This is an interview with Mary Sims, who started taking a community yoga class in 2005 motivated by a major life transition. The class showed her that she is open to discovering new things about herself; she found she was extremely flexible, which allowed her to quickly gain confidence in most yoga poses. After each class, she experienced a great sense of peace, contentment, and well-being, and the classes supported her through a tumultuous and painful period in her life.
She is currently an adult advocate for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities at AdvocacyDenver, and founder of the Yoga 4All Abilities Program to support people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD).
Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you?
Both of my passions for yoga and for working with people with I/DD motivate me to offer this program. I want to give back to a community of individuals for whom I care so deeply. This community, for a multitude of reasons, lacks accessibility to mainstream yoga studios. Yoga 4All Abilities will hopefully propel my participants to go to a community class, to have the confidence to step into a community studio. I also hope that with this program the yoga community will become more inclusive.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your teaching experience?
During a recent class, one of my new students came in asking “what is yoga?” and “how do I do yoga?” As we were in “table top” position, twisting with our right arm to the sky, I instructed the class to touch a star. The student who asked those questions said “I got one. I got a star. I’m doing it. I’m doing yoga!” This student’s comment continuously resonates with me. He was, in fact, doing yoga, and he was confident about doing it. As my heart soared, I realized that my class had built his self-confidence and contributed to his overall success in life.
What are some of the things that your students have taught you?
I’ve definitely learned to not take myself too seriously. This group of individuals values the present moment. So now I don’t so much focus on my instruction expertise during classes, because my students are teaching me to be able to laugh at myself.
In what ways do you think yoga addresses some of the societal factors at play in working with people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities?
Health and well-being are important for everyone regardless of their social or economic status. Sadly, for the most part, the I/DD population does not have access to yoga. There are many causes for this, including lack of transportation, education, financial stability, and confidence. They often lack the confidence to advocate for themselves, and they are mostly dependent on guidance from their care providers for making good choices in lifestyle and healthy practices. Yoga 4All Abilities helps my students become more aware of the mind-body connection while building self-advocacy skills to make their own health and well-being choices.
Often we hear claims of yoga as a means to positively changing the world. What in your mind is the relationship between a practice of mindfulness and greater social change?
When you come to the mat, relax your thoughts, and become aware of the mind-body connection, you enter a state of mindfulness. This state of mindfulness allows you to pause within the struggles of daily life, and gain a wider perspective. This new perspective can strengthen our sense of compassion for others and for ourselves. I believe that if an individual becomes more compassionate, this can affect many others because it has a ripple effect.
What are some of your ideas about, or hopes for, the future of service yoga in American in the next 10 years?
My vision is for yoga to be accessible and inclusive of all populations, regardless of age, gender, shape, or ability. I believe yoga accessibility has the possibility of creating a culture of compassion. If we can create a culture of compassion within all communities, our society can be more mindful of the fact that even with all our differences we are all the same.
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