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 fa├žade. 

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.