Friday, December 6, 2019

A Caregiving Warrior Exhales with Yoga Practices

Mount Fuji in Clear Weather by Hokusai
By Elissa C. Rosenthal 

In the early morning darkness, I awake with muscles taut, staccato breathing, and my mind on watch. Before my sleepy consciousness catches up to the present reality, it reverts to caregiver mode. It’s a reflexive response. I cared for both my parents, who lived with me until my father’s death at home two years ago and my mother’s passing in a nursing home six months ago. It has been a brutal few years. 

I can still hear the sound my father’s frantic voice calling me downstairs at 2:00 a.m. Off we’d fly to hospital more times than I can count, he in the ambulance, me driving behind. My memory flashes frequently on to my mother, ten months after my dad died. Her slight frame is sprawled across the floor with a fractured hip, her walker spilled over inches from her grasp, and her moans steeped in pain, fear and anger. 

For each crisis, I assumed the stoic stance of a soldier on the verge of war. I constricted my emotions and my breathing to perform the duties demanded of me. At home, at the hospital, or at the rehabilitation center, I met each medical complication like a warrior in hand-to-hand combat. And it was messy. 

When I was actively caregiving, one of the few places I could be myself and for myself was my yoga practice. In this refuge I exhaled the breath I was unaware I had been holding. Breathing became the counterweight to my futile attempts to direct events beyond my control. 

Slow, deep inhalations followed by even slower exhalations steadied me during moments of emotional turmoil. Standing at my father’s bedside in the emergency room in the middle of the night, I would perform conscious breathing: inhale to a count of 4, pause for a count of 4, exhale to a count of 6, and pause again for a count of 4. This pranayama corralled my runaway thoughts and deepened my shallow breath pattern. 

I also discovered a meditative practice that clicked with my jumpy monkey brain. Seated in a chair with eyes closed, count internally from 1 to 4. Completing each cycle, start again. Wandering to 5 or 6, guide the count back to the beginning. In the face of complex decisions and upsetting events, the simplicity of this repetitive task practice rests the mind. 

Sometimes, I’d join my breath with a mantra. Although there are beautiful Sanskrit mantras to support acceptance and strength, I reached for the language of my spiritual heritage, Hebrew. Repeating with my inner voice to my hurting heart until I believed it to be true, I recited,: "Hineni.” “Chazak.” “Har.” The words translate to: “Here I am.” “Strong.” “A Mountain.” This has become my go- to mantra when my faith in my ability to endure falters. 

There were also many asanas that served me during these hard days. Three poses in particular offered me what I needed most as caregiver: a place to be strong and a place to be vulnerable. 

In Warrior 2 pose, centering my torso and hips between my heels, I rooted myself in the present. I resisted the urge to lean too far forward into the future, leaping to the next imagined catastrophe, or to lean backwards, lingering on past what ifs. Warrior 2 affirmed my view of myself as a solder, one who could be both fierce and gentle. 

Mountain pose was the physical embodiment of my mantra. It showed me how much can be happening in the body when one is standing their ground, rising from a solid foundation. I monitored myself for tension and released my shoulders away from my ears. When I lifted my sternum and stretched my pectoral muscles, it was as though I was opening my heart towards hope. 

Half Pigeon pose (One-Legged King Pigeon) allowed me to express my pent-up feelings in the safe zone of my mat. I’ve heard the hips don’t lie when it comes to emotion and this was true for me. Then, as I moved into the forward bending version of Half Pigeon I could finally release tears of worry and fatigue onto my mat. I was grateful to a respectful yoga teacher who offered me the space and compassion to cry them. 

During my caregiving days, loving family and friends kept me aloft. But my yoga practices were also essential, and I can’t imagine how I would have emerged intact without them. They gave me the structure and permission to care for myself. And they renewed my warrior spirit so I could more effectively care for those in my charge.


Elissa C. Rosenthal is a yoga teacher and registered occupational therapist who has worked in mental health settings, nursing homes, home care, public and private schools, and a residential care facility for developmentally delayed adults. Inspired by her patients and her own deepening yoga practice, in 2014 she completed a 200-hour teacher training through the Mukti Yoga School taught by Elyse Foster and Jacqui Bonwell. She holds additional certifications in children’s yoga, chair yoga, and Yin Yoga, and completed her Accessible Yoga teacher training in October 2019. The principles and practice of accessible yoga are a natural complement to her more than forty-year long career as an occupational therapist offering a client-centered compassionate approach to individuals with disabilities. Her articles and essays have been published in newspapers, magazines, and online websites in the Boston area. 


