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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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.

Yoga as Therapy

Medicine is full of options for treatments. Medications, physical therapy, talk therapy, and many others…these are all used to assist in resolving ailments of all varieties. Some of these therapies come with many side effects, leading to more therapeutic interventions.

Yoga seems an unlikely option to many. Yoga as therapy is often thought of as a supplement to physical therapy, but it is so much more. Yoga therapy does more that provide physical benefits. It combines the mental health benefits with the physical, allowing individuals to heal in a more complete manner.

Yoga can help with the following ailments:

-Chronic Pain

-PTSD

-Physical Injury Rehabilitation

-Anxiety

-Stress

-Depression

Yoga Therapy is now a certified program, resulting in a certification allowing practitioners to provide therapeutic yoga in various settings. From hospitals to rehabilitation centers, many medical companies are now looking to yoga therapy for long term healing and benefits. Yoga therapy has the power to reduce readmission in hospitals as well as reduce relapse in addiction treatment. Yoga therapy can be catered to any ailment, physical or otherwise. Ultimately, yoga therapy is a great addition to any treatment plan.

Yoga for Mental Health

While yoga is becoming popular on all fronts, one area in which its popularity is taking a slow, yet steady rise is in the healthcare field. Mental health is an area getting much attention in the media. With mass shootings and suicides on the rise, mental healthcare is a field which is getting more research and more funding. Yoga, in the same respect, is getting more attention in terms of research and funding.

Studies are coming out showing how yoga can benefit overall mental health. Yoga has proven to help individuals with anxiety, depression, stress, and PTSD. More and more research is validating what more yogis already know, that yoga can not only help treat these issues, but they can help prevent them as well.

Yoga has the power to modulate the stress response, reducing its physical manifestation in the body. Yoga also provides a coping mechanism, allowing individuals to use the breath to regulate the physical response of anxiety. By focusing on the present, yoga can help reduce some symptoms of depression and anxiety, as they may be related with focusing on future/past events which are out of our control.

Ultimately, yoga is one of my personal favorite self-care techniques. While it may not solve or prevent all our problems, it can help us by teaching us to focus on being present and mindful. These techniques can help us handle stressful situations as they are presented to us, as they inevitably will be.