Ep. 8 Transcription – Accessible Yoga

Music: 00:05
[Intro Music]

Sarah Dittmore: 00:05
Hi friends. My name is Sarah, and you’re listening to the beginner’s mind, a podcast about all things yoga ish. Today I am talking to Jivana Heyman, the founder and director of accessible yoga. He also wrote a book that we’ll talk about at the end of the episode entitled accessible yoga. And that’s exactly what we’re talking about today. We’re talking about what accessible yoga means, why it’s important, and how we can make it a bigger part of our practice in the modern yoga community. In addition, we’re going to talk a little bit about the upcoming accessible yoga conference in New York city. So if you’re interested in learning more about that and how to join, make sure you listen to the end. But for now, let’s go ahead and dive in and let’s get curious.

Music: 00:58
[Transition Music]

Jivana Heyman: 01:05
Accessible yoga the organization kind of came out of my work sharing yoga with people with disabilities or like 25 years now. I started out in, um, San Francisco Bay area. I was an AIDS activist actually, and I, I was, um, you know, using yoga myself and then wanting to share with my community. So I started teaching other people with HIV and AIDS. Um, right when I became a yoga teacher. That’s kinda how it all started.

Sarah Dittmore: 01:34
So how did that lead to working in more accessible, like specifically in accessible yoga?

Jivana Heyman: 01:41
Well, I just, you know, I, I was struggling myself and I just thought how, um, amazing yoga was for my own like stress management and just like general ability to get through life. And so I really wanted to share it. Yeah. I just want to share with my community and I saw that most yoga, you know, wasn’t accessible that my, my friends and my community couldn’t just take a regular yoga class. And as I got more involved in, um, AIDS activism, I was really interested in, you know, the discrimination that occurs against people with disabilities. And it’s really quite amazing. I mean, it’s, there’s so much ableism in society and especially in yoga and you know, it’s interesting because they’re dealing with a physical practice. And so I think, um, it’s especially important that we’re sensitive to how that is, you know, how that is expressed within yoga and the way it’s practiced here in the West. Um, so that’s kinda how it led to it.

Sarah Dittmore: 02:43
What is accessible? Like, what does that mean? What is accessible yoga? What does it mean that you found, you said you found yoga was inaccessible to a lot of people in your community. Like how, so what does, you know, give me a little more.

Jivana Heyman: 02:56
Well, that’s a good question about what it means is, I think it’s expanded to mean a lot of things right now. But you know, originally, I mean I started using the word about that, that phrase around 2007 I, I was leading 200 hour trainings. That was kind of my job at the integral yoga Institute in San Francisco. And like I led tons and tons of them and, and then I was going outside into the community and teaching yoga, like in hospitals and community centers, people with disabilities. I found that, um, you know, those students weren’t coming to take the 200 hour training. So my main, my really the first idea I had about accessible yoga and that term was about teacher training actually not being accessible and, and I was really interested in teacher training cause I love that process of going you know in with a group and going deep into the teachings and really exploring more than just asana. To really get into the philosophy and the lifestyle of yoga and but that didn’t feel like it was accessible. I kept trying to get my students with disabilities to come to the 200 hour trainings and a few tried, but mostly they were frustrated and I felt program was not accessible that I was leading. So you know, because the schedule was too intensive or the building wasn’t physically accessible, you know, things like that. So, so accessible yoga started as a 200 hour training for people with disabilities to become yoga teachers and, and then, and also just expanded from there. I thought, oh well all of this work is really accessible. Yoga, you know, sharing yoga outside of the standard studio class.

Sarah Dittmore: 04:36
Yeah. So, well, I have a couple questions, but let’s start with, um, let’s start with the ways in which this traditional studio or yoga class isn’t accessible. So what sort of ways, you know, you mentioned that a building itself might not be accessible, but beyond that, if, if a building is accessible, what about the studio or the class might not be?

Jivana Heyman: 05:00
Well, I mean, if we look nowadays, I think you can see a lot of ways, um, that it’s not, I mean, even the, the marketing, um, may appeal to only one kind of person, you know, maybe it’s the marketing imagery, you might have thin women practicing advanced asana and that to me, you know, that already makes yoga inaccessible to a lot of people who just don’t identify with that. The image that is put out there about what yoga is and then the practice itself. I mean, generally what we’re calling yoga these days is 90% asana. And so as I was saying like that asana is often not physically accessible. Like if you have a disability or even being, you’re just an older person, you know, like me, like I’m older now or just, you know, whether you’re having an injury or some kind of chronic illness or a larger body, like a lot of the asanas just don’t fit in our bodies the way that looks like they do in magazines or the images that we see in the way they’re often taught. So I think the asanas themselves can be accessible, but they need to be taught with that in mind. Um, it’s also language, you know, the language that teachers are using. Um, the fact that there’s touch happening without consent and um, and the whole, like the whole feeling in the room where many people aren’t comfortable there. So that can make it accessible because they don’t feel comfortable in that space. They don’t feel welcome or included or like, yeah. Or even it can be, um, it can just feel like an exclusive club, you know? I know for myself, like I feel weird going into studios. I don’t know, you know?

Sarah Dittmore: 06:44
Yeah, yeah. I mean, I know, you know, my, I definitely, and I’ve, I’ve definitely mentioned this in sort of my bio’s and stuff, I’m aware of the fact that I definitely fit kind of the traditional yoga image. You know, I’m fairly thin, I’m white, I’m able bodied. I, you know, I’m so, I’ve always felt comfortable in a yoga studio and it’s, it’s been through, you know, the experience of talking more and more; to my family specifically. You know, I, I have a sister who’s never felt comfortable in a yoga studio until recently, and talking to her about sort of why that is. Because when you’re in it, I think it’s very easy to think like, oh, but yoga is an accepting place. Like if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s just because of your own, like worries about judgment or something like that. And it’s, it’s, it’s sort of this like gaslighting culture of, “but yoga is open to all and if you don’t feel comfortable, that’s your problem, not the studio or the teacher.” And, and I’m interested in that culture of it too.

