Jivana Heyman - Teaching Accessible Yoga From The Heart
We're thrilled to welcome back beloved teacher and accessibility advocate Jivana Heyman to discuss his latest book, The Teacher's Guide to Accessible Yoga.
As one of the early pioneers of making yoga welcoming and accessible for all types of bodies through his non-profit Accessible Yoga, Jivana has inspired countless teachers to rethink their approach. His new book offers practical guidance on best practices for making classes trauma-informed and tailored to each student's needs.
Jivana stresses that rather than focusing on perfect alignment or achieving advanced poses, a good teacher uplifts students to find their own inner wisdom. We discuss simple techniques like giving options, avoiding assumptions, and letting go of judgement that make yoga spaces safer and more empowering.
Other topics include:
Balancing discipline and self-compassion in practice
Integrating meditation and pranayama into asana classes
Teaching in a way that serves both introverts and extroverts
Fostering student agency and community
Jivana also shares personal stories from his 30 years of teaching experience to illustrate how yoga can be transformative when focused on creating connection rather judging ourselves or others. His humility and kindness shine through as always!
We're giving away a copy of Jivana's illuminating book The Teacher's Guide to Accessible Yoga. Listen to the end of the episode to learn more!
Thank you for listening and for helping to spread the message of inclusive and compassionate yoga spaces!
The Teacher's guide to Accessible Yoga Book Launch: https://www.accessibleyogaschool.com/teachers-guide-to-accessible-yoga-launch
Accessible Yoga School: https://www.accessibleyogaschool.com/jivana-home-landing
Accessible Yoga Association: https://accessibleyoga.org/
Jivana on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jivanaheyman/
Please email us to report any transcription errorsRane Bowen: Hello. My name is Rane and this is the Flow Artist podcast. Together with my co host Jo Stewart, we speak with extraordinary movers, thinkers and teachers about how they find their flow and much, much more. But before we dive in, we want to take a moment to acknowledge and honor the traditional owners of the unceded land where this episode was recorded, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. We pay our deepest respects to the elders, both past and present, and acknowledge the emerging leaders within their community. We also want to wish you a happy new year. We're delighted to be speaking with Jivana Heyman as our first guest for 2024. I think we could all use some extra inspiration as this new year unfolds, and Jivana is definitely someone we look to as yoga teachers and human beings. We're huge fans of Jivana and his previous two books, accessible yoga poses and practices for everybody, and yoga revolution, building a practice of courage and compassion. We were excited to read his latest offering, the teacher's guide to accessible yoga, best practices for sharing yoga with everybody. Since Jivana coined the phrase accessible yoga over 15 years ago, he's been dedicated to sharing yoga with people who've been previously excluded from studio spaces and creating a wonderful global community where we can learn from and support each other. He does this in his work as the founder and director of the Accessible Yoga association and his many teacher training courses, but also through his books. This book is for teachers and we think it would be an asset to teachers of all styles. It addresses so many of the important aspects of teaching that get lift out of many contemporary trainings, but also has insights that experienced teachers will also appreciate. We always love speaking to Jivana and we hope you enjoy this conversation, too. Stay tuned to the end for your chance to win a copy of Jivana's latest book. All right, well, Jivana, it's been a while. It's so great to get the chance to speak with you again. We were pretty much incredibly honored to even be asked. So thank you for speaking with us today. First of all, how are you?
Jivana Heyman: Thank you. Thanks so much, both of you. Jo and Rane, I really appreciate being back. Is it my third one? I don't know.
Jo Stewart: I think so. Yeah.
Jivana Heyman: I love talking to you both, so it's really my pleasure. Thanks for having me. And I'm good. It's been a while since we've spoken, but I can't complain. I mean, I could, but I'm not going to complain. How are you?
Jo Stewart: Yeah, we're good. It's a kind of heavy time in world news and a lot of sadness. So it sometimes feels a little bit insensitive saying, yeah, I'm fine.
Jivana Heyman: I know, right? Yeah. Well, that's the challenge of life. And a spiritual practice is how do you connect your practice to the world and take care of yourself and still care for others? I think it's related somehow.
Jo Stewart: I mean, I think taking the time to take care of ourselves helps to refill our cup so that then we do have more energy and clarity to send back out into the world. Hopefully that's the energy I'm bringing into my practice at the moment.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, no, me too. Because I feel like when the conflict or, I don't know, what do you want to call it? What's happening in Gaza and Palestine is just when it started, I was having kind of a rough moment and it was hard for me to speak out publicly because I had just, like, too much going on in my personal life. But it kind of showed me that I couldn't be there. I couldn't be there to speak out just on my small platform because I was not in a good place. So then when I started to feel better, I was like, oh, my God, now I can finally say something. So, I mean, I guess that's what we're trying to say, right? Like, take care of yourself. Take care of myself so that I can be strong enough to speak for others.
Jo Stewart: And I have been taking a lot of, I don't know if solace or inspiration is the word from the philosophy that you have been sharing online, I found that really helpful. And that flows into your books, which is a chance to kind of delve a little bit deeper into those really deep ideas beyond a short instagram post. And I guess that leads us to the reason we're talking to you today, which is your third book, which I didn't write the title down, the teacher's.
Jivana Heyman: Guide to accessible yoga.
Jo Stewart: Oh, thank you so much, Divida. And so, like your previous two books, accessible yoga poses and practices for everybody and yoga evolution, create building a practice of courage and compassion, which is really exactly what we're speaking about now. Was it always your plan to create this third book that was aimed just at yoga teachers, or was this more something that emerged in response to a need or a void that you noticed?
