• 12/20/2021 11:02 AM | Anonymous

    I hated my first yoga class.

    Almost 30 years ago, in a small Upper West Side studio, I was one of three people attending class and the only one who was both new to the practice of yoga and who also didn’t know the others in the room. Not only did I feel like an outsider, I also felt like a stranger to my body and unsure of how to establish the relationship with it that the instructor was suggesting.

    And yet, somehow, something inside encouraged me to give the practice of yoga another shot - elsewhere and with a friend, the next time.

    And thus my yoga journey has continued onward from there. 

    In the time since, my studies, practice and orientation to teaching have been informed by my takeaways from that first class. 

    I continually reflect on what it means to be welcoming and to be as clear as I can when offering fellow students a path inward. Simultaneously, I have tried to remain aware that, in the end, what leads a person forward is something beyond me.

    Though I have enhanced my body awareness over time, my early struggles with asana have felt like a gift that keeps on giving, as it continually allows me to relate to others who feel similarly challenged to embrace their structural norms and/or their still refining sensory-motor awareness.

    Long ago, I let go of the need to “present” perfect form; I was quick to embrace instruction to feel the breath and the experience of moving from the inside out, without regard to how you looked. 

    And yet, when I first began to orient my teaching towards encouraging people to move freely and confidently and to take whatever liberties they needed to do that, it was with the orientation to make things “better” or at least “not so bad.” Within that “fix-it” approach was a resistance to embrace what “now” was offering.

    I hope that my current approach skews more towards inviting discovery and exploration.

    The PostureTweak orientation that I bring to asana has its origins in the Viniyoga teachings (I completed my 500-hour training with Gary Kraftsow) and in the fellowship I completed in Applied Functional Science with Doctors Gary Gray and David Tiberio at the Gray Institute. Subsequent studies with senior faculty at the Himalayan Institute have refined this approach even further. 

    Among the many powerful takeaways from my time at the Gray Institute was the encouragement to ask each joint/complex what it needed and what it liked to do in order to be successful.

    On the one hand, taking up that joint-by-joint conversation has shifted my sensory motor awareness and facilitated greater stability and ease in how I experience my body, but more than that, it has refined my appreciation for the energy (prana) within those joint spaces and of the broader space which holds me. 

    At the Gray Institute, I was surrounded by physical therapists, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers whose bread and butter was working with professional and high performing college athletes. For these elites, refining their awareness of how the subtalar joint functioned (which is the space between the saddle-like bone called the talus and the horse it rides on, the heel bone, or the calcaneus) was the difference between their patient, client or athlete successfully refining their golf swing, their cut to the basket, their curve ball or how they lifted their grandchild… or not.  

    And, of course, all of those are wonderful objectives. And yet, to this day, Gary still marvels that what drives my interest in his work isn’t its ability to stretch or workout my students in smarter ways, but rather, that I’ve found in it, a pathway to something both incredibly subtle and also deeply profound.

    I am honored for the chance to share this approach with you. Our experience will consist of both a joint-by-joint exploration in which we ask our joints what they need and what they like and also a practice which integrates some takeaways from that investigation. There will be time for your reflections and questions, too. And naturally, we will begin with “hello… and welcome.”

    Al Bingham founded Encourage in 2013. He has been teaching yoga since 1995. Al has co-authored two books published by Random House, has been featured on the Yoga Zone DVDs, and develops yoga classes and programs for yoga studios, clinical settings and corporate environments. Al received his yoga training though Alan Finger (Yoga Zone) and Gary Kraftsow (American Viniyoga Institute). Al is also a 2011 Fellow of Applied Functional Science via the Gray Institute and a 1992 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Currently, Al studies with the senior faculty of the Himalayan Institute and is a Certified Vishoka Meditation® Teacher. Al and his family live in Berkshire County, Massachusetts.