Jivana Heyman: 07:49
Yeah. I, yeah, that’s exactly it. I think, I think there’s a little bit of tension there for me because both, for example, I often ask people like, what, what is, well not only what is yoga, but what is advanced yoga, you know, what does it, what does that mean? And like I, I think in the West it basically means advanced asana, and that really, that really excludes a lot of people who want, who aren’t interested or won’t be able to do those advanced asanas that in the way that you’re, you know, they’re portrayed. And I guess that’s the underlying issue for me is that like the whole practice seems kind of to move us into this place where we’re supposed to be doing what is really a very intensive physical practice. And that’s not bad. Like a lot of people need that and enjoy it. And I don’t mean to criticize them, like that’s fine, that’s for you. But I think if that’s what we portray yoga as, there’s some, there’s tension there because I would say like, um, physical ability isn’t the same as peace of mind, you know, or I mean to me that’s how I was trained that yoga is about being able to be with myself, right?

Sarah Dittmore: 09:00
Right. If yoga is supposed to be, you know, a spiritual, it’s, it is a spiritual practice. It comes from these spiritual roots. And so when we, when we focus so much on the asana, not only are we on the one hand, you know, shifting the, the narrative of what yoga is, but then on the other hand, we’re also taking this thing that is supposed to, that should be and is accessible to everyone and making it sort of exclusion…airy, exclusive, that’s the word.

Jivana Heyman: 09:30
That’s the positive way of saying this same thing actually, which is to say that actually yoga is by nature accessible. I agree with that statement. I think that the essence of yoga is an accessible philosophy that we all share this essential spirit, you know however you want to call it or whatever you want to call it, in Sanskrit. I mean we have this make this essential nature and that’s equal. And everyone, you know, regardless of who we are, how much money we have or what our physical ability is, and I don’t, I think that’s lost in translation in, in the West. Uh, that’s not how it is portrayed in, in most studio cultures that it feels like there’s a competitive edge and um, yeah, there’s a feeling of like more is better. And I just, I don’t think that’s really what the, I don’t think that’s the essence of yoga. Um, yeah, more isn’t better, you know? Um, and like I was saying before, like that physical ability, it doesn’t get peace of mind. We actually have a teaching that says that.

Sarah Dittmore: 10:35
I love that. I love that.

Jivana Heyman: 10:39
Yeah, kind of. It’s kind of worth thinking about. I think people don’t stop to think. And unless you, and I would go even further to say that, I actually would say that because I agree with what you said, that it’s a spiritual practice. I think, um, I think if we don’t make it accessible, then it’s not spiritual. Yeah.

Sarah Dittmore: 10:59
Yeah. It becomes like a physical workout,

Jivana Heyman: 11:04
Which is okay too. That’s okay.

Sarah Dittmore: 11:06
Yeah. But it’s not yoga.

Jivana Heyman: 11:10
Exactly. Then we should call it something else.

Sarah Dittmore: 11:12
Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I recently, uh, injured myself and for a while I haven’t been able to extend my knee or put any weight on it. And I was getting so frustrated I was going nuts because I was so cooped up and I said to, I said to someone, I said to one of my teachers, I said, I’m going nuts. I just can’t practice yoga. And it’s driving me crazy. And she’s like, what do you mean? I was like, well, I injured myself. And she’s like, yeah, but you can still practice yoga. You just can’t bend your knee or extend your knee. Like that has nothing to do with yoga.

Jivana Heyman: 11:42
Exactly. Thank you.

Sarah Dittmore: 11:46
Yeah. Thank you to the teacher. And so I wonder that, that gets to an interesting point of, you know, there’s so much dialogue, how to make yoga more accessible and, and I’m interested in the ways in which, you know, through the lens of accessible yoga, how, what changes do you guys think need to be made in yoga studios or yoga communities to make it or not, maybe, maybe not make it more accessible, but remind us that it is accessible.

Jivana Heyman: 12:17
Yeah, actually that’s, that’s exactly the right way to say it. I think because I, I get, I get frustrated, you know, when I, when I hear about it spoken like that, like it’s this effort that we are going to make to begin to, including people, you know, this whole idea of like diversity and inclusion, like, which is kind of offensive because it’s basically saying like, we, we own this and we’re going to let you in into our club. And I think that’s the wrong approach, you know, because that’s not really what yoga is about. And sure. I mean people, we can train teachers and I do like I train teachers to teach in an accessible way, but I don’t think yoga needs to be made accessible. I think we need to go back to what yoga is and really look at that carefully before we think about, um, what we’re calling yoga and what we are teaching in the name of yoga. And if it’s not accessible then to me I can, like I said, it’s not yoga. In fact even you could even say like in the U S I mean we have, we actually have a law, the ADA, the Americans with disability act, which is still law incredibly basically says that, you know, public accommodation needs to be accessible to people with disabilities within a reasonable means. Like if it’s, you know, it can’t be a great huge expense to someone to, you know, rebuild their building necessarily. There’s, there is like a lot of ways that can be interpreted, but I would just say for yoga teachers, I don’t think they’re really following that law in general a lot, a lot. There’s some amazing teachers out there actually didn’t group us all together. I mean, and I, and by the way, I love yoga teachers. Like I love people who want to share yoga.

