Sample from the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine
Around the Globe with Integral Yoga: San Francisco
The First Accessible Integral Yoga Teacher Training Program
The Integral Yoga ® Institute of San Francisco launched a pilot program in October 2007: a new Accessible Teacher Training for people with physical challenges who want to become Yoga teachers. This exciting new program made the Integral Yoga Hatha I Teacher Training (TT) program available for the first time to those who haven’t before been able to participate. The training was offered in an accessible space, at a slower pace and with many other features that helped to make it user-friendly for people with physical challenges.
Integral Yoga Magazine: What inspired you to develop this TT program?
Jivana Heyman: For the past 12 years I’ve taught Yoga to people with disabilities. When I took TT, my best friend was dying of AIDS. So immediately I was clear I wanted to serve people with AIDS. That idea expanded to include my desire to teach people with different chronic illnesses and disabilities. I was inspired by the classes I was teaching for the Dean Ornish program, where I saw the healing power of Yoga. I began working with the Multiple Sclerosis Society and with the AIDS program of a local hospital after realizing these same principles could be applied to people with different types of disabilities. I know a lot of people with disabilities don’t see themselves as teachers. But, many of my students were so deeply committed to their practice and had an amazing understanding of Integral Yoga. I felt that they would make great teachers even if they didn’t see it. Sri Gurudev taught us that Yoga is not about the body, that Hatha Yoga is the calling card and it is only the beginning of true Yoga.
IYM: What range of disabilities do the trainees have and what are the challenges?
JH: There are ten people in the training, with a range of disabilities: Some have multiple sclerosis and are very mobile and one person is in a wheelchair; one person has a spinal cord injury and is paralyzed from the waist down; one person has AIDS; and there’s a partially deaf woman with a brain injury.
The challenges are different from what I anticipated. What I found is that generalizations can’t be applied—each person has completely different abilities and disabilities. The area in which one person needs extra help is different than for someone else. But, the biggest surprise was how advanced these students are in their understanding of Yoga. Most people coming to basic TT are relatively new to Yoga, whereas the average length of practice for the students in this training is five years. Even though their practice looks different than an able-bodied person, they have a deep understanding of Yoga. So there are certain things I can go into more deeply and then there are other areas that must be approached more slowly.
IYM: How is the program different?
JH: Our basic TT program is so amazing, there isn’t that much we needed to change. It’s so well planned and there’s so much beauty in our basic class. Anyone who walks in at the beginning of TT is going to leave as a good teacher. Why throw that all away and start with something new? These trainees need to learn the fundamentals of Hatha Yoga and have a firm understanding of Integral Yoga Hatha so they can teach our basic class. So that’s what we are doing. What is different is the way they are learning the poses. I am allowing them to modify the poses somewhat but they still have to fit within our traditional class. In our regular TT, we already teach modifications for many of the poses, such as shoulder stand, so I am just using as much adaptation as we have in our regular program and expanding it a little. Some of the students have cognitive impairment—slow thinking, slow mental ability or impaired memory. So memorizing the script becomes more of a challenge. Since this is the method we use in Integral Yoga, I made the program much slower—eight months long—to address this.
I try to engage every aspect of a person’s ability to learn, making the classes diverse and not just a lecture format. We need to focus on our strengths and if we can bring all auditory, visual and kinesthetic learning styles in, it helps students absorb the material. We have one student who is almost deaf, so that’s been another challenge. She can speak and she can participate but she also signs and plans on eventually teaching to the deaf community. She knows of almost no Yoga in the deaf community, so she’s really excited about having this opportunity and potentially serving in that way…
Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine