By Jess Robertson
If you’re just tuning in, this is Part 2 of a 6-part series on the Pillars of Modo Yoga. The first instalment dives deeper into our first Pillar: Be Healthy, and introduces the concept of using the 6 Pillars as a way to stay connected to your yoga practice, both on-and-off the mat.
The Pillars remind us that our practice can always have a purpose that is greater than just getting a great yoga butt, or even greater than something as important as being healthy.
They remind us that we can use our practice, and our good health, to connect fully with our capacity to be change agents in our own lives and in the world.
So let’s dive back in, and explore Pillar 2: Be Accessible.
PILLAR 2: BE ACCESSIBLE
The essence of the Be Accessible Pillar is that yoga is for everyone! All abilities, bodies and backgrounds are welcome with open arms.
The goal of the Be Accessible Pillar is to make the benefits of practicing yoga as accessible as possible on all levels, and to explore what it means to truly be accessible.
Be(ing) Accessible can apply to many aspects of our lives.
Every Modo studio is continually exploring how to bring this concept to life within each individual Modo community. The Be Accessible Pillar also encourages us to explore what this means for our own lives, our families lives, and our communities outside of the studio.
As with all of our Pillars, the work begins with being accessible to ourselves.
INSPIRATION FOR THE BE ACCESSIBLE PILLAR
The main influence for the creation of the Be Accessible Pillar is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although the Declaration is not ratified in innumerable ways by many countries, and could use a serious modernization in gender-neutral languaging, it does contain a clear summation of the necessity for making human rights universally protected.
We believe that it is a fundamental human right to be treated with equality.
The Modo community has always had a close relationship with Amnesty International (AI). AI seeks to publicize violations by governments and other entities of rights recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human rights. AI also seeks to protect political prisoners, those that are imprisoned for standing up for human rights.
Many Modo teachers and members also stay active through Avaaz.org, Change.org and many other local, community based human rights networks protecting the voices of those brave enough to speak up – even when their own lives are at risk for doing so.
The other philosophical inspiration for the Be Accessible Pillar is Satya. Satya is the practice of thinking and speaking the truth, and acting in accordance with those thoughts and words. Satya is one of the Yamas, or “limbs,” of yoga. When we are at peace in being who we truly are, it is natural from a yogic perspective, to see ourselves in others.
When we see ourselves in others, even those that we want to reject, we grow.
When we are being true at every level, we are less protective and are able to be more genuinely compassionate, welcoming, and kind.
SO, WHAT DO WE MEAN BY “ACCESSIBLE” ANYWAY?
When we embody accessibility, we are open. Open – not only to other people – but also to accepting, without judgement, the diverse ways we can live in our most true version of ourselves. When we are open to our own inner truth, and we act from this place of openness, we build bridges of understanding to create access to significant change.
START WITH THE “I”
In the Modo community, we are inspired by Simon Sinek’s great book, “Start With Why.” We have also read countless studies on the positive effects of goal setting.
We begin every Modo class with what we refer to as an “intention.” We think of an intention as a North Star, or a direction, for that particular class. Where do we want this class to take us?
We also begin every project, task, or venture in the community by asking ourselves “why are we doing this?” If the “why” is not aligned with one of the Pillars – our shared vision – we simply do not do it!
Along those same lines, I was thinking about the Pillars the other day, and I thought: in all that we do in this community, we start with the WHY; but, when it comes to the Pillars we also always start with the ‘I’!
We begin the practice of any Pillar by asking how we can embody it in our own lives. There is nothing like authentic experience to engender sustainable change. If we are accessible to ourselves, we can check-in and see if we are turning parts of ourselves off because of expectations from family, friends, or society.
If we are accessible to ourselves, we can ask ourselves questions like: “how can I be more open to expressing myself as I really am?” This thought is inspired Satya or “truthfulness” that is referenced above. When we are truly open to listening to ourselves – to living as our true authentic selves – we feel light and expansive.
In contrast, when we shut our inner voices down – when we are, essentially, closing the door to our own inner voice – we feel heavy and dark. The teaching of Satya is not simply about telling the truth, it is about being true. We can’t be true to anyone else, or take true action, if we aren’t being true to ourselves.
The root of Be(ing) Accessible to ourselves is in being true to ourselves.
When we start acting in a way that reflects who we really want to be, it’s easier to accept – and be open to – others that are doing the same.
AN ACCESSIBLE PHYSICAL PRACTICE
All Modo teachers have at least 500-hours of training; most have more like 800-hours. The Modo Yoga Teacher Training has two main components: the 1-month intensive, where we learn “yoga things” and practice yoga twice-a-day, every day, for 1-month; followed by the Distance Learning portion of training, where the yoga is integrated into our daily lives by working with a Peer Support Guide and studying in a self-directed way.
All of these hundreds of hours of learning train Modo teachers to have a shared understanding that every body is different.
Modo teachers care much more about giving access to the experience of a pose than about putting bodies into a certain postural form.
What does this look like? Modo teachers offer blocks, straps, or modifications for poses, in order to bring every body into the experience of a pose. This doesn’t just mean that postures are modified to make them easier; sometimes an athlete, a dancer, or anyone else who is a bit stronger and/or more flexible than most in class, will be given a modification in order to make a posture more challenging. This is what their body might need to experience the pose.
Modo teachers understand how to modify for injuries, but also for the inherent differences in the way our joints articulate based on the varying structures of our bones. Oh yeah… there are body nerds all over this fair teacher community! 😉
So, that’s the physical side of Be Accessible.
OUR COMMUNITY APPROACH TO BE ACCESSIBLE
We want to ensure that yoga is available to as many diverse populations and socio-economic backgrounds as possible. One way we help increase diversity within our teaching community is by offering the Be Accessible Scholarship for every Level-1 Modo Yoga Teacher Training. This scholarship covers 100% of the recipient’s tuition.
Beyond seeking and welcoming diversity at all levels within our community, we also reach out beyond our studio walls, bringing yoga into communities where it is offered less, or not at all.
Plus, since the beginning of Modo Yoga time, every studio has offered at least one karma class per week, where students can attend by making a small donation. This makes the class more financially accessible, and all money raised during these classes goes directly to hundreds of different local (and sometimes global) causes and organizations that are doing great work. One example that relates to the Be Accessible Pillar, is an organization that many studios in Ontario, Canada support called New Leaf Foundation. New Leaf brings yoga and mindfulness practices to youth in spaces that are least-served and most often stigmatized. But across the community, there are countless examples of organizations that we are honoured to support that do similar work.
Each one of our 6 Pillars carries a mission. The mission of Be Accessible is to make yoga accessible in every way we possibly can, to everyone we possibly can. We whole-heartedly believe in this yoga stuff, and we feel called to share it as generously as possible. This isn’t about a savior mission; this is about reaching out and listening intently to leaders within communities, and showing up to support in new and evolving ways that respond to expressed needs.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT AND HOW YOU CAN HELP
I had a friend say to me once “Jess, you have no idea what it is like to be the only black person walking into an all white yoga studio.” She was right. I don’t know. I am Jewish, and 15% gay (rough estimate 🙂 but I am not a member of a visible minority. I have experienced racism in my small town high school where I was the only Jewish kid in my grade, but my Jewishness is hidden by my father’s Scottish last name. Both of my minority identities are invisible.
If you are a person of colour or identify as a minority at all and you feel there is something that we can do to better address the lack of diversity in the yoga world at large, please let us know.
Please also spread the word about the Be Accessible Scholarship. This practice is so incredible. Let’s share that it is accessible to a diverse population through listening and being open.
The Modo Yoga community strives to be an ally to the LGBTQ community, First Nations communities like #waterkeepers, and to human rights defenders like the #blacklivesmatter movement.
We always welcome ideas and feedback on how we can be better allies. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any ideas or suggestions.
Oh, and did we mention that we’re kind of quirky, and tend to attract the quirky people out there? What does that say about you?! 😉
Weirdness is welcomed.
In many communities, believing in positive change is totally wacky. Well, that’s the kind of wackiness that will make you feel right at home in a Modo Yoga studio. In some places, expressing that you don’t identify as male or female is considered weird. Well, bring it on. We think that’s great!
So many visual artists, scientists, musicians and creators are considered weird and outcast from their current day community, only to be considered and treasured as geniuses after they die! We say embrace the weirdness today, in the present moment!
So get your freak on! Or don’t. You’ll be welcomed in all your wonderful weirdness, or all of your quiet introverted normalcy in the same way!
The main idea of Be Accessible is that we are not only expressive to others about our true nature, but we are accessible to our own inner voice telling us in a whisper about our life’s calling.
When we practice being open and accessible to our own inner voice, we attune to listening to others.
Jess Robertson is the Co Founder, and Co CEO of Modo Yoga. She also plays music for yoga and contemplating, mamas her 2 cute kids, and plants and climbs trees whenever possible. @heyjessrobertson