Monday, December 31, 2018

Self-Massage

by Jivana Heyman

Because I’ve been teaching chair and bed yoga for many years, I’ve learned that people who practice this way can miss out on some of the “massage” benefits of the classic poses. So today I’m going to share my techniques for providing these benefits through self-massage for those who are only practicing chair and/or bed yoga. But these techniques may also be very helpful for everyone for those times where we have to stay in chairs for long periods of times, such as in an airplane, train, office, or waiting room or when we are resting in bed due to illness or fatigue. Enjoy! 

You can massage your body gently using your own hands, unless this is painful because of arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome. If using the hands is painful, you can use a tennis ball or foam roller for self-massage. 

Neck Squeeze 
Interlace the fingers behind the head. Use the thumbs to gently massage into the base of the skull. 

Shoulder Rub 
Massage one shoulder with the opposite hand. Repeat on the opposite side. 

Lymphatic Massage 
Gently stroke the arms and legs towards the trunk in the direction of the heart to stimulate the lymphatic drainage. Lymph is the fluid of the immune system, and it relies on diaphragmatic breathing and movement to flow through the body. 

Abdominal Massage 
 
Massage the abdomen up on the right side, across the middle, and down on the left. If you’re looking at your abdomen, this is a clockwise motion. You can use the heel of your hand, with your other hand on top for added pressure. Keep the breath relaxed and begin gently. If it’s comfortable, you can press a little harder. Abdominal massage is an essential part of asana practice because of the importance of digestive health. In particular, it can help with bloating or constipation by stimulating peristalsis in the large intestine.


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

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Monday, December 24, 2018

On Holiday This Week

Wassily Kandinsky, Color Study, 1913
Accessible Yoga Blog will be on holiday for a week, starting December 24, 2018. We'll return with a new post on Monday, December 31.

We're also pleased to announce that starting in 2019, Accessible Yoga's Director, Jivana Heyman, and Ram Rao, PhD will be writing on a regular basis for the blog.
  
We look forward to continuing to present informative and thought-provoking blog posts in the New Year! Wishing you Happy Holidays and Happy New Year.

—Priya


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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Featured Photo: Wall Version of Locust Pose


We just love this beautiful photo by Sarit Z Rogers, which shows a simple and very accessible version of Locust pose. It's good for people who can't get up and down from the floor, for people who can't lie prone (face down), or for those who want the support of the wall for any reason. The support will also help you stay in the pose for longer holds that the classic version. In this pose, you stand a few inches in front of a wall, place your fingertips on the wall, and move into a gentle backbend. Standing further from the wall will create a deeper backbend.


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

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Monday, December 17, 2018

Interview with Asya Haikin on Yoga for Traumatic Brain Injury

Accessible Yoga Blog: Where do you teach yoga and how would you describe your population of students?

Asya: I teach yoga in Falls Church, Virginia, for those with traumatic brain injury through a program developed by the LoveYourBrain Foundation. LoveYourBrain was started by an Olympic snowboarder, Kevin Pearce, who suffered a near-fatal brain injury while training for the 2010 winter Olympics. He discovered yoga during his healing process, so LoveYourBrain developed an evidence-informed yoga protocol with the needs of the brain injury community in mind. LoveYourBrain Foundation trains teachers and sponsors classes in the community. The student population is very diverse, from those who’ve had a concussion while playing sports to survivors of major car crashes with severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Caregivers are also welcome in the class. This is important because they often need support just as much as the family member they are taking care of.

Accessible Yoga BlogPlease describe your teaching and explain how it benefits your students? If you have an unconventional way of instructing or working with students, you may want to elaborate on that.

Asya: When teaching students with TBI, maintaining a quiet environment with soft lighting is very important. You want them not to feel overwhelmed and to be able to focus on the instructions. The sequence I teach is consistent from week to week, instructions are straightforward, and transitions are slow since dizziness is often an issue post-TBI.

At the same time, some students may be able to transition into a regular class as recovery continues and they become more comfortable with yoga. My goal is to teach all the elements of yoga they might encounter in a regular class with the variations they'll need to use. We have props, such as blocks and chairs, and practice modified poses, such as only going down half-way in a forward bend. They also know that it’s okay to pause at any moment during the class.

An important part of the LoveYourBrain yoga program is building community. For this reason, each LoveYourBrain class ends with a twenty-minute discussion. Students have told me that they find this to be the most valuable part of the class. The effort that people who take accessible yoga are making just to get out of the house and arrive in our classes can often be great, so I feel I should make it worth their effort and offer as much as we can. When I am teaching a ninety-minute yoga class for students with TBI, asana takes up just about half of the class time, the rest is guided relaxation and discussion time. So if you, too, are teaching a special population, making community-building part of the class makes so much sense.