Jivana Heyman: There was never a plan to do anything. I'm trying to just do the best I can in every given moment. And so, yeah, it felt like after my last book, I was thinking about, let me just go back and say, I love writing. So actually, for me, writing is a practice. It's part of my spiritual practice. It's a really great way for me to reflect on what I'm thinking about and how I'm acting in the world. And I love teaching yoga, obviously, and I love training yoga teachers. And so then it just occurred to me after my second book, I had some time where I didn't write, and I was just kind of sitting with it, and I was just thinking, what do I really love to do? And it's like, I really love to talk to other yoga teachers. That was really what came up for me. I love my trainings, where I get to talk with other yoga teachers at length. And then actually, I say it in the book. But my husband and I have a joke, because if I have a friend who's a yoga teacher, he refuses to come out with us. He will not socialize with me and other yoga teachers because he's like, you just won't talk about anything else, and he's not a yoga teacher, and he just gets really tired of hearing about it. So, yeah, that's kind of my inspiration for this book, was like, I just want to talk to yoga teachers. So, of course it's a one sided conversation. Right. I'm just writing a book, but that's kind of what it came out of, I guess.
Jo Stewart: And one thing that you do talk about a lot in your books is the importance of service. But I know you don't just mean volunteer work or donating your teaching. Would you like to share your meaning of service and why this is so important?
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, that's a great question. Because to me, it's very hard to define yoga. I mean, I think that we do it in many different ways. You can define yoga from all different angles, but in the end, I think that's what yoga is really about, is service. And that's kind of what we started talking about earlier, like having energy so that I can be there for others. That's what I mean by service. Not only having energy to be there for others, but also not being attached to the outcome of our actions, which is what I think of as service or karma yoga or seva. And so I think if you're a yoga teacher, to me, teaching yoga, again, just another kind of practice. So I really approach this book as, how can I support yoga teachers in seeing that, in perceiving yoga teaching as an expansion of their personal practice? And then service naturally arises then, because if yoga is about service, when you're teaching yoga, it's just an incredible opportunity for service.
Jo Stewart: And so just to clarify, because I know that this is a common criticism of a particular type of yoga teacher who shows up and does their own practice in front of the room, and it's almost like a performance, or they're in their own space and not really connected to the people that they're sharing with. So what does service as a teacher look like for you?
Jivana Heyman: Well, that's what that whole book is. Honestly, it's really trying to answer that question. It's like, what is it like to approach teaching as service and to be kind of so open minded, and I don't know what the word is, like, expansive in your approach, that you're able to serve all the students, not only individually, but how they are in that moment, and yet also create a cohesive, kind of dynamic community feeling. And it sounds like really big and a lot, but I think yoga teachers are doing it already. I'm not saying that what I'm describing in this book is necessarily new. Right. I think a lot of teachers have been doing this forever and are incredible, but what I wanted to do was just really pull it apart in detail. What are the little things that you're doing and what are the. I mean, it's kind of surprising to me. I could have written twice as many words than I did. Honestly. I could have just kept going on and on and on because there's so much to it, even though it seems so simple. And I think to do it well, it actually needs to look simple. But there's a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes. Does that make sense?
Jo Stewart: Absolutely. And I think one of the things that I consider to be a real strength of a great writer is to take something that's intricate and complex and maybe challenging to understand and to make it simple. And that's really.
Jivana Heyman: Well, I may have failed at that.
Jo Stewart: I read the book. You did great.
Jivana Heyman: Okay. Because I don't know if I made it so simple. It's still a whole book. It's quite long, but I tried to at least say it. My goal wasn't. I mean, that's a lofty goal for a writer. And I know you're a writer, too, so I know you're there. You have to be careful you don't set your sights too high. But my goal was to just be able to literally put it into words, just verbalize what it was that I kind of sense or a feeling I have about how do I feel? What is it that I'm trying to do when I go to teach yoga? And I started to realize there's a lot to it. I have a lot of thoughts about it, actually.
Jo Stewart: So one quote that I loved, which I think is a powerful question for us all to ask ourselves as teachers and maybe even just as humans in our other interactions, is, are you teaching in a way that lifts people up and shows them their own beauty and potential, or are you teaching in a way that makes people feel diminished, disempowered, or unworthy? And you do mention in the book how many people finish their teacher training and then just go on to teach in exactly the same way that their teacher taught. Like, maybe even the same sequences and the same instructions. And sometimes that's seen as being respectful to your lineage and to your teacher, to kind of be true to that. But at the same time, the question that you ask a lot in your book is like, is this serving the people who are in the room? Yeah, that wasn't a question. Sorry.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I agree with you. Well, one thought I had about that is that I feel like what the book helped me do was to kind of put a lot of these pieces together. And what I started to see is that it's almost like we're looking at the different chapters and parts of the book are looking at different sides of the same thing. You know what I mean? So it's kind of like, I can think of a lot of analogy. You know that there's an analogy about an elephant. It's probably ableist, actually, about, like, a blind person touching an elephant. But if you're holding the trunk versus holding the leg, you might describe the elephant differently. And I feel like that's kind of how it is with yoga teaching. It's like if you look at it from a certain perspective, like, if you look at it from the position of ableism, actually, or trying to make your approach sensitive to people with disabilities, then I think there's certain things you do, but those kind of work right alongside other things that you want to do, like trying to give people agency, like you said, that's the same thing. Or trying to address racism or cultural appropriation. They kind of all fit together in a way, trying to find ways to cultural appropriation, addressing the ways that we hold this precious thing, these teachings that we have that we're honored to pass on, and how do we take on that burden and responsibility in a way that is respectful to the tradition but also applicable to the present moment and the people in front of you. And so I think what I'm trying to say, long winded way, is that I think it all kind of fits together. At least that's my hope.
Jo Stewart: I definitely saw that.
Rane Bowen: Yeah, definitely. I just Sort of wanted to make a quick aside. Something that I saw in a local yoga group recently. There was a t shirt, a t shirt print. And the t shirt print said, vintage yoga teacher. I know more than I say, and.
Jo Stewart: I see more than you realize. Yeah.
Rane Bowen: And I see more than you realize.
Jo Stewart: We had some feelings about it.
Rane Bowen: And.
Jivana Heyman: To me, it just sort of evoked.