Sarah Dittmore: 13:48
Yeah. I mean we haven’t said it explicitly, but I think it goes to say that we’re speaking particularly about the places where it is not accessible. You know, the teachers out there who are doing, doing that are not who we are talking about.

Jivana Heyman: 14:01
And it’s like, are you actually following the law? Like are you, are you actually making your public classes available to people of all levels and ability and if not, why? You know, is that a conscious decision or are you… And also why not? Like I understand about advanced, I think we get caught up in that like wanting to do advanced Asana and get better, better, better all the time. But I just feel like what I really love to see are mixed classes. That’s kind of my, my fantasy. Um, you know, a yoga class is really mixed when people, all different levels working together and it can look like a big mess. And that’s what I teach in my trainings. I gibe teachers skills to teach multiple levels at the same time because I think that’s where you get accessibility. It’s not so much about how to adapt. I mean that’s important, but it’s also like how do you learn how to serve an individual in a group setting. And that’s, that’s really a challenging skill.

Sarah Dittmore: 15:01
Yeah. So I guess I want to ask a few questions sort of on a nitpicky angle of like, you know, so first I’m, I’m thinking how I normally see it right now is you have either what I would call our standard yoga classes or typical yoga classes, which are not currently very accessible. And then you have like marketed accessible yoga classes, you know, classes that are very much in the description and the name of it. They’re, they’re marketed as, you know, chair yoga or like, oh, what is it that, that they used to do at a studio I used to go to, they called it like yoga for mature yogis, which was basically their way of saying yoga for older yogis and like things like that where it’s like the exception class that they have maybe once or twice a week, that sort of on the side so that they can have a class that’s accessible. So I, I think, you know, that I wonder what his, you know, I think that’s the standard way it’s done right now. And so why is that not enough? Why is having two chair classes and calling that and making it accessible studio not enough?

Jivana Heyman: 16:17
I mean, actually I think that’s more than I see in a lot of places. I mean, I see a lot of places that don’t even have any chair yoga at all. Um, but I would love to see people practicing in chairs in the middle of another class. You know, that’s a mat class. I actually think that a skilled teacher can address different levels together and it can really enhance everyone’s practice when we work together. I mean, again, it’s a little bit of a fantasy that I’m thinking, but I really, I, I would like to teach that way and I think it’s really fun. I like to have people doing a practice in the chair and on the mat and then different variations on the mat at the same time. I think that’s really exciting. Um, and I guess, you know, it’s, it’s hard to like, that’s my fantasy and I understand like we’re here right now. And so like I said, just to offer a few chair yoga classes is okay. If you offer specialty classes, that’s okay. Also like yoga for blank, like I’m fine with that, like yoga or whatever. But in the end, like I guess the real question is how we see the world, how we see yoga and can we look beyond those identities and like, so for example, you, you know, you’re injured yourself. It’s like, could you go back to the same classes you were taking before and feel welcome there? Practicing without standing?

Sarah Dittmore: 17:35
Yeah. I mean I definitely have one teacher who’s class I feel like I could’ve gone to cause she had been like, Oh, just sit and meditate and you’ll still get like, shoot. But even that I would be in sitting in the back and meditating. I wouldn’t have been participating in the class.

Jivana Heyman: 17:47
See, I think there’s ways you could easily participate in a class. There’s a lot of movement you could still be doing. Um, you know, and the teacher, probably that teacher who you feel like could address you, you know, as a student with an injury probably could find a way for you to work. But I still feel like everyone can find a way to work together. But what really bothers me in classes actually is when someone calls it a mixed level class. Um, and doesn’t really mean it.

Sarah Dittmore: 18:15
Yeah. Yeah. So that was going to be my next question is like what, what does it actually look like for a class to have you know, if we, if we recognize that, OK, like these having these additional classes is a move in the right direction, but it’s still keeping the community separate and it’s still saying like these classes are, are not accessible to all people. What does a mixed level class look like in contrast? What does it actually mean?

Jivana Heyman: 18:42
Yeah, it means, like I was saying that you really do have people practicing at different levels. I think the thing is it has to do with what you’re teaching. I know with flow classes it’s particularly challenging to offer different variations because they’re so, they’re so quick and like you’re going from one, like one pose to another, but in a slower class, I think there’s a real opportunity. And even in flow there is too, but in a slower class there’s opportunity to, to offer different levels and to look at, okay, here’s the, here’s a practice we’re doing, our pose we’re doing and this is why we’re doing it. Um, you could try it like this or like that or like that. And maybe, I mean one of the things is to move beyond um, competition and try to not offer the advanced as always better. Cause I think part of it is this kind of competitive nature that I see and experience in classes where I get pushed beyond my own limit and get injured. Like I’ve been injured a lot in yoga classes and it’s my own fault often because I’m, the one is competitive but the teacher is feeding into that rather than teaching me how to not do that. And, that’s what you’re worried about. Me actually listening my body and not getting injured. And there was a really big study that came out, it was like over a year ago, but injuries, I don’t know if you heard about it where they studied yoga injuries, people who went to the ER and they said it was because of yoga and they tracked them for like over 10 years. And like from, I think it was like from 2004 to 2014 with America and there was a huge increase in injuries, especially people 65 and older, like really huge. The rate of injuries really went up. And I think that’s a really important study because what it’s showing is that I think the practice is changing and the way we’re teaching yoga has changed over that time period. And also maybe who’s coming to class. You know, a lot of, a lot of older people are coming to yoga. A lot of, a lot of doctors tell people go take yoga and then they don’t know. They just go to their local studio and take any level one or mixed level and they don’t know what they’re getting.