Accessible Yoga Blog: Please share with us a teaching experience that resonates for you--for example, when a student understood something for the first time, when an unexpected event happened in class that turned out to be helpful, or some other noteworthy experience.

Asya: As teachers, we often feel that we are saying the same things over and over again. But, as an observant student, I know that no matter how many times I hear something, I may not have a full understanding of what the teacher is trying to communicate until I am ready to receive that information. Sometimes years later I'll realize the full meaning of a cue my teacher used to regularly repeat in class, or the full significance of a concept she was trying to teach.

I was very moved one day when a student showed me a collage that she made, inspired by some of the breathing instructions I regularly give in class. The image showed a woman standing in an archway, ready to step out of an enclosed garden. It was called “The Pause Between the Exhale and the Inhale.” The beauty of yoga is that it offers us inspiration on every level, and heals the body and the soul.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What made you interested in teaching this demographic of yoga student? (If you also teach “mainstream” yoga, you may want to say how the two modes differ or are similar.)

Asya: It can be very easy to find a yoga class, but if you are not your average young and fit practitioner you may often feel that those classes aren’t really for you. My interest in yoga has always had a therapeutic focus. I discovered yoga in the late 1990s, and the first yoga book I read was Yoga For Common Ailments by Dr. Robin Monro, Dr. R. Nagarathna, and Dr. Nagendra. I was looking for stress relief from graduate school, and for relief from back and neck pain resulting from scoliosis. The yoga landscape in this country has changed greatly since the 1990s, but we are now coming back full circle to the therapeutic understanding of yoga. Teaching accessible yoga brings the benefits of yoga to those who need it the most, and I find this kind of teaching most fulfilling.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What would you like to introduce into your teaching that might further benefit your students? (This could be from a training you’ve taken or an idea for the future that is on your wish-list.)

Asya: I love using Yoga Nidra with my students. I believe it especially benefits those living with a chronic condition, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or chronic pain. There are many great programs that teach Yoga Nidra techniques and I’d like to dive deeper into it and, perhaps, take a specialized training next year.  


Asya Haikin, MA, C-IAYT is a yoga therapist in Falls Church, VA. Her mission is to make yoga safe and accessible and to raise awareness about the benefits of yoga therapy. You can connect with her at www.peacefulmindyogatherapy.com.



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

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Thursday, December 13, 2018

Featured Video: Baxter Bell's Chair Version of Marichyasana 3

We've seen lots of twists done in chairs but never this one before! Baxter says this version is more for those who cannot get down to the floor easily, those with very tight hamstrings which make maintaining a neutral spine while sitting on the floor difficult, or those who might want a twist they can do in a chair anywhere.


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

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Interview with Seth Powell, Part 4: Modern Misconceptions about Early Yoga

Yogi in Headstand, Bahr al-hayat Sufi yoga treatise, India,
Watercolor on Paper, 1600-04, Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, Ireland
Priya: Regarding access to yoga practice throughout India’s history, or more recently in the West, what misconception would you most like to see teachers revise for their students, and why

Seth: The first big misconception that still needs to be addressed is the notion that there is one single, unchanging, “original” or “authentic” yoga tradition that existed in premodern India, and that we have now somehow lost, corrupted, or altered in western modernity. The history of yoga is far more complex, and far more interesting, than narratives of singular static essences, which today tend to prop up fundamentalist views of “my yoga is holier than yours.” The vast history of yoga reveals, rather, that yoga has always been incredibly diverse, pluralistic, and multifaceted. While yoga has played a very important role within Hindu traditions (e.g., Śaivism and Vaiṣṇavism), it has never been limited only to what we think of today as Hinduism. There is Buddhist yoga, Jain yoga, Islamic Sufi yoga, and more—all prior to the colonial period.

Loosening our grips from the monolithic notion that there is only one single authentic yoga tradition, can in turn soften the notion that there is then only one correct way to engage in yoga practice—or what scholars refer to as the “orthopraxy” of modern yoga. However, on the flip side, I don’t think we should take this position to the extreme of cultural relativism to suggest that yoga can simply mean whatever we want it to. Historically, at least, yoga was always defined and understood in very particular ways—within very specific cultural, religious, and philosophical milieus—even if different texts and traditions disagreed over those meanings.
The tension and balance between tradition and innovation is a common theme that runs throughout the yogic literature of the past two thousand years.

It is also really important to understand the ways in which yoga and physical yoga practice have dramatically changed in the modern period, as India and yoga came into contact with the global discourses of western science and physical culture movements, as Dr. Mark Singleton has so importantly elucidated in Yoga Body (2010). The birth of what some today refer to as modern postural yoga was a synthesis of older forms of Indian yoga, reconfigured within new political, colonial, spiritual, and physical cultural contexts.