Rane Bowen: The sense that I know better than you, which is.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. Yeah. I actually talk about that in the book. Not that shirt, but that idea. I talk about the fact that through practice, I was thinking about what the teachings say about being a teacher. What do the sutras say? What do the Gita says? And the sutras say that in chapter three, which is the part that we often don't study, where you look at the powers, the special powers that arise from practice. One of them is that you can read people's thoughts by looking at their bodies. You can know their thoughts. But then Patanjali goes on to say, but you won't know the reason for their thoughts. You don't know why they're having those thoughts. Do you know what I'm saying? So you can see kind of the surface, he's saying, and you can read people's minds in a sense, which is a little creepy, but you don't know what their real intentions are, what's going on behind that, which I think is a really interesting kind of, aside from Patanjali when he's talking about magical powers. But the reason I bring that up is that I feel like I've had that happen to me, in a sense. And not that I've had magical powers, maybe, but I've had intuitive feelings come over me sometimes, like I'm working with someone. I have just like, intuitive thing like, oh, maybe try this, or what do you think of that? Something will come through that I didn't expect, right? And then I think, well, that's great. That's a wonderful thing. And I think to have that skill as a teacher is wonderful. At the same time, I don't have to be attached to that. I don't really have to know why I did that. But also, I don't need to be attached to the student not liking it or liking it either. And I think that's kind of what that t shirt gets at is a little bit like, yeah, you can have an intuitive sense of what's best for your students, but that doesn't mean that you're right. Intuition could be wrong.
Jo Stewart: Something I've learned as well. True teaching is how some people's concentration face, or just going inwards face looks like they're hating your class. And so you're like, the whole time, you'll be kind of like, worried about it because you're like, oh, my gosh, they look like they're having a terrible time. And in the end, they're like, that was amazing. That was just what I needed.
Jivana Heyman: I talk about that in the book, too. Exactly. I've had that happen so many times where I was making an assumption. So I talk a lot about that, making assumptions. Like, I had thought something about someone, and it was totally wrong. And it's so often the case that we're wrong. The judgments we make and the way we stereotype people is such an obstacle to our ability to serve them. And so I think one of the most important ways you can make yoga accessible as a teacher is to just let go of that 100%. Because I've just had so many people over the years just blow my mind, just not at all what I expected from them. And not only the faces they were making, but their ability, like their physical ability, whether they were in a larger body or had some serious mobility limitation or whatever it was that I thought, oh, they're not going to be able to do such and such, and then they would just kind of do it and do something more incredible and just blow my mind. Honestly, over and over and on the.
Jo Stewart: Same thread, like another layer to this. I've actually seen this question asked online a few times, and it would definitely apply. Actually, it can apply to anyone. But somebody, like a yoga teacher says, oh, this person in my class won't stop fidgeting. They can't relax. What should I do about it? Without kind of knowing that for some people, stimming, like, especially in neurodivergent people, might be how they do relax and how it's not about you. If someone's not still in Shavasana, that might be their way to peace of mind, but it's an overlay of, oh, this is what relaxation looks like.
Jivana Heyman: I love that. That's beautiful. I wish I put something like that in there. I hope so, because I think that's exactly right. We have to let go of, oh, I know. What I did talk about is that we can't project our experience. So just because you have a certain experience of a practice or a pose, and you feel like, oh, I really like this pose, that doesn't mean the students will, they're going to have a totally different experience. And I think you have to be encouraging and you might want to offer some ideas like, oh, this could benefit that, this could benefit that, but you don't want to say things that are just like, this pose is so relaxing, this is so yummy. That is just your experience. You need to say it in that way. I find this pose really relaxing, but it may not be. Sometimes when I'm leading relaxation like a guided meditation, I used to be very committed to what I would say, and nowadays I'm just like feeling relaxed or not. And it's like, whatever, I don't know how you're feeling and you could be having a wonderful time or it could be absolutely horrible and that's fine, too. I do think we need to give students space because I think that there's a certain conflict that goes on internally inside of students when they feel that their experience doesn't match up to what yours is or what you expect theirs to be, and it makes them feel like a failure. And what it might do is also pull them away from connecting with their inner sensing. And so I talk about that a little bit, the importance of interoception and that that's what we're trying to build up in the students is their ability to sense what's happening inside. And the more you project yourself onto them, the less they'll be able to do that.
Jo Stewart: And I think there's a layer as well of, especially people who maybe have ptsd or like a lot of pain, sometimes diving deep into interoception may not be what they need at that moment. So that can even be another perception of this is what deep practice looks like. That isn't helpful for everyone at all times, which you definitely talk about in the book.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, and I do, and I talk about how people with chronic pain, and this is a generalization, but I would say that people with chronic pain often have, and even disabled people often have increased interceptive abilities already because they're already dealing with a lot of inner sensation, ongoing. And so in a way they're quite advanced, I would say, because they've gone probably beyond you if you don't have that going on with your body. Right. They already know what they're feeling inside, and so maybe there's something else they need, right? Maybe there's other things like strength or relaxation or whatever. Who knows? It's something else you could offer them as a teacher.
Jo Stewart: And one thing that you really highlight as such a powerful and beautiful offering is the power of community and collaboration. And I love how it actually takes the pressure off us as individuals, as yoga teachers to have all of the answers because there's the whole community contributing and also that own person's knowledge of themselves and what they already know works for them that we can draw from. Like, we don't have to have the perfect answer or the perfect pose because that's not it.
Jivana Heyman: Right? This is another piece of the puzzle, I feel like. I hope they all fit together and make this kind of beautiful image, but for me, it's like another big piece of the puzzle is not only our role, but the way we feel about ourselves and our experience as teachers, I think is really, really important. And if we set ourselves up to be a healer, to be the one who knows or the one to fix someone, then we're going to get burned out. We're going to fail. And that's not productive and it's not helpful to the students anyway. So, yeah, community is another point, though. I guess I didn't really make that point, but I would say Community is key as well as collaboration. Collaboration is an opportunity to just basically give the power back to the student. So if you approach teaching from a traditional place that you're like, you're the one in the power position and the student doesn't have it, have power, then you're already missing out on an opportunity. You've already given yourself this huge burden to carry as the teacher, and it does lead to burnout. In my experience, when I approach teaching, like I have to know, then I have way more responsibility. And it's like, exhausting. It's totally exhausting because I'll never know what's right for everyone. But when I share that power and I give students the opportunity to find their own way, I can shift my role slightly to be more of like a cheerleader or supporter. Like, yeah, great job in doing that. Rather than kind of like being always at the head of the class, I'm just kind of part of the group, not letting go of my authority and my responsibilities, but leading by example and leading. And that's another big part of the book, actually. What does it mean to be a leader? Right? What is leadership? As a yoga teacher, how can you be a leader and actually cultivate community and cultivate the power of the students rather than your own? And I think we've seen a lot of that not happen in yoga. The abuse that always happens, I say always because literally almost always happens when there's a charismatic leader or yoga teacher is not the way to go. There's got to be another way.
