An often quoted passage from the Bhagavad Gita states that yoga is the path to the self, through the self, and this is at the heart of yoga spirituality. When we look at Patanjali’s 8-Limbs of Yoga, some of stated his goal was the absolute separation of physical matter from the spiritual, a transcending that occurs when one has complete focus of the mind and control over the body. Other scholars believe the goal is in the word yoga itself, which means union, and Patanjali sought a complete union of body, mind, and spirit. I tend to follow this school of thought, especially when we look at the separation and compartmentalization of our wellness and body/mind/spirit in Western society.
For me, as an autistic person, this ties into autistic liberation, where the goal is the full acceptance of autistic traits, neurodivergence, and individuals as whole and complete members of society and a complete overhaul of support services so they truly support us, not pathologize and seek to remake us into some kind of neurotypical paradigm. When we look at liberation through yoga, it’s often seen as being liberated from the demands and needs of the physical body, the suffering which a physical existence causes, and I believe that dovetails nicely with autistic liberation, because a large part of the suffering is undoing systems of oppression which seek to do harm to those not seen as cultural “normal”.
Too often, yoga for autistic people is aimed at children and steeped in the ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) model. Yoga is seen as a way to get in touch with the body, because it does help one become comfortable with and inhabit the body; however, this is used in ABA-like settings to control the autistic body, rather than give the autistic individual autonomy. Using yoga to control goes completely against yoga philosophy and yoga spirituality.
To quote a popular meme: That’s not how it works; that’s not how any of this works!
Instead, yoga as a way to know the self, through the self means creating freedom for the self. It means allowing the self to express itself in a way that feels comfortable for it. It means accepting and understanding that each of us are different and unique and there is “no one true way” of being human or existing in this space.
It’s okay that our minds work differently. We’re going to make connections between things faster or slower than others, and that’s part of the glorious tapestry of humankind and human expression. Autistic liberation means embracing this, embracing us, and allowing us to use yoga in a way which works for us–not forcing it on us as an “alternative medicine” path of ABA.