Sarah Dittmore: 20:49
Yeah. And I think as a yoga teacher, I’ve, when I used to teach and when I used to teach, I used to find people coming to me all the time. I mean my, my family still does this to me where there’ll be like, Oh, I have this like thing that’s bothering me or this injury or this, that or the other. And it’s like I never studied to be like a physical therapist or like a doctor. It’s like, I don’t know. I don’t have the answers for you. I just, I’m teaching yoga.

Jivana Heyman: 21:19
Exactly. Well that, that’s a good, that’s an important point actually is really understand what is the, well there’s two thoughts I had. One is like when, when do you say no to a student? When do you feel like, Oh wait, this person is beyond my scope of practice as a yoga teacher, I wasn’t trained to teach them. And when is it just being exclusive?

Sarah Dittmore: 21:39
Yeah, that’s a thing I hear a lot when it comes to teaching accessible yoga classes is like, Oh well I’m not, you know, I’m, no, I don’t have the training to teach someone who’s in a wheelchair for example. Or you know, who doesn’t have the physical ability that I have basically. And, and I don’t think that’s necessarily true. And so what do you say to people who, who think that they can’t teach an accessible yoga class?

Jivana Heyman: 22:03
Well, I think that they may not have the training to teach someone in a wheelchair, but I think that we should all have that training because I don’t think a person who uses a wheelchair, um, needs to necessarily go to a yoga therapist or physical therapist in order to experience yoga. A person who uses a wheelchair should be allowed to go to a yoga class just like anyone else does just because they feel like going. And I think that’s actually what ableism is, that’s one way that it really is expressed in our society that we assume that somebody has a disability or any physical challenge at all. And we think they are always needing help. They’re always perceived as like the patient and the receiver of care, but why can’t they be just attending a yoga class like anyone else? And they should be. In fact, that’s really what, um, the goal would be of accessible yoga is that we try and get beyond that kind of separation of seeing some people as sick and some as well. That’s really a, not a, not a very yogic way to see the world. You know, like everyone’s struggling. I think it’s more likely everyone is stuck just because someone looks like they’re not on the surface you can be really wrong. Um, you don’t know.

Sarah Dittmore: 23:16
Definitely like some of my biggest, you know, I think of, so I, I have been diagnosed with OCD and panic disorder and I talk about that openly and those things have definitely come up in yoga classes and affected my practice and you know, impacted the way I need to practice and yet no one has ever acted like I am not welcome in the studio environment because of these diagnoses. And yet someone who might have a physical illness or disabilities or whatever would maybe feel that way.

Jivana Heyman: 23:54
Exactly. That’s a great example because actually the conditions you describe, I mean could be really debilitating and could really impact the way you know, you experience a yoga class and you know, the teacher teacher should also be trained in how to respond to those things. I don’t, I don’t think everyone needs to be a yoga therapist, but I think everyone should be informed for example. So you know, you’re, we assume a large percentage of the population has experienced trauma. So we just go in that way. Just like this is, we should all be trauma informed. I think we should all have accessible training. I don’t, I don’t think it should be a specialty because to me that actually is, that’s kind of an ableist thing to say. It’s a specialty. But I would say if you want to work with special populations, if you want that to be your thing, then yes, go get special training.

Sarah Dittmore: 24:42
Right. If that’s what you want to focus on. Yeah.

Jivana Heyman: 24:45
Right. But in a studio, so one should be allowed to come in. Whoever wants to take, as long as you put the, you put it back on the student. I mean, I think that’s the other thing teachers need to do more of which, and I think it’s happening, which is, you know, partially cause of liabilities just to say like, look, you’re responsible for your practice. You know, I don’t know what’s going on with you. I don’t know your medical history and your emotional history. So it’s really up to you. So watch yourself and here’s the signs that you could maybe look for. Um, I’ll try and give lots of variations in your class, you know, and just take this as the time to explore how you’re feeling and what’s going on with you. And let’s, let’s really let go of comparing ourselves to each other and competing with each other. Cause I think that happens to me, and that’s just me maybe.

Sarah Dittmore: 25:32
Yeah, I’m the same.

Jivana Heyman: 25:34
Yeah, I think we all do. It’s like if you offer it when you’re teaching it you offer, like three variations. If one of them you say is the hardest, everyone will try it. It’s just, that’s how we work, you know? But you know, the other part of it is that I can tell you a quick story, like my second yoga class that I ever taught, I was like panicked cause it’s just, I’m actually real introverted. It was just so scary to be in that position. And this, um, much older woman came in, she was like gray hair. She was probably in her seventies and she had broken her leg; her entire leg was in a cast. And I had no experience at that time teaching at all and I was just teaching a regular, well I thought it was a level one, two or something. And I was like panic stricken at having her come into the class. I thought, Oh my God, you know, and then what happened is I watched her as we were practicing, she was incredible. Like she had this really amazing practice and you could just see that she’d been practicing for much longer than I had, you know, like she had way more experienced than me. And so I basically just ignored her and I thought, you know, it just taught me such an important lesson, you know, which is that we judge people from their appearances and that’s just so often incorrect. Yeah. We’re so off.

Sarah Dittmore: 26:54
Yeah, it is. I think, um, yeah, I mean I have, I had similar experience teaching where I was teaching a class and a man walked in who was larger than anyone I’d ever taught before. And I immediately assumed, like I just started going over in my head, my sequence and assuming like, okay, these are the modifications I’ll give him. I like was so prepared to keep going over there and give him modifications of like, you know, tools and I was just way off. You know, immediately when we started practicing I was like, Oh this like person doesn’t need nearly as much attention from me as this like woman right in front of me who is extremely thin but is struggling with strength in everything we’re doing and is needing, you know, modifications to, to do the series. And so I think that’s a part of it too is the assumptions we make about like who yoga is accessible or inaccessible for.

