Friday, October 18, 2019

Featured Video: Amber Karnes Demonstrating Vinyasas Using a Chair

We love this video of Amber Karnes demonstrating how to do Sun Salutations and other vinyasas using a chair, which makes these asanas accessible to those who can't get up and down from the floor or to anyone who can't do the classic versions for any reason. Moving with your breath is not only uplifting but it also helps improve strength, balance, and agility as well as focus and mindfulness. —Nina




Amber Karnes is the founder of Body Positive Yoga and the creator of the Body Positive Clubhouse. She works with humans who want to make peace with their bodies and build unshakable confidence. For her, yoga has been an integral part of a decade-long journey toward self-acceptance and body positivity—a journey of making peace with my body and helping others to do the same. See bodypositiveyoga.com for more information.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore. People in other countries who want the order the book see How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Interview with Nanci Winterhalter on Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors


Nanci Winterhalter responded to our call for interviewees and what follows is our discussion about the important yoga for breast cancer survivors classes that she teaches.

Priya: Tell us a bit about your yoga training and experience teaching yoga.

Nanci: My yoga training was at Maha Yoga in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, with a wonderful teacher, Diane Lagadec, from 2015-2017. I am now studying to be a yoga therapist at the Himalayan Institute.

In 1987, I graduated from Columbia University as a physical therapist and have been practicing PT for over 30 years. My PT training, yoga training has guided my transition into teaching yoga to people who may not feel they could fit into a “regular” yoga class. For example, I teach Yoga for people with Parkinson’s, Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, Senior Yoga, Chair Yoga, Yoga for Baby Boomers (and their friends), Yoga for adults who attend an urban medical day care program, and a series called Happy Posture/Healthy Bones for people with low bone density issues.

Most of my classes are offered at my local Council on Aging's Multi Purpose Center so they are very low cost or sometimes free (grant funded). I also teach on a rotating basis at a community program offered free by the New Bedford Wellness Initiative at The New Bedford Boys and Girls Club. That’s a lot of yoga! I consider myself privileged to share this ancient practice to anyone who is interested!

Priya: You've been working with diverse populations and I'm particularly interested in your experience teaching breast cancer survivors. How did you get started with that?

Nanci: Like so many people, my family’s life has been personally touched by cancer. Also, as a physical therapist working for a home health agency, I had the opportunity to work with many people living with cancer over the years. Dealing with the conditions and the treatments is so challenging and I could see how simple movements, breathing exercises, and relaxation from yoga could be so powerful. I started to bring the wonderful practices of yoga into our sessions and the clients embraced it.

In 2018, I decided to study with Tari Prinster to become certified as a Y4C (Yoga for Cancer) teacher. When I came home, I was discussing the training with the owner of a lovely studio nearby and she had recently lost her best friend to breast cancer. She offered me the use of the studio for a weekly class and it has been going ever since. It’s been a great experience and one of the best things about it is the community it provides---where people can feel comfortable and share their journey with others who understand.

Priya: Can you share with us some of the specific poses, language, or techniques that you use in classes for breast cancer survivors, and please explain why they are appropriate for this practice?

Nanci: Tari’s Yoga for Cancer is a specialized yoga methodology that is tailored to address the specific physical and emotional needs left by cancer and its treatments. Tari’s philosophy is that “true compassion comes through knowledge and understanding.” To help survivors heal as a “whole person,” this methodology seeks to strengthen all systems of the body through the use of gravity, movement, compression, and restriction, resistance, and relaxation. Carefully selected and utilized practices of yoga can do just that. For example, the use of mindful breathing and restorative poses, such as restorative Cobbler, can be used to reduce the anxiety, fear, and stress that come with a cancer diagnosis and its treatments.

Students may benefit from carefully selected supported inversions which use the effect of gravity to assist the flow of lymph from the legs. The use of a person’s body weight as resistance in carefully selected asanas, such as Chair pose with hands on hips or Warrior 2, can safely build muscle and bone strength over time without harmful pressure on weakened areas of the body.

Yoga can make movement easier in a slow and gentle fashion as students learn about their own bodies and the healing process, as well as enhance immunity and promote general wellness. Through the practice within the group of people with similar concerns, students find community. Tari’s program utilizes a vinyasa style of yoga, linking movement with breath and using props to make poses and transitions safe and accessible. Though the class I currently teach is for survivors of breast cancer, the Y4C methodology could be utilized for a person with any type of cancer.

