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Friday, April 2, 2021

Yoga in A Different Type of Community

I'm excited that I'm teaching yoga with a new group of friends. I've actually never met them in person; we follow one another on various social media platforms. But the big thing we have in common is a love for a group of comedians under the WellRed Comedy umbrella. You might think, "So, you're all just comic nerds or super fans?" You'd be mostly right, but we've become quite a bit more than that. 

With stand-up comedy ground to a halt due to COVID restrictions, this particular subset of American comics decided they would take their craft online. In addition to podcasts, they had Zoom comedy shows. The gents found out the community they were fostering was more cohesive than just a random group of fans. Some of the folks had started a big Facebook group; pre-pandemic they even would travel to go to shows with one another. Now, they were even having "coffee talks" on Zoom on Sundays and started an online gaming group! 

We started to recognize each other in audiences and would chat via text while shows ran. We connected with each other on multiple social media platforms, and exchanged personals. The relationships have been forged such that we support each other when someone needs help, either emotional or even financial. People have been inspired to create mutual aid groups, volunteer for political actions, and been helped writing resumes and moving from one town to another. The hosts have regular bi-weekly "shows" that give artists a chance to show off their wares whether that be telling jokes, singing/songwriting, working tarot, or doing magic. Some podcast content is behind the Patreon paywall, much is free, and as always, the audience (the fans) is encouraged to tip any contributing artist (via venmo, zelle, paypal) for support. 

We have veterans, folks from every walk of life, those in the "redneck" community and those that have been accepted and "red adjacent" like myself. The community as of tonight started having virtual art gallery shows that features works from folks that do in-home woodworking, to acrylic painting, to 40-foot towers of children's toys There's a group effort to write an origin story of the community (it's heavy with quasi-Appalachian folklore and dialect). We discuss politics, spread the word on activism and Mutual Aid (we have experts in the profession), and do fundraisers.

Now, we have something I can contribute more than just dollars and a laughing voice. Another teacher and I collaborated to offer YOGA to the community. Anyone who is a Patreon subscriber to at the basic level ($3/month) can listen to the lion's share of the podcasts, get to join in on the Friday night "blue" shows, and also can tune in for what we call Hollerville Yoga. We do mat-based yoga, and Jessica and I alternate weeks. We have a little bit of flow, a little bit of meditation, and a lot of fun. What makes it so very special is that it grew organically out of this community. Of course it's open to anyone who wants to be part of it, with the only "gate" being the paywall. And true to form of people to whom I am not inexplicably drawn, no one will be turned away for inability to pay; if the basic subscription rate for Patreon is too much, the hosts will waive the fee to make sure they reach everyone who wants can be a part. Same goes for yoga.

Accessible comedy, accessible yoga, It's a grand idea, innit?

Saturday, March 6, 2021

If It's Not Accessible, It's Not Yoga

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by Jivana Heyman

My background is in AIDS activism, and in the 1990’s I started teaching yoga so that I could share these practices with my community of people with HIV and AIDS. We were in the middle of an epidemic, and many of my students were extremely sick and dying. What my students and I learned together was that yoga offered accessible and powerful tools for healing on a deep mental, emotional, and spiritual level. My students showed me that yoga could offer them healing even when they were dying. Since then, I’ve been trying to honor their legacy by sharing this message with the yoga community. The message is that yoga is not about physical achievement or even physical healing; yoga is about a deep internal spiritual connection.

What’s really remarkable about yoga is that it allows us to engage every aspect of our being –– our body, our breath, our mind, and our actions –– in our spiritual journey. This is unusual since most spiritual practices don’t offer us such powerful techniques for incorporating the body in our practice. Yoga offers us the opportunity to allow the body to flow in the moving prayer of asana. But we can’t let the beauty and power of asana fool us. Yoga is not about the body.

The truth of yoga is that the body and mind are temporary, constantly changing, and mortal, but the spirit is immortal, everlasting, and pure. This is the lesson of The Bhagavad Gita, where Sri Krishna explains: “You were never born; you will never die. You have never changed; you can never change. Unborn, eternal, immutable, immemorial, you do not die when the body dies.” (Easwaran 2.20)

When we overly simplify yoga to just be about the poses, we strip it of its most essential meaning. We appropriate the practice from its traditional roots in India and turn it into a commodity to be sold by capitalist interests. So the issue is more than just one of respect and care for continuing the ancient legacy of the yoga lineage. It’s about holding these precious teachings in a way that respects their purpose, their background, and their proper application.