Rane Bowen: And just to change the topic slightly, I do love your story about the class. When someone gave you a bunch of flowers at the beginning to say thank you for the class, and then after a very chaotic start and a lot of shuffling around, they yell out, do you even know what you're doing? And I think a lot of yoga teachers can relate to this roller coaster of feeling like you've got it all together. 1 minute to questioning whether you could even do this at all. I know, I definitely feel that. So can you share with us what.
Jivana Heyman: You'Ve learned along the way? Yeah, that was remarkable, that experience. I mean, I'll never forget it because it was like, literally within like 15 minutes, I was being praised and I was being blamed. And that's what my, one of my teachers would always say, that praise and blame, it's all the same. That's what he would say. Praise and blame, it's all the same. And I always think of that because I was thinking, like, we can't allow ourselves to be put up on a pedestal, and we also can't allow ourselves to put ourselves down too much. And I think neither one is effective. So I think the challenge as humans, and it's not just as teachers, but as humans, is to actually just find that middle ground where we are really honest about our skills and abilities and also our limitations and are okay with that. And one of the reasons I wrote the book, actually, is because I get frustrated sometimes when some of the most incredible people who I think should be teaching more are too insecure and they don't. You know what I'm saying? And often, it's often people who are marginalized, like people who are disabled or people of color or trans people or queer people who feel like I don't fit the image of a yoga teacher. So I'm not going to put myself out there. And I think it's such a loss for the yoga community that we've set some kind of weird standard that usually depends on external physical ability and appearance rather than on something else. And I want to know what is that other thing that really makes a good yoga teacher? And it's not how you look, how you do the poses, how flexible you are. That doesn't make any difference. I think the quality of a good yoga teacher is someone who is humble and yet strong at the same time. I don't know what that quality is, but I'm trying to get it right. It's like a balanced approach where you see the students as your equals and you respect them and you're kind to them. Maybe that's it, just being kind.
Jo Stewart: And that's something that, like, yoga teacher or not, like you said, we can all work on just being kind to ourselves as well.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I think that I'm a very shy person, and I really struggled with being a teacher. So I'm just saying from my personal experience, I'm talking to myself be, because when I first, I didn't want to be a yoga teacher. I loved yoga, but I was not interested in teaching. And it was a good friend of mine, Kurt, who died of AIDS, and I mentioned him in the book, and I've always talk about him. He was my best friend who died of AIDS in 1995. He forced me to become a yoga teacher. And literally, I mean, he just said he was so assertive with me about it and just made me sign up for a training and made me go and do it. And I had already started, like two years before, I'd already started studying to be a teacher. And he was finally pushed me just like, no, just go take, like a three month course and just do it. And I did because I wanted to serve people with HIV and AIDS. And he just said, just go take the friggin training. So anyway, then he died, like, a few months later, after I graduated. So that was meaningful to me. But my point is, I'm very shy, and I was, especially back then, and I just thought, there's no way I could be in front of a group. And it was just the most horrible experience for me. First few years, it was years, I would say maybe five years of. And even today, I mean, it takes a lot out of me just to get up in front of a group. But now I'm kind of used to it. But it's been 30 years now. But after the. It took me five years to get even comfortable in front of a group. I just was so shy. I would shake, I would be sweating, I would be bright red. I would panic. I would have a panic. I don't know. Yeah, hey, it's Ron here, just popping.
Rane Bowen: In to say thank you to our Patreon supporters. Your continued support means the world to us, and we are incredibly grateful. By joining our little Patreon club for as little as $1 us a month, you can help us cover the costs of editing and producing the podcast. Patreon members also get access to some great bonus content this episode. Our bonus question to Jivana was, how do you stop Santosha, or contentment, from becoming smugness. And he gave us an excellent answer. It feels like this was ONE that hit home for all of us. And he shared some great insights. So if you'd like to support us, head on down to Flowartists podcast.
Jivana Heyman: Other.
Jo Stewart: Than your loving memory of, like, what kept you going through five years of having such a hard time doing this.
Jivana Heyman: Well, I mean, it was so compelling, even from the first class. There was something about mean. It wasn't even kurt at that point. It was literally just. The experience of teaching was Just incredible to me to be able to. I don't know what it was. What it felt like was like doing my practice, but even deeper, you know what I mean? There was, I think, a focus that came because in the end, I started by talking about how we define yoga. And one of the defining qualities of yoga is focus for me. And I think teaching Made me focus even more. I was MOre attentive, I was More present than if I was participating as a student. It's like my mind couLdn't wander at all. And so I'd have this LOng HOur and somethIng. I would teach long classes, sometimes 2 hours, and I would be like, totally focused, totally present, and there was nothing like that. And I would leave and I'd be like, wow, that was just like a long meditation or something. And, you know, you're nodding and you're teachers, so you know what I meaN? There's something. I just HAD to keep doing it, EVen ThOUGH I kind of hated it. I didn't really talk about that in the book very much, but thanks for asking.
Jo Stewart: It actually really leads me to something that you do write about in the book, which I'll quote you. The yoga practices are all designed to lead us back home to ourselves. They're not ABout giving us something new or making us into something else. They're not about healing us, fixing us, or fitting us into a mold, but rather peeling away the layers, like stripping away the layers of paint from wood furniture. And the question that came up for me is, how do we know the difference between returning to our authentic selves versus trying to change ourselves? Because the mind can be very tricky. And it sounds like from what you just SHARed, it's LiKe you got beneath the sad, the SHYNESS, to something deeper that felt AUTHentiCALLY you. And then you were just so present in that place that took you through the 2 hours. Yeah, but I think we're so wired to criticize ourselves. Like, how do We Know? What is that deeper layer of true connection to who we are VERSUs Just another way of being hard on ourselves?