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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, December 4, 2019

Overcoming Sjögren’s Syndrome with Yoga

by Ram Rao

Autoimmune diseases are characterized by our immune system going awry and mistakenly attacking our own body tissues. The immune system is our body’s defense mechanism consisting of leukocytes, macrophages, dendritic cells, mast cells, bradykinin, histamine, interleukins, and tumor necrosis factor among others (similar to the various armed forces). 

Normally, these defense molecules protect the body from foreign particles including bacteria, virus, toxins, and all types of allergens. When the body senses these foreign invaders, it signals the immune system to send out its plethora of defense molecules to attack them, a process known as inflammation.

The immune system is extremely important as it is involved in protecting organs, tissues, and cells. In a perfect setting, the immune system will release these defense molecules only when needed––and when the threat has been sufficiently addressed, these defense molecules retreat to their garrison (specific cellular location). Thus, in a perfect setting, a body’s defense system can differentiate between foreign cells and the body’s own cells.

For reasons that remain unclear, in autoimmune disease conditions, the immune system mistakes the self––the body, including tissues, joints, muscles, nerves, or skin, as foreign. Since the “self-tissues” get recognized as “foreign,” the body’s immune system starts attacking it them. This is the negative aspect of the immune system characterized by an aberrant, out-of-control defense system––the body operating as if it is constantly under attack and the body’s defense molecules going haywire and attacking its own tissues. This results in bodily damage, and as the system goes out of control, it self-perpetuates and is the basis of chronic autoimmune conditions including, but not limited to, fibromyalgia, neuralgia, systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and polymyositis.

Some autoimmune diseases target only one organ as in Type 1 diabetes that affects only the pancreas. Other diseases, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, affect several areas of the body. While the basis for the immune system to go haywire remains unclear, some people are more likely to get an autoimmune disease than others. Genetics, gender, environment, certain foods, lifestyle, and age play a role in the development of autoimmune disorders. Women get autoimmune diseases at a rate of about two to one compared to men. Some autoimmune diseases are more common in certain ethnic groups. Certain autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and lupus, run in families.

Sjögren's syndrome is a lesser-known autoimmune disease that primarily affects moisture-producing glands of the body including the tear and saliva glands. It is estimated that four million Americans are diagnosed with Sjögren’s including men and women of different ages and ethnicities. Due to the complexity of diagnosing Sjögren’s, it is believed that many individuals remain undiagnosed after years of experiencing symptoms. 

Patients with this condition have eye dryness, irritation, or painful burning in the eyes. Patients with dry eyes are at increased risk for infections around the eye that can damage the inner regions like the cornea. Some people complain of dry mouth and swelling of the glands around the face and neck. A dry mouth triggers other dental issues like dental decay, gingivitis, or oral infections. Some patients have episodes of painful swelling in the salivary glands, while others complain of dryness in the nasal passages, throat, vagina, and skin. Swallowing difficulty and symptoms of acid reflux are also common.

Treatment for Sjogren's syndrome depends on the parts of the body affected. Many people manage the dryness in the eye and mouth by using over-the-counter eye-drops. Drugs including NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) or steroids that suppress the immune system are normally prescribed, but steroids can trigger serious side effects. Diet, supplements, and herbs help to reduce the pain and inflammation, protect joint health and promote healing with fewer side effects. Additionally, lifestyle changes also reduce the severity of the condition.

Yoga and yoga related practice including asana, meditation, and pranayama help in mitigating the symptoms of this chronic illness and overcoming its weakening effects. While the health benefits may not appear immediately, they become evident with a sustained and regular yoga practice. Research studies provide ample evidence to show that yoga suppresses inflammation, a cardinal feature of Sjögren's syndrome.

A regular yoga practice may lower the level of several pro-inflammatory molecules in the body, thereby relieving severe pain associated with the inflamed tissue. Yoga poses stimulate flow of blood and oxygen to all the organs, joints, and tissues resulting in reduction in joint pain, improvement in mobility of joints and muscles, increased energy levels and sense of wellbeing. Patients also report improved sleep after a yoga practice.

Sitting, standing, and supine twists, sun salutation, warrior poses, and inversions in general reduce inflammation. This results in improved blood circulation, stimulates respiration, and relieves muscle and joint pain. The inflamed areas are now better equipped to combat stress and function effectively as there is improved blood circulation and oxygen.