When Indian yoga gurus like Swami Vivekananda, Paramahansa Yogananda, or the disciples of Swami Sivananda and Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, first brought their yoga to Europe and North America at the end of the nineteenth and throughout the early twentieth century, they were yoga missionaries of sorts. Part of their mission was to bring yoga to the masses. Each in their own ways, the early waves of Indian gurus sought to make their yoga “accessible”—to new audiences, cultures, languages, minds, and bodies. In so doing, and like any cultural idea or practice, yoga changed as it moved across space and time.

One of the most striking differences between premodern and modern yoga, is the changing demographic of the yoga practitioner. Whereas the premodern yogi was predominantly male, celibate, and ascetic, on the fringes of mainstream Indian society, today the modern global yoga practitioner is predominantly female, middle class, highly educated, householder, and practices yoga in urban studios and centers within the nexus of a multi-billion dollar health and wellness industry.


2017 Accessible Yoga Conference, New York
Photo by Darshan Nohner
We can see this today in the west, but also in India, where there is a resurgence of interest in yoga, fueled by the current Indian government. Perhaps more than ever before in India today, yoga is becoming a mainstream householder activity, with yoga studios, gyms, and camps cropping up all over the country.

I think it is important to reflect more seriously on this changing public demographic, and to consider how yoga practice might be transforming today to fit the ever-evolving needs and expectations of the modern yogi, or in this case, the yogini.

Further Reading:


Birch, Jason. 2018. “The Proliferation of Āsana in Late Mediaeval Yoga Traditions.” In Yoga in Transformation: Historical and Contemporary Perspectives, edited by Karl Baier, Philipp A. Maas, and Karin Preisendanz, 97-171. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht Unipress.


Diamond, Debra, ed. 2013. Yoga: The Art of Transformation. Washington, D.C.: Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution.


Jones, Jamal Andre. 2018. “A Poetics of Power in Andhra, 1323-1450 CE.” Ph.D. dissertation—University of Chicago.


Mallinson, James. 2011. “Haṭha Yoga.” Brill Encyclopedia of Hinduism 3: 770–81.


Dattatreyayogaśāstra. Mallinson, James, ed.and trans. 2013. Draft translation.

Powell, Seth. 2017. “Advice on Āsana in the Śivayogapradīpikā.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.


Powell, Seth. 2018. “The Ancient Yoga Strap: A Brief History of the Yogapaṭṭa.” Guest blogpost for The Luminescent.


2018. “Etched in Stone: Sixteenth-century Visual and Material Evidence of Śaiva Ascetics and Yogis in Complex Non-seated Āsanas at Vijayanagara.” Journal of Yoga Studies (1): 45-106.


Singleton, Mark. 2010. Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.



Seth Powell is a longtime practitioner of yoga and a scholar of Indian religions, Sanskrit, and yoga traditions, and is the founder of Yogic Studies. He is currently a PhD Candidate in South Asian Religions at Harvard University, where he is writing his dissertation on the history, theory, and practice of medieval and early modern yoga traditions. Seth also holds degrees in the study of religion from the University of Washington (MA) and Humboldt State University (BA). He has taught and lectured for numerous university courses on the religions and literature of India, Hinduism, Buddhism, and yoga traditions, and presents his research regularly at international conferences. Seth conducts online courses and teaches regularly on the history and philosophy of yoga at studios, teacher trainings, and universities around the country. You can find him online at www.yogicstudies.com.


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

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Thursday, December 6, 2018

Featured Photo: Level 5 is Learning to Levitate



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


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Monday, December 3, 2018

Bed-Bound Yoga

by Cherie Hotchkiss
Have you ever been bed bound? Truly bed bound? I mean, barely able or not able to move your body? Perhaps you can relate to a time you experienced a severe case of influenza or broke a limb that required a hospital stay with the limb in a traction swing. Perhaps you know exactly what I mean. My definition of “bed bound” is “not able to physically get out of bed on your own or it takes a day’s worth of energy to drag yourself to the bathroom and back to bed.”

I myself recently experienced yet another episode of being bed bound. I’ve been managing a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis for almost 20 years, just a bit less than I’ve been a certified yoga instructor. Last year I switched the disease modifying drug I was on for over five years because I could no longer endure the debilitating side effects of the every 4-week infusion schedule. This new drug is only given two times a year! However, the side effects, for me, are still debilitating, but in a different way and last an entire month. I felt like I was hit by a truck, which in turn dropped a dead elephant on top of my body—kind of like a really bad flu. The fatigue is overwhelming.

Now Y.O.G.A.: Where to start, when you don’t know where to start? Every BODY can ‘do’ yoga. Most people just don’t believe they can, for any number of reasons, even though they have heard of the many documented benefits. Yoga is a practice, not a destination. What you experience one day or one hour, may be completely different the next. It may even change moment to moment.

