I grew up thinking I was exactly the same as everyone else. However, I soon came to realize I was not. I never saw that I had limitations or that I could be treated differently; and to an extent I still do have this view. I was born with a rare physical condition called Poland Syndrome, resulting in me missing my right pectoral muscle and 2 ribs behind it.
Like I said, I grew up thinking I was not different and the more I think about it, why should I have felt any different? I didn’t and don’t want my condition to be an excuse to be treated differently, better or worse.
We may be diverse in our external appearances but we all are made of the same stuff. We all feel the same things: love, anger, happiness, sadness, confusion, excitement, nerves etc. We are all human.
I look at the Paralympics and think how amazing an event it is in terms of showing that no matter what physical limitations you have, you can apply the same principles to your situation as any able-bodied athlete can, such as determination, commitment, hard work, persistence etc.
Having met Paralympians in the past, I took great inspiration not only from what they were achieving but their mental approach to achievement, as well; fully accepting their impairment and working to find their own path to success.
On the flip side, I also saw ‘negative’ traits in Paralympians, just as I did in fully able-bodied athletes in my professional sports career (a story for another time). They too had frustrations, doubts, egos. They weren’t just icons of inspiration. They were like everyone else: human; wanting, and deserving, to be treated like anyone else.
Diversity comes in many shapes, colours, sizes, personalities. I recall watching Trevor Noah (presenter of The Daily Show in America) who was talking about people who say the phrase, “I don’t see colour,” to which he replies, “It’s not a problem to see colour, it’s how you treat colour,”. It was a light bulb moment for me. That can go for anything. It’s not seeing diversity that is a problem, it’s how you treat it. For me, now, I do not mind people talking to me about my condition, questioning it, studying. All I hope is that people do not treat me any differently.
I had a further awakening on this subject during my yoga teacher training, when I was extremely self-conscious about become a yoga teacher with a physical impairment. I would think, “How can people respect me if I can’t do some of the postures perfectly?” or “Will my body be able to do any advanced postures?” I soon came to realize I was seeing my yoga in an extremely narrow field of vision.
Yoga isn’t about what you look like in postures; it’s about the growth of you as an individual and your interaction with the world around you. And how amazing is that?! Yoga is so much more than the asana, even though that’s what we see 95% of the time. Just because I may not be able to do some of the asana in a “perfect” form, doesn’t make my yoga any worse or better than yours. I am able to find a way to grow into a place I have never been before.
That is my goal with teaching: that no matter what, where or who you are, yoga does not treat diversity differently. You do your best with what you have, hoping to learn and grow. We discover how to embrace diversity not only in others but in ourselves, too.
Have you been challenged to embrace diversity?
Contributed by guest author, Lewis, Yoga Teacher Training Alum
Photo by Cameron Nagashima
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