Priya: Before we end the interview, is there anything else you'd like to share with us about working with students who have survived cancer?

Nanci: Working with students who have survived cancer is very challenging and gratifying. The whole person must be considered during different phases of each student's personal journey. As a teacher, you have to stay on your toes…carefully attending to your students as their condition and spirit changes. From a knowledge perspective, you have to remain a student yourself and stay up to date on the various treatments while offering mindful modifications to the practice.

These changes include fluctuations in strength and energy, edema issues, soft tissue restrictions related to treatments, bone density and balance changes, pain issues as well as the significant psycho-emotional-spiritual challenges that a cancer diagnosis, its treatments, and its uncertainties can pose.

The community that forms within the class can be very powerful as well as the one-to-one support fellow students provide for each other. I feel privileged to combine the ancient practice of yoga supported by the knowledge of working with people with a cancer diagnosis in this unique yoga for cancer class.

Nanci Winterhalter has an MS in Physical Therapy from Columbia University, New York and practiced as a PT in acute care hospital, rehabilitation hospital, and then home-care until 2017. Her yoga training includes a 200-hour yoga teacher training at Maha Yoga Center and a yoga for cancer certification with Tari Prinster. In 2019, she began a 800-hour yoga therapy certification program (IAYT) at the Himalayan Institute. She has been teaching since 2017, including: Yoga for Baby Boomers and Friends, Strong and Steady (a class for people with balance issues), Chair Yoga for Seniors, Yoga for People with Parkinson’s, yoga for people with various chronic conditions, Yoga for Breast Cancer Survivors, and Happy Posture/Healthy Bones (for people with low bone density).


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.


To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore. People in other countries who want the order the book see How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Ask the Yoga Doctor: What Can I Do About Wrist Pain in Dog Pose?

Many practitioners find that poses like Downward-Facing Dog, Handstand, Side Plank pose, and many arm balances cause wrist pain. In this video, Dr. Timothy McCall explains the relevant anatomy and offers suggestions.



If you want to submit a question to Timothy, email it to AskTheYogaDoctor@gmail.com.


Timothy McCall, MD is a board-certified internist, Yoga Journal's medical editor since 2002 and the author of the Amazon #1 bestseller Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing. He practiced medicine in the Boston area for a dozen years before devoting himself full-time in the late 1990s to yoga therapy. He has studied with many of the world's leading yoga teachers, including BKS Iyengar and TKV Desikachar. In 2005, Timothy began his studies with a traditional Ayurvedic doctor, Chandukutty Vaidyar, and spent more than a year at his clinic in Kerala, India. His latest book is Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey through Cancer. For more information see DrMcCall.com.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog.


° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.



To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Does the Pharmaceutical Industry Really Withhold Cures?

Goya Attended by Doctor Arrieta by Francisco Goya
by Nina Zolotow

I’m tackling this subject today because frankly I’m a little upset about it. Recently I saw more than one person from the yoga community on Facebook share a link to an article that claims pharmaceutical companies already have a cure for cancer but are withholding it because they can make so much more money selling treatments for cancer. Also, I know that our readership includes people who have chronic and/or serious diseases, both common and rare, for which there is no cure as well as people who teach these populations. So I thought it would be worthwhile for me write a post that describes how and why pharmaceutical companies (and research institutes) conduct their research on cures for diseases. 

This is a hot-button issue for me because I happen to be married to a medical researcher who spent 31 years working in academia and who now does drug discovery research for a biopharmaceutical company that is currently working on cancer, among other serious diseases. My husband is Dr. Brad Gibson (he will be contributing to this article) and he works for Amgen, and I can assure you he would be thrilled to participate in a cure for cancer (Nobel Prize here we come!) and his company would shower him with praise and bonuses if he did because their stock prices and annual revenue would go through the roof. And, even more importantly, Brad would know that his efforts saved lives and improved the quality of life of untold number of patients and their families. In addition, through my husband, I know a large number of other medical researchers who work on trying to find cures for all types of diseases. For example, Brad’s friend Bob worked on Huntington’s disease for many years, and was extremely frustrated by the lack of progress. Not only is he sad about having done so much work that didn’t end in success, but he also has lots of friends in the HD community who are suffering and who he so badly wanted to help. The truth is that human biology is extremely complicated, and there are many things scientists still don’t understand. This is as true about our bodies as it is about the universe. Here’s to all the scientists who spend their lives studying these complex problems, most who are unrecognized and who make only incremental contributions. 

