Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

A lot of folks hold strong stereotypes when they hear I’m a yoga instructor. They assume I work at a studio and teach asana based yoga classes. When I clarify, saying I’m a trauma-sensitive yoga instructor, many people are confused. The conversation usually goes one of two ways, I describe what trauma-sensitive yoga is in detail or I’m asked what the difference is between what I do and what “mainstream” yoga is. When I further describe sites I work at, such as addiction treatment programs and jail programs, it seems even more confusing for some. I get asked why these populations need yoga, why people who have “done something wrong” need it.

Instead of typing out a clarifying blog post, I’m going to let me own words speak for themselves. Here’s a recent interview I did for the Beyond Theory podcast, a podcast for The Meadows Behavioral Health.

Beyond Theory Podcast | S1 E12: Aditi Desai on Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

Check it out and let me know what you think! I hope this clarifies a lot of what I do and also what yoga can do for the world.

Accessible Yoga – Yoga for EVERY BODY

When you think of yoga, what images come to mind? You might see a very specific type of person. You might see a specific race, size, shape, and ability of that person. Imagine you’re walking into a yoga studio, who do you see?

As I’ve started to discuss in my last post, the Westernization of yoga has created this image of yoga that strays very far from the roots of yoga. While there are stories of yoga being restricted to men in India, there are stories and there is a history of people of all shapes, sizes, and genders practicing yoga. Now, as yoga has become a financial commodity, it seems that the population practicing yoga has narrowed. This brings me to my topic today, accessible yoga.

We live in a world where there is potential for variety. Depending on where you live, there may be a variety of foods available, a variety of leisure activities, and a variety of people. So why has yoga in the west seemed to cater to one type of person? Accessibility is a huge issue…not just in yoga but in many realms of life. Access to healthy, fresh foods. Access to transportation. Access to healthcare. So why aren’t we talking about access to yoga? This is a multi-billion dollar company in the west and yet somehow we are limiting it to a very specific type of person for a very specific price point.

We all know the benefits of yoga. We all know that it can help with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. So why is this only available to certain people? Even studios and classes that are low-cost or promoted to “everyone” seem to only be taught or attended by specific people. Why? Simply put…accessibility. This doesn’t just mean being able to get to the yoga studio or being able to pay for the class. This means being able to do the poses comfortably, being able to do the breath and meditation practices comfortably. This lack of accessibility affects many populations, including but not limited to people of color (POC), larger bodies individuals, people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, people living with differently abled bodies, and people who may not speak or understand English well.

So what do we do? What do we, as yoga teachers and students do to make sure EVERYONE has access, in every way, to the wonderful practice of yoga? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Here are just a few of my tips to make your studios and classes more accessible (in no specific order):

  • Hire POC teachers
  • Hire larger bodies teachers
  • Hire teachers who identify as LGBTQIA
  • Provide classes in different languages
  • Promote chair yoga or accessible classes
  • Use props
  • Provide a variety of mat sizes and thicknesses
  • Do not use words like “full expression of pose” or “more difficult version”
  • Use words like “modification” or “adjustment”
  • Use invitational language
  • As a teacher, model these modifications and adjustments
  • Incorporate pauses
  • Allow students to decide what feels good for them
  • Use consent cards for hands on adjustments
  • Ask permission before using essential oils or scents
  • Attend/offer trainings for accessible yoga
  • Provide all-gender or gender neutral restrooms

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to make classes more accessible. Let’s start by being open and welcoming to EVERYONE.

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National Yoga Month – Honoring Yoga History and Culture

September is National Yoga Month. As yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry, there are plenty of ways in which this month can be celebrated. Lately, however, it seems that a lot of yoga practice in the U.S. has been seen as potential cultural appropriation. This has become a hot topic recently between yogis all over the U.S. How are we appreciating yoga and its culture without appropriating it? How are you honoring yoga in all it’s forms? Is it possible that where you practice yoga is sterilizing the culture of yoga?

If you’re thinking it can be difficult to understand what is appreciation and what is appropriate, you’re not wrong and you are not alone. It’s difficult to understand where the line is.

Many yogis are discussing this exact topic. In order to stop cultural appropriation, we need to acknowledge the roots and origins in India. We need to acknowledge the cultural and religious ties yoga has to South Asian countries. Understanding these connections can help one appreciate and practice yoga more authentically. By incorporating cultural appreciation by opening up to understanding and learning, we can prevent the cycle of appropriation from continuing.

