Why "accessible" yoga

by Jivana Heyman

In a way, the story of Accessible Yoga began thousands of years ago with the first yoga practitioner who sat on a blanket instead of in the dirt. Or with the first yogis to use a strap to support their legs so they could sit longer in meditation. (This is actually the earliest example of the use of yoga props from more than two thousand years ago.)

But the idea of adapting the pose to the person, instead of the person to the pose, is a relatively new one.

Only recently has there started to be some serious questioning about what’s really happening in yoga on many levels: culturally, psychologically, and physiologically. This questioning is shifting the focus more to the individual’s experience and intuition, and to a deeper understanding of the practice.

Unfortunately, modern postural yoga has stumbled many times. There has been an unacceptable amount of abuse and injury. The fall of traditional Indian gurus led to the rise of a Westernized practice that reeks of colonization and commercialization. As yoga becomes more intertwined with capitalism, the yoga community must grapple with many questions, including: Who has the right to the teachings and practices of yoga? Is yoga reserved only for people with a certain body type? Is yoga mainly a physical practice of putting the body in various prescribed poses? How can we practice in a way that is in alignment with the long tradition of yoga?

Modern postural yoga has become an extreme sport. It has chosen to value, and even fetishize, the gymnastic side of yoga rather than a balanced practice that is safe and effective. Maybe it’s because subtle, gentle movements don’t look as dramatic in advertising campaigns selling yoga clothing or on social media. Maybe it’s because of our competitive nature, which teaches us that more is always better, even when it’s not.

By shifting our understanding of yoga away from the perfect images we see in magazines or on social media, we can expand our understanding of yoga and how it can serve the diversity of humankind. Like light through a prism, Accessible Yoga expands the teachings of yoga to expose their endless variations and applications.

And while I’ve been training yoga teachers for more than twenty years, I've come across a lot of confusion and misunderstanding about what yoga is about and how to practice safely.

Invariably, when I’m training teachers how to adapt yoga for students with disabilities or limited mobility, someone will ask, “What about the integrity of the pose? Don’t you lose something when you adapt the practice?” This is in reference to the idea that if you modify these classic poses, you end up with something less than yoga. My answer to this question is always, “People are more important than poses, and it’s better to adapt a pose to a person than a person to a pose.”

You could say that each yoga pose is like a question, and each person has a slightly different answer to that question. No answer is wrong or right. They’re all unique. Plus, we’re all changing moment to moment, and what is right for us one day may be wrong the next.

I always suggest finding the essence of a pose by asking yourself why you are doing it. You can explore this through practice and study. With that deeper understanding, it becomes possible to adapt your practice to a personal and creative expression of your spirit.

Yoga scholars are talking about how we’re moving into a time of “post-lineage yoga.” This is a time when we gather together in yoga studios, community centers, conferences, festivals, and even online to find our sangha, or spiritual community. It’s no longer common to be practicing in ashrams with a guru, and many gurus have been shown to be abusive in some way. Instead, we are finding a new format for the practice as yoga continues to grow and expand.

When you look at yoga history, you find that there really isn’t just one straightforward narrative. It’s an ancient and complex tapestry of traditions woven together into this thing that we refer to as yoga. It’s always adapting and growing according to time and place.

We are collectively finding a new way to approach the practice. The goal of Accessible Yoga is to create an inclusive and equitable practice that is safe and effective and still respectful of the Indian roots of yoga.

excerpted and adapted from Jivana's first book, Accessible Yoga: Poses & Practices for Every Body



Ready to advance your accessible teaching skills and learn how to weave the true essence of yoga into your classes?

The next Accessible Yoga Training Online with Jivana Heyman begins January 24! Enrollment opens December 27th, and the course will run on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays through February 7th.

Scholarships are available. The deadline to apply is January 17th at midnight Pacific.

Questions about the training? Interested in learning about teaching truly mixed level classes? Join Jivana for a free mini-workshop and information session all about the upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online. 

Jivana will share ways to teach students who are practicing in a chair and on a mat simultaneously and how to create a rich environment full of learning potential in mixed level classes. Jivana will also discuss the curriculum for his upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online, January 24th-February 7th, 2022. And he'll give away a copy of his new book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage and Compassion, as well as one free spot in the training! 

Join Us for the Info Session 
Friday, January 14th, 2022
noon -1pm Pacific (Los Angeles) / 3pm-4pm Eastern (New York)

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