Yoga’s pain management techniques including breath work, deep relaxation, and meditation dampen stress and bring in more mental clarity thereby decreasing the level of pain and perceived suffering. All the benefits are mostly observed in patients that have a sustained yoga practice. So, if you are diagnosed with Sjögren's syndrome or an associated inflammatory condition, think of adding yoga and yoga management practices to your list of treatment protocols.



Rammohan (Ram) Rao comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and Vedic teachers in India tracing back to the illustrious Vedic-acharya Rishi Kaundinya (although Ram admits he cannot do the Eka pada or Dwi pada Kaundinyasana). With a doctorate in Neuroscience, Ram was a Research Associate Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He focused on various aspects of age-associated neurodegenerative diseases with emphasis on Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, Ram completed the academic training at the California College of Ayurveda (CCA) and received his certification as Clinical Ayurvedic Specialist. He has been a faculty member of the California College of Ayurveda and teaches in their Nevada City location. Ram is also a dedicated Hatha yoga practitioner and is a Registered Yoga Teacher from Yoga Alliance USA. In his spare time he offers consultations in YAMP techniques (Yoga, Ayurveda, Meditation & Pranayama). Ram has published several articles in major Yoga/Ayurveda magazines and has been a featured speaker in several national and international meetings and symposia. He is a member of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association (NAMA) and is on the Research Board of the Association of Ayurvedic Professionals of North America (AAPNA).



This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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, December 2, 2019

Giving Tuesday

Dear Friends,

I’m reaching out to ask you to support our nonprofit, Accessible Yoga, on Giving Tuesday. Amazingly, this year Giving Tuesday lands on December 3rd, which happens to be the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities, a special day to celebrate the accomplishments and potential of people with disabilities everywhere. What a great coincidence because Accessible Yoga is focused on the intersection of yoga and human rights for people with disabilities and other marginalized communities.

Accessible Yoga has come so far in the past few years. Since 2015 we’ve offered eight Accessible Yoga Conferences in Santa Barbara, San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Berlin, and St. Louis. Your donation allows us to offer scholarships to our conferences so that they are financially accessible.

We have an exciting year planned for 2020, where we are partnering with Yoga Alliance and the Yoga Service Council to offer a new event, the Evolution of Yoga Summit. This event will address four areas of concern in yoga: cultural appropriation, racism, accessibility, and consent.

We have also expanded our Ambassador program and now have over 25 Facebook groups in ten different languages that connect yoga teachers and practitioners all over the world. Our main group, Accessible Yoga Community, has over 4600 members. We are continuing to connect a grassroots movement of yoga practitioners who are dedicated to sharing these powerful practices with anyone who is interested in finding peace in their lives.

We have a Facebook fundraiser with a goal of $3,000 for December 3rd as part of their Giving Tuesday program. On Giving Tuesday, Facebook will be matching the earliest donations for fundraisers on their platform, so if you decide to donate through Facebook please do it as close to 8:00 am EST (5:00 am PST) as possible. If you don't want to donate through Facebook, you can always donate through our website. Thank you so much for your support!


Sincerely,

Jivana Heyman

Friday, November 29, 2019

Yoga with Ady Barkan

by Jivana Heyman

A few weeks ago, a friend introduced me via email to Ady Barkan, the well-known progressive activist, who happens to live in the same town I do. I was thrilled to meet Ady because I’ve been following his work for a long time. He is an incredible activist who has put his body on the line numerous times protesting for universal healthcare and increased rights for people with disabilities. 

Ady is in his early 30s and has advanced ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), so his body is mostly paralyzed. You can read about his amazing journey in his new autobiography, Eyes to the Wind: a Memoir of Love and Death, Hope and Resistance, which I highly recommend. He was also profiled in the New York Times a few months ago, and recently interviewed all the major Democratic candidates regarding their positions on universal healthcare. I strongly suggest watching these powerful interviews, which CNN predicts will have a influential impact on the current election. 

I offered to come to his house to share a yoga session with him, and he accepted. He said that he had tried to do some meditation when he was first diagnosed, but it was challenging, and that he was interested in yoga. I hadn’t met him in person, so I wasn’t sure what practices would be most helpful, but I planned to do some gentle asana, breathing practices, relaxation, and meditation. 