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, that's SUch a good question. I don't know. I'm trying to figure that out. But I do know that SHYness is ANother form of ego. And so it's something I've really been working on in myself, is that ego is not bad. And I think ego gets a really bad rap in yoga, but ego is kind of, in the yoga teachings, is like a case of mistaken identity. It's like, where the ego takes responsibility for something that it's not doing right for the work of the spirit. And so I would say, the way I know the difference between, I think what you're asking, how do you know the difference between the voice of spirit and the voice of ego? And it's hard, but I would say, to me, it's more of, like, an emotional thing. It's more of a sensing that the voice of spirit, to me, is not usually words. It's usually just a sense, a feeling, and, like, an intuitive vibe that I get. I can't believe I just said that, but the ego tends to be more like intellectual spinning thoughts. What do you Think?
Jo Stewart: Well, it's actually brought me back to this, is taking it back to a physical level. But, you know, the poses that really challenge you and some teachers are like, oh, that means you need to do it more. You've got to take your medicine like, it hurts because you're really deficient in that area, and you got to work on that versus, okay, maybe there is a little bit of an imbalance in how I stand or how I move. So it would be helpful to do the opposite thing to the thing that is already my habit, and how I would kind of sort through that for myself is, okay, maybe there's a strong sensation in the moment, and maybe I don't. Like, I'm not comfortable and I'm not loving it, but how do I feel afterwards? So when I come out, do I feel more balanced? Do I feel more calm? Or do I just feel, like, sore and broken because I've tried to push my body into a position that it's not made for?
Jivana Heyman: That is a great example. It also makes me think of, you know, the first sutra in book two of the yoga sutras where patanjali says tapas. So tapas is kind of that discipline that you're talking about? Yeah, discipline is complicated. I mean, what does tapas really mean? Is it, like, self flagellation? Is it making you self do something, even if you don't want to and you really hate it? Or is discipline, like, just structured practice or you know what mean? Like, where is that line? And again, I think, to me, the answer is always in the middle somewhere. Like, it's always a middle path. But I think we need some kind of discipline. But it can be sweet. It can be a sweet discipline that is like routine. Do you know what I mean? That's something.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, like, the discipline is showing up.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, just showing up. Exactly. For me, I have a daily meditation practice, but it's not extremely disciplined. I just make myself sit on the cushion, and I have a routine, and I do that every day. But it's like, I don't get too caught up in what happens during that time. I don't really beat myself up because that's just wasting energy. It's just my mind playing games. My discipline is, I'm just going to do it for some time. I'm going to sit down over there on that right there. That's going to happen. The other piece that Patanzi shares with us, though, is that tapas is just the beginning. It's just the doing it. Okay, I'm going to sit down, and then svadyaya reflection is kind of where you are going. It's like, well, how do I feel? And what am I attached to, actually? What is the obstacle here? And then the answer is always, Ishwara Pranidhana, which is, like, surrender to myself, like, connect with myself. Know I'm okay no matter what. Because even if I have an imbalance on my body, it's.
Jo Stewart: It's part of being human. We all.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, like, we're all going to have imbalances. We're all going to eventually get sick and die. So it's just like, don't get too caught up in perfection. It's a waste of time. Enjoy life and be of service. Use the energy. Just think about that. I think a lot about this. It's how much energy I spend beating myself up and how much we all do that. And if we actually focus that energy on service, on doing some good in the world, it would be absolutely miraculous.
Jo Stewart: I think there's another layer to this as well that I've noticed, and I've noticed it in the yoga community. Maybe I've noticed it in myself as well. But say you are very disciplined in what you do and in your practice, and you push through when it's hard, there can be a sense of moral superiority that can come with that. When you look around, and I think it feeds into ableism as well. When everyone has their own capacity for how much they can do in a day, and maybe you've found time and space to do a little bit more, but that doesn't mean that another person has that capacity in their lives or in their bodies. So there's a judginess that can come in around doing your practice and around being disciplined. And I wonder if you've seen that, too.
Jivana Heyman: Oh, my God. In myself.
Jo Stewart: And I think that's always the case. It's like you see it in yourself and then you see it in other people, and you're like, oh, that's not good.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah. I mean, it's like, I'm really judgmental against. About myself and self critical, but then I'm also judgmental about other people all the time. Everyone I meet, I'm judging them about something. It's like, who am I to be judging everyone in the world and to bring it back to being a yoga teacher? What good is that to be a yoga teacher who's constantly judging my students? That's not our job. That's not what students are coming for. I mean, some might be, and that's the thing that I tried to touch on a little bit, is trauma. And the fact that I think sometimes students might be attracted to the more disciplined approach or even might, because of their trauma history, expect to be treated in a certain way that's not even healthy. But that doesn't mean we have to do that. We don't have to feed into that. As a yoga teacher, our job is to see clearly and to try to use our personal practice, which is essential, that we have some kind of practice where we're working on seeing ourselves and the way we act in relationship to others, and then we bring that into the yoga space. And so that we're truly conscious of ourselves. That's our main job. And then we can start letting go of judgments, because when you start being conscious of yourself, then, like you said, then you stop judging everyone else, right? It's like, wait a minute. We're all trying the best we can, right? I don't know.
Jo Stewart: I love the idea that you share about using yoga ethics and this kind of swadhyaya and philosophy that you're talking about more as a gps rather than like a fence or a guardrail. So it's leading us towards something rather than fencing off experiences. Like, it's a yes rather than a no. And that's what helps us set our course through life. Would you like to unpack that a little bit more?
Jivana Heyman: Yeah. I mean, I love that. What you described, actually, I think ethics are the most important teachings in yoga and the most underutilized by the yoga community and yoga teachers. And actually, I think if we just practice the ethical teachings of yoga, then we wouldn't have to be even having this conversation because yoga automatically would be accessible and equitable to everyone. That would just be obvious because that would be ahimsa. That would be non harm. Let me just end there. So, yeah, in terms of GPS, that is our guiding light. We need to follow that.
