Trying to hide the fact that I was switching hats during the 2nd Annual Accessible Yoga Conference in Santa Barbara, I secretly changed between three distinctly different caps from Friday, September 16 to Sunday, September 18, 2016. Accessible Yoga, founded by Integral Yoga Minister, Reverend Jivana Heyman, is dedicated to sharing the benefits of Yoga with anyone who does not have access to these practices, and with communities that have been excluded or under-served. About 200 yogis gathered to learn about instructing students with a variety of physical and other challenges as well as to build networks of professional support and friendship. www.accessibleyoga.org
Most often I sported my Accessible Yoga Teammate cap befitting of my role as Scholarship Team liaison to the Planning Committee. Although not a natural extrovert I introduced myself to complete strangers asking if they needed anything but when I recognized their name from an application submitted, I gladly chatted about the important work I knew that yogi was sharing in the world.
Which Hat is That?
I wore my participant hat while attending the opening session to hear Integral Yogi Sonia Sivakami Sumar speak about her internationally known Yoga for the Special Child, and for Rev. Jivana Heyman’s Integrated Accessible Yoga Classes where participants learned to use one set of instructions to get all students into a pose, whether seated, standing, or laying on a mat. In Dianne Bondy’s Yoga for Larger Bodies our mat was declared a cease-fire zone where it was forbidden to feel badly about our body, ourselves, or anyone else; while in Yoga, Race and Inclusion, Bondy commented on how easily stereotypes are perpetuated and invited us to “make friends with someone different from you.” Lakshmi Voelker’s Chair Yoga encouraged us to demonstrate various levels of a pose for our students, asking them to choose based on how their body felt that day.
Durga Leela contended, in Yoga of Recovery, that the opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety but connection or fellowship (sangha). Leela and many other presenters commented on the importance of an instructor’s words, emphasizing the use of inclusive language to allow every student to feel welcome in the class regardless of their ability level or appearance.
Donning yet another hat, I moderated a panel discussion “Accessible x2: When Student and Teacher Have a Disability” with Natasha Baebler, Shakti Bell, Cherie Hotchkiss, and Ryan McGraw. The common thread throughout the conversation involved how much offers of assistance from able-bodied folks are appreciated whether to move props, assist with publicity, or do some other task.
The sessions I missed included: Hala Kouri’s Yoga for Trauma, Stephanie Lopez’s iRest Yoga Nidra, Cheri Clampett’s Therapeutic Yoga, Steffany Moonaz’s Yoga for Arthritis, Natasha Baebler’s Yoga for Blind and Visually Impaired, Community Mastermind Panel featuring Melanie Klein, Jessica Rhodes, Kamala Itzel Berrio and others. Thankfully many of them will be offered online at https://yogainternational.com/ecourses .
Perusing through attendees’ exit surveys after the Conference I was struck by these comments:
- It was so refreshing to be surrounded by such inspiring people without egos.
- I really enjoyed not feeling like the “only one” like me. I looked around and saw a lot of people who have similar challenges to mine.
- It is important to me that academics working in these spaces continue to be a welcome part of the conversation. We have to address this work in many different ways.
- Being a strong, fit, athletic yogi…I got to experience feeling as the “other” or the outsider. It has given me more empathy and understanding for underrepresented and underserved populations in the Yoga world.
- I have returned to my teaching with a renewed sense of purpose.
No matter which hat I had on, the Conference appeared a success. A fellow Teammate and another Integral Yogi, Reverend Rudra Swartz, commented: “Last year we talked about starting a movement, this year it felt like something we do every year—it feels established…” During the closing session when we learned about the new online international network to connect all of us, www.accessibleyoganetwork.com, we rejoiced at the prospect of continued communication with our new friends and colleagues as we shared farewell hugs.
By Priya Patrice Wagner, RYT 200
From: Integral Yoga Magazine, Fall 2016
Priya Patrice Wagner, RYT 200, trained in the first Accessible Yoga Teacher Training offered by Integral Yoga in 2007, Gentle Yoga, Raja Yoga, Restorative Yoga and iRest Yoga Nidra. She is a Planning Committee member of the Accessible Yoga Conference, teaches people with disabilities and chronic illnesses in Oakland, California, where she lives.