  • 11/21/2021 11:44 AM | Anonymous

    “The human shape is a ghost made of distraction and pain.
    Sometimes pure light, sometimes cruel, trying wildly to open, this image tightly held within itself.” ~ Rumi

    My yoga journey got real the day I declared there was no purpose in life. It was sometime in December 2006, and I was at the lowest of the lowest. Depression wrapped its tentacles tightly around me and I couldn’t pull myself out. It was my dark night of the soul.  Earlier that year, I graduated from yoga teacher training at Kripalu and I thought being a yoga teacher would provide some financial stability to support myself as a performing artist but I was wrong. The glory and inspiration I felt at the end of the training did not survive the harshness and hopelessness I felt about my life in New York City. My marriage was failing, and so was my career as a performing artist.

    One night I woke up from a nightmare and couldn’t go back to sleep. I sat in bed despondent. My will to keep my marriage and career going finally collapsed and dissolved. It was like a magic show; it went poof and disappeared.

    In April 2007, I got an opportunity to move into Kripalu as an intern to become a yoga teacher trainer. I took the position not because that was my dream but because I just needed a ticket out of NYC. Little did I know living at Kripalu and throwing myself into selfless service would ultimately save my life and sanity. I experienced much mercy and grace from the Divine in those eight years I spent there. Swami Kripalu’s teachings were the balm that nurtured my broken Soul and brought my Spirit back to wholeness.

    Life at the Kripalu Center was full of magic and wonder. I was very lucky to work with many incredible senior teachers and staff to deliver the Kripalu experience. We worked hard, studied hard, and laughed equally hard as we built conscious and loving relationships with each other. I think one of the most striking experiences during my time at Kripalu was being able to bear witness to how devotion to love, selfless service and sangha gradually lifted me out of my depression. It took years, but I was finally able to swim side by side with depression instead of drowning in it.

    There are five teachings that drastically altered my life and consciousness.  

    1.  The value of self-observation with compassion.
    2.  The inquiry process.
    3.  Building trust in relationships.
    4.  Satya - Truthfulness.
    5.  The path of love.

    Over time, these teachings became my values and building blocks as I developed the skills to transform my own suffering into precious gems of wisdom. The path of love has a special place in my heart. I remember one afternoon while I was walking in Babuji’s Garden at the Kripalu Center, I felt an immense feeling of openness and an acute clarity in vision and mind. Suddenly time stopped and I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of unconditional love. I kneeled and cried.

    Weeks later, I met Dr. Satya Narayana Dasia, a renowned yoga master, and sat in one of his dharma talks on the practice of love. He asked the class “Do you know how to love?” Hearing his question was a light bulb moment for me. I realized I didn’t really know how to love. And I finally understood that on the path of Self-Realization, it is important and necessary to keep asking questions. Asking questions got me out of Spiritual complacency and the mindless regurgitation of Spiritual teachings.

    Over the years, my yoga journey has taken me to many depths and heights. I have grown so much, and I attribute much of my successful relationships to these values that I adopted from my days at Kripalu. Above all, the subject of love became a forefront inquiry for me. Learning about love and how to love have been so humbling. And after 14 years of inquiry, I am still just scratching the surface. Love is as vast as the sky and ocean, and as mysterious as the night and the moon. I strongly believe love is the answer to our divides. I invite you to deeply inquire into love and I shall leave you with this question from the book True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh:

    “Do you have time to love?”

    Jai Bhagwan,



  • 10/20/2021 7:39 AM | Anonymous

    My yoga journey began in a very unconventional way… as a punishment.

    During the beginning of my senior year of high school I attended a party that served alcohol.  Clearly a representation of pre-prefrontal cortex maturity  .  My dad found out and told me to go to bed and we’d talk in the morning.  I didn’t sleep very well that night, but then I also thought since my dad was a yoga teacher and meditation practitioner that he may just say, "Luke don’t do it again."  Boy was I wrong.  In the morning he told me I had to turn myself in to my coach because I broke the team rules of conduct and did not follow through with my agreement with my coach and fellow teammates.  It didn’t matter to him that a lot of my teammates were at the party and the parents of some of them bought the beer and collected keys from anyone who didn’t have a designated driver.  He and my mom were “new” to this rural Wisconsin culture and couldn’t possibly understand the parenting required in “these parts of the woods.” I pleaded and pleaded for him to change his mind, because playing high school sports was really important to me.  He wouldn’t budge.  So not knowing where this may go, I told him I would do anything to not have to turn myself in. “Ok. I have a proposal,” he said. “Every morning before school for the remainder of the season meditate with me for 20 minutes. If you miss a day you will have to turn yourself in.”  I took that deal as fast as I could, but little did I know what I was up against. 

