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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International Yoga Day

It’s that time of year again…summer sun and International Yoga Day! Mark your calendars…June 21st is International Yoga Day. What does that mean? Well…basically various cities and countries around the world take the day to honor and practice yoga! There will be plenty of events around the world, large and small.

International Yoga Day Top Events and Things to Do

Start your own at home yoga practice. Use International Yoga Day as an excuse to get a mat and start your own practice.

Find a studio near you! There will be plenty of events happening that day, so check out the schedules at your local studios. This is a great way to find a studio and teacher that’s right for you.

Meditate. Remember yoga isn’t just about the asana practice. Find a quiet moment and meditate on what you really want to get out of your yoga practice.

Go on a yoga retreat! Summer is a great time to travel, so find a destination yoga retreat and sign up!

 

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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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Yoga for Women (and everyone really)

March hosts International Women’s Day. In order to honor this, I thought I’d write about how yoga can benefit women and female identifying persons.

It seems fairly clear and straightforward, to be honest. Why do we think there are usually so many more women than men in yoga classes? Because women get it! They get the power of yoga. Maybe it’s because women areĀ generally more in tune with their feelings (physically and mentally), but it seems like the power of yoga is felt right away. And since women areĀ generally the ones taking care of children and the household, it makes sense that their self-care involves yoga, an activity that helps us deal with the madness that life can bring.

So let’s lay it out…why is yoga so amazing for women?

Well, here are just a few reasons:

  1. It reduces stress.
  2. It helps combat anxiety and depression.
  3. It increases positive endorphins.
  4. It eases pain and makes the body physically stronger.
  5. It empowers us to try new things and take risks.
  6. It allows us to remain calm in stressful situations.

So these are great things about yoga and guess what, they aren’t just benefits for women. Spoiler alert!!!!! Yoga is for everybody. AND YES – YOGA IS GOOD FOR EVERYBODY TOO!

So while March is all about empowering and expressing gratitude to the women in your life…yoga doesn’t have to be for women only.

February – Let’s Promote Self-Care

Often, during the month of February, we find ourselves surrounded by messages of romantic love. We see candies and cards meant to express how we love our romantic partners. Sometimes we can find the candies and cards to express non-romantic love for others…family and friends. But what about ourselves?

Where are the candies and cards that we are allowed to give ourselves to say thank you, I love you.

Often we forget that the most important person in our lives is us. Me…I…these are important too. It’s not selfish to say “I love myself”. It’s not selfish to want to spend time by yourself doing what you want to do instead of making room to do whatever your partner, friends, or family wants. It’s not selfish to take care of YOU!

 

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Many people work in fields of service. From nursing, teaching, to therapy and social work…these are all fields where we give a little bit of ourselves to the people, communities we serve. How can we do this if we are not taking care of ourselves first? We are like buckets, if you will. We are happy when we are full energetically. So if we keep taking a cup here, a cup there…all these cups for others…we end up emptying out our own energy store. We need to replenish. That’s where self-care comes in.

Here are a few good self-care items that might help you replenish that energy you might be losing:

  1. Take a bubble bath.
  2. Meditate.
  3. Do some yoga.
  4. Go for a walk outside.
  5. Read a book.
  6. Take a nap.
  7. Watch your favorite movie alone.
  8. Make yourself your favorite meal.
  9. Ask for help or space.

These are just a few tips. Generally self-care is doing something you like that’s good for you. So it’s not eating an entire cake or bag of candy. It’s not ignoring things that are piling up on your to-do list. It’s doing something that you love that helps you replenish your own energy store so that you can go out and tackle that class of rowdy teens or that huge to-do list.

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!

 

 

 

National Yoga Month

September was National Yoga Month! What did that mean? Well hopefully you saw more yoga pop up and community classes being made available to you and your community. If not, that’s fairly understandable. It can be hard to just start a yoga program from scratch. It can be ever harder to start your own yoga practice at home.

Here are a few tips to help you start your own yoga practice at home:

  1. Find short yoga videos – there are so many FREE yoga videos available on YouTube. Some are long and daunting…BUT some are really short and sweet. Use those short practices to jump start your yoga practice.
  2. Create a yoga space – even if it’s just a small space in your bedroom or office, create a special place for you to do yoga. Put some paintings on the wall, leave your mat in the corner. Do something special to that space to denote it from the rest of your home.
  3. Set your alarm – this is probably the most important step. Set an alarm to do yoga. Whether it’s in the morning or at night, use the technology that you already have to support your drive to create a yoga practice.
  4. Find a yoga community you connect with – use Facebook or Instagram to inspire you to try to do yoga on the reg
  5. Get friends involved – use your friends!!! Let them hold you accountable if you can’t.

Yoga is a great method to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. It is definitely one of the best things I’ve done for myself. Trust me, you won’t regret a daily home practice…even if it doesn’t mean waking up at 5 am like me.

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