine motor control fingers, pain, numbness & tingling feeling, bladder & bowel control, heat sensitivity, memory & cognitive issues, depression, speech & vision impairment, trouble with swallowing, and other neurological symptoms that affect mobility. I have “Relapsing-Remitting MS.” MS is when one’s immune system attacks the brain/spine also known as the Central Nervous System (CNS). These symptoms may arise at unpredictable times and can be severe when an “attack” (exacerbation) triggers. Unfortunately, there is no known cause or cure for MS, but the medication I am currently taking (Avonex Auto-Injector Pen – Interferon beta-1a) slows down the progression of the disease.
This is one of the main reasons why I sought yoga in the first place, because of my MS… but to also center and balance my mind, body, and spirit. I’ve been practicing yoga for 8 years and been teaching for 4 years now. Thank goodness at the present moment, I am currently stable, but between the ages of 18-23 years, I was in severely bad shape that had me in a wheelchair, a walker, and the use of cane. It is a blessing that I have fully regained my mobility and ability to walk, and therefore practicing yoga as an able-bodied person would. I am hoping this status will remain as I move towards my 40s!
Yoga for people with MS can be such a powerful tool. There are many benefits to be gained from practicing gentle hatha yoga, especially the asanas (or poses) that can be taught in a restorative series, wheelchair series, chair series, seated postures, seated/floor series, and through pranayama (breathing) and relaxation. This can assist with reducing fatigue, improving range of motion, improving spasticity, increasing strength, increasing coordination and balance, assisting in a patient’s confidence and calmness, as well as slowly beginning to advance with more postures specifically tailored to each student. Some of these gains could also be increased motility for digestion, increased circulation, and in many cases, significant relief from the depression that often accompanies the symptoms of MS. Yoga is not a cure for MS. I am not cured, but having my own yoga practice has certainly enabled me to handle my MS in a much more effective manner than before, and has enabled me to maintain a life that sometimes surprises me.
Yoga is valuable to people with MS for three reasons. First, the practice of yoga reduces functional deficits. Second, it increases self-reliance since it fosters independence and can be carried out independently. And third, it is one of the principal aims, in fact the principal aim of yoga, to steady and quiet the mind. Gentle, low-impact yoga is the perfect “physical exercise or movement” for people living with MS. Studies show that after six months of practicing yoga and learning a variety of yoga postures can combat fatigue, reduce spasticity, relieve stress, and increase range of motion, and other symptoms, which have significantly reduced. It is important for an MS patient to have a steady yoga practice which can self-transform and to also offer something even more important: hope. (1)
In conclusion, yoga is such a beautiful, profound, and powerful system that can assist a person with MS by empowering them to do more for themselves to the best of their ability. While yoga won't cure MS, it can be helpful in reducing symptoms, which is enough reason to try it out if one is interested. As someone with a chronic and unpredictable illness, yoga can help me feel more in touch with my body as well as help me live more comfortably in it. Through postures and breathing, a steady yoga practice may improve posture, increases stamina and flexibility, and teaches me how to relax and focus. There is a possibility to see positive changes in my flexibility and strength, even from week to week. A new student may not see or feel the benefits right away, but don't let that discourage you. The one piece of advice that I give to people just starting out or rediscovering yoga: Give it a chance for at least two weeks. The first couple of sessions won’t be pretty or fluid. However, before you know it you will be doing things that you thought were impossible and feeling pretty darn good about it. (2)
1. Fishman, MD, Loren M. & Small, Eric L. – Yoga and Multiple Sclerosis: A Journey to Health and Healing. New York, NY: Demos Medical Publishing, 2007.
2. verywell: Why You Should Be Practicing Yoga for MS – Why You Should Try Yoga. https://www.verywell.com/multiple-sclerosis-yoga-benefits-2440635 © 2016 verywell. All rights reserved.
Kristine “Muktidevi” Demafeliz is a born and raised San Franciscan. She graduated from the yoga teacher training program the Integral Yoga® Institute in the heart of San Francisco in 2014. She received the spiritual Sanskrit name Muktidevi… which translates “Goddess of Liberation” that reminds her every day to remain “grounded” in her life, and to maintain her true nature of peace. She taught and subbed yoga classes at the SFO Airport for 3 years when she was employed there. She offered classes to Airport Commission employees and Police Officers during lunchtime called “SFO YOGA®” She discovered a DEEP passion for yoga and has been a practitioner for 8 years. Muktidevi has also been living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) for the past 19 years and says that the benefits of yoga have helped her tremendously on more than just a physical level but also with her mind, spirit, and heart. Her intention is to assist individuals with injuries, health ailments, and/or illnesses to bring awareness to one’s unique Self.