Jivana Heyman: 27:45
Yes, that’s very important because it’s like basically it has to do with our privilege as well to address any kind of prejudice that you have or you know, like racism or any homophobia. It’s like you have to start with looking at your privilege and see where, what is your position within the culture that we’re living in and where do you have privilege where other people do not? And really identify that for yourself and start to examine it more and realize, wait, you know, okay, if I’m an able body, we actually call them a non disabled person is actually more correct. So if I’m a non disabled person, um, you know, what does that mean for my, for my life and the way that I move through the world and can it help me understand the way that someone with a disability might not experience the world, you know, and just realized, wait, then that’s not what everyone experiences. Um, and then also realize that yeah, not everyone is as they appear. And so I basically assume that everyone knows what they’re doing. They come in full of wisdom and knowledge and they show me what they need or don’t need. I mean, that’s kind of, you know, like I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I don’t try and project anything onto them. And so whether you’re a beginner or not, I mean, everyone’s beginning at some point. So it’s the same thing. I mean, we just have to start, you have to start somewhere, right? You have to start somewhere. And as a teacher, your job is to just help the students where they’re at and not make assumptions about them, to not judge them or put them in a box or limit them.

Music: 29:27
[Transition Music]

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Sarah Dittmore: 32:37
And as always, I also want shout out to shut up and yoga. This podcast is an offshoot of shut up and yoga, which is an independent digital magazine and collective of yoga teachers, writers and illustrators. As you know, it’s where I get a lot of my yoga content. I absolutely love the other writers there and what they’re producing. They make a lot of really practical visual and funny articles that take a, a humorous approach to dissecting these popular ideas on health, yoga and self-development and shut up and yoga really focuses on quality over quantity, which is why I’ve become such a big follower of theirs because I know I can always count on really honest articles that are gonna tell me how it is and, and I personally love being a part of their Facebook forum. It’s called shut up and yoga forum for modern yogis and it’s a great place to engage in conversations with other yogis. You can also read some of their ebooks at shutupandyoga.com/books. I have personally read both of their eBooks, which the two they have on sale right now are five most common yoga injuries and how you can avoid them by Garrett Neill and modern yoga: Everything you want to know about the pelvic floor by Kerry McKinnes. They’re both 12.99 and they are fantastic reads that will really help you both practice and teach in a more physically aware way, really considering how the practice is impacting your body and why you’re doing the things you do and how you could maybe do them a little bit differently. You know, shut up and yoga’s mission is to question, inform, educate, challenge ideas and debunk myths. And they’re really about having those uncomfortable conversations, which is what the beginner’s mind is all about. So I really recommend checking them out and giving some of their articles a read over at shutupandyoga.com. Again, link is in the bio, so that’s all for today. And let’s dive back into the episode.

Music: 34:53
[Transition Music]

Sarah Dittmore: 34:53
I’m wondering from like a really kind of mundane and teaching experience perspective of, you know, if I was teaching a class that was truly open level and had like you said, that fantasy of just people with all different abilities and disabilities in my room I would feel like as I am now, I would definitely feel intimidated. I would feel like I was ill-equipped to teach to everyone in the room. I would feel like I didn’t have the training or necessary knowledge to um, provide the different like options or modifications for everyone. And so I’m wondering how we fix that.

Jivana Heyman: 35:41
I think, I think there’s a different way to approach Asana and some, many people do this and I would say especially what I see experienced teachers naturally do this, um, which is to focus on this kind of a spectrum. They see an asana as a spectrum of possibility rather than as one thing at work. They see also like this idea of like a full expression to kind of let go of that and to see like, Oh wait, each asana has all these different variations within it. And so it actually makes your practice much richer because you stopped seeing a goal necessarily. But rather you see, Oh, you know, I’m this bhujangasana like Cobra pose and can get there a million literally a million different ways. Which is true. I mean there’s literally an infinite number of ways you can practice any pose and there’s not a right way. And even if you look at like the gurus or whoever, and you look at the different ways they practiced that one pose, it’s going to be different. There’s never like one, there’s not one way. Right. But we get stuck in that idea. I think it’s a very kind of, um, I dunno, maybe Western or kind of logical approach that this is the way, I don’t know what that is.

Sarah Dittmore: 37:01
It to me it feels like it’s very much like, um, our affinity for sort of lists and manuals and guides. It’s like we want to have a thing that tells us, okay, there are all these different ways you can do it as you’re learning it. But in the end, like this is the goal. This is the thing that it’s supposed to look like. So you know, you’re doing it quote unquote, “right”.

Jivana Heyman: 37:23
Yes, right. We want an external validation and that’s not really, that’s not really what it is in yoga. I can’t look at you. I can’t look at you and see if you’re doing yoga or not. You know, I can’t really decide if you’re doing that pose correctly. I can help. I can help you figure out if you’re practicing safely, I can help guide you in noticing that in your own body and helping you get benefit without harming you. And I think that’s really where I go with it. And I, I think, um, well anyway, coming back to this idea of a spectrum of possibility, I think there’s other ways to teach. There are skills we can use to teach multiple levels at the same time where you can have, um, one skill that I teach in my trainings, I can tell you right now, um, you don’t have to take a training. It’s just uh, I, I separate it into parts of every pose and that’s the preparation and then the practice. So if you separate out the preparation proposes and teach that kind of individually. So if I have students in a mixed class where there’s someone in a chair and someone on the mat for the same practice, um, I can prepare them separately. So I might prepare in the chair and prepare on the mat or whatever. It doesn’t matter and then practice together. So I get people, I try and get them to a place where then, cause usually what’s different in most poses is the foundation of the poetic. We’re sitting versus lying down or standing. That’s the difference, but usually the core elements of the practice are mostly the same, like what the spine is doing. So then I can say once the preparation is done, then we can practice together. So, for example, like if I’m doing have a student doing a Cobra in a chair and someone doing Cobra on the mat, we can prepare the person in the chair, maybe having them hinge at the hips, moving forward, hands on the knees, something like that. Have people come into preparation on the mat and then together we could exhale, inhale, lengthen the spine, slowly come up into cobra, however that looks in your body, but at least you’re practicing together even though the level looks different. Um, and that’s that, that kind of breaking it down. Um, also looking at the other key there is looking at what are the essential elements of that practice. I probably would start there really, what is it about cobra pose? Why like why am I doing, why am I teaching you cobra? Like I got to know that for like, is it because someone told me to like, do I actually feel like there’s a benefit in this practice?