Jo Stewart: And I've got another GPS yoga quote from a past guest, Phil Kayumba, who says this in his classes. Think of me, the teacher, like your like, if you need my guidance to tell you where to go, listen to me. But if you know your own better way and the route that you want to take to get like, you know your way.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I love that. I mean, one of the things I say all the time is listen to me, but don't listen to me.
Rane Bowen: I guess I'm sort of reminded. I'm trying to line up another guest who is sort of more of an activist who works with refugees. And I sort of asked if they would be interested in speaking with us and they said, sure, I'm happy to have a chat. I don't know what it's got to do with yoga, though. I think it's more than you realize.
Jo Stewart: Absolutely. And also, yoga needs to work on its presentation to the world. If someone whose job is helping refugees can't see how that would be connected to yoga.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah. Wow. Yeah, we have a lot of work to do.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, we have the work to do. Not yoga, like yoga is self is fine.
Jivana Heyman: It's the way that we are teaching it and sharing it. Unfortunately, that is limited. Yeah. I think the other thing I mentioned when you mentioned GPS, I think in the book I talk about the fact that yoga offers so many different paths. I mean, there's so many different practices and ways in. And I think that we get so stuck in Asana, obviously, that there's other techniques that work and obvious ones like pranayama and meditation service, devotional practices, yana yoga, self inquiry. But I was thinking about that as like Google Maps. When you put a destination in it, it says how do you want to get there? And it's like you're going to the same place, but you can get there on your bicycle or walking or by car or transit. And it's like, in a way that's what's happening, I think with the yoga practices is that you just choose the ones that you like and we're all going to the same place.
Jo Stewart: I love that. And I also love the line in your book, which is the thing is I hardly know anyone who thinks they're very good at meditation. And I'd love to talk a little bit more about that because I think we. I don't know, I think about that all the time. And sometimes you don't even feel like you're getting any better at meditation, even though you practice it more. So do you want to share some of the misconceptions around meditation and the benefits? Even if we think we're really bad at it, even if we think we're taking the footway, that's going to take twelve times as long as the car way.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah. And it might actually. Well, I think the reason I mentioned that in the book is that I'm concerned about the fact that so many yoga teachers don't teach meditation or at least see meditation as separate from yoga, which makes no sense to me. I mean, you don't always have to teach it and some students may not want it, and that's fine. But I'm just saying that as a teacher, you need to understand that yoga and meditation are the same thing. You literally cannot separate them. And so it kind of always makes me laugh that when we teach publicly, we have to say, like, I'm teaching yoga and meditation. It's just like bizarre to me. But like I said, though, there are many people who don't need it and aren't because of where they're at in their life, it's not appropriate and that's fine. But this idea that meditation, that when you go to sit in meditation, we have this preconceived idea that we're going to have a quiet mind or a peaceful experience is just not true. And I think that public concept, again, like having a bad reputation, I think meditation has a bad rap. Publicly, I think that mindfulness is seen as doable, but somehow meditation is not. And I feel like, yeah, it's an obstacle in itself.
Jo Stewart: And just to unpack that a little bit more, what would you define as being the differences between mindfulness and meditation?
Jivana Heyman: Well, I think of mindfulness as a technique of meditation. To me, mindfulness is basically a kind of westernized buddhist practice that's very close to yoga. Buddhism and yoga really are inseparable. I mean, the teachings are so, so similar and come out of some of the same places, but mindfulness and the teachers that created it were buddhist practitioners. Yoga, we have some different techniques. Like there is traditional yoga techniques for meditation that I think are a lot more accessible than mindfulness. For example, mantra repetition, which kind of gets a bad reputation also. But mantra repetition to me is like 1000 times easier than mindfulness for me. Mindfulness is a lot for my head to take on, but I can repeat a mantra for a minute, you know what I'm saying? That feels way more doable to me. And I think for many, many students who are starting out in meditation, not only, well, I said mantra, but you could go back and look at all of the practices as supporting meditation. So if like, say you go to an hour long yoga class, what are you doing there? You're moving your body mindfully, so you're kind of already getting into that mindful state and this meditative state, and then maybe you're doing formal breathing practices or not. You're doing Shavasana, where you really can transcend your limited thinking. And then there's kind of this wasted opportunity, I think at the very end of most Asana classes, where you could sit for a moment and actually feel a moment of meditation just kind of happen naturally. Just that you've done all that work of preparing the body and the breath so the mind is a lot quieter anyway, and that's really where we're headed with meditation. So for me, there's such an opportunity within yoga Asana classes to teach a more formal meditation that I think could really give students back some power.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, I love that. And I know what you mean. It's like all the physical poses, they're our warm ups for our mind to get to that place at the end of the class and hopefully a few times during the class as well, there'll be moments where you can just drop into that present moment awareness.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I mean, that's the beauty of it, of yoga, right? It's not the asanas themselves. It's just the kind of ability to get out of our heads, I think, and to get the mind quiet. And that's meditation. So it's like we're doing it anyway, but somehow we don't call it meditation very much. I don't know why I don't understand it exactly. I think I need to explore that in my next book. That's where I'm kind of headed.
