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Evolution of Yoga

by Mary Beth Janssen

September is National Yoga Awareness Month. Yoga is such an empowering and transformative gift given to all of us. Although growing exponentially across all demographics and psychographics, however, many people still feel that it is not for them. As a seasoned yoga teacher, I’ve heard a plethora of reasons. 

Yoga has definitely become commodified in our culture and often can be narrowly focused on mastering the physical postures or asanas. Many, especially in the West, do not see yoga as a spiritual practice. Thankfully there is sea change now underway. 

With a daunting global pandemic grinding into its 10th month, with political, social and racial strife more prevalent than ever, if ever there was a time where the spiritual tradition that is yoga can serve as a powerful healing balm and tool for building resilience for what afflicts us, for what divides us, for what excludes us, that time is now. 

The time is now for accessible, inclusive, mindfulness-based yoga that welcomes everyone of any background or ability. This inclusion can be for those with chronic disease or differing physical abilities; for those facing trauma; for those in hospice; for those facing racial, cultural, gender-identity injustice; for underserved communities; for those marginalized, institutionalized and more. And this welcoming inclusion that is respectful of the diversity and dignity of each individual can serve as a catalyst for social justice, where experiencing yoga’s universal truths, life skills and techniques for creating optimal mind-body health and personal well-being can engender a sense of belonging, empowerment and advocacy for contributing toward the betterment of all. 

Leading Questions to Consider

Whether you are a yoga student, teacher, therapist or organization, here are the leading questions to consider, with regard to finding the best fit for you and your yoga practice: 

  • What is the mission/vision of the yoga organization? Is it clearly stated who it serves? 
  • Is the yoga space or studio accessible, welcoming and safe for everyone? Does the energy or vibration of the space, teacher(s), classes resonate and allow for peacefulness, deep reflection, exploration and self-discovery? 
  • Does this organization/teacher honor the spiritual roots and culture of the yoga tradition? 
  • Is cultural appropriation (adoption or use of an element or elements of one culture by members of another culture) causing any type of oppression or exploitation? 
  • Is the teacher of this class trained in adaptive or accessible yoga, and does he or she have an awareness of safety, specificity of prop usage, cueing, etc.? 
  • Does the yoga teacher or therapist do an intake form when working one-on-one? Are pre-existing conditions or special needs assessed prior to class? 
  • Are you able to comfortably describe your concerns and/or ask questions related to any special circumstances you may have?

Yoga on its most fundamental level consists of the yoga asanas, healing breath and meditation that stabilize the nervous system, stretch and massage the spine, organ systems, bodily tissues, optimize the flow of electromagnetic energy—prana—through the mind-body physiology, and connect us with our spirit. 

Many, especially in the West, do not see yoga as a spiritual practice. But the moral and ethical aspects of yoga philosophy and practice—the “living everyday life” practices for interacting with others and with observing/managing our own behaviors—are there for all of us. 

Resources for Accessible and Adaptive Yoga

Accessible Yoga A nonprofit, inclusive, international grassroots organization dedicated to sharing the teachings of yoga with everyone—people with disabilities, chronic illness, seniors, those who have been underserved, do not have access, and anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable in a regular yoga class. accessibleyoga.org 

Mind-Body Solutions The founder, Matthew Sanford, is a pioneer in the adaptive yoga space. For teachers and trainings. mindbodysolutions.org 

Yoga Service Council The mission is to maximize the effectiveness, sustainability, and impact of individuals and organizations working to make yoga and mindfulness practices equally accessible to all. yogaservicecouncil.org 

The Yoga Alliance A resource to help find a yoga teacher or studio including those working in the accessible/adaptive yoga space. yogaalliance.org 

The International Association of Yoga Therapists Will help you locate a yoga therapist to work one-on-one. Yoga therapists have advanced training to work with a wide variety of mind-body health concerns and circumstances. iayt.org 

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