Meet Accessible Yoga Founder Jivana Heyman


Jivana Heyman’s grandmother taught him yoga when he was very young. She had a strong daily practice, and he loved to watch and learn from her. Like her, he has always been a seeker, looking for answers to life’s big questions. "I’ve always wondered about the meaning of life and the purpose of our time here together," he says. "I found religion too controlling, but was so excited to find the yoga teachings, which offered an embodied spiritual practice. I love the way that yoga addresses every aspect of our being: body, breath, mind, and heart.”

Lately, Jivana has been thinking about a quote by his teacher's teacher, Swami Sivananda. Swami Sivananda said the goal of yoga is to find “unity in diversity.” This is the central idea of Jivana’s organization, Accessible Yoga. “By moving beyond the superficial, we can see that we’re all connected in our humanity. That’s what happens in yoga practice—we move beyond the superficial and connect to the body through the breath. That slight deepening of awareness, that tiniest shift in perspective, is more powerful than anything else we can do,” he says. 

“Unity in diversity also speaks to social justice and the way forward in our chaotic world. If we can find unity in the diversity of all creation, we can accept others for who and what they are. In fact, with this understanding we can celebrate our differences and the diversity of humanity which makes life so rich.”

Jivana’s mission with Accessible Yoga is to offer and empower people with accessible yoga practices through international conferences, an Ambassador Program, an online network, and teacher trainings. Also the co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, Jivana specializes in teaching yoga to people with disabilities and places an emphasis on sharing yoga philosophy. His upcoming book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body, will be published by Shambhala in November 2019.

Jivana is also a featured teacher here on Yoga International. Read our interview with him below, where we ask him the four questions we love to ask all our featured teachers, to learn more about his background, his thoughts on the current state of yoga, and what you can expect from his classes on YI. 

What yoga style, tradition, and/or lineage are you a part of (if any)?

I like to think of Accessible Yoga as a grassroots yoga movement instead of a new lineage of yoga. To me all yoga should be accessible, so in my mind Accessible Yoga includes all different lineages. You can have accessible hot yoga, accessible vinyasa, accessible yin, and so on. Over the years, I’ve been focused on bringing yoga to people who have been marginalized or don’t have access to the practices, in particular, people with physical disabilities, chronic illness, seniors, and people with larger bodies. 

I created Accessible Yoga as a way of integrating my background as an AIDS activist with the teachings of yoga. My focus has been on sharing the essential teachings of yoga, which are accessible by nature. The challenge is learning how to adapt the practices to how you’re feeling today.

What can I expect from your classes on YI?

My classes are a low-pressure and gentle gateway into yoga that offer lots of variations for different levels of practitioners. I’m particularly interested in exploring how we can adapt yoga to a chair or bed, so it’s truly accessible. You don’t need to look a certain way or dress a certain way to do yoga—it’s for all of us!

The main goals in my classes are helping people learn how to relax and move their bodies in safe ways. This is essential for all of us as we age—we need to find ways to move that are safe and effective. Movement is an essential part of life, and something we tend not to get enough of as we age, and there is evidence showing that gentle movement may help prevent disease.

What’s on your mind these days yoga-wise? 

I think yoga is at a tipping point, where it’s no longer limited to ashrams or yoga studios. Yoga is reaching people who aren’t already exercising or doing physical movement practices. With this shift we need to look at the universal aspects of the teachings, and move away from the extreme physical practices that have defined yoga’s recent past. 

My interest is in expanding the reach of yoga, especially to those who think they can’t do yoga: people who think they’re not flexible enough, strong enough, thin enough, or enough of anything. Yoga is for everyone who is interested in releasing stress and connecting with themselves.

What do you like to do outside of yoga?

To me yoga is a way of approaching life, so I don’t separate yoga from the rest of my activities. When I’m moving my body I’m doing the physical practices of hatha yoga; when I’m emotional I’m doing devotional practices of bhakti yoga; when I’m thinking I’m using the wisdom practices of jnana yoga. But most of all, when I’m engaging with the world I try to be of service and practice karma yoga. 

Service is the most important way we can bring yoga in our busy lives, by dedicating our actions to the people we love or to the divine. To many people, this is a natural process that flows effortlessly as they offer service in the world. Some of us need to work on it in a more conscious way. In the end, this is the way to fulfilment and peace of mind, the true goal of yoga. 

Learn more about Jivana and try his Accessible Yoga classes on YI today!

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