Accessible Yoga

Accessible Yoga
In the Western world, much of yoga has become synonymous with both asana and with affluent, skinny white women. That’s not, however, how yoga started, and it’s not where much of yoga’s power lies. Enter Jivana Heyman, an AIDS activist in the late 1980’s and 1990’s, who began to teach the practice to his friends suffering – and dying – from the disease. Understandably so, this experience was transformative, and Heyman extended his focus to others who wouldn’t normally be thought of as part of the yoga community. Today, his organization is a powerful force that advocates and teaches methodology for instructing inclusive classes.

A look at an Accessible Yoga teacher training demonstrates the power that yoga can have with those who have been marginalized. In stunning contrast to many studios, Accessible Yoga teachers may be disabled, suffer from chronic illness, plus-sized, struggling financially, of a “minority” culture, any combination of the above, or just interested in working with “unusual” populations. They bring the discipline to the incarcerated, the elderly, and the impoverished; they teach Chair Yoga, Bed Yoga, or yoga modified in other ways to fit the needs of their students. In many ways, they work to change today’s yoga culture and make it more inclusive.

Those trained in the program learn not only how to make asana accessible, but also how to share pranayama, meditation, and yoga nidra. A focus on current scientific research ensures that these ‘airy-fairy’ parts of yoga are taught in a way that emphasizes their healing properties. Whether or not an individual is ‘cured’ of an illness is beside the point. Some people may never be athletic, or for that matter may never be completely healthy again – but managing chronic pain and learning how to tap into the body’s relaxation response are valid outcomes of a yoga practice, as is learning to be at ease with one’s mortality. In this way, Accessible Yoga proves that the discipline offers much beyond the ‘perfect yoga body,’ and for a much larger segment of the population.

Accessible Yoga stages two worldwide conference each year, allowing teachers to network internationally and to share ideas for teaching yoga to different populations. In addition, trainings are given for those who wish to join the organization as “Yoga Ambassadors” and take yoga into underserved communities. In addition, the organization focuses on advocacy, and publicity for its efforts, hoping always to further the idea of ‘yoga for all.’ The November 2018 edition of Yoga Journal gave Jivana Heyman and the Accessible Yoga organization a “Good Karma Award” for its service to the larger yoga community. More information can be found at

Disclaimer: I took Accessible Yoga training in the fall of 2018 and teach yoga at the Cancer Support Community. The above attempts to be an objective look at Accessible Yoga and its programs.

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