    The first few days to be honest were torture on all levels.  Physically sitting on the floor on a meditation cushion in a cross-legged position was extremely uncomfortable.  As an athlete back then they didn’t teach flexibility.  My hamstrings and quads were strong, but tight. My back hurt because all the strength I had developed from lifting weights and running sprints around the field or on the courts did not apparently do a great job of strengthening the deep muscles of my back that were required to sit in an erect position.  Hmm… it made me wonder how I could be so strong and so weak at the same time.  Mentally, 20 minutes seemed like an eternity.  My mind was ripping and running every which way.  Holding a train of thought or a focus on my breath as I was taught by my dad was laughable.  Could my mind be any busier, noisier, and more disorganized? Psychologically, I fidgeted from anxiety of some nonsensical FOMO (fear of missing out) and constantly checked the clock from a case of utter boredom because at that moment I was so uncomfortable, I’d rather escape than tap in.  

    As the days turned into weeks and weeks turned into the middle of Octoberthank goodness football season is shortthings got better, meaning less like torture.  I started to enjoy the quiet I was feeling after the practice was done and sitting still was becoming something I could actually do for short periods of time. I didn’t miss a day and didn’t have to turn myself in.  This was a total success because it was the only reason I took on this “punishment.”  However, the balancing, nurturing, and healing inherent in yoga practice had created some other grooves… 

    Fast forward 1 year.  I was sitting in my dorm room at Marquette University and ruminating about how stressed I was about my upcoming midterm exams.  My anxiety was really messing with me.  Then out of nowhere (or so I thought then  ) I remembered how I felt after the meditation I had done with my dad.  AND I remembered him sliding my meditation cushion under my bed.  “This is here just in case,” he said as he pushed it way in the back.  I grabbed it and sat down.  Those 20 minutes were some of the most enjoyable I experienced.  I saw my anxiety fall away and my mind catch the thread of peace and contentment that was somehow locked inside, waiting for a moment of quietude to come out and bless “my space” again.  

  • 09/20/2021 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    “Everything is held together with stories. That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.”

    ― Barry Lopez

    I first began studying yoga back during my days in graduate school in the early 1990s, while I was training as a dance/movement therapist. I realized very quickly that my understanding and perception of the world were both expanding courtesy of my yoga practice. Seeing anything on a more profound level is similar to opening one’s eyes underneath the surface of a lake. Suddenly, the idea of what exists is extended. A whole other universe appeared, and a literal deeper understanding of what the world contains made itself known. Every area of yoga has allowed me entry into another place, whether it was the revelation of a well-executed pose or the world of meditation.

    Similarly, deep diving into anatomy has given me a path into a different level of understanding and an ability to look at an entirely diverse and yet connected universe. I initially studied anatomy in the standard form of parts and pieces, learned the names of bones and muscles, and spent quite a lot of time memorizing from books, until I knew I had to learn directly from the body itself. While I was first wary of human dissection, I had to discover for myself some of the mysteries under our very thin layer of skin. I found the inner world was full of mountains, rivers, and valleys, just like our larger world outside. I initially planned to do only a few dissections as a means to enhance my knowledge, but I found I had some skill level and talent at dissection in showing a story. Since those early days, I have assisted and taught hundreds of dissections, and each body has been a gift of learning that I take back to the living.

    Dissection is, after all, also taking a viewpoint on what structures to see and how to see them. The traditional words of anatomy become more interesting when one learns that many of the Latin and Greek origins used describe a picture, such as the coracoid process of the scapula--named for the crow’s beak shape--or that tuberosity described the shape of a bump that forms on a bone as an attachment point. As I dove further into myofascial anatomy, my interest shifted away from purely muscles and bones and toward fascia, a biological fabric of connection that traditionally has been ignored in many books, but is having a moment in the movement world. What I wanted to see reversed itself, and having additional names helped me see what I had missed previously, or simply hadn’t noticed due to a lack of awareness.

