Accessible Yoga Conference

Accessible Yoga Conference

This month I presented at the Accessible Yoga Conference in San Francisco! Accessible Yoga, founded and directed by Jivana Heyman, is an international grassroots organization dedicated to sharing yoga with everyone. This conference brings together a wide assortment of teachers and practitioners, all of whom have a shared goal of bringing yoga to all, “if you have a body and you have a mind, you can practice yoga.” This conference is run by a team of volunteers, yet you wouldn’t know it. The conference was laid back, friendly, and all events began and ended on time.

There were two prominent themes that ran through the conference. The first was connection, to self and to others. The opening session began with connection to self through a meditation led by Swami Ramananda of Integral Yoga. After remarks from Jivana Heyman, we were asked to meet and connect with people around us. This experience of connecting with others was repeated throughout the conference, at meals, and outside of the conference. It was one of the friendliest environments I have been in!

Chinnamasta Stiles leads the Joint Freeing Series. Rudra demonstrates from his chair, while Lia demonstrates from the floor.

The second theme was, as Jivana pointed out during the opening session, “there is no correlation between ability and peace of mind.” All sessions addressed the need to adapt yogic practices to all levels of ability, all body types/size, all races, and all economic statuses. In a panel on Creating Equity in Media Imagery we discussed how advertising excludes differently-abled bodies — including pictures on social media. Seeing a young, thin, smiling woman in a very bendy pose gives the message that yoga is only for people with those abilities. Baxter Bell led a session on Yoga for Healthy Aging. This mostly-power point session, was interspersed with practices like breath with a visualization, movement that focused on right/left brain hemisphereic integration (cross body actions), and the simplest of movements. It was a nice reminder that simple is often more profound for most people.

I particularly got a lot out of Chinnamasta Stiles’ session, Moving from Pain to Ease – Restoring the Flow of Prana. She is the lineage holder for Mukunda Stiles, who I was lucky enough to meet and study with, briefly, about 10 years ago. Chinnamasta led us through the Joint Freeing Series, which has been a part of my practice since I learned it in 2005. During the session, she emphasized the need to embody the practices that we share with clients and students. For this reason, we participated as we watched a demo from Rudra (treasurer of Accessible Yoga) practicing in a wheelchair and Chinnamasta’s assistant Lia. Some participants practiced lying down, while others were standing. The adaptations of this seemingly simple Joint Freeing Series were quite profound.

Rose just before leading her session

I got to lead a session called Accessible Yoga Tools for Mood Management: LifeForce Yoga. My focus was on our LifeForce Yoga practices and how they can be modified to work well in chairs, in bed, in airplanes, etc. I also placed an emphasis on feeling your feelings – when we repress or suppress what is rising, we divide ourselves from ourselves. Cultivating the listening connects us to our true selves. We had a lovely session; we breathed, we visualized, we made noise, we laughed, we cried, and, we felt our feelings!

Other topics covered at the conference were: Yoga as a Therapeutic and Best Practice Tool for Rehabilitation and Recovery from Hospital to Home, for Permanent or Temporary Disability with Mary-Jo Fetterly; Empowering Self & Uniting Community through Seva with Joy Ravelli; Courageous Women, Fearless Living: Yoga for Women Touched by Cancer with Linda Sparrowe; Healing Chronic Homelessness with Freidel Kushman and Miarco Tiama; Inclusive Yoga for Children with Autism and Special Needs with Shawnee Thornton Hardy; and so much more. Conference attendees were people of all color, people of all ages (ranged from their early twenties, all the way up to the seventies and eighties!), and people of all physical abilities. It was a beautiful and diverse group, all interested in serving from the heart.

After a great conference you just want to have fun with your new friends while you eat your flan. We call it Flanasana!

At the closing session, Kriya let us in a guided relaxation. Again, Jivana spoke, saying that our dynamic in yoga and needs to be shifted. Teachers and students are on an equal ground, the teacher should not be placed on a pedestal. Instead, yoga is collaboration and creativity between students and teachers. Linda Sparrowe was our closing keynote speaker. Her speech can be summed up in one sentence: there is room for all of me at the table. We don’t just let the bad stuff going push that under the table and only elevate the good stuff, we need to welcome all of us into the room. The parts of us that are difficult or challenged are inviting us to be kinder, gentler and more present. But through this, we come to an understanding of ourselves as love that our true nature is goodness. And it is from this place that we practice the generosity of sharing yoga.

The most valuable part of this conference was connecting with so many differently-abled people. Even though I work with different bodies, every session provided the reminder that yoga is still yoga and has profound effects for people even when the movement is minimal or almost imperceptible. The lesson I would like to leave all teachers with is to let your students express their yoga in the way that is most appropriate for them, even if it seems like they are doing nothing at all.

Hats off to you, Jivana and team, thank you! Accessible Yoga

Jivana Heyman leading the group in Alternate Nostril, by special request of Rose for the Breathe Your Way to Balance Challenge

About the Author

Rose Kress

Rose Kress ERYT-500, C-IATY, YACEP, Director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, which trains yoga and health professionals internationally. She is the author of two CDs, edits the research newsletter, and directs the training programs for LifeForce Yoga.

About the Author

Rose Kress

Rose Kress ERYT-500, C-IATY, YACEP, Director of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, which trains yoga and health professionals internationally. She is the author of two CDs, edits the research newsletter, and directs the training programs for LifeForce Yoga.