But since I’m in a myth-busting mood, I want to acknowledge that there are some serious problems related to the issue of how medical research is funded. One is that while no pharmaceutical company will withhold an effective treatment, it is true in the US that if the treatment is for a rare disease, the company might sell the drug for very high prices in order to earn back the money it spent to research and test the drug (something that is very costly). And the price might be so high that some people might even be priced out. That’s a terrible problem in our health system that definitely needs addressing. 

The other is the issue of which diseases pharmaceutical companies and research institutes focus their research on and which receive little or no funding. This is a serious issue because while common first-world diseases (cancer, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc.) get lots of funding, many common third-world diseases (such as malaria and parasitic diseases) do not. Finally, there is the problem of rare diseases (which they call orphan diseases), for which the number of potential patients is very low. 

To understand how drug companies and research institutes chose what to work on and what not to work on, we need to look at them separately. 

Pharmaceutical companies are for-profit companies. So when choosing where to focus their research, they definitely take into account whether the money they can charge for the potential drug will result in enough income to allow them to recoup what they invested and make a profit as well. Otherwise, they would go broke. That means they tend to focus on common, first world diseases. So the problem here is a result of capitalism and economics.

Research institutes on the other hand allow medical researchers to work on anything they want as long as they can get funding from the government to do this (in the US via the National Institutes of Health). So in academic environments, scientists can not only work on finding cures for diseases without worrying about profits, they can also study basic biology questions in the hopes that it will lead to a better understanding of disease mechanisms and potential therapeutic intervention strategies. And in the US, the government does fund some research into third-world diseases and into rare ones. However, when there are tax cuts and funding for the medical research is reduced, not everyone can get funding for the work they are inspired to do. This, frankly, is a problem of politics and funding priorities. 

There are many private foundations that fund research into third-world diseases (the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds research on malaria, for example) or into rare diseases (Bob did much of his research on Huntington’s disease for the Hereditary Disease Foundation and the CHDI Foundation). So if you have a particular disease you’re concerned about, you can help support the appropriate foundation. 

But the bottom line is that there is no world-wide medical conspiracy to withhold cures from us. There are, however, economic and political constraints that result in inequality in the way research into particular diseases is funded and that cause pricing problems for treatments for rare diseases. Solving these problems is complex to be sure. But while it is certainly frustrating to see a loved one suffer or to suffer yourself from a disease for which there is not yet a cure, passing around false accusations about scientists and drug companies is only going to make things worse. This encourages distrust of the scientific community, which in turn will lead to further lack of funding.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Accessible is Advanced: Yoga as a Universal Practice

Mark Whitwell (third from left) and Jivana Heyman (fourth from left)
By Jivana Heyman

This week I had the opportunity to study with Mark Whitwell, the torchbearer for the lineage of his teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar. Mark shared the message of his teacher with a combination of power and softness that is indicative of this approach. What struck me most was the accessible nature of the practice he shared, and the emphasis on what Desikachar would call, “The right yoga for each person.”

The idea that each of us has our own unique yoga speaks to the universality of the practice. Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) is not one-size-fits-all, and it’s not something you only do when you’re young and fit. Yoga is there for the entirety of our lives, from birth to death, through tension headaches, and utter exhaustion. Yoga offers universal spiritual teachings that invite us to reconnect to our heart through movement and stillness. The power of the practice lies in its simplicity and groundedness. Yoga begins by recognizing the power of the body. Instead of denying our physicality, as many spiritual traditions tend to do, yoga celebrates the body as the vehicle for this life.

In fact, the body is more than just a vehicle for the energy of our lives. The body is a microcosm of the cosmos that it is created from, and the field for our practice. The challenge arises when celebration of the body turns into adulation, and we obsess over a physically “advanced" practice. Or the opposite––self-criticism and rejection of a body that has failed us in some way. As someone creeping toward my mid-fifties, I can feel the age in my body for the first time in my life. I can also feel disappointment around asanas that I can longer do, or that I avoid because they’ve injured me in the past.