Sarah Dittmore: 39:54
It’s, it’s interesting, it’s something that’s come up in a lot of my podcast episodes is this idea that teachers need to just be a little bit more trained or more serious about their practice because so often we see teachers just repeating what they’ve been told without knowing. So they’re, they’re teaching Cobra because it’s what you do when you’re teaching a flow and not because they’re really thinking about, well, will, how is the spine moving? Well, how does it connect to the rest of my body? And that’s even just looking from a purely physical standpoint. Yeah. And not even extending it into all the other reasons we practice asana.

Jivana Heyman: 40:35
yeah. I mean, I think it’s natural that teachers go through periods of learning. You know, we all know as teachers, we also are beginners. Like we have to start somewhere. It’s not, it’s not wrong to be a beginning yoga teacher. It’s great as long as you’re just open to learning and growing and, and improving on what you’re doing. It’s never ending. I’m learning things all the time. I mean you can’t stop learning and growing. But I do think, I think the training to do a better job, um, in this area of helping, helping teachers learn how to address multiple students and also addressing students who may not be able to do a practice the way that is, you know, traditionally done. I think it would just help teachers be better. That’s what my training is. I mean accessible yoga training. I basically, after having done this for many, many years, I basically was training yoga therapists really. And then I went, I kind of stepped back and I thought, you know, I really want to create a program that will help yoga teachers just be better teachers and make their classes accessible. And so I kind of condensed it to like just the parts I think were most important into like basically a weekend program. It’s very short, 30 hours and it just highlights to me like here’s some pointers. Things I’ve learned over a long, long time and things I also see many other experienced teachers doing naturally that somehow they’re not sharing with you in 200 hour trainings. You know, cause there’s so much to cover.

Sarah Dittmore: 42:06
Yeah. But it makes me think of, you know, when we learned the asana section of in most 200 hour trainings you learn like, you know, you learn things like well if someone has, you know, a neck injury, they should do fish pose differently or if someone’s pregnant they should practice these poses differently. And so we are given it, it’s already a part of it. And so it’s, there is a space for it, you know, there’s a place where we can, it’s not like we have to create a whole new section of the training. Like make it a 220 hour training and bring this in. It’s like there when we’re learning asana, there’s a platform to integrate it into already. It’s just a matter of making that the norm.

Jivana Heyman: 42:53
Yeah. And I think to integrate it even more cause I think, um, and I and I have been working with yoga alliance to try to get them to make it required. And I think the word accessible might get included in, you know, areas that are, you know, part of the methodology components of 200 hour trainings. Because to me that’s like an essential piece. It’s like you as a new teacher need to just be at least conscious of that. And to me there’s, I think the way it can come in more and be more integrated is by really starting by looking at why you do the practice. Like what’s the benefit and the purpose of the practice and then really exploring it in a more creative way rather than looking at the way it’s been done. And, and I honestly, to me, creativity is important, and that has to do with, um, I think with teaching and thinking of it more of as an art and a science. And I would say that it comes with experience that you really need to have a feeling of confidence and mastery of the material. And then you can be creative with it. So I guess I get why I get my new teachers teach the same routine all the time. I told you that I tought like that myself for years. And I think that’s totally fine. It’s like I always give the same example, um, which is that it’s like art, my background is in painting and I, I always think about how I learned to paint and sometimes I would try to paint like one of the great masters, you know what I mean? Like I paint like van Gogh because I want to like learn how to paint, but I don’t want it in the end. I don’t want to paint like van Gogh. I just want to learn how to paint. And I think that’s what we’re doing when we’re teaching yoga is we’re copying what these great quote “masters”, maybe we won’t call them that anymore. Like the yoga gurus, you know, taught us, they’re kind of masterful at what they were doing, that was their expression, their art form. And that is a great place to start. It is an amazing place to start. And I think it’s makes sense to do that for a long time. But eventually you can kind of find your voice and feel confident in the foundation, like the basic elements so you can be improvising. And that’s the other thing about an accessible yoga class; there’s a lot of improvising going on and I think you have to have a certain level of confidence to do that.

Sarah Dittmore: 45:12
And also maybe a level of humility, you know, a willingness to say like, Oh I haven’t taught it in that way before. Let’s figure it out.

Jivana Heyman: 45:19
Yeah, okay, let’s figure it out. That’s; so I use the word creativity and collaboration in my training cause “figure it out” means tell the student that like, Oh well you know, I’m not sure. Like how, what do you think? Like do you want to try it that way? Let me know. How does that feel? Like it’s okay. Like I don’t have to know everything. I think it’s beyond humility. It’s almost, it’s like it’s almost, it’s a like a disease. I would say that we have as yoga teachers of like wanting to be like above everybody or this idea that we have to be perfect and, and it’s great cause there’s a lot of, I mean actually your podcast and I think a lot of other thing, there’s a lot of like criticizing yoga going on, which is good. It’s good in a way. But I think what, to me, what’s really happening is we’re kind of breaking down that barrier.