    The choice I have made to be an anatomy dissector might seem an odd co-career for a yoga teacher, but I have always been interested in exploring the inner and outer world, which reflect each other in so many ways. I find that poets and anatomists alike ponder questions of form, beauty and perception.

    The idea even of misperceptions and correct perception can be thought of in terms of the Sanskrit avidyā (“ignorance” or “incorrect understanding”) and vidya (“understanding”). Sometimes translated as “absence of correct knowledge,” avidyā is also categorized as a klesha, which causes human suffering. While we cannot avoid all suffering, we can learn to soften suffering through a shift in perspective.

    In my own teachings, I often quote the Barry Lopez passage at the beginning of this article, because in dissection as well as in life, one can only ever know part of a story, of any reality. When I see someone on my table, I can guess at body patterns and surgeries that may or may not prove true as we dive deeper into the body form. However, I cannot know for sure if this was someone who was in pain or comfort, or what his or her own perception of his or her life was like. What is left behind is like a seashell--a beautiful remains of a life carved into shape, but not the actual existence itself.

    Yoga and anatomy both have taught me compassion, and, above all, that we have to practice that compassion every single day. We all make daily mistakes in our perspective. The danger is clinging to avidyā, and professing to understand absolute ideas of knowledge. Science, like yoga, is questioning and curious and willing to be wrong. Taking time to focus on our perspective, and being able to change that in light of new ideas or knowledge, can help expand our ways of working in anatomy and in life.

  • 08/09/2021 2:52 PM | Anonymous

    I like to say where there is breath, there is blood. When you breathe, your lungs and your heart together propel blood through your circulatory system into every nook and cranny of your body. When bright red blood irrigates through all bodily tissues, there is longevity and radiant health. A yoga practice helps to animate the breath and distribute prana (oxygen-enriched blood) throughout the body. By breathing we “pranagize” all of our systems.

    Anatomically, your lungs and heart are inseparable. An elaborate system of vessels span the two organs so that if your heart were lifted from your chest cavity, your lungs would be removed too.

    In terms of feeling, your lungs and heart are also interwoven. They are the primary repository for sentiment. Thus your lungs do not simply draw and expel air like Scottish bagpipes, but, together with your heart, they are the center for sentiments of tenderness and love. In Sanskrit this is called bhava. In states of bhava, feelings of empathy, spiritual rejuvenation, and kindness flourish.

    Your lungs are impressionable, sensitive to emotion and feeling. Feelings, especially grief and sadness, imprint onto lung tissue. The impressionable lung is most evident in a child who is disposed to strong feelings such as laughter, crying, or screaming. Emotion passes quickly through the motile lung.

    Lungs are extremely delicate. Airborne particulates such as the coronavirus, pollens, pollutants, and toxic chemicals can blotch the tender, spongy lung tissue. Lung tissue is light and fragile because the capillary membranes at the outermost tips of the bronchioles (the alveoli and alveolar sacs) must be fine enough to permit gas exchange into the bloodstream.

    In yoga, we not only practice to expand our lungs but also to feel into the moods, mind states, and psychological pressures that manifest inside our lungs. Through meditation, pranayama, postural movements, and sound resonance, we develop greater sensitivity for our prana and become connoisseurs of the air that flows in and out of our lungs 20,000 times per day.

    Tias Little is author of Yoga of the Subtle Body and resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he lives with his wife, Surya; his 17-year-old, Eno, and his pooch, Haro. Join him for his YTA workshop, Lifting the Sails of the Lungs: Yoga, Pranayama, and the Art of Breathing, on September 11, 2021.

  • 05/19/2021 6:13 AM | Anonymous

    These past 16 months, although difficult and challenging, have also presented
    opportunities leading to creative exploration of situations and of the self.

    My time in lockdown pushed me to write and finish a book that loomed in my
    consciousness for over 35 years, and helped me rethink and refresh the teaching techniques that I've been using for over 50 years. It seems that everything I ever studied (ideokinesis, polarity, continuum, bioenergetics, Reichian therapy) about refining the mobility and health of the mind/body began to emerge from the deep recesses of my consciousness.