Here are a few questions to ask about your local yoga studio:

  1. Are people of Indian heritage represented?
  2. Are cultural or religious symbols displayed appropriately?
  3. Do teachers use Sanskrit as a way of growing the yoga practice or as a way to divide teachers from students?
  4. Are the lineages of the yoga teachers identified and honored?
  5. Do students and teachers wear clothing that display gods and goddesses in areas of the body that are considered disrespectful or harmful to the culture and religion?
  6. Is the yoga studio accessible to all levels and abilities?
  7. Does your studio work to create community and inclusivity?
  8. Do the yoga classes focus only on physical asana?
  9. Does the studio’s yoga teacher training go over cultural history?
  10. Is the studio purposely avoiding using Sanskrit or any South Asian representation?

These are very important topics to consider when practicing yoga, at home using YouTube or at a studio. While we can make yoga available and accessible to all, it’s important to honor the roots. While yoga itself is not a religion, it has many ties to Indian religions and culture. By honoring all that yoga has to offer, not just physical but full body, mind and spirit, we can truly appreciate yoga. By honoring the history of yoga, we can better understand where it came from and why it has been so popular for generations.

So next time you go to a yoga studio or click on your favorite YouTube yoga video, take a look around and observe what may or may not be appreciation and appropriation.

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Yoga Stereotypes

Stereotypes aren’t great. In all of life…whether it has to do with gender, culture or ethnicity. This applies to yoga as well.

I’ve recently been finding a resurgence of questions in my yoga classes that are based on stereotypes or assumptions of what the yoga class is going to entail. So many of my students ask me when they’ll be able to sit in full lotus pose. Others ask me when they’ll be able to do headstands and handstands. These questions are often on their first or second classes. These questions are also often asked in my meditation sessions. Students will ask when will I be able to sit straight without pain? When will I be able to clear my mind completely? I continue to reinforce the idea that asana isn’t about the pose, but about what the pose brings up for you. Meditation isn’t about clearing the mind, but calming it. The emotions, the sensations, the feelings, these are the things we want to focus on…but it seems like there’s so much focus on the physical look of what we are doing, whether it’s asana or meditation, that the deeper benefits get lost.

Other stereotypes I’m met with is about what it means to be a yogi. So many people think I have to be a healthy eater, that I don’t eat any sugar or carbs. Oh, if only I had that kind of self-control. Yes, I generally do eat healthy, AND I love my cakes, ice cream, candy, and donuts. Another stereotype related to what it means to be a yogi suggests that yogis can’t get mad, upset or frustrated. That we don’t have violent thoughts. Now correct me if I’m wrong, but am I not a human being? First and foremost. These thoughts, these feelings…they will always be there. Yogis aren’t all sunshine and rainbows…prayer beads and crystals. We are human beings and have the same range of emotion as anyone else. The trick is how we react to those emotions. The yogic part of me doesn’t react. I let the emotions run their course and when I’m calm and relaxed I make decisions related to the situations that previously frustrated me.

That’s what it means to be a yogi…making mindful decisions about life. Whether it’s what you eat, what pose you’re doing, or how you react to a situation.

So…if you ever notice your yoga teacher eating a candy bar while ranting, don’t say “oh wow, aren’t you a yogi?”. Just treat them like a human being who is having one of those days.

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Flow Breakdown – Moon Salutation

Surya Namaskar, or sun salutations, are common in most yoga classes. Not so common in our yoga classes is the Chandra Namaskar, or moon salutation. The moon salutation flow was designed to honor the feminine qualities we all carry. No matter what gender identity you hold, there are masculine and feminine qualities in all of us. The moon salutation is a great way to ignite that feminine energy.

Here’s the flow breakdown:

  • Mountain Pose
  • Crescent Moon Pose
  • Goddess Pose
  • Star Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Low Lunge
  • Half Split
  • Full Squat/Malasana Pose
  • Half Split
  • Low Lunge
  • Pyramid Pose
  • Triangle Pose
  • Star Pose
  • Goddess Pose
  • Crescent Moon Pose
  • Mountain Pose

Not only does this sequence open up the feminine energy within, it’s also great for women to do during menstruation or pregnancy. This is a great flow to honor intuition, nurturance, and receptivity…all feminine qualities that bring up our community.

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Yoga for Travel

So you’re planning that big summer trip, but you’re worried about how to keep up with your yoga practice. Maybe you’ve got a tight schedule and you’re not sure if you can fit in the yoga. Maybe you’re staying in a hostel and you’re not sure where to practice. Maybe you’re worried jet lag will have you so tired, you just won’t want to.

Well, first things first…do what’s right for you. Remember, yoga isn’t just about the asana, it’s about the meditation and pranayama (breath practice) too. It’s okay to take a break from your yoga practice as well. We all need breaks, from everything in life. It’s okay to say hey…let’s just pause and do something different for a little while. Your yoga mat will always be there for you when you’re ready to come back to it. That’s the beauty about an at-home yoga practice…it’s there when you want or need it.