Sarah Dittmore: 46:14
Yeah, I mean I think it makes sense. It comes, I mean if you look back at the more traditional guru culture of yoga, there was this idea that, you know, your teacher was someone who had it all figured out and had all the answers and you were just supposed to trust and follow. And I think we’re recognizing that that’s not, that’s not the way it is. And if we teach that way, it’s really dangerous.

Jivana Heyman: 46:43
Right. I mean that was there. To me, that’s the expression of their, of them, you know, their soul or whatever. That’s how they express themselves in their art form. So that’s great. For them. Yeah. But I don’t, it doesn’t mean I have to do it that way. But I love going to museums. I’m looking at art, you know what I mean? Like I love seeing the way that people express themselves. And so I enjoy it like all the different ways that we’ve created yoga and the different gurus and what they’ve done. And I definitely had a very powerful teacher, you know, um, Swami Satchidananda guru, you know, I’ve learned so much from, but at some point I have to kind of grow up and like find my own way. Um, I think it’s important. I think it’s important.

Sarah Dittmore: 47:27
Yeah. I agree. And so, you know, we’ve talked a lot right now about sort of the, the accessible yoga in particular in regards to, um, physical ability, but we’ve touched on the fact that it doesn’t stop there. And so, so what are some other ways in which the accessible yoga movement has grown and, and kind of the topics that are included? Like, I know you guys, I wanted to talk a little bit about the conference coming up and so maybe this would be a good way to do that, is kind of talk about the different things that are covered in that space and the dialogues that are happening in the accessible yoga community.

Jivana Heyman: 48:03
Yeah, well, I, I’m, I mean I’m a gay man and so I, you know, for me homophobia has always been an issue for me and I’ve always had to confront that in my life. And I, it, it just, it helps me understand just a little bit about the way that, um, oppression works. And I’m just, and now, you know, having worked with, um, people with disabilities for many years and been involved with HIV and AIDS activism, I also have a sense of ableism. And so it just occurs to me that really all of these types of oppression and prejudice are interconnected. And I think what’s happening with accessible yoga is that, um, because of my work originally, it’s mostly with people with physical disabilities. That’s what we kind of became known for. But we’ve been trying to expand to look at that intersection of different types of oppression and how they all fit together and they’re all part, they’re all part of, at least in the West, you know, white supremacy and the way that our culture has basically control, controlled us and controls people. And I think it’s really, there’s so much we can learn from each other. Um, and in addressing these different kinds of, um, these different isms and the different kinds of oppression. And so I, I’ve just been so excited to invite different people to our conferences that are looking at different aspects of accessibility. Um, and so for me, the conference is just an amazing opportunity to get to study with people who I’m really interested in learning from. Um, so we’ve just had like, a conference in st Louis in June and we had some amazing people like Susanna Barkataki and Michelle Cassandra Johnson, you know, looking at, um, looking at cultural appropriation in yoga. Michelle is really looking at, um, racism and yoga. It was just so exciting for me to have them in that space. And then to be able to think about how it works with the kind of accessibility I’ve been working with and we’re gonna explore that more as we move on. And then we have the New York conference, we have like 25 more than 25 presenters at this point.

Sarah Dittmore: 50:14
Wow. That’s amazing. I’m so excited.

Jivana Heyman: 50:17
Can I ask you if you know the yoga is dead podcast?

Sarah Dittmore: 50:20
Yeah, I interviewed them. They’re going to be on it. Actually, I interviewed them a couple of days ago.

Jivana Heyman: 50:24
Oh my God. I love them so much and they’re going to be presenting at our conference, so I’m so excited.

Sarah Dittmore: 50:29
Amazing. Yeah. So give me a little like, you know, promo reel for the upcoming. I’m going to be there. You’re going to be there. Other than that, I mean that should be enough now. Everyone should want to go. Right? Give me the little promo reel of like when it is, what it is.

Jivana Heyman: 50:44
Okay, well, so it’ll be in New York city October 11th through 13th we actually only have about 20 tickets left at this point. So people should, yeah, get in there cause it’s a, it’s a real limited space. Very Intimate and small. Um, we have amazing presenters. I’m just gonna list a few of them. Um, well our keynote speaker at the opening is Nicole Cardozza who you may know currently on the cover of yoga journal. And that was like a huge fiasco. I mean, I don’t know if I need to get into that story, but…

Sarah Dittmore: 51:15
If you don’t know that story, look it up. There was a lot that happened. It’s interesting and it’s big and yeah.

Jivana Heyman: 51:23
Yeah. And um, who else do you know? Um, Kerry Clampett reprinted therapeutic yoga, who I love, she’s like my personal favorite in terms of actual asana practice. Um, also Durga Leela. She’s incredible. Terry Hanlon who created yoga home does yoga for disabilities. Oh, Michael Hayes, secret Buddha body yoga. Um also Pamela Stokes Egleston. She’s the co director of the yoga service council, which is an organization that, um, we’re working with a lot. Um, she’s on a yoga for veteran’s panel, also Terry Princter, who created yoga for cancer. She’ll be presenting and I don’t need to list them all; we have so many more, but you got the idea. So we have basically have a lot of incredible presenters looking at all different aspects of accessibility.

Sarah Dittmore: 52:22
This is going to be, you’re making me so excited. Like I know I’ve read a lot of this, but I’m like remembering it all now and I’m like, Oh, it’s going to be so good.