Jo Stewart: And something I noticed that you have been exploring in this book and also you've done some online trainings around it, is actually making Pranayama more trauma informed and more accessible as well. Would you like to share some of the things that you do to help open up these practices to be more helpful for more people or some of the things that you don't do to avoid kind of taking people away from that peace of mind and into a more kind of disturbed or distracted or traumatic experience.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I mean, Pranayama is like that link that we have between the body and the mind. And it's such an important link. It's something we can grasp hold of so much more readily than the mind. So it's. It's such a. It's such an amazingly powerful practice that, again, I think, is often ignored or taught in a way that's not accessible for many, many people. And that include not being trauma informed. And so the way I would teach, I mean, I do teach a whole course on it, so I could go on about it, but I'll just say, let's see, how can I say it? Giving people, again, authority over themselves, agency over their own breath and choice, and how they want to control it or not. And I think that's the main message, remembering that if you're breathing, you're doing it right, starting out with that positive idea that you're not doing it wrong and it doesn't need to be fixed or changed. That's an amazing feeling, right? Because I think most students who come to yoga and if I say, okay, now we're going to do some breathing practices, part of their mind is thinking, oh, shit, you know what I mean? Now I have to change or do it differently. And I don't think that's true. Pranayama can feel like, again, that coming home. It can be so enjoyable and relaxing and such a positive experience. And I don't know about you, but that's not how I find it in many public classes. My experience, if Pranayama is taught at all, I mean, usually it's just not even there. There's not really a formal pranayama, but when it is, it feels a little bit strict and, like, do this and do that and breathe for this certain length of time and then hold the breath. And I think those things are not necessarily trauma informed, especially around retention. Focusing on big breathing a lot. Right? Like we always focus on expand the breath, inhale more, exhale more. What we're trying to get at in Pranayama is quietness and peace of mind. And the way we do that is through getting calmer and more peaceful, relaxing the body, relaxing the nervous system. And we can't do pranayama if the nervous system is stimulated. So we have to find a way to, again, use Asana as preparation and really kind of use the breath as I don't know, cushion for the mind so it can rest there like a little pillow for your mind, your head. I don't know if that makes sense.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, that's a beautiful analogy. And I think a lot of what comes up for people as well, especially people who have anxiety or panic attacks, how they're told again and again that they need to take a deeper breath and a slower breath, but it can actually be quite activating. And just focusing on the breath in itself can. Like, it's tied up with all of those feelings of anxiety and panic. And what suggestions do you have to, like, you're leading a group class, maybe you know that you have some people in your class who do deal with anxiety. Do you give options? Do you give alternatives? Do you just try and guide in a really open way so hopefully people can engage at a level that feels comfortable and supportive for them, because that is the thing with these subtle practices in a really diverse group, people are going to have really different responses.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I mean, I have a history of anxiety myself, so I know how triggering pranayama can be, and I had to kind of relearn the practices myself. I would just say, yeah, repeat exactly what you said. Giving people agency to choose what feels right for them is the most important part, but also to teach in a way that works on the nervous system to make sure that the things you're doing are relatively calming. So, for example, like focus on the exhalations. Relaxed, long exhalations will stimulate the vagus nerve and help to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system response, the relaxation response, if that's what people need. So people who are more, what's the word? More towards the anxious side. Now, there might be people that are more towards, like lethargic or depressed, and that maybe then you need to focus on the inhalation more. So it's not like one size fits all, but I would just say I tend to err towards the know, at least in the US, I think most people just need to relax a little bit. So focusing on long, slow exhalations and vocalizing. So vocalizing, making noise with sound. Making noise with sound is really, really effective for relaxation and for calming the vagus nerve. And it's a great way into pranayama. So that could be like, breath deep, inhale, exhale. That's pranayama and it's not too complicated. And that's the other thing is pranayama and meditation. It's such an interesting thing to consider that they're more accessible, actually, because they don't demand physical strength or flexibility or anything. And they're also more subtle and, quote, advanced. And when I say advanced, what I mean is really more powerful. And that's the thing about yoga that's so incredible to me, is that the most powerful practice of yoga are actually available to everyone, and yet we seem to focus so much on the ones that are less accessible. Asana. Right. So it's really important for people that want to teach in a way that's accessible as you begin to make these subtle practices available to all your students. Meaning teaching pranayama, teaching meditation, finding ways. And I think there's not a one size fit all answer. It really is, like you said in a group class, it's about really just giving options and being open to being wrong and giving people the choice to do something different. So I might teach a practice where I say, let's deepen the breath or not. If it doesn't feel right to you, that's okay. Just specifically tell people to not do something if it feels wrong. Yeah, I don't know. Does that make sense?
Jo Stewart: Absolutely. And it's so simple to just remind people that it's okay to not do something if it's not working for you. That's also part of this practice.
Jivana Heyman: It is a big part, actually. And it's hard for people to know. I think that's something that an experienced student learns is what's not working for them. And so if you have students that are less experienced, they need more guidance actually around that. And so what? Your job as a teacher is to actually teach your students how to decide what is for them and what isn't for them. And then eventually, when someone kind of has a sense of what is for them, then you can go deeper with their practice. But until then, it's really just like finding that middle path. Finding what is beneficial and not harmful for each individual is really the job. That's your job as a teacher.
Jo Stewart: And I've definitely had the experience, and I can understand it, where maybe someone has to make a lot of decisions in their job, or maybe someone has a lot of family demands. They're taking care of lots of other people. Like, their day is full of decisions. So when they get to yoga class, they actually just want to be guided. And people have said, I'll give three options, and they'll say, no, you tell me which one is best for me, and I get it. But at the same time, I'd love to know how you navigate those situations where people are sick of jerking decisions and they just want to be told.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, and I talk about that in the book around I question invitational language that we're trained to use in trauma informed trainings. I actually think that invitational language, which is where every instruction is offered as kind of a question or as open ended, I think that's actually more complicated. And in a sense, I'm going to say potentially less trauma informed because I think what it does, it demands that people turn within all the time. And if someone has a high trauma load, I think it's very hard for them to know what's right for me right now. And I think we have to ease people in, you know what I mean? Like, hold their hands and give them some support. So it could be someone who's had a busy day, or it could be someone who has PTSD. I agree that we have to keep it simple in that case, and very clear. Like, just try this, maybe give two options. I usually give two, try this or this. And I don't usually go beyond that unless they literally are like, oh, no, I can see that's not working. And then, okay, orthodox try this. But sometimes I just give one option. And usually when I teach, when you see, like, I teach online now and I don't even see the students, I usually just give one option these days because I'm just like, what? I want to make it as simple and clear as possible. I'll always give people the opt out. Say, if this isn't whatever feels, whatever doesn't feel good for you, don't do right always. You always have a choice. But here's this one. Just try this, see how that feels. And then try this, see how that feels. And it's like, if I'm constantly asking you to reflect, what do you want to do right now? Do you want to move your body like this? I don't know. That's a harder thing as a student.
