JIVANA HEYMAN, FOUNDER
Everyone, regardless of physical ability or background, deserves access to the practice of yoga. That’s the guiding principle behind Accessible Yoga. Their mission is to advocate for underserved communities and build a network of ambassadors to support yoga accessibility around the world. The organization initially focused on accessibility for those with physical disabilities or chronic illnesses and has since grown to include advocacy for anyone who lacks access due to physical, emotional, cultural, or economic barriers. In 2015, the organization launched its first international conference and brought a message of inclusivity to a global audience.
Q & A YOGA JOURNAL: What inspired you to start advocating for accessibility in yoga?
JIVANA HEYMAN: I was an AIDS activist in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Many of my friends died of AIDS, including my best friend. I started teaching yoga to the HIV/AIDS community, and then the work extended from there. I didn’t see yoga being shared with people with physical disabilities and chronic illnesses, so that’s where I put my focus. There’s a misunderstanding that yoga is about advanced physical asana, when that is only part of the practice. Yoga is about learning to calm the mind and connect with inner peace, and that’s something that everyone has a right to.
YJ: How does Accessible Yoga approach its advocacy work?
JH: This year, we have two international conferences, and that’s really our main focus— creating a platform for people who are sharing yoga in marginalized communities. These people come together and network with each other and learn about each other’s work. This, we hope, will shift the culture to be more inclusive and equitable.
YJ: What does the concept of seva mean to you?
JH: I think “selfless service” is yoga in practice. The real challenge is learning how to think beyond your ego’s selfish desires, to look at others as equals, and to come from a more heart-centered place that can bridge the divide between individuals and communities. That’s what we’re trying to do with Accessible Yoga.