Jivana Heyman: 52:29
It’s always amazing. And um, yeah. And then we have, we’ll have another event coming up in, uh, in March that’s kind of a new event. In fact, we’re just going to announce it in the next few weeks. It’s called the evolution of yoga summit, that we’re accessible yoga is collaborating with um, yoga service council and yoga Alliance, which is a little crazy, but that event’s gonna be, there’ll be an LA March 20th to 22nd 2020 and that’s going to be looking at four main areas of concern within yoga, which are accessibility, racism, cultural appropriation and consent. And so we’ll have, we’ll have four tracks and presenters in each track focusing on really, really kind of digging up those areas and looking at what, you know, what is going on within yoga culture in those four areas and kind of brainstorming about what we do better and we’re going to end up with kind of like these white papers or some kind of like document that we’ll have to look at what these challenges are and what could we do to potentially move forward as a yoga community. So I’m really excited about that. That’s incredible. Yeah, that’s an exciting one.

Sarah Dittmore: 53:41
And then, so where can people kind of find out about these events and get involved?

Jivana Heyman: 53:45
That one isn’t published yet, but soon it’ll be available through accessibleyoga.org which is our website. There’ll be things to that, to that summit evolution of yoga summit and then through yoga Alliance as well and yoga service council.

Sarah Dittmore: 53:56
Right. And I’ll have all these links in the show notes below.

Jivana Heyman: 53:59
And then, you know, my book is coming out. That’s the thing I’m supposed to be talking about.

Sarah Dittmore: 54:02
Well, yes, yes, yes. Tell us about that.

Jivana Heyman: 54:07
Yeah, so I, it’s my first book and it’s really a kind of a manual for people who don’t think they can do yoga actually. So, but I tried to do is just compile, um, you know, information about how to start a practice really at any level. And so a lot of it is actually chair yoga, that yoga, and then I guess we’d call more gentle slash adaptive practice. But my, I’m wanting to reach students who just don’t think they can do it. And I think a book to me, a book is a good way to do that because people who might not come to a yoga class or yoga training, I’ve been training teachers for a long, long time, but this was like my efforts to get out into the public and reach people who just don’t think yoga is for them.

Sarah Dittmore: 54:52
Yeah, and it’s a very, you know, it’s a very private, like if you don’t think yoga was for you, you probably aren’t about to go to a studio class. And so it’s a way for people to kind of explore it and play with it without the pressure of, you know, other people.

Jivana Heyman: 55:09
Exactly. And, and I think it’s also useful for teachers just to look at the different variations of the poses. And I offer some of the ideas that I shared with you today. Like some of that’s in there, there’s a short section for teachers as well, but just an idea to start sharing. It’s just like, Oh yeah, like a way to start sharing accessible yoga more with the public outside of the yoga teaching community that I’ve been working in and working with for so long.

Sarah Dittmore: 55:35
And when, when and where will that be available?

Jivana Heyman: 55:38
So, uh, the book comes out in the beginning of November and actually we’ll have a launch at our New York conference. Um, so I’m excited, we’ll have a little talk about it and, um, a book signing, but then it’s available, um, in early November, just, you know, on Amazon and every other large site. In fact, I just saw it at target, has it on their website, which just kind of freaked me out. But it made me really happy because I was thinking that’s where I want to reach and I want to reach people like that who might shop the target.

Sarah Dittmore: 56:07
Right. You want it to just be something like if it’s just in yoga studio bookshelves, that’s not gonna be where you’re trying to reach people. So.

Jivana Heyman: 56:15
Exactly. So, yeah.

Sarah Dittmore: 56:18
Well, great. So yeah, again, I will have all those links below and I’m really to meet you in person in a couple of weeks and yeah, hear more about how things move forward with the book and with the summit. That’s all very exciting.

Jivana Heyman: 56:33
Yeah. Thank you so much. And those are great questions. Thank you. I mean it’s fun to explore asana. I like that. You know, oftentimes they end up talking about policy and philosophy and things like that, but it’s really, I think, helpful for teachers especially to reflect on that. You know, how they can make their classes more accessible. So I just, I appreciate the opportunity to talk about that and I hope and I hope it’s something that people really think about more is how they can invite people into asana, you know, what can you do to really encourage people to join?

Music: 57:03
[Transition Music]

Sarah Dittmore: 57:12
Thank you so much to Jivana for doing this episode with me. I learned a lot and I think the topic of accessible yoga is not only something that’s been coming up a lot, but something that’s really important. So I’m really interested to hear what you all think. You know. As usual, you can reach out to me @TBMpodcast on Instagram at the beginner’s mind podcast on Facebook or via email at sarahditmore@gmail.com I’ll also have you know, links in the show notes for how to get in touch with me and how to get in touch with Jivana. As he mentioned, there is the upcoming conference that I would love to see you at and if you do end up signing up, please shoot me a message on social media or via email. I’d love to see you there and connect. You can also find links in the show notes with ways to sign up for future conferences with accessible yoga, how to buy the book and just other ways to connect and get involved in the movement. Next week we’re going to be kind of talking about something in a similar, in a similar domain. I’ll be speaking with Melanie Klein, one of the cofounders of the yoga and body image coalition, and we’re going to be talking about yoga and body image, both from the angle of how yoga can sometimes be inaccessible to people of different bodies, as well as how yoga can be a tool for working through different body image issues. It’s a really fascinating conversation, so I hope you’ll all join me for that. You can always subscribe wherever you’re listening or wherever you get your podcasts so that you’ll know in that episode is out. And, um, you know, if you learned anything or enjoyed this episode, please rate, review, subscribe or share. It’s, it’s really helpful in growing this podcast and connecting with more listeners like you and thank you to my episode sponsors. You can support this podcast by supporting them. And until next week, please, stay curious.

Music: 59:17
[Closing Music].