When I arrived and met Ady in person, I saw that he had almost no mobility and was using a ventilator to assist his breathing. Ady had an aide with him, and he wanted to show me the daily stretches that they did together. So I watched as Ady allowed his aide to move and stretch his body with great care and sensitivity. I was struck by the connection they shared and how the two of them had found ways to communicate beyond words. 

To speak, Ady uses an iPad and selects letters on the keyboard with his eyes to spell out words, which the computer than verbalizes. This is a slow and tiring process for him, so I saw that I needed to have patience and be careful to only ask pertinent questions that wouldn’t force him to talk too much. 

When Ady and his aide were done stretching, I noticed that Ady was slouching in bed, and I thought that rather than doing poses with him, we could work on supporting his posture. In particular, I wanted to see if he could expand his chest so he had more space for his lungs to move freely. My idea was to put a pillow behind his back for lumbar support, which in turn would create expansion in his chest. But I wasn’t aware of the challenge involved in doing this. 

Ady’s aide explained to me that we would have to lower the head of the bed, help Ady roll to his side, place the pillow behind his back, help roll him onto his back, and then raise the bed again. He didn’t mention that the reason Ady was always sitting upright was because he couldn’t consciously engage his throat muscles to swallow. So we lowered the head of the bed and quickly Ady start choking on his saliva. We managed to get the pillow behind his back and sit him back up, but I apologized profusely and felt terrible that I had almost killed him with yoga! 

Ady said that he was fine and that he liked the feeling of the pillow behind his back. So then, with permission, I placed another pillow on his lap and folded his hands together on the pillow in a gentle mudra where they were resting on top of each other. He said that felt comfortable too. 

Then I asked Ady to bring awareness to his breath, but the speed of the ventilator was surprisingly fast and he couldn’t control the speed. So the traditional instruction of slowing the breath wasn’t useful. Instead, I asked him to listen to the sound of the ventilator and become more conscious of the breath. We tried to hear the mantra “So-Hum” in the ventilator—listening for the “so” on the inhale and the “hum” on the exhale. Then we moved on to a body scan, bringing awareness to different parts of the body in a nonjudgmental way. 

We ended with a meditation on the mantra Om Shanti. This mantra is beautiful because it means peace beyond understanding. I repeated it out loud for us both to follow and then moved into silence asking him to keep repeating the sound internally. I could feel his tremendous focus during the meditation, and was amazed by his presence and the power of his mind. 

Finally, I ended the session with a short closing chant. He perked up at this point and asked me to chant some more. So I repeated a famous prayer, which he seemed to enjoy more than any of the things we did together. I also translated it for him into English:

oṃ asato mā sadgamaya,
tamaso mā jyotirgamaya,
mṛtyor mā'mṛtaṃ gamaya,
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ
lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu
oṃ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ 

Lead us from unreal to real
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from fear of death to knowledge of immortality
Om peace, peace, peace
May all beings everywhere be at peace
Om peace, peace, peace 

After my session with Ady, I was reminded of the power of yoga to support anybody in calming the mind and connecting with something deeper. Ady’s presence and power also represent the underlying truth of yoga, that we are not just the body and mind. This underlying truth, which we call spirit, god, or consciousness, is behind all the busy-ness and activity of our lives. Yoga offers such practical tools for all of us to connect to this place, regardless of our physical ability. Thank you, Ady for showing me, once again, the power of the yoga.


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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, November 25, 2019

Interview with Lara McLenan-Ben on Yoga for Outpatient Geriatric Mental Health Patients


Lara McLenan-Ben responded to our call for interviewees and what follows is our discussion about her thoughts and tips on teaching yoga to outpatient geriatric mental health patients.


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

Lara: I have been a social worker for the past twenty years with a focus in mental health and geriatrics. I shifted gears and started focusing more on self-care when I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease roughly fifteen years ago. I began practicing meditation and also started an asana practice, a recommendation from my gastrointestinal medical team to better manage my chronic illness. I had little to no experience with meditation and asana practice at the time but felt drawn to them and wanted to gain more grounding.

I attended the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in Mind-Body Medicine, a seven-day professional training with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli at the Omega Centre in Rhinebeck, New York, in 2013. Subsequently, I took yoga teacher trainings––the 200-hour certification program in 2014 and the 300-hour program in 2018 at Yogaspace, Toronto.

I wanted to devote all my time to teaching yoga but found it difficult juggling the stress of working part-time as a hospital social worker, raising a family, and managing my Crohn’s Disease. I was able to squeeze time into my busy week with paid work teaching yoga at a community centre and also in a small yoga studio in the west end of Toronto a couple evenings a week.