Jo Stewart: Yeah, I really like what's known as the bus stop method for that, where you can be like, you can stay here, or if you want, you could try this other thing. But if they're already kind of in a position that's feeling okay, the option to just stay there, I think, can sometimes be an easier decision than to be confronted with all these different choices. Like right up front.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, I like the bus stop method, too, but I tend to not use it, I think, because I think I move pretty fast. I think part of accessibility is now, I know for some people, some dis, some disabled people can't move quickly, and I understand that, but I would say for a lot of people holding poses for longer time is just too challenging. It's like just too demanding, mostly for their mind. And so I think more of a gentle, easy flow, not like an intense flow, but something gentle and easy and moving tends to kind of bring people along, I find. But it depends on who you're working with.
Jo Stewart: And I like that you actually give the option of holding the pose for longer as a way to challenge more in a class where there's mixed levels of experience and stamina, I guess.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, well, one easy way to do that is to say, so say you're teaching a movement. Like, if I'm sitting and I want to have my arms out to the side and inhale, raise them up overhead, what I could do is I could offer option to continue moving, inhale, raise arms up, exhale, lower down, or just hold the arms and keep them up. So it's like you could have either a dynamic versus static practice offered simultaneously, which is nice. That gives people a choice, what feels best for their body. And that's the other thing, of course, that I talk about in the book that I do in all my trainings, and that's how to create integrated experiences where you can have multiple levels of student, students practicing together. I'm slightly obsessed with that, I have to say.
Jo Stewart: Yeah. Do you want to talk people through how you do set that up?
Jivana Heyman: I mean, the example I always use is someone who's practicing on a chair, in a chair, and someone who's practicing on a mat in the same class, because I think that we've segregated yoga, that mat practice is separate from chair yoga or from. I don't know what from accessible yoga. It's a separate thing. And I actually think accessibility means integration. And so to me, I want to start bringing chair yoga students into those mat classes, and I want those mat yoga teachers to learn how to integrate that student, how someone coming in a chair or wheelchair will feel totally welcome and part of the experience equally. And that's the key. They have to be equally participating. The technique I offer, and it can take some time to learn it, but is to build the foundation of the poses separately. So you might give instructions separately on the mat and then in the chair, but then you teach some part of the pose together. So I say prepare separately, practice together. So, like, if you're doing tree pose and I have some students sitting in the chair and some standing, I might say, okay, if you're in the chair, you could bring your leg out to the side and bring your foot onto the heel of your right foot onto the front of the leg of the chair. And then if you're standing, you can externally rotate your leg and bring your heel onto. Actually, you could have done those two things together, actually, but onto the other heel or something. And then together, everyone inhale, bring the palms together at the chest, focus the eyes on a spot, and then continue to teach the pose. Everyone together. And again, the reason I'm doing that is because I want to make everyone feel equally participating. Is that a word? To equally participate? That's the word in the class. Right. Sometimes I see what happens is someone, a student, might join the class and feel kind of insecure, and they'll kind of sit in the back and not really kind of hide. And I don't really want that happening.
Jo Stewart: And I love that all the photos of your book of Asana are three people practicing the same pose in three different ways. Chair, mat. And what do you do? Standing.
Jivana Heyman: Well, two chair. And then there's a student using a folding chair and a student using a power wheelchair, and then someone on the mat. And I just wanted to demonstrate that idea of how poses can look so different in different bodies, and it's the same thing. I mean, what is a yoga pose, really? And I think that we have to really question that this idea of it looking a certain way, and the ideas we have around alignment and start looking at, well, safety and then experience. What is the experience that we're trying to share and that's why you're doing that certain pose. Beautiful.
Rane Bowen: I guess we've got our last question, which we ask every time, and it'd be interesting to see how this may have changed over the last few years. But I guess if you could distill everything that you've learned and taught over the past few years, distill all that down to one single thing, what do.
Jivana Heyman: You think that thing would be to one word or one?
Jo Stewart: Oh, it can be a whole paragraph.
Rane Bowen: We've had a half hour answer to this question.
Jivana Heyman: Wow.
Rane Bowen: Don't feel you have to do.
Jivana Heyman: I think my practice is about remembering who I am, and that is that I'm a spiritual being having a temporary human experience and shifting that. There's a famous quote about that, which I can't think of right now, but he's a french person. But anyway, it's about the fact that usually we identify as human, trying to be spiritual, but actually it's the opposite. We're spiritual beings having this temporary human moment, and I try to bring that into my life. And so I think that to me, is like what spiritual practice is for is that reminding me myself, remembering who I am, and then actually allowing that awareness to shift the ways that I interact with people in the world. Because what it means is that I'm already full and I'm already whole. And so it allows me to enter into relationships without needing anything, which is, I think, radical in a sense, because it allows me to, again, be of service when I'm coming from that place rather than needing to be served. And so I would say, yeah, just to repeat that again, to me, it's about remembering who I am so that I can be of service in the world. Beautiful.
Jo Stewart: Well, thank you so much, Jivana, for everything that you share in the world, all the service that you give, and also for taking the time to talk to us this morning. It's always a wonderful experience.
Jivana Heyman: Yeah, thank you both. So just, it was so nice talking to you. Yay.
Rane Bowen: Thank you so much for tuning in. We hope you enjoyed this conversation as much as we did. And now the moment you've all been waiting for, how to win your own copy of Jivana's book. Just head on over to either of our Instagram posts about this episode. I'm @ranelovesyoga and Jo is @gardenofyoga. Tag three friends and make sure you're also following at Jivanah. Entries close at the end of January and we'll choose our winner then. We'd like to express our gratitude to Ghostsoul for granting us permission to use their track baby robots as our theme song. Be sure to check out Ghostsoul dot bandcamp.com to discover more of their incredible music. Once again, thank you so much for spending your precious time with us. We really appreciate you more than words can express. He aroha nui maua kia kotou katoa, sending you big big love