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What People Say

“This workshop helped me rededicate my energies and begin to work through some of the blocks I’ve felt creatively.” — Steve Mark, college professor, New Haven, CT
“I feel profoundly transformed, both physically and emotionally. The connection between mind, body and spirit was clearly evident to me, but revealed to me through this workshop as an integrally vital link to overall health.” — Nadine Richardson, program manager at rehab agency, Monroe, CT
“I utilize the LFY techniques in both a class room setting and one-on-one environment. The skills have infused my teachings with compassion, mindfulness, and awareness.” — Kat Larsen, CYT, LFYP
“Giving my clients a strategy and permission to quiet their minds and rebalance the sympathetic nervous system has been very beneficial to them and in our work together.” — Sue Dilsworth, PhD, RYT 200, LFYP, Allendale, MI
“I began a fantasy during the meditation exercise... almost as if I’d been there. It’s now an on-going work of fiction.” — Serian Strauss, Tanzania
“I have found the pranayama (breathing practices) especially easy to introduce in a clinical setting. Some people have benefited quickly in unexpected and transformative ways.” — Liz Brenner, LICSW, LFYP, Watertown, MA
I absolutely love this stuff! I have been using it with my clients and I am just finding it to be so incredibly helpful. There seriously something for everything. Although I am not as skilled as I hope to be someday, even at my level of training I’m finding that I am beginning to figure out what to do. It just blows my mind! - Christine Brudnicki, MS, LPC
“I gained perspective of who I am in the world and this will change my life significantly.” — Mary Ford, artist, Southport, CT
“A client who returned said, "When I came before, you helped me understand and get where I wanted to go. Now you show me yoga practices I use to help myself understand and get where I want to go.” — Sherry Rubin, LCSW, BCD, LFYP, Downingtown, PA
“Yoga Skills for Therapists is the ideal resource for those who want to bring yoga practices into psychotherapy or healthcare. Weintraub, a leader in the field of yoga therapy, offers evidence-based, easy-to-introduce strategies for managing anxiety, improving mood, and relieving suffering. Helpful clinical insights and case examples emphasize safety, trust, and skillful adaptation to the individual, making it easy to apply the wisdom of yoga effectively in the therapeutic context.” — Kelly McGonigal, PhD, author, Yoga for Pain Relief, Editor-in-Chief, International Journal of Yoga Therapy
“I integrate strategies like mantra tones and pranayama, but above all I invite myself and those I teach to cultivate svadhyaya, to practice self-observation without judgment.” — Barbara Sherman, RYT 200, LFYP, Tucson, AZ
“My personal practice will change, as well as my yoga classes. I have a better understanding of yoga!” — Andrea Gattuso, RYT, Yoga Teacher, Hackettstown, N.J.
“I have been reminded that I am not on this path alone, that others are sharing the journey that sometimes seems so difficult. I have also been reminded of the importance of daily practice and I will do that. The whole program has been an incredible experience for me. Thank you!” — Lorraine Plauth, retired teacher, Voorheesville, NY
“I have gained a softer heart, more receptive mind, and tools to enrich both personal and professional aspects of my life.” – Regina Trailweaver, LICSW, clinical social worker, Hancock, VT.
“This program changed my life in a significant way. It helped me connect with the spirit which is something you can’t get from psychotherapy and medication.” – G. W., artist, Pittsburgh, PA
“This workshop has changed so much — my self-image and my life. My own heart’s desire is 100% clear. I gained tools to help myself and others to live life fully.” — Marcia Siegel, Yoga teacher, therapist, Carlsbad, CA.
“My patients can now have the same effects as many medications without having to actually take medication!” — Deborah Lubetkin, PSY.D, LFYP, West Caldwell, NJ
“I have found the LFYP training to be incredibly useful in giving people specific tools to use in maintaining physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual balance, and further opening their intuitive abilities.” — Nancy Windheart, RYT-200, LFYP, Reiki Master, Animal communication teacher, Prescott, AZ
“I have gained an incredible opening and clearing of old obstructions. I hope to return to my life and fill this opening with things I love to do and that give me joy!” — Lisa Shine, administrative assistant, Ballston Lake, NY
“I learned lots of ways to reduce the anxiety and depression of my patients and myself.” – Aviva Sinvany-Nubel, PhD, APN, CNSC, RN, psychotherapist, Bridgewater, N.J.
“I gained tools for working with my own depression and with my clients’ depressions.” — Robert Sgona, LCSW, RYT, psychotherapist, Yoga teacher, Camden, ME.
“Words do not do justice to all that I learned. This workshop changed my life!” — Jen Nolan, Teacher, Cortland, NY
“My life is already changed! I will use the tools I learned in my own practice and in my work. I feel safe and seen.” — Susan Andrea Weiner, MA, teacher/expressive arts facilitator, El Cerrito, CA.
“I came hoping to learn to move past some of the obstacles blocking my creativity. Over the course of this weekend, I feel I’ve gained a certain measure of faith in myself and in my ability to change. I also had some realizations that I believe will be very helpful to me. I feel encouraged. Both the content and presentation of this program were so well-thought out that I can’t think of any way to improve it.” — Andrea Gollin, writer & editor, Miami, FL
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