Yesterday, I made the mistake of looking at a few Instagram accounts of celebrity yoga teachers with millions of followers, and even though the captions were often profound, the images speak for themselves. They show yoga as a combination of advanced gymnastics and modeling. The images are beautiful, and I celebrate the bodies that can do those complicated poses. But that’s not yoga to me. Yoga isn’t something we can see from outside. Instead, yoga is the subtlest shift in consciousness, joining thought and movement together through the glue of the breath. Patanjali offered just three sutras on asana:

Posture should be steady and comfortable. 2.46

(Such posture should be attained) by the relaxation of effort and by absorption in the infinite. 2.47

From this, one is not afflicted by the dualities of the opposites. 2.48

(Bryant, Edwin F. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, A New Edition, Translation and Commentary, North Point Press, New York: 2009

I’m particularly interested in Sutra 2.47, which tells us how to practice asana: through relaxation and absorption in the infinite. These are such useful tools in approaching yoga because they highlight the inner work of the practice. It’s about what’s happening in the mind and not the external appearance of the body.

Luckily, things are changing in yoga, and we’re moving away from the body obsession of the commercial yoga industry. I can feel a groundswell of awareness around the universality of yoga, and the importance of equity in practice. On Instagram, I also noticed something amazing––the hashtag #accessibleyoga has been used almost 40,000 times! There is a shift happening through the hard work and dedication of thousands of yoga teachers and practitioners around the world who understand the depth of a practice that can’t be limited, packaged, or commercialized. There is a renewed interest in the fullness of yoga beyond the physical.

Accessible Yoga is often perceived as a practice for a niche market. The idea of adapting yoga to people with disabilities and other marginalized communities. But that’s just part of the story. To me, Accessible Yoga is about accessing the depth and breadth of yoga. It’s about expanding your awareness to embrace all humanity through our practice. Or, as Matthew Sanford would say, “It’s humanity disguised as yoga.”

This idea is described powerfully in a speech Matthew Remski gave at our Accessible Yoga Conference in Toronto last year: “So one of the most precious things I believe Accessible Yoga points to is that we can reach through the display and armoring of privilege to find a place where the gifts of yoga can be shared. The world might be seduced by spectacles of racial, class-based, gendered, and ableist oppression, but parallel to that spectacle––backstage, off stage even ––there might be a simpler place where yoga isn’t some hybrid of physics and engineering, Crossfit, and a glamour shoot. It’s a plain, everyday room where experience is simple, internal, and shared.”

In other words, if spirit is a universal principal, how can we have a spiritual practice that is limited to only certain people with certain bodies? That’s why I say that accessible yoga is the most advanced yoga that there is. It represents a broad understanding and approach to yoga that is grounded in the ability to accept differences and diversity and still stay rooted in connection. Otherwise, we are caught up and distracted by physical perfection. I would go even further to say that if your practice and teaching is not accessible, then it’s not yoga.


Jivana Heyman is the founder of Accessible Yoga, co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center and an Integral Yoga Minister. With over twenty years of training and teaching in a traditional yoga lineage, Jivana has specialized in teaching the subtle practices of yoga: pranayama, meditation, as well as sharing yoga philosophy. His passion is making Yoga accessible to everyone. Accessible Yoga has grown into an international advocacy and education organization, and now offers two Conferences per year, trainings around the world, an ambassador program and online Network. Jivana has taught with the Dean Ornish Heart Disease Reversal Program through UCSF, California Pacific Medical Center’s Institute of Health and Healing, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. He has led over 40 Yoga teacher training programs over the past 16 years, and created the Accessible Yoga Training program in 2007. On December 3rd, 2015, Jivana taught Accessible Yoga at the United Nations in Geneva for their International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Jivana’s strengths are sharing esoteric and complex teaching in a readily accessible way, and applying the ancient teachings of Yoga to our day-to-day lives.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore. People in other countries who want the order the book see How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Ask The Yoga Doctor Timothy McCall, MD

We have something different for you today! In this video, Dr. Timothy McCall, author of Yoga As Medicine and Saving My Neck and medical editor of Yoga Journal magazine, answers the question: Are really short yoga practices effective?



Recently I was excited to learn that Timothy has created a new YouTube channel where he will answer questions asked by you, the general public. With his permission, I'm going to be posting these videos regularly right here on the Accessible Yoga blog every Monday. So stay tuned! And if you want to submit a question, email it to AskTheYogaDoctor@gmail.com—Nina

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Featured Video: Chair Mini Sun Salutation by Carey Sims


In this very short video, yoga teacher Carey Sims demonstrates an accessible version of the mini Sun Salutation that includes both sitting and standing. Because it is so important for those who can stand at all to maintain the ability to continue to stand up from and sit back down on a chair, this vinyasa is especially valuable as it allows practitioners to repeat this important movement while they experience the other many benefits of a Sun Salutation.  —Nina


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.