At the community centre, the space was not ideal but I continued teaching for several years in a small classroom setting with no props––because of the enthusiastic students. The owner of the small yoga studio was mismanaging her business and unable to pay her staff at times and ended up having to close the studio shortly after I started working for her. I realized that getting paid was not a motivating factor for me to continue to teach yoga––I liked instructing yoga so much that I would do it for free. So in 2017, I began to focus on teaching yoga on a volunteer basis to mental health patients at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health who had little to no access to the practice.

Due to my previous work in mental health early on in my career, I had identified a need for accessible yoga for patients in the mental health system. Initially I taught yoga to an underserved, female, outpatient population in a mood and anxiety program, and then switched to the geriatric outpatient clinic, a growing population that receives little attention when it comes to the practice of yoga.

Priya:​ I'm curious about your involvement with geriatric mental health outpatient students. Can you share with us some of the specific poses, language, or techniques that you use when teaching these individuals, and please explain why they are appropriate for them?

Lara: I began my working career in the geriatric mental health program at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto as a social worker on an allied health team, including occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists and nurses. I returned to CAMH in 2017 at the request of a colleague in the Geriatric Outpatient Mental Health Clinic who had identified a need linking well-being and yoga practice with their clients. She asked me if I would run a yoga group in their clinic which provides psychiatric consultation for patients 65 and older who have a clinical diagnosis of depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, schizoaffective disorder, and/or dementia.

I initially met with a group of both female and male students, about six to eight individuals, once a week for 45 minutes. I quickly noticed that the group numbers fluctuated on a weekly basis and that sometimes I would not see certain students again for a couple of weeks to a month later. I had no knowledge of a student's diagnosis and would rely on their clinician to come speak to me before class to let me know if their client had been re-hospitalized as their health had declined. I learned to adjust to having one to two students some weeks, or none at all.

The majority of the students were mainly low-income seniors on Old Age Security pensions living in subsidized senior’s housing, with little to no access to yoga. Most had never experienced the practice of meditation or yoga poses prior to coming to this class, due to their life circumstances.

I began teaching the class by incorporating mindfulness meditation practices (e.g. body scan) with gentle hatha yoga poses (e.g. Surya Namaskar, Sun Salutation) seated or standing. We would begin by sitting on a chair for a five-minute body scan and simple breath work (e.g. belly breath), focusing on present moment awareness. I would constantly encourage them to start wherever they found themselves depending on how they were feeling that particular day, and to not be hard on themselves. 

I would observe classes where a student who was struggling emotionally or having difficulty focusing would get up and leave, or I would need to suggest that they excuse them self from the class. Similarly, a student would consistently come to class late as they had difficulty with starting their day. I would always welcome them into the class knowing that they were struggling and yet still making the effort to come to class. I would remind students, especially those with mobility issues (using walkers and canes) to not judge themself, because yoga should not focus on what your body can or cannot do in any given pose.

My constant reminder for students was “to recognize one’s own body’s limits within the pose” which became a bit of a mantra in each class. Students would explore the boundaries of their range of motion within their bodies. They would build confidence as they became more familiar with their bodies and mastered settling the vrittis, turnings, of the mind.

The students enjoyed poses like Tadasana, Mountain pose, Downward-facing Dog (by holding the back of a chair), seated forward bends and seated twists––all tend to improve posture which can further lead to better respiration, circulation, and heart health. I kept the instructions simple and the pace of the class slow to give students time to move down and up from their chair. I would help them "get into their bodies" by inquiring how they feel in the pose and ask them to observe how it feels in a particular part of their body. I kept the poses to a minimum as the students who came regularly were beginning to build confidence in knowing what poses to expect with little to no confusion in accessing the poses.

Priya: Before we end the interview, are there any closing thoughts or anecdotes you'd like to share with us about teaching yoga to geriatric mental health outpatient students?

Lara: The students told me that they looked forward to coming to class because it made them feel good and they felt like they were part of a community. Friendships amongst strangers developed between group members by being present with each other for 45 minutes every week. When time allowed, I started including a
debrief session after class for students to check in on how they were feeling. They reported that yoga practice was offering them an opportunity to build better coping mechanisms when dealing with their mental illness. I witnessed the group evolve with new members slowly becoming more aware of their bodies through yoga. Sadly though, we had to say goodbye to two of our ongoing members who passed away suddenly from multiple health issues.