Yoga is definitely available to me on my ‘good’ days. Yoga is also accessible on my worst days. Observing my body, mind and spirit without judgment can be challenging. When I allow myself that experience, though, I know I tend to feel better, even if it is temporary. So, I am offering the following yoga instruction to every BODY, whether you are bed bound or not.

When I am bed bound, there is always one asana or physical yoga pose that is available to me or any BODY: Savasana, usually the final relaxation at the end of a yoga practice. Here are some instructions:

1. Lying on your back, or however you must arrange your body to be as comfortable as possible, become aware of the alignment of your physical structure. Living in an uncomfortable or painful body is the last place anyone wants to be. I am asking you to gently observe your body. I am also asking you not to judge these observations, just notice them.

2. If movement is unavailable to you, please try to visualize and imagine your body moving.

3. Observe your feet. Are they warm or cold? Are you able to feel them? Are you able to move them? Which parts of your feet are touching the bed or the sheet? Are there socks, shoes, or even a boot touching your foot/feet? If it is available to you or someone can assist you, move your feet hip-distance apart. Lengthen through your calves by extending your heels away from you. Now relax your feet. Notice if they stay in that position or perhaps fall out to each side. Notice how they feel now.

4. Observe your ankles, calves, shins, and your knees (the front, sides and even the space behind your knees). Try to lift your knees. Notice your heels pressing down and the muscles you engage in your legs with even the slightest effort. A pillow or bolster placed under your knees may feel good and relieve tension in your low back.

5. Next, observe your pelvis. Notice if you are holding any tension in your buttocks. Notice how it feels on your mattress. I know that extended periods in bed can cause pressure sores or points. Just be aware of how it feels, again with no judgment. Can you engage your gluteus muscles and then allow them to relax?

6. Breathe all the way down into your belly, if you can. See it rise and then fall as you exhale. If it’s available to you, place one or both hands lightly on your belly. Allow your belly to be soft. Now try to slip a hand under your low back while one hand stays on your belly. If your arm/hand doesn’t move that way today, just bring your awareness there and/or see if you can feel your low back pushing into the mattress when your belly breath is full. Notice if it changes when you exhale. Does your belly button pull in slightly to your spine?

7. Check back in with your hips and all the way down to your feet. Has anything changed? Do you feel grounded or slightly sinking into your bed as you consciously relax the lower half of your body

8. Now, try to place one or both hands on the lower part of your ribs. If this is painful or uncomfortable, again just bring your awareness there and observe. Can you see and/or feel your ribs expanding on your inhale? Maybe even feeling them pressing against the bed? Our ribs are designed to move as the lungs fill and deflate. Try giving a gentle squeeze at the bottom of your next exhale. Notice if you might have created just a bit more space as your next inhale fills your lungs and pushes the ribs outward. Rest.

9. Take a moment to experience your heart beating. Try to take a breath focused into your heart. As you exhale, allow your shoulders to soften. Are your shoulder blades all the way underneath your chest? If it’s available, turn your palms up. This will encourage the downward movement of the shoulder blades. Bring your awareness back to your beating heart.

10. Allow your arms to be heavy. Feel into the center of your palms. Feel the space around your fingers.

11. Observe your throat, the base of your throat in the front, the sides, and back of your neck. Swallow. Feel the movement that occurs. Soften your jaw. Allow a little bit of space between your teeth and lips. Feel your tongue in your mouth. Can you let the base relax down and the tip of your tongue float up?

12. Next, feel the cool air coming into your nostrils as you inhale and the slightly warmer air as you exhale through your nose. Observe the length of your breath. Observe how shallow or deep your next breath is. There is no right or wrong way to breathe. There is nothing to do.

13. Observe your forehead. Can you relax the skin above your eyebrows? Can you allow your scalp and even your hair to relax? Notice what the back of your head is touching.

14. Scan your body from your toes, up through your legs, hips, belly, chest, arms, neck, and head. Observe how it feels now. Observe your breath. No judgment, just notice.

15. Now close your eyes and be present with your body. Stay as little or long as you like.

I know that I have regained function in my body through my yoga practice. Will you? I cannot say. Will you perhaps find a bit of ease in your body, mind, or spirit? That has been my experience. Will it be yours? Again, I don’t know. Is it worth a try? You tell me!


This article is an edited excerpt from a blog post Bed Bound Yoga by Cherie Hotchkiss at Your Own Gentle Approach

Cheri Hotchkiss has been a certified yoga instructor for almost 20 years, teaching all levels and various styles of yoga to people of all ages and abilities. She is also in the 18th year of her fight with MS. Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disease that attacks the body's central nervous system. Symptoms vary widely depending on the amount of damage and the nerves affected during that particular event. There is no cure at this time. This is one of the reason why she developed 'Your Own Gentle Approach™'.


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

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° 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.