    With very few outside distractions, I went deeper into the inner attractions that
    were life enhancing, physically, mentally, and emotionally, reconfirming
    what I learned early on from the masters with whom I studied (Iyengar,
    Muktananda, Vishnudevananda, and Amrit Desai).

    Please join me on June 12 for Practice to Empower Personal Possibilities, where I will share my ongoing process of finding peace and reconciliation with the integrity of the body. Each person will have the opportunity to encounter his or her own truths and voice.

    In the meantime, enjoy this excerpt from my book, Yoga and You for a Year: From the Beginning to the End.

    Yoga is! It cannot be categorized. It is an art, a science, a way of life, and an extensive comprehensive system able to lead one to the source of their own inner light and joy. The state of being happy is an innate part of life that is elusive most of the time because of the difficulties and challenges that this life presents. The practice of yoga offers us the way and means to connect with our own light and joy, and its philosophies show us how unhappiness is optional. Human frailties can be strengthened when we face our fears, make our own choices and decisions, and, with conscious awareness, practice appreciation and self-acceptance and recognize the importance of autonomy for our maturation. We learn from our experiences, whether they are good or
    bad ones, how we must adapt and adjust.

    Hatha yoga is not merely physical activity. Because the physical is clearly so much more tangible when compared to the mental-emotional or the spiritual aspects of our being, it is the way to begin our journey. Working with our own body, as we do our asanas, helps us to open to those parts that will benefit from this attention. We tend to deny, diminish, or disown the parts of ourselves that are weak, resistant, or painful. Yoga helps us bring care, concern, and compassion for the self, helping us confront the blockages and traumas that interfere with our flow of energy and are so destructive to our well-being.

    Yoga has been in existence for thousands of years, developed and refined by the practice of those who were aware of—and closely devoted to—the source of pure cosmic conscious energy. It was very long ago when the intrusions and distractions of life were minimal, and these cosmic connections led them to the direct experience of the energy of pure presence. This was their tutelage and instruction, and today we are able to employ the phenomenon of those teachings through our practice of yoga.

    One of the great attractions of a yoga practice is the promise of flexibility. We all know that being flexible helps us to live with physical ease, comfort, and freedom. We experience this well-being soon after we engage in a serious practice, evidence of the body’s need for stretching and movement. But as we get more proficient on the physical level, we are led to examine more closely the reasons why our bodies seem compromised at a certain point.

    This is the perfect time to introduce my acronym of YOGA:

    Y—why, O—oh, G—God, A—again?

    When we start to pay attention to this question, we begin our work, the
    journey within. Our bodies store and hide in vulnerable places what we can’t, don’t, or won’t process and resolve, creating damaging energetic blocks that constrict our life-force and healing capabilities. Here is where the true flexibility of our practice begins.

  • 04/22/2021 6:43 AM | Anonymous

    Are there moments when you feel your strength isn’t supporting you physically, emotionally, or spiritually? Or times that you had excess energy and wished you had softened to allow for more ease for yourself and others, allowing for your inner grace to shine through? Life has a way of providing opportunities to feel into the depths of self whether we are up for it or not. The ancient teachings of martial arts and yoga help to navigate energetic ups and downs and inform one’s response to them, supporting a life of vitality and ease.

    Yoga postures, pranayama, and meditation infused with martial arts are a profound practice to connect with your inner yin (passive) and yang (active) energies. We all possess the qualities needed to balance these energies as they flow in and out of our daily living. Whether there is an excessive flow of energy or a feeling of depletion, these ancient teachings offer guidance and tools to balance these energies along the journey of life. Each one of us is unique, while at the same time there are universal laws of energy that determine and truly dictate our way of being in the world. The practices of yoga and kung fu together offer a unique pathway to balance the inner energy that helps us move with more clarity.

