Who is yoga for? Who really needs to the teachings of yoga? How do we share them? Most importantly, how do we make them safe for everyone?
These are the questions Jivana Heyman, creator of Accessible Yoga and the Accessible YogaConference (AYC), is devoted to answering. On May19-21st, he will host New York City’s first conference at the Integral Yoga Institute on 13th St. And not a day too soon: With one in five American adults living with a disability and the number of Americans practicing yoga on the rise—more than 80 million in the U.S. said they were likely to try yoga for the first time in 2016—it’s imperative that yoga teachers develop the awareness, sensitivity and skills to teach a variety of practitioners.
Heyman’s mission is to share the benefits of yoga with anyone who currently does not
have access to it, and with communities that have been excluded or under-served. “Originally, I wanted to create a platform for teachers who were doing the kind of work I admired. There was no platform to highlight these people because outside of traditional, corporate model there is little support for yoga teachers. Yoga is deeply meaningful and effective when there’s pain and struggle in your life, and commercial yoga is not interested in serving that population. Essentially, we’re hoarding by not sharing it. We’ve hidden it and disguised it as something it’s not—that you have to be a fit or athletic person to do it. This conference is about making yoga safe, inclusive and welcoming to everyone… And making the world a better place by being kind and loving, by getting over yourself.”
The line up bears out: Matthew Sanford, author of Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence and founder of Mind Body Solutions, a non-profit dedicated to transforming trauma, loss, and disability into hope and potential, will be the keynote speaker. Known for his poetic eloquence, Sanford is excited about the event. “This a sacred journey—helping students explore not just who they are, but what they are—what it has to have a body, to have a mind—this is when the magic happens, when we begin to heal, then we are yoga students.”
Classes covering a wide range of populations will be taught by leading teachers across the United States throughout the weekend: yoga for veterans, seniors, amputees, big bodies, the deaf community, queer/trans yoga, at-risk youth, and special children. Classes addressing disabilities and relevant modifications in yoga will include: MS and other neuromuscular conditions, arthritis, autism, cancer, and trauma.
One of the presenters, Steffany Moonaz, a yoga therapist specializing in arthritis and faculty member in the Masters in Yoga Therapy Maryland University’s School of Integrative Health, said, “Arthritis is the nation's leading cause of disability and the rate is increasing. People with arthritis are already attending yoga classes in record numbers. Unfortunately, most yoga teachers are not adequately trained to meet the unique needs and challenges of this population. Like any accessibility issue, it is important that teachers have the tools they need for this growing population.”
Lesser known to teachers and students of yoga is the consideration of amputees in the yoga space. Marsha Therese Danzig, founder of Yoga for Amputees® and a below knee amputee herself, will teach a 90 minute class on how to safely adapt yoga poses for above-knee, below-knee, and upper-extremity amputees. Participants will also learn an amputee specific meditation to support amputees’ physical and mental healing.
“Globally, there is a new amputation every thirty seconds," Danzig says. "That adds up to
over 1 million amputations globally each year. Amputations affect all ages, and all limbs. Phantom pain (feeling pain for a limb that isn't there), can be debilitating. More importantly, losing a limb or limbs is a severe blow to personal identity and life direction. By teaching yoga to amputees of all activity levels, yoga teachers expand their reach to more students who want to come back home to themselves, rebuild their confidence, and regain their sense of self.”
On serving the needs of big bodied practitioners, Michael Hayes, founder of Buddha Body Yoga in New York City, will be offering a class on how to make the physical practice accessible to plus-size practitioners. “Buddha Body Yoga is thrilled to be a part of the movement!" he says. "The Accessible Yoga Conference is a wonderful opportunity for us to introduce our yogic methods. We use the weight of the body, the breath and both standard and oversized props to work safely and help students find their way into the peaceful practice of yoga - no matter their size.”
After two successful conferences in Santa Barbara, Heyman is excited to follow his dharma path to Integral in New York, a place and philosophy close to his heart—he was the manager of Integral in San Francisco before moving to Santa Barbara. “We have blind spots that we don’t see,” he said. “The conference is a place to stop and take a look at how we are communicating with our students—our marketing, the naming of our classes, pricing, and so on. It’s a place to get back to the first concept of yoga: Do no harm.”