Jivana Heyman Is #WhatAYogiLooksLike (Part II)

June 8, 2016    BY Susanna Barkataki

Jivana Heyman is the founder of Accessible Yoga, which is an international organization dedicated to sharing yoga with all. Currently, Accessible Yoga offers annual conferences, teacher training programs around the world, ambassador programs, and soon an online directory. Jivana is also co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, manager of the San Francisco Integral Yoga Institute, and an Integral Yoga minister.

Read part one of our interview with Jivana here

Jivana, thanks for sharing more with us about Accessible Yoga. Accessibility is often connected to power. How do you utilize yoga to empower yourself and others?
Yoga is empowerment. According to the teachings, the source of all power lies within. The goal of yoga is to unite our ego-mind with the source of that power. So, in this sense, yoga can be defined as empowerment.

I see the way that yoga transforms us and can turn our pain into power. I know that there are endless possibilities for all of us through the practice of yoga—that peace is possible even when we're suffering with pain, illness, disability, grief, and sadness. It's this alchemy of yoga that inspires me.

I see the way that yoga transforms us and can turn our pain into power.

In one of the main sources of the yoga teachings, the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, yoga is defined in Book 1, Sutra 2. It says, "Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodhah," which means that we are no longer the victims of our minds. Calming the thoughts leads to a deeper connection. In other words, yoga is about learning to have a healthy relationship with our own mind.

Unfortunately, we are often our own worst enemies. We drive ourselves crazy with stress, worry, and anxiety. For the most part, no one teaches us how to handle all of that—but yoga does. In the next sutra, Patanjali explains that once we have created that peaceful relationship with our mind, we abide in our own true nature. In other words, our job is to take a breath and consciously relax. Once we do that our inner nature has a chance to shine through in the form of inner knowing, peace, and even bliss.

When I begin to feel stressed or worried about something, I either go to my mat, or picture myself in front of my altar. Since yoga is essentially a mental practice, it’s often enough to turn inward for a moment. I have a teenage son and preteen daughter, so I basically have a lot of stress in my life right now. I don’t know what I would do without yoga to keep me sane—although sanity might be overrated.

Can you share some concrete ways to make yoga more accessible?
I think this is where training comes in. Every 200-hour basic yoga teacher training program needs to include a module on making classes accessible and inclusive. It's up to the schools to train teachers how to open their classes. Training should include how to adapt asana and other practices, as well as sensitivity training for working with marginalized communities. I recently proposed this idea to the Yoga Alliance…and we’ll see what they say.

The next step in our yoga evolution in the West is to create integrated yoga classes where everyone is welcome. So an integrated Accessible Yoga class would be taught at multiple levels simultaneously. For example, one student can practice a cobra pose on the floor and at the same time another student can practice a cobra pose in a chair. This demands that the teacher is highly trained and able to serve all bodies that enter that space. 

When we see that yoga is about connecting with our hearts, then we understand that yoga really is for everyone.

I believe we are at a revolutionary moment of change and expansion in the yoga world. People in the West are starting to realize that yoga is a spiritual practice and are looking for the deeper teachings. Plus, the yoga community is tired of the limited depiction of yoga that is being produced by the commercial yoga industry. This is why groups like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition are so important and are growing rapidly. The link is clear—when we see that yoga is about connecting with our hearts, then we understand that yoga really is for everyone. Like I always say, if you have a body and a mind you can do yoga!

This yoga revolution is being played out in the politics of the yoga world with changes at Yoga Alliance. Their recent yoga therapy policy clarifies their position as representing a limited portion of the yoga community. In the end, it’s helpful for them to be clear about the scope of their work. Simultaneously, we have the IAYT (International Association of Yoga Therapists) defining a very detailed vision for what it means to be a yoga therapist—which requires 1,000 hours of training.

We're seeing a separation between yoga teaching and yoga therapy, which makes sense. The problem is that there's a huge part of our community in the middle that's getting lost. Accessible Yoga is focused on bridging this gap so that we can transform the way yoga is taught and understood.

We’ve been working on an Accessible Yoga Network that would give people another format for connection and community-building. It would be a platform for teachers to share what they’re doing and for students to find them. We hope to announce this soon.

So where did this perspective come from? Do you have an inspiring teacher?
I'm a student of Swami Satchidananda, who founded Integral Yoga. He has been the main source of inspiration in my life, and a clear guide as to what yoga really is. He was always able to cut to the very core and make the teachings so real and applicable for me. That's really the key to spiritual practice—that it has a positive impact on our lives. In fact, he would say that the way to tell if your spiritual practices are working is that you're feeling happier. 

One of his core teachings was service, karma yoga, which is acting from a place of love. He would explain that service is the key to happiness, and he even said that the goal of Integral Yoga is to have an easeful body, peaceful mind, and useful life. That is definitely my goal.

I think there’s some confusion about service and self-care. To be effective at service we need to take care of ourselves first. One time, I heard someone ask Swami Satchidananda how much time and energy we should put into caring for ourselves. He said that there is no limit, and that if we don’t take care of ourselves then we are of no use to others. He explained that we are like blades, and for a blade to be effective at cutting it needs to be kept sharp. Our personal sadhana (spiritual practice) is like sharpening our blade. That’s self-care.

What do you love about teaching yoga?
I think yoga teachers have a more important role than they realize. They hold the power of transformation in their hands, and they need to use that power thoughtfully. People generally come to yoga when they're in pain looking for some kind of relief from suffering. Of course yoga has physical benefits, but the real benefits are on the subtle levels. Yoga works because the practices were designed to release stress and calm the mind. It's not that other things don’t also calm our minds, it's just that yoga was designed for that very purpose and that is what makes this practice so effective.

What do you want to share with others who teach yoga?
Because of the power of these practices, I think teachers have this greater responsibility. They need to make sure that they are serving the world and offering these teachings in a way that is fair and generous. My prayer is that yoga teachers will see everyone as an equally deserving recipient of the teachings, and that they see that same spark of divinity in the eyes of every student. I think that would change the climate of yoga in the West, and allow yoga to be an even more powerful source of healing for the world.

Susanna Barkataki
Susanna Barkataki, M.Ed. E-YRT is passionate about sharing her lineage of yoga, Ayurveda and mindfulness to bring more harmony, empowerment and joy in people's lives. She is a writer, speaker and teacher passionate about self-care, yoga, Ayurveda, social entrepreneurship and healing justice. She runs a pay-it-forward online meditation program called OM in 2 Bliss to give everyone access to great sleep, less stress, balanced energy and more bliss in 2 weeks. She is a board member of Yoga Service... Read more>>