    As the the tides of life rise and fall, ebb and flow, the practice on your mat offers a greater depth of wisdom that can inform your actions and decisions in day to day life. These practices teach the universal principles of energy efficiency, such as redirection of energy and balancing yin and yang, and are reflected in how we manage our inner and outer environment. As you step back on the mat each day, your life experiences offer a greater depth of receptivity to the teachings nourishing and taking root within each fiber of your being. As the waves of life approach, yoga and kung fu reset the motor system and enable one to rise above and relax into a flow. Guided by breath, one can conserve energy and move more efficiently.

    In life there are times when it is helpful to muster up strength and energy to move through a challenge and also times when finding ways to yield and harmonize with life is the wiser choice. These practices empower us to have the ability to see and recognize situations as yin and yang and fortify us with the ability to respond accordingly. Being with sensation and fluctuations of energy on the mat teaches us how to integrate these principles off the mat in everyday circumstances. Moving between yin and yang, we are always sensing and flowing to allow for balance, homeostasis, and abundance in our life.

    Life is the ongoing dance of managing energy. Regardless of gender, we learn when it is time to draw upon our feminine energy of receptivity and gentleness, nourishment, and affection and when to increase our masculine energy of direction, commitment, determination, and kindness. This awareness gives us insight into what our best looks like and feels like so we can walk in the world with more confidence, ease, power, and grace.

  • 02/18/2021 6:47 AM | Anonymous
    “Let what comes come, let what goes go, find out what remains.” —Ramana Maharshi

    This quote embodies so much of what practice means to me. For as long as I can remember, I have lived a life of movement and contemplation. I started professional dance training at a young age and got swept up in the joys of learning to use my body to express emotion, the pure athletics of big, dynamic movement, and the precision and care that classical ballet demands. I discovered I had a natural talent, and I left my small town in Alaska to attend a prestigious arts boarding school in Southern California. It’s there at the age of 16 that I discovered yoga. My modern dance teacher would use it as a warm-up for her classes. It may be hard to believe, but initially, I didn’t enjoy yoga. However, something was compelling about the practice and I decided right there, I wanted to learn more, and I stuck with it.

    I moved to New York City to attend the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and, much like boarding school, yoga was a part of my daily training. I saw how much it helped me navigate the rigors of the professional dancing world, both mentally and physically. My teacher at Tisch offered me a spot in her first-ever yoga teacher training, and I accepted. It took me on a journey I could have never imagined.

    I spent a decade dancing, performing, and teaching yoga. I taught anyone who would let me, in the tiniest studios in Brooklyn, to the biggest mega gyms of Manhattan. At one point, I had over 20 classes and clients a week, ranging from big-name celebrity students to a yoga therapy client in her 80s with advanced dementia. In 2012, I took my 500-hour yoga teacher training with esteemed teacher and yoga pioneer Cyndi Lee, and shortly after I began assisting her. We’ve had an incredible journey of teaching yoga all over the USA and filming for Yoga International, Yoga Journal, and Lion’s Roar Magazine.

    In recent years, I’ve niched down into being a private practice specialist and yoga teacher trainer. I see between 10 and 15 private clients a week in NYC and have taught and directed both 200- and 300-hour yoga teacher trainings. I also coach and mentor young teachers on how to create a viable business as a yoga professional that is in line with their values.

    I’m a certified meditation teacher and have spent a decade studying intensively inside the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I’ve taken refuge vows, attended over 20 retreats, and Buddhist philosophy informs every aspect of how I teach yoga and interact with the world.

    For more about Hunt, visit huntparryoga.com.

    Please join us for Moving into Stillness: An Afternoon of Yoga and Meditation with Hunt on March 13, 2021.

  • 02/01/2021 6:12 AM | Anonymous

    A thing of beauty is a joy forever. John Keats, from “Endymion”

    Very often I am asked why I place my work under the rubric of movement rather than dance.  Let me respond to this by journeying back to a very early memory. I was barely seven. As the daughter of immigrants who arrived here blown by the fury of the time, I was raised with very little in the material stronghold. Toys and games were created from what was at hand, and culture seeped in only through the magic of the radio and the book. So it was especially magical when my father came home one day with two tickets to see the fabled dancer Maria Tallchief as the leading presence in The Firebird ballet.

