Book Review: The Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga by Jivana Heyman

A Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga book by Jivana HeymanHuman beings are not cookie cutters. If we were, teaching yoga would be so much simpler. But of course, we aren’t all the same. We all come into the world with different genetic predispositions. We’re all subject to vast and varied physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual conditioning throughout our lives. That’s why yoga has been taught one-on-one for most of its history. Now that group classes are the most common form of disseminating the practice in the West, how do we, as teachers, meet the individual needs of each student who attends our classes? Jivana Heyman’s new book, A Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga: Best Practices for Sharing Yoga with Every Body, provides vital answers and thought-provoking inquiries into that very question.

What Is Accessible Yoga?

What exactly is “Accessible Yoga?” First, Heyman explains what it is not. Accessible Yoga is not a method for helping students conform to the rest of the class. It is also not about adapting practice to accommodate students who can’t do the “full expression” of a pose. He writes, “My goal is, and has always been, to make the tools of yoga accessible to people to support them in personalizing the practice so they can find an inner sanctuary.” 

In addition, he outlines the following principles of Accessible Yoga: 

  1. Everyone has a right to the teachings and practices of yoga.
  2. Each individual is a unique and equal expression of our universal connectedness.
  3. Service and compassion are yoga in action. 
  4. Teaching yoga is a collaborative and creative process. 
  5. Personal growth and transformation require a supportive community.

While Accessible Yoga seeks to accommodate people with different types of physical abilities, it goes way beyond the purely physical. Heyman’s vision aims to welcome everyone—regardless of physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, age, and gender characteristics—to share in the transformational power of yoga. To do this, he provides essential tools for yoga teachers to create a welcoming and inclusive environment.

Part 1: Teaching Yoga: The Essentials

Part 1 of the book is essential reading for all yoga teachers, regardless of the population you intend to teach. Titled “Teach What You Love,” this part of the book explores the essence of taking the seat of a yoga teacher. 

Drawing on wisdom from the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, and the Yoga Sutras, the author reminds us of the essential nature of yoga’s core teachings. We learn how to apply yoga’s wisdom to our everyday teaching practice. He emphasizes tradition, its relationship to innovation, and the importance of practicing humility. He also offers words of encouragement for genuine challenges that most yoga teachers face, such as imposter syndrome, which can be paralyzing for teachers.

Heyman emphasizes ethics, the foundation of the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Yoga’s yamas, especially ahimsa (non-harming), are at the core of Accessible Yoga. He writes, “You can do all the fancy poses you want and sit in meditation for hours on end, but if you’re not trying to live ethically, you’re not doing spiritual practice. That is because ethics define how we interact with others, and even ourselves.”

Anyone aspiring to teach yoga can benefit from reading this book section. It is filled with wisdom that can help you grow your teaching practice. 

Part 2: Teaching Asana

As teachers, we can never know what each person who walks into our classes is carrying with them on any level. Part 2 of the book focuses on teaching asana to diverse populations. Numerous photos show specific poses adapted for three different students: on a yoga mat, in a chair, and in a wheelchair. These photos illustrate the creative aspect of Accessible Yoga and encourage teachers to step outside what we think we know. 

This section also explores power and consent, as well as the intricacies of language. The latter, in particular, is a lifelong practice of self-inquiry and refinement. Like Part 1, this section is essential reading for any yoga teacher, whether they’re just starting down the path or have been on the yoga journey for decades. There’s wisdom here for everyone.

Jivana Heyman, author of A Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga

Part 3: Teaching Yoga’s Subtle Practices

Often overlooked in 21st-century yoga’s emphasis on physical postures, yoga’s subtle practices are at the center of Accessible Yoga—part 3 features sections on teaching Trauma-Sensitive Yoga, Shavasana, Pranayama, and Meditation.

The section on Trauma-Sensitive yoga provides the context for adapting the three following subtle practices. As teachers, we don’t know what trauma lives inside our students’ bodies. For some, breathing practices can stir up past trauma; for others, sitting still in meditation may feel unsafe. Heyman provides multiple examples of how to offer the benefits of these practices to people who may find traditional methods too triggering or challenging. Like other sections of the book, Heyman’s kindness and compassion underlies his instruction. There’s much here to explore and contemplate. 

The Overall Picture: Accessible Yoga and Self-Inquiry

Each section of the book begins with a discussion of the principles to be presented. However, the introductions are not in Heyman’s words. Instead, he draws on the wisdom of teachers he admires. This is emblematic of the author’s warmth and generosity, evident throughout the text.

Each subsection presents a possible scenario yoga teachers might encounter. These inquiries invite us to consider how to respond with compassion to challenging situations that might arise. The subsections then conclude with a list of questions that encourage self-reflection. These reflections help readers apply the principles of Accessible Yoga to their own teaching practice and their lives.

Heyman’s wisdom and compassion, earned through almost 30 years of teaching yoga, shine through in this essential teaching text. There’s something for everyone here. This book can be a trusted companion on anyone’s yoga teaching journey.

Images Courtesy of Sarit Z. Rogers

Jivana Heyman is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings and supporting yoga teachers. He’s the author of the books Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body; Yoga Revolution: Building a Practice of Courage & Compassion and a new book, The Teacher’s Guide to Accessible Yoga: Best Practices for Sharing Yoga with Every Body. His books, classes, and trainings support yoga teachers and therapists in finding ways to bring creativity and collaboration into their teaching while respecting the ancient yoga tradition. More info at jivanaheyman.com

Charlotte Bell writer

Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.

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