Yoga is for EVERYbody—simple statement. Revolutionary idea. Inflexible: perfect, try yoga. Are you too stressed? Again, perfect, yoga can help. And the best excuse of all, “I’m too busy.” When I hear this one, I think of the wisdom that everyone should meditate for at least 30 minutes a day unless you don’t have enough time. Then you should meditate for an hour.
It’s the cruel irony of our human condition that we are constantly undermining our success. It’s true even in business. We seek out pain points—problems to solve. We get a meeting with a CEO or a president of an organization, and we ask questions like, what’s keeping you awake at night?
A yogic life forces one to ask a different question: When do you feel like your most authentic Self? We spend a lot of time staring at shadows when we could be basking in the light. We focus on what makes us fail instead of the moments of shine.
Why do we deny the world, our communities, our families, ourselves the magnificence, the divinity of our most profound self-expression?
Of rejection. Of acceptance. Of showing others and ourselves who we truly are. So, we give reasons why we don’t come to our mats, and why we don’t go for that run or walk, why we make poor choices around food, relationships, you name it. There is no shame in this game. It would seem this is how we’re programmed. It’s at least what we’re fed—that we’re inadequate: we’re too fat, too ugly, too much fill-in-the-blank. It’s why we need diets and makeup and pharmaceuticals whose side-effects outweigh their cures.
Yoga, of course, shows us another way. That age carries wisdom. That weight brings opportunities. That our true beauty resides beneath the surface. That what makes us different makes us unique. That we are all expressions of divine creation, of God’s presence in the world.
This is the heart of accessible yoga.
My role as a yoga teacher is to help those I guide (re)discover the majesty of their unique expressions. I recall the excitement of having my daughter, Sawyer, join me for the final week of my Yoga for the Special Child training with Sonia Sumar in New York City. Sawyer and I began practicing from her book when she was just three weeks old. As Sonia assisted with the locking and lifting of extremities into Bow Pose, Sawyer was independent and shined her loving and proud heart open for the world. That was the moment when a lot of my fear vanished—that moment when I saw my beautiful little girl expressing herself. In the six-plus years since that training, I’ve benefited from witnessing students of all needs, backgrounds, and abilities expressing themselves with their body, breath, and being.
When you witness people shining their light, the last thing on your mind is what’s wrong with them. God doesn’t make junk—we’re all lovable. So, there’s nothing wrong with a person with disabilities. They didn’t create the barrier—the rest of us did. The impairment is the prejudice, the stereotyping, and the discrimination that arises in people and organizations who are often too inflexible in their thinking as in their processes and procedures.
Some of the key ways we can all engage in these efforts to value the varied and unique expressions of those we serve are:
- Speak with compassion and clarity through non-violent communication. Avoid creating a hierarchy of poses or awarding “going deeper” and setting expectations. Assist in noticing the body and giving the body what it needs to experience the expression of the pose. There is no “greatest expression of the pose” which correlates with anatomical alignment. The greatest expression of a pose is where one is being aware, celebrating the self, expressing feelings through movement, postures, and gestures.
- Avoid ableism, discrimination in favor of ‘able-bodied’ people—the idea that there is a particular way the body should be and that this is superior. We do this when we put higher value in “advanced” poses, or when we use language that suggests that props minimize your ability in a pose.
- Feel it, remember, there are no such thing as bad feelings and good feelings. Feelings are expressions of the energy moving through you. Stop and notice. This may be giving you a signal to pay closer attention. Reflecting on Self will allow a deeper connection and understanding with the Self. This freedom, this autonomy to simply be, is the pathway to self-discovery and transformation.
- Be present by creating a trauma and resilience-informed space and practice based on safety, predictability, and control. Encourage those you love and serve to have an autonomous practice where they can express their own self in this experience within their own unique body, mind, and spirit at that moment.
We all have a role to play. And we all deserve some space to be who we are and to express that being in our own unique love and light.
Spread the word. Share the love.
Dr. Meghan Nelson is a licensed physical therapist and professional yoga therapist with a passion for using yoga as medicine for optimal health, injury prevention, and overall health and wellness. Meghan is co-owner of Lumin Therapy, which provides integrative healing of the mind, body, and spirit through the practice of physical therapy, medical therapeutic yoga, and mindfulness.