    I remember nothing about the intricate footwork or the imaginative choreographic design. Before me was the most famous dancer of the time, and somehow I was not watching her feet! I was riveted instead by something fuller, something deeper, something more magnetic than her technical prowess. Before me was a dancer whose eyes expressed as clearly as her toes; whose body and spirit were in a state of at-one-ment.

    At some point during the performance, a mystical transfer occurred, and suddenly, I, too, sitting in the hard seat of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, experienced and lived the vital movement of the dance. Years later, I understood that it was this mysterious peak experience that served as the initial catalyst for a lifelong devotion to conscious movement work, using it as a tool for healing, evolution, and transformation.

    My professional vision returns us to the organic patterns we used when we lived in intimate connection with the earth. This understanding lies at the root of the yoga and movement classes I design, choreograph, and teach. These kinesthetic motifs were innate to a life that once placed an ear close to the ground and lifted eyes upward to read the signs and signals of nature. They satisfy the body’s longing for movement that is pure, joyous, and essential. When we move with Beauty and Truth, we too are moved, and that is the gift that deepens the practice each and every time.

    For more information about Judith’s teaching offerings, visit judithrosevm.com.

  • 01/14/2021 6:38 AM | Anonymous

    It's 4:30 am on Monday morning, and I am sitting in LAX International Airport after a whirlwind experience at the first  annual Accessible Yoga Conference (AYC). I am blissfully  exhausted, relieved, and proud to have been invited to contribute to such an amazing event.  

    Only a few short weeks ago, I traveled from my hometown of  Windsor, Ontario, Canada, to the sunny and gorgeous city of  Santa Barbara, California. As I arrived at the Accessible Yoga Conference, I was greeted by my colleagues from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, and together we embarked on an incredible journey that would expand my awareness of how yoga and diversity appear on the mat.

    As the founder of the Yoga For All movement, my vision has always been to make the yoga world more inclusive. Yoga For All is aimed at creating a brave space for people in larger bodies, the LGBTQ community, people of every race and socioeconomic  status, and those in differently abled bodies. Whether or not they are struggling with barriers in asana, these individuals all deserve to feel safe, included, and supported within the global yoga community. The founding principles of Yoga For All have evolved alongside my experience leading and teaching physical yoga practices within my local community and abroad. I've realized that there are many different barriers preventing people with large bodies, those of color, and other marginalized  populations from practicing and embracing yoga. The barriers include financial accessibility, able-ism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and geographical availability. In response, Yoga For All began to focus on changing attitudes toward how we see ourselves, how we see each other, our ideas about what yoga is, and what yoga means to people on the margins of dominant culture. I believed we needed to demystify yoga and make it  possible for all to feel welcome.  

    While at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Matthew Sanford, a man I have long admired for his role in creating environments of inclusivity in yoga. His teachings focus on the connection between the body and mind, regardless of what body you have. His message is that your body isn’t something that needs to be overcome. In hearing Sanford speak, I realized that I'd never heard his story in its entirety before, and I found myself profoundly moved. I felt connected to the power of his experience and what it means to feel like you don't belong. Matthew became a paraplegic at the age of 13, and I realized that many of his  experiences mirrored my own experiences as a person of color living in North America. I had felt different too. His story also shed light on how our lives are often determined by how others view our differences as a burden, limitation, disability, or an "unfortunate" set of circumstances. It reminded me that we must consciously choose how we view our circumstances, and we must advocate for ourselves.  

    It reinforced for me the idea that we all want many of the same things. We want love and acceptance, and we want to feel our lives matter. We all feel love, anger, and disappointment, and we all have insecurities about ourselves and our bodies (regardless of what bodies we occupy). Our light comes from the same source. It is our bodies, external influences, and our experiences  that make us seem different. At the end of the day, we all want to believe in something, be it science, God, or the power of the universe. We desire to connect to the miracle of this existence, even if we view it through different lenses.  