In order to do so, we need to consider the fullness of the practice. The essential teaching of yoga is that we all share the same spiritual essence no matter what our backgrounds or ability may be. We share the same essence whether we have a disability, whether we have a larger body, or if we’re a senior, or a child. We have got to let go of this idea of advanced asana equaling advanced yoga. There really is no correlation between our physical ability and the depth of our spiritual connection. This is why I always say that if it’s not accessible it’s not yoga. Because we all have equal access to the heart of yoga, and it’s up to each of us to find a form for our practice that allows us to unite with the spirit within.

Jivana Heyman, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. Accessible Yoga offers Conferences, Community Conversations, a Blog, and an Ambassador program. He’s the creator of the Accessible Yoga Training, and the author of the book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities and out of this work, the Accessible Yoga organization was created to support education, training, and advocacy with the mission of shifting the public perception of yoga. More info at

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

What's (Your) Truth? (overdue day 21 of 21)

 We talk about truth (satya) a lot in yoga. It's also popular in todays' vernacular to broadcast being "authentic" and "real," but I'm wondering if while trying to express these things (to ourselves and to others) we don't just end up creating more stories that are still less than, well, truthful.

Imagine if you will, one hand you have "your truth" and in the other "your lies." Depending on your level of self-doubt, it is completely possible that what you think is truth might actually be a story you've conjured out of anxiety, depression, and/or ego. The hand holding the lie is actually the truth, and the truth is the actually lie. 

So here's the million dollar meditation point, all completely in my humble opinion. It really doesn't matter if you are going to announce your truth to the world or not. It only matters if you are going to be honest with yourself. So making sweeping declarations about the kind of person (you think) you are only have validity if you not only believe them but live them. If it feels conjured, then it's part of a façade. 

In Sanskrit the word for lie is the same as untruth: asatyam (literally, "not the truth"). Though this seems to linguistically imply there is only black or white, lie or truth, in reality it is one big gray area. Satya doesn't directly mean truth, it implies truth, or essence. or virtue. Adding the "a-" prefix changes the meaning to be the opposite of. So the context of the word carries the significance.

Same in English, though we do change the words to fit the context. We don't necessarily lie about our own story; we fabricate a story, we stretch the truth, we embellish for effect, we hide fact, we have the sin of omission, we gild the lily, we cast shadow of doubt, we prevaricate, we change tone to suggest we feel shame about something. So our truth carries altered essence no matter what if we aren't paying attention to simplifying, and seeing it through the most honest of lenses.

Sometimes it helps to be accountable to someone else when having a truth check in, like in therapy. Sometimes it complicates the process of finding truth. In yoga, our honesty process involves Pratyahara (withdrawing the senses), Dharana (concentration), and Dyhana (single pointed concentration), so it's very much an individual experience. There is no one else to validate/verify what you are finding. It's even more important then, on this path, to feel at home in your own skin, comfortable feeling vulnerable, and confident to feel, period. 

No one "muscles through" the eight-limbs physically or mentally, despite what modern incarnations that show short-cut asana mastery might suggest. No one need to supplicate or suffer at the hands of another, despite what some "gurus" might strongarm from their false pulpits. No one is incapable to doing yoga; there is a way to bring the practice to everyone if the teacher is truthful about their abilities. 

As for the practitioner, it is not for me to say by what truth you or anyone else must abide. When someone comes to the mat, all I can ask is that they consider that what they tell themselves may be as much a story as anything else, so just be in the moment and see if their perception of themselves changes. We need to be able to observe ourselves with open minds and hearts before we can know our truth. It's weirdly NOT intellectual. So we find out truth by following the path, by doing the work on the mat (and off), by releasing the need to hold on to any of the "not truths" and we peel back the pages of the stories we've written until we get a peek at what is deep down. We don't need to shout it from the rooftops, or write a song about it, or make some grandiose statement when we find it. We can just be essentially ourselves.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Day 20 of 21: Change Your Perspective

 Original image by Rachel Byer

The Hanged Man is the card of ultimate surrender, of being suspended in time and of martyrdom and sacrifice to the greater good. He is hanging upside-down, viewing the world from a completely different perspective, and his facial expression is calm and serene, suggesting that he is in this hanging position by his own choice. He has a halo around his head, symbolizing new insight, awareness and enlightenment. His right foot is bound to the tree, but his left foot remains free, bent at the knee and tucked in behind his right leg. His arms are bent, with hands held behind his back, forming an inverted triangle. There is a halo burning brightly around the hanged man's head, signifying a higher learning or an enlightenment.

