The Auspicious Light Of Accessible Yoga

The Auspicious Light Of Accessible Yoga

By Dana Lee
 
I’ve been struggling to write this article for months, frozen inside a dark prism of unexpected pain.  Attending the Accessible Yoga Conference in San Francisco last October was auspicious, although I did not know it at the time. I walked easily into the conference on my own two feet, ignoring the miracle of mobility like so many of us do, sure of myself like a sophomoric wise fool. Today, I am struggling to walk again, each step a slow crooked and painful endeavor. This article has been stuck in my throat so long because the messages were deeply personal and I could not make room for all lessons in this space alone. It was the lyrics to the Sufi bedtime prayer song Azure Salver, sung by Snatam Kaur, that finally broke through with the clarity of a grace note known to my heart as Accessible Yoga.   
 
"Remember the name of that one who is illuminating every soul." 
 
Jivana Heyman, founder of Accessible Yoga is that one made of mirrored love. His dharma is to surface those whose life’s work it is to illuminate every soul in the healing light of yoga and open that circle to include everyone. His dharma is born from experiencing what it means to be marginalized and to bear witness to the suffering and death of loved ones from AIDS related illnesses. The song Azure Salver deals with  the pain of separation and the bliss of union with God.  I can think of no better way to describe what Accessible Yoga is than this. This song suggests that we are the eyes, ears, hands and feet of God’s love in the world. This ecumenical idea crosses all faith traditions and informs our purpose as yoga teachers, indeed as compassionate human beings on this planet. How can we gain the competency necessary to help others throughout the arc of life, to deal with the pain of separation (from health, mobility, community, dreams) and feel the bliss of union with God (smooth breathing, a caring smile, sacred peaceful space, healing, love and inclusion)?  Accessible Yoga has many golden doors of opportunity for us all and is a critical component of every responsible basic yoga teacher training program.

 The beauty of accessible yoga is clear without words in this photo of the great  Saraswathi Devi  with Niroga Yoga Therapy captured while she taught a course called “Adaptive Yoga for People Living with Disabilities”, Oct, 2017

The beauty of accessible yoga is clear without words in this photo of the great Saraswathi Devi with Niroga Yoga Therapy captured while she taught a course called “Adaptive Yoga for People Living with Disabilities”, Oct, 2017

“Thousand are thine eyes, yet thou hast no eyes;
Thousand are thy forms, yet thou hast no form;
Thousand are thy lotus feet, and yet thou hast no feet;
Thousand are thy noses to smell, yet thou hast no nose.
It is the light which lives in every heart,
And thy light which illumines every soul.”

 
The AYC is growing all around the world and there are many gifted yoga teachers that I like to affectionately call “Jivana’s Angels." One such angel is Stacie Doorek, author of Chair Yoga, and a new book recently released, Yoga for Everyone.
 
Stacie was stricken with Lyme’s Disease while in college and creatively adapted her practice with the support of a chair. Looking back now, I am deeply grateful for the auspicious blessing to have met her before I experienced my crippling injury and illness. When I met her at the AYC, I was still under the spell of my own delusions about what yoga means and what my role might be in it. Yoga is not just exercise. It’s not the expensive tights, eternal optimism that feels fake in your gut, guru worship, how much sweat we can generate in a power class, what incredible arm balance we can show off in an instagram capture or how witty we seem pasting in a google quote that’s maybe from Rumi. If it sounds like I’ve done that, well, maybe once or twice. . .   Yoga is more than these distractions. Stacie knows this and is devoted to Ahimsa, non violence, in an authentically strong yet humble voice. Like all of Jivana’s Angels, she has a way of showing a clear path through the pain of delusion with compassion and practical healing tools.
 
“O Destroyer of Fear,
What other worship can be compared
To nature's own festival of lights,
While the divine music resounds within?
It is the light which lives in every heart,
And thy light which illumines every soul.”

 
On so many levels, the AYC was a source of hope that slaked the poverty of my attention to the infinite incarnations of God’s face in the world. Jivana’s angels are sometimes rolling around in serious sparkly hardware with jewels of wisdom as their offering to the world. The beautiful  Mary Jo Fetterly, President of Trinity Yoga, presented some of the most phenomenal insights into building a new life after waking up paralyzed. She speaks about how to move powerful subtle energy in ways that will expand your mind and inform your teachings. Her wisdom around keen yet subtle bhanda awareness in recognizing how to sense her way out of wearing a colostomy bag as a high functioning paraplegic is nothing short of amazing. She knows intimately how to navigate the labyrinth of awakening. She uses yoga as a therapeutic and best practice tool for rehabilitation and recovery from hospital to home and for persons with temporary or permanent disabilities. She teaches the process for integrating the sensory body “where thought flows, energy flows," reestablishing “felt sense” by answering the question, “What do you want to feel?  She teaches how to give a container or containment to people following surgery by employing considerate thoughtful touch. This teaching is for everyone.   We can all benefit from learning the energetic nuances of yoga. The layers never end. As we go deeper, we can help ourselves or someone we love through the labyrinth of life.
 
It was in Mary Jo’s class that I met the fearless Los Angeles based wheelchair model and incredible E-RYT500 yoga teacher, Maria Aroch, who took every opportunity to shake hands with a new face or climb down out of her wheelchair to exhibit how yoga can be adapted for everyone.  She helped me to bridge my own fear of people in wheelchairs. So many times I have averted my eyes to someone who looked different than me because I had no experience to show me the way. Jivana had asked us at the beginning of the conference to make new friends. This is known as “Jivana’s Homework," and Mary Jo was the very first light I saw. Her loving radiance became the experience by which my fear dissolved. Her authentic joy and honest trepidation was shamelessly transparent on her expressive features when she had to trust others to help her into a new posture. Her courage and enthusiasm was healing for me. I am so thankful for having met her and everytime I see her smile in her Instagram feed I cannot help but feel my heart smile back and fly out to her in gratitude. Fearlessly funny and bubbly, she is building a huge yoga following in Los Angeles centered on community, caring and accessibility.  

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Another luminous soul was Linda Sparrowe who shared some of her wisdom from working with cancer patients. She says yoga is a body based meditation. We should always be careful not to teach yoga in a way that says we need to be stronger, better or more than what we are right now. She wants to encourage people to feel and know that they are enough, to invite students to explore what they already have. Yoga is creating relationships – you have to inhabit every part of your body and create space for even the parts of you that are no longer acting the way they used to.
 
The light is clear and in it I have seen that Accessible Yoga is a portal to all of this seeing and hope. Attending an AYC brought me into the startling recognition that yoga is for everyone.  Jivana is fond of saying that there's no correlation between your physical ability and your peace of mind. You can be dying and find peace. In fact, the only moment we can find peace is in the present moment. We are not just the mind and body, we are the spirit inside, a spark of the divine. Asana alone is not going to keep us alive forever, and it is important that we do not ignore our mind. Become friends with our minds and stop the war. Effort towards steadiness of mind and being peaceful in the present moment is our quest. See the truth. Take responsibility.  Teach it the way you see it in your heart. It's different when you expand your experience to include every soul.

To learn more about Accessible Yoga visit: accessibleyoga.org. And you can stay in touch with AY on Facebook and Instagram.

If Accessible Yoga is something you are interested in, there are currently 15 Regional AY Ambassador communities on social media representing 5 US regions and 10 International regions. See what you can do today to contribute to this incredible movement of yoga for everyone!  Learn more about the Accessible Yoga Training here.
 

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