    At this conference, I felt included. I felt that I belonged. The Accessible Yoga Conference was a one-of-a-kind experience.  It was about offering yoga to bodies with varying abilities and disabilities, and I was thrilled to witness a full range of bodies that we don't often see at mainstream yoga conferences. It also seemed that many of the people who attended had a deeper connection to the spiritual practices of yoga, letting asana take a back seat. For me, this was both new and refreshing. From my previous experiences at yoga conferences, I had grown accustomed to seeing mostly young, thin, and flexible Lululemon-clad yogis drinking fancy coffee and exploring advanced asana practices. Because I don't fit that cultural mold, I often feel like an observer at mainstream conferences. But at this conference, I felt included. I felt that I belonged. And it seemed to me that others  would be open to a new perspective on yoga teachings. When I first spoke with Jivana, the conference’s founder and visionary, I explained that I wanted to share a Yoga For All class that was full of positive and playful energy. I also wanted to create a supportive environment where everyone could share their personal practice experiences. And while my intention to be as inclusive as possible at the AYC (and as a yoga teacher in general) had long been set, the more practitioners I met and the more I listened to their stories, the more I began to feel that my initial understanding of what "accessible yoga" looked and felt like was changing (and drastically) since first pitching my class to Jivana.  

    My class was billed as Yoga For All. But as my time to teach approached, I started to ask myself: Was it really for all? Was I ready and equipped to offer something for someone in a wheelchair? Fortunately, I got the opportunity to find out. Rev Rudra, a powerful human being in a wheelchair, arrived willing and ready to share his authentic self as a participant in my first AYC workshop. Rev is a self-realized yoga practitioner, which means that he knows his body better than I (or any other yoga  teacher), and he is not afraid to make his yoga experience individual and unique for himself. He connected with his wheels as an extension of his body. His forward folds included a bolster on his lap. He moved with grace and awareness from his chair to  the floor. It was amazing to watch this person so connected to his body in a way that was hard for an able-bodied person to truly understand. I was excited to see him enter my space. He did his  practice, and he added dimension to class. His poses were beautiful and made me see asana in an entirely different way. Whenever I share a yoga class with students, be it in a local studio or at a large yoga conference, the most important thing I ask them to do is to create their own experiences. It is important to me that students come as they are, use what they have, and do what they can. I never want to single out anyone, or to use a student as an example without their permission. My goal is simply to allow each and every individual to feel included and free to explore their experience of yoga as it unfolds.  

    I want to create an inclusive space for all. I want to encourage fellow yoga teachers, and our students, to look at our yoga spaces and begin asking: "Why is there a lack of diversity here, and how do we create more? Why are we so afraid to take different approaches to teaching yoga? How can we create classes that help people feel safe? How can we make yoga more  socioeconomically and geographically accessible? How do we create classes that invite and celebrate different cultures? Can we be okay with offering a brave space for people of color to practice?" The recent backlash in Seattle around POC classes shows that we are not willing to listen or help people when they tell us what they need. We have yoga for large bodies, women-only spaces, men-only spaces, yoga for children, prenatal yoga, and yoga for older adults. Why are classes for POC so threatening? I have watched people build their confidence in specialized classes, and my experience is that they do move outward to other classes once they feel empowered by the practice. When more people feel more comfortable with yoga, the more specialized classes won’t be needed any longer.

    We need to create space and time for the difficult but important conversation on yoga and diversity. Growth happens outside of  comfort zones. Engaging in a meaningful way with people who  are different from us changes our perceptions of each other and the world. As individuals who practice mindfulness, we simply must walk our walk.  

    So, as I sit here and reflect on my experiences and all of the insights I gathered during my time at the AYC, I have begun to realize that Yoga For All isn’t just a progressive asana class. Instead, it is a conversation about how we each step into our personal power—as we do a little asana along the way! Yoga For All is about making yoga more of an internal practice, rather than an external one. It happens by confronting and accepting change, supporting each other in the practice of yoga, and embracing the  power that comes from sharing our personal stories.  

    I want to thank all the practitioners, supporters, and conference organizers behind the Accessible Yoga Conference for being true game-changers. Thank you for allowing me to share my vision of accessible yoga and for teaching me about the lessons all around me as we venture to create a yoga experience that is truly accessible for all.  

    Growth continues, for all of us.
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