When opportunity knocks, it’s important to listen, especially when it’s the United Nations.
The Rev. Jivana Heyman, co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, at 32 E. Micheltorena St. in downtown Santa Barbara, recently accepted an invitation from the Special Rapporteur for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to teach yoga and speak about Accessible Yoga at the United Nations in Geneva on Dec. 3.
The International Day of Persons with Disabilities event raises awareness of the rights of people with disabilities.
“It is very exciting and such an honor to be invited to represent the Accessible Yoga movement and the idea of sharing yoga with all,” Heyman said.
“I also love the fact that I just created the Accessible Yoga ambassador program and that I get to be an Accessible Yoga ambassador myself,” he added with a laugh.
Heyman recently planned and hosted (along with a committee of seven) the weekend-long inaugural Accessible Yoga conference at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. It was the first of its kind in the nation.
Sold out weeks in advance, the conference assembled a group of internationally and nationally renowned presenters who taught workshops about Accessible Yoga to 125 participants.
The successful result encouraged Heyman to start planning the second Accessible Yoga Conference that will be held Sept. 16-18 at the Santa Barbara Yoga Center. Heyman has also formed an Accessible Yoga ambassador program — a community of people who are interested in and working to make sure that yogic teachings are accessible to everyone regardless of physical ability.
“I have a vision of an Accessible Yoga Movement,” Heyman said.
“Yoga is about transformation, not just the physical practice, but also meditation. Yoga is empowering. If you look at the Sutras (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), the essential concept of yoga is that happiness is inside.
“This idea in itself is completely revolutionary. It is the opposite of what we are generally taught. We are generally taught to buy something or get something to be happy. The yoga teaching is saying that we have it already.”
One of the instructors at the Accessible Yoga Conference was Melanie Klein, who co-founded the Yoga & Body Image Coalition and co-authored with Anna Guest-Jelley the book, Yoga and Body Image (Llewellyn Publications, 2014). Klein presents at schools, universities and centers about the importance of loving your own body.
Another instructor at the conference was Cheri Clampett, who teaches yoga therapy at the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Yoga Center. She is the founder/director of the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program.
Heyman and his business partner, Barbara Hirsch, purchased the Santa Barbara Yoga Center in part because “it is physically accessible — there is a ramp and two large studios that are on the ground floor,” he said. “Plus, it is a big space and it is gorgeous.”
Under the direction of Heyman, the Santa Barbara Yoga Center’s list of Accessible Yoga workshop offerings is vast.
Prior to the Accessible Yoga Conference, the Santa Barbara Yoga Center hosted Sonia Sumar’s program, Yoga for the Special Child. Sumar has spent 43 years working with children with special needs and is the author of Yoga for the Special Child (Special Yoga Publications, 2007). She discovered the benefits of yoga while working with her now-deceased daughter who was diagnosed at birth with Down syndrome.
“My grandmother would come and live with us sometimes and she would practice yoga every morning,” he explained. “She was ahead of her time. I would sometimes join her, other times I would just watch ... she didn’t try to impose it on me, she would just invite me in. She was inspiring.”
Heyman was then reacquainted with yoga during an Integral Yoga class in college. His passion for it continued from there.
“I started teaching 20 years ago and was an AIDS activist at the time,” he said. “My best friend was literally dying of AIDS as I was taking teacher training.
“I immediately started teaching yoga to people with AIDS and I volunteered at the Zen Hospice Project (San Francisco). I taught through the California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute for Health & Healing for 12 years and I used to teach yoga for Dean Ornish’s programs.”
In addition to the second Accessible Yoga Conference next year, Heyman and the Santa Barbara Yoga Center will be hosting an Accessible Yoga Teacher Training on Feb. 18-21 and March 10-13. He also will be hosting the same teacher training at the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco from Oct. 14-16, Nov. 11-13 and Dec. 2-14, 2016.
Heyman, the “Ambassador of Accessible Yoga,” also is the program manager of the Integral Yoga Institute in San Francisco and an Integral Yoga minister. He lives in Santa Barbara with his husband and two children.