However…if you’re insisting on trying to keep up with your yoga routine while on the go, here are some helpful tips to keep it up.

  1. Get a travel yoga mat, something that’s easy to travel with.
  2. Do short practices, 10-20 minutes. We don’t need to do an hour long yoga practice to feel the benefits. Sometimes just a quick and yummy practice will do!
  3. Incorporate meditation and pranayama, don’t just focus on asana as the “yoga”.
  4. Wake up earlier than you want to! Set an alarm.
  5. Find scenery that will make you want to do yoga. Explore your surroundings a little and find a peaceful spot to do your practice.
  6. Find a yoga studio where you’re at.

Ultimately, if you’re going on vacation, you’re practicing self-care. That’s what yoga is really all about…taking care of yourself. Take it from someone who travels a lot…sometimes it’s enough to just be present and meditate on how lucky you are to be able to travel!

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New Year – Let’s Dedicate!

A new year is always a good time to restart. It’s often a time of renewal, recommitment, and rededication. Many of us make resolutions to start working out more, eating healthier, maybe even drinking less alcohol. All these are great! It’s always great to dedicate yourself to YOU!

My resolution is simple. New year, same me. I am dedicating 2019 to ME!

One way I’m doing this is renewing my dedication to yoga. I am continuing my intention to practice yoga on a daily basis. That can be quite a daunting task. Most of the time when I wake up, I don’t want to get on the mat. I want to stay in bed and be lazy…especially on the weekends. I often need motivation to participate in a daily practice. That’s where YouTube and my favorite YouTube Yogi comes in.

Every January Adriene from Yoga with Adriene puts out a month long practice to rejuvenate a daily yoga practice. This year, it’s called Dedicate. What a perfect name for 2019??

Some of the videos are long, some aren’t. So far I’ve been able to find time to do all of them. I have to say, this has been a great way for me to keep myself accountable. After 20+ days, it will once again become a habit.

I wish you all the best of luck keeping your resolutions this year. I know I will do my best to keep mine. Here’s to another year, another 365 pages to fill in the book of life!

 

 

 

Yoga for Kids – A revisit

About a year ago, I wrote a post about how yoga can benefit kids (Yoga for Kids). I have since taken formal trainings in kids yoga and have gained a greater appreciation for the impact that yoga and meditation can have on kids.

Through my Next Generation Yoga teacher training, I have learned that yoga can have so many more benefits for children, including:

  • Assist in body development and flexibility
  • Improve concentration, body awareness, and balance
  • Improve self-image
  • Increase levels of self-esteem and confidence
  • Learn tools for coping with stress and frustration
  • Learn different modes of expression and creativity

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This training really taught me to teach from my heart. When teaching yoga, or anything really, be true to your own heart and what you are passionate about. Kids will see that passion.

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Also know that kids won’t enjoy everything. Yoga may not be for them, like many other things.

New Year – Opportunity to Restart

Another new year, another new year’s resolution…right?

Maybe not so much! We don’t have to wait until the new year to restart our dedication to our yoga practice. Each day is a new day and a new opportunity to restart your daily yoga practice.

This year, I began the new year with a 30 day yoga journey created by Yoga with Adriene! Each year a new year’s restart is offered up, allowing us all to start the new year on a new track. It’s important to note, however, that we are not restricted to January to start a new year. Adriene offers monthly calendars on her website, allowing each month to become a restart.

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So get out there – find the calendar for you and restart your life! You’ll only have yourself to thank.

Pose Breakdown: Natarajasana (Dancer Pose)

Natarajasana, translated to dancer or lord of the dance pose, is a beautiful and challenging pose. Usually incorporated towards the end of a yoga flow, this pose is a great way to stretch out the body, focus the mind, and really challenge your sense of balance. It is a fun pose to play with, attempting to bring the back leg higher or reach the front arm further. Dancer pose is also a great pose for kids. It gives them a fun, challenging pose to try out.

Steps to get into pose:

  • Start in tadasana (mountain pose)
  • Shift weight to right leg/foot
  • Bend left after at the elbow bringing it out to the left side
  • Slowly bend left leg at the knee, bringing left foot into the left hand
  • Lift right arm straight up towards the sky
  • Holding the inside of the left foot, slowly kick the leg out behind out
  • While kicking the left leg out, slowly hinge at the hips reaching right arm ahead of you
  • Repeat steps for opposite leg

 

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Benefits:

  • Stretches the shoulders and chest
  • Stretches the thighs, groins, and abdomen
  • Strengthens the legs and ankles
  • Improves balance