How can we make real change in the world?

by Jivana Heyman

One of the biggest misunderstandings that I've faced over the course of my teaching career is the idea that I'm trying to make yoga accessible by adapting or modifying the practices. That has never been my goal.

I'm not interested in changing yoga into something else. What I have tried to do is to excavate the truth of the teachings, and find the truths that are already universal, meaning that they apply to all of us no matter our ability or background.

Also, my interest is in taking what often seems like esoteric and confusing ideas and trying to make them more easily understood—more accessible. In that way, Yoga Revolution is a continuation of my first book, Accessible Yoga, which mostly focused on making yoga asana available to anyone who is interested in practicing.

What does yoga mean to you? Reflect on what you've been told yoga means, and how you've actually experienced it in your life. Is there a different between what you've been taught and what you've experienced?

The liberation that yoga offers is both personal and communal. Personal liberation for me is freedom from my own patriarchal, capitalist thinking. It's a freedom that allows me to be awake to the insidious ways I have internalized white supremacy. It's about cultivating an internal voice that is not constantly negative and putting myself down. It's an internal reckoning—an internal speaking truth to power.

A yoga revolution is experienced through our unshakable support of social justice that comes from the realization that we all share the same heart. But saying "We're all one" is only true if everyone is given the same access to resources, and above all, access to justice and power.

After all, that's the meaning of social justice—everyone in society has justice. That means we are all treated fairly and equally. Unfortunately, marginalized people don't have equal access to power, and therefore we are not all one at least not yet.

The basic idea that the U.S. Declaration of Independence was actually speaking the truth when it declared "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men [sic] 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." Our personal liberation and that of our community are not separate things.

It's not all love and light. It's about admitting that there are ongoing police killings born from systemic racism, and that my selfishness has contributed to this situation because I've told myself I'm too busy to do anything about it. It's the truth of a climate disaster my children will inherent, and the fact that we act like it's not happening.

Instead, let's ask ourselves how we can make real change in the world. Let's allow our practice to inspire us to create, to question, and to act. Can your practice get your mind clear enough to find space and time to engage in politics: to vote, call your representatives, do some community service, or even run for office?

I realize this is a departure form Patanjali's focus on quieting the mind so that we can detach from the world and transcend it completely. But we need to be more clear about who these teachings were designed for, and contrast that with our lives today.

In contemporary yoga we still hear the echo of a monastic desire to leave society, and it sounds a lot like spiritual bypass. That's the conscious, or unconscious, desire to avoid the painful parts of life. You have to admit, it is deeply ironic that we've taken the asceticism of our monastic past and mixed it with enough New Age gobbledygook to transform it into a path that we expect to be lined only in love and light, a path so focused on our individuality that we have lost our humanity. So the question that we're left with is this:

How do we cultivate an engaged yoga practice that is both respectful to its ancient roots and yet responsive to the reality of our sometimes confusing and often painful lives today? 

excerpted from Jivana's latest book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage and Compassion

About The Author

Photograph of Jivana Heyman

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. He’s the author of Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body (Shambhala Publications, November 2019), as well as the new book, Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion (Shambhala Publications, Nov. 2021). 

Jivana has specialized in teaching yoga to people with disabilities with an emphasis on community building and social engagement. 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. In addition to offering Conferences and Trainings, Accessible Yoga offers a popular ambassador program with over 1000 Accessible Yoga Ambassadors around the world.

Jivana coined the phrase, “Accessible Yoga,” over ten years ago, and it has now become the standard appellation for a large cross section of the immense yoga world. He brought the Accessible Yoga community together for the first time in 2015 for the Accessible Yoga Conference, which has gone on to become a focal point for this movement. There are now two Conferences and over thirty-five Accessible Yoga Trainings per year, as well as a strong underground yoga community supporting them.

Over the past 25 years, Jivana has led countless yoga teacher training programs around the world, and dedicates his time to supporting yoga teachers who are working to serve communities that are under-represented in traditional yoga spaces.

Interested in learning more?
Join Jivana and an incredible line-up of guest teachers for the upcoming Accessible Yoga Training Online. This 35hr CE course will give you the tools you need to design yoga classes where all students can practice together regardless of age, size, ability, or experience level, and to show up for the practices of yoga through meaningful service and deep personal work. 

January 24 - February 7, 2022
Mondays, Wednesdays & Fridays
12pm-3pm Pacific | 3pm-6pm Eastern
(Tues, Thurs, Sat 7am-10am Sydney, AUS)
Recordings of every session will be available for those who register!

Learn More & Register Now


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