What does this represent? Wisdom, circumspection, discernment, trials, sacrifice, intuition, divination, prophecy. It's opposite is Selfishness, the crowd, body politic.

Why have I posted this image for the penultimate day of my 21 day challenge? Because as I near it's end, I realize it's all about changing perspective. In order to get that alternate view, you have to know where you are - you have to center to get a bead. Once you know where you are, you can see where you've been, and then make decisions about where you want to go.

For 20 days (ish) now I've been writing about practicing yoga and meditation, and how they relate to me personally, how I've been instructing in my classes and reflecting back on new techniques and lingering thoughts. As much as I started out with intent for this to be "life changing" at some point I was just going with the flow, waiting for it to end because it was just another task to have to complete. It's not that I don't think about yoga every day, it's just that my thoughts aren't always noteworthy for sharing. Yet I committed to putting them into the blogosphere for the sake of argument, to fulfill a promise, and to see what insight I might divine from it.

Like some of my classes on Zoom, with the blog, there's an audience that doesn't really get to chime in one way or the other except in after comments. Essentially I'm journaling, and it feels empty sometimes, like I'm a lone semantic alchemist trying to conjure golden expressions of genius out of random metal words and phrases. 

That being said, during this process I have been partaking in two different type of learning. I have this Yoga for Mental Health training with Cindy Beers ( where I have been immersed in lessons on mindfulness to help recognize, alleviate, and work with depression, PTSD and stress within the boundaries of a yoga practice.  I also have started on a path to some sort of certification in biological/exercise science, and have enrolled in a Introduction to Kinesiology class. Going back to formal "college" was huge in conquering my fear and anxiety that almost prevented me from graduating back in 1988 (but that's a story for another time). 

The 21-day yoga challenge didn't necessarily make me better at yoga pose, or an expert at meditation, but it led me to dive more deeply into learning. Something sparked that quest for higher knowledge, and fueled the confidence to finally enroll. 

The Tarot card above (which traditionally would be shown with a man) kept popping up in my mind the past week or two, and when I was trying to find just the right picture this one came up. I think it's beautiful and represents where I am. People often see images like this in Tarot and think "Oh, that's bad!" If you look more deeply at the image you can absolutely see that even though the person seems bound and "hung" they are not in distress at all. It occurred to me that they are in fact holding tree pose, with their hands on the back and front of their power center (third chakra), and hanging not by an external force, but with strength of their own leg from the tree. Tree pose, one representing growth, strength, nature, connectedness. In this position, upside down, perhaps it could mean the tree can grow where it chooses, even upside down. Just because circumstances are odd, doesn't mean that you can't thrive; you just need to get centered. 

The scene isn't gruesome, but serene, acrobatic, and even calm. Not bad at all. Tarot cards like Death and The Fool likewise aren't bad but depict something about change. They aren't meant to frighten or disgust but help the reader or even casual observer look at things with a different perspective.

So that's where I am with this practice. Thinking about how these past 20 days have given me insight to what is really important, and how I might proceed to stay true to what I need. Next time I need a reset, I'll remember to stand on my head!

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Day 19 of 21: Yoga Nidra

In a Yoga Nidra meditation, you are guided through a body scan with the intention of the mind settling into a relaxes state of consciousness between wakefulness and sleep.

There are many guided meditations you can find online, and one of my homework assignments was to write/record a Yoga Nidra practice. So, I am posting mine here for you to try. 

It is just 20 minutes start to finish, but to prepare for this meditation, you'll need to lay down first and get settled (I didn't do a long intro I just went right into it). You can do so on a mat, or a bed, or sit in a chair, but make sure you are warm and comfortable and safe. Ideally you wouldn't need to move, but there are no "points off" for having to adjust if you are uncomfortable.

(Truth be told, I did a two hour Nidra once and I think started snoring 1/2 way through, and once I was bumped awake, realized that the flesh around my tailbone was numb because we were on a wood floor with no props. I don't think suffering through this is the way to go so get yourself comfortable.)

What you'll hear on my very rudimentary recording is me guiding you to pay attention to certain body parts, slowly and methodically, hopefully encouraging a trancelike state of mind. 

I feel like this could be used for a good morning wakeup or even an afternoon nap refresher. Let me know what you think!