The Invisibility of the Disability
by Sarit Rogers
Thick, like cold honey, oh how hard it is to move, to breathe, to rise and dissolve the sleep from my eyes, with bones, stiff and swollen, this immovable framework tangled in bed-sheets.
An invisible disability is only invisible to you. To me, to us, it is glaring, screaming at us from within, beating the drum of felt insignificance. The “I can’t do this” becomes a mantra, the “I’m too tired” becomes a way of life, as we wear our loneliness like a shapeless shift. It doesn’t have to be this way.
I have experienced sideways glances as I park my car in a handicapped spot – I appear to be able-bodied so why am I parking there, right? I have heard people devalue the experience of those of us suffering from an invisible disability while comparing their physical disabilities to what they can’t see in us. I need to remind us all: Pain and discomfort isn’t a contest. Having to prove you don’t feel well just adds to the problem.
Experience can be varied. One common scenario is this:
- You look fine.
- Are you sure it’s not in your head?
- Have you tried _____?
- It can’t be that bad.
- I heard _____ is psychosomatic.
The internal process is sometimes like this:
- I’m so tired.
- Can I die from being this tired?
- Surely you can die from being this tired.
- Sleep. Yes. Sleep.
- I am so tired. I feel like I’m going to die.
- Wait, what was I saying?
- I’d lose my head if it weren’t attached.
However, we ask this of our friends and loved ones:
- Offer help.
- Come by and give us a hug or have some tea or both.
- Don’t take last minute cancellations personally.
- Remember that just because you can’t SEE what’s happening with us, our experience is very real.
- Don’t compare. Everyone’s experience is his or her own.
With doctors offering meds to help everything from pain to sleep deprivation, it’s easy to get swept up in the pharmaceutical haze of assistance. Some meds are necessary, while others simply compound the matter. What’s helped me the most is staying present--staying in this moment, this breath. Meditation has proven to be especially helpful: The simple but difficult act of paying attention to right now. Right now, I am sitting, or lying down, or walking. Right now, I am breathing. Right now, my shoulder hurts, may it soften and move with my breath. Right now, I am scared, may I be safe and free from suffering. Right now, my belly is expanding. Right now, I am exhausted, may I find rest and care. Everything has become about right now. Not yesterday or tomorrow: right fucking now. And the best part? I can’t do it wrong!
Even my yoga has changed. A lot. The vinyasa and power yoga I once did have shifted to the yoga I do now: slow, and deliberate, focused on breath as a radical act of self-care and presence. I have learned to relish in the wholeness of my breath as it moves through me like a river. I relish in the connectedness of my body as it makes contact with the earth. My practice is accessible: props are my friend, resting in wisdom (child’s) pose is advanced practice, and handstands are a thing of the past. They didn’t make me any cooler anyway.
To those of you tangled in an invisible illness, may you be seen, may you be heard, may your suffering cease, may your heart be unguarded, may you be loved, and may you be at ease. To those of you who love us and don’t know what to do: we love you, we need you, hold our hands, wipe our tears, hold our tea cups when they feel too heavy, and do what you need to do to take care of you.
Sarit Rogers is a multi-faceted photographer based Southern California. She specializes in fine-art portraiture, creative commercial photography, musicians, yogis, and the occasional pinup. Sarit Z Rogers is also the founder the LoveMore Movement, which she co-founded with her husband, Joseph Rogers. Her years of activism, social justice work and fierce body-image advocacy led her to create a movement that focuses on highlighting individuals who altruistically help others so as to encourage others to do the same. Over the last several years, Sarit has photographed several book covers focused on shifting the paradigm of standard beauty within the yoga industry. Her work can be seen on the covers of 21st Century Yoga, Yoga Ph.D, and Yoga and Body Image.
The Antidote is Hope, by Jivana Heyman
Accessible Yoga was born out of my interest in bringing people together who believe in sharing the teachings of yoga with everyone. People who are dedicated to finding peace in their lives and sharing that peace with others regardless of ability or background. In the wake of the election, I found myself starting to lose hope and to feel that these efforts are just a drop in the bucket, and that we’re basically doomed. So, my question is, “How can we find hope in these scary times?”
Hope is such an elusive concept. Obama brilliantly used it to bring the country together and help us move toward a fairer and more equitable society. Now we are moving in the other direction – towards a place where prejudice seems to be the norm. I hear lots of yoga teachers saying that these times are when we need to dig deeper in our personal practice to find our center. That is always a good idea. But my question is, “How do we keep hope alive so that we have the energy to speak up?” My fear is that if we lose hope then we become complacent and powerless, and that would be a very dangerous thing.
I found hope when my 15-year-old son joined a walk-out with his entire high school to protest the election. It reminded me of my years on the street demonstrating with ACT UP San Francisco, fighting the politics of homophobia and the repression of the rights of people with HIV/AIDS. My son’s new interest in politics is giving me hope that there is a future generation that will be energized by these current events.
I find hope in the yoga teachings. In particular, the teaching that rings in my head is pratipaksha bhavana. It is sometimes simply described as replacing negative thoughts with positive thoughts, but it's really so much more than that. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 2, Sutra 34, pratipaksha bhavana asks us to reflect on the outcome of negative thinking. So, in this case, the outcome of negative thinking is going down the rabbit hole of, "were doomed!" and sitting back and doing nothing. Instead, the antidote to this negative thinking is hope. Do something that inspires creativity, because creativity is the language of spirit. Sing a song, draw a picture, teach a yoga class, do anything that expresses love, compassion and fellowship. Do anything that lifts you out of that stupor and brings back your energy.
Once we are energized and engaged, we can look at how to move forward and fight against the sexism, racism, ablism, xenophobia, environmental destruction, and the politics of greed that seem to be on the rise. The way forward will be putting that hope into action, which, in other words, is service. Service is the hallmark of a loving compassionate caring heart. Through service we can transform the world, because service transforms us individually and collectively. Service is hope in action.
One more thing that gives me hope is our Accessible Yoga community. Community is the key to the resurrection of hope. Community will hold us up when we're feeling down, it will encourage our personal growth, and it will offer us a platform for service. By caring for each other, and supporting each other, we can make it through this. Thoughtful, loving communities like this one are the key to driving out the darkness that seems so pervasive.
In yoga philosophy, this darkness is understood as egoism. It is our job as yogis to vanquish the darkness of our own minds, and in turn, from the society that reflects our minds. Swami Satchidananda speaks of the darkness of the ego. “Every person dreams inside the egoistic shell which is totally dark. We all must break the shell to allow the light to come in. That’s the main purpose behind all the yoga practices.”
There is a well-known Vedic prayer that speaks to the triumph of light over darkness. My prayer is that through these dark days we remain hopeful and retain our vision of a loving peaceful world - may the light of truth overcome all darkness!
Asato Maa Sat Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyothir Gamaya
Mrityor Maa Amritam Gamaya
Lokaah Samastaah Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Lead us from unreal to real.
Lead us from darkness to the light.
Lead us from the fear of death
To knowledge of immortality.
May the entire universe be filled with Peace and joy, love and light
Om peace, peace, peace
Recently, I’ve been a little hard on myself. I had a really big transition lately, moving into our first home (which happens to need lots of tlc). Combine that with building/running a business and being a mother and wife.
I can’t lie, I started to question if I am better off being a student rather than teacher. Then Wednesday night about 20 minutes into my evening class, a woman walks in very slow, and full of emotions. She says she was there for yoga and had been invited by the store manager. Myself and the other student, who happened to be the owner, greets and welcomes her.
As she steps onto the mat I just prepared for her, on the verge of tears, she begins to tell me her story. I assure her this is a safe, non-judgmental zone and we welcome everyone here.
That night we had a beautiful class. I wasn’t bothered by the fact that she was late, or felt she needed to explain her story, or that she kept apologizing for what she couldn’t do. I told her sometimes the best part of yoga is to just breathe and be on your mat. Most of the real magic happens on its own and that you are where you’re supposed to be.
After class, she told me her body felt good and thanked me for the reminders to breathe. We spoke for a little while longer, I invited her back to class and gave her a hug to seal the invitation.
You see she came searching for a class and was grateful because she doesn’t have to travel to studios that are 20+ miles away. What she didn’t know was that students like her remind me of why I teach and fight hard to make yoga accessible to all.
She was just recently diagnosed with osteoporosis and leukemia and wasn’t sure if yoga was for her. Can you imagine if I turned her away for being late or if I didn’t know how to make poses accessible for her or because my class wasn’t the “right” style or.…
Students like her are why I teach not only yoga but Accessible Yoga. Unbeknownst to her, she also encouraged me to keep pressing on with my mission.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the 2nd Annual Accessible Yoga Conference, which is coming up next week here in Santa Barbara, California. As I started preparing my opening talk I realized that I’ve gotten lost in all the details of planning and organizing this event. I’ve lost track of the most essential element of Accessible Yoga, and of this Conference, which is that we all deserve to be happy.
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.