In the early 1990s, in an effort to meet anyone who wished to practice exactly where they are, Swami Satchidananda brought together two of his monastic students to serve those who could not access the traditional Integral Yoga class. Swami Suddhananda (a Yoga teacher with Cerebral Palsy) and Swami Sarvaananda, PhD (an educator and former sports coach) were tasked with developing “Gentle Integral Yoga Hatha” in service of this goal. Swami Satchidananda went over every asana targeted for Integral Yoga beginners, keenly observing the swamis’ practice and pointing out what to emphasize, how to protect each student’s abilities, and where to look for common issues.
Working with Swami Suddhananda, for example, he emphasized what could be best for those with Cerebral Palsy. As the adaptive practice progressed, he also emphasized how to work with people experiencing arthritis and multiple sclerosis, as well as general ideas for working with people who didn’t exercise much. From this personal instruction, Integral Yoga developed a pioneering training called “Wheelchair Yoga” in 1995. By 1998, Integral Yoga had expanded that effort into a complete Integral Yoga Gentle Teacher Training and this training evolved through 2002 to essential practices that still guide Integral Yoga Gentle teacher trainers.
These foundational efforts evolved into many opportunities to serve other populations. Swami Sarvaananda worked with the Richmond, Virginia Integral Yoga Institute (and its director, Rev. Vimala Pozzi) to create the Richmond Arthritis Association PACE (People With Arthritis Can Exercise) project and manual. In California, Sambasiva Bruce Neal—one of our first teachers from the Integral Yoga Gentle Teacher Training—worked with the San Francisco Multiple Sclerosis Association to develop a Gentle Yoga program as part of their Physical Activity Manual and their Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis Manual.
Our Integral Yoga teachers and Centers also began variations of the Gentle Yoga Teacher Training. Hamsa Judi Spagnola created and developed the Gentle/Chair Yoga Teacher Training Program and manual for The Integral Yoga Institute of New York. She also teaches for the MS Society in New York. Reverend Jivana Heyman developed the Adaptive Yoga program for the Integral Yoga Institute of San Francisco, which he has now expanded into the Accessible Yoga training program and conferences. These programs and others are using Gentle Yoga to aid students all over the world.
Swami Sarvaananda also took this program to the Association of Professional Chaplains Conference in 2005 for the morning offering of Hatha Yoga, which has continued at every conference since. She will be offering this to the newly developed North American Hindu Chaplains Association in 2021. She also has taught versions of Gentle Yoga to Hospice and Hospital programs in Virginia and Upstate New York.
This teacher training has become an essential part in the training of all teachers of Therapeutic Yoga and Yoga therapists, as well as preparing all Yoga teachers to aid any student in their Yoga practices.
~Integral Yoga Magazine