Lara A McLenan-Ben BA (Psychology), BSW, MSW, RSW, YT500, received a Master of Social Work from York University, Toronto, Ontario in 1999. She practices as a registered social worker in Toronto, Ontario and received certificates in Foundations of Applied Mindfulness Meditation in 2012 at the University of Toronto, and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction Mind-Body Medicine in 2013 with Jon Kabat-Zinn and Saki Santorelli at the Omega Centre in Rhinebeck, New York. In 2014, Lara received her 200 hour yoga teacher training, and 300 hour advanced yoga teacher training in 2018 from Yogaspace, Toronto. She took a mental health sensitivity 10 hour training with Aaron Moore and trauma sensitive yoga 20 hour training with David Emerson in her 300 hour advanced yoga teacher training - as well as a 30 hour training in creating accessible yoga classes for all ages, body sizes, and abilities with Darcie Clark.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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.

Featured Video: Hilary Nihlen's Standing Hand to Toe Pose (Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana) With a Wall

In this video, Hilary Nihlen demonstrates a variation of Standing Hand to Toe Pose using both a strap and a wall. This version makes the pose both more accessible as well as more comfortable.



Hilary tells us she likes this particular variation because:

"I like to use the wall as a prop because it offers resistance and stability and, most importantly, there's always one around! Straps give me access to things far away and again, offer me stability in poses. Here in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana I am able to focus on my balance and strength, rather than overreaching and compromising ease and comfort."


Hilary Nihlen has been teaching yoga since she received her 200 hour certification in 2013. She will complete her 500 hour certification with Himalayan Institute this year. Hilary learned how to teach yoga to students with larger bodies with Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes’ Yoga For All training and how to teach students with different physical abilities with the Accessible Yoga training. She believes that the teachings of yoga are available to everyone. Hilary has a master’s degree in art history and has worked in academia and art institutions. You can see more of her accessible yoga adventures on instagram at @hilaryyoga.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, Editor in Chief 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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.

Friday, November 22, 2019

4 Ways to Change the Orientation of a Yoga Pose

One of my neighbors told me that her problem with yoga was that she couldn’t do any poses lying down because she always felt nauseated when she was lying down. And when she consulted her doctor about it, her doctor told her just not to do them. I said to her, “You don’t need to let that stop you! There are actually multiple ways you can do any yoga pose, so even if you can’t lie down, you could do a given pose standing up instead, for example.” This reminded me of an important basic principle regarding making a pose accessible: change the orientation of the pose! (I introduced this concept in my post 6 Ways to Customize a Yoga Pose.) If I continue with my cooking metaphor, this is kind of like the time I took my children’s favorite soup recipe, Risi e Bisi (rice and pea), and turned it into a rice and pea salad because it was summer. They liked it! 

Yoga poses are classically divided into four groups: standing poses, seated poses, supine poses (on your back, same as the Sanskrit word “supta”) and prone poses (on your belly). But for some, like my neighbor, all the poses in one of those groups aren’t accessible because that mode of practicing isn’t available to them. For example, maybe you can’t stand up at all due to illness, injury, or disability so you can’t do the classic versions of standing poses. Or maybe you can’t get down to and up from the floor so you can’t do the classic versions of seated, supine, and prone poses. Or maybe you need to do all your poses seated in a chair. 

So if the classic version of a pose is not accessible to you because you can’t practice in that mode, try changing the orientation of the pose by practicing the basic shape of the pose in one of the modes that are accessible to you. In my neighbor’s case, for example, she could do a pose we do lying down, Supta Padangusthasana (Supine Hand to Big Toe pose aka Reclined Leg Stretch), standing up instead by practicing Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana (Extended Hand to Toe pose aka Standing Leg Stretch) with the lifted leg supported by a chair or something higher, such as a countertop. For those in the opposite situation, you would do Supta Padangusthasana lying down or seated in a chair instead of standing up in Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana. 

Sometimes, as in the case of Padangusthasana, a version of a given pose already exists in more than one orientation (if there are two poses with the same name but one begins with “supta” that gives you a clue). But when there isn’t, you can just go ahead and make up a new variation. For example, for Cobra pose, which is normally done prone on the floor, someone (wish I knew who!) created a really nice variation that you do standing with your hands on the wall. 

Once you start thinking along these lines, you’ll find a way to do almost any pose. Using this technique will not only give you more poses to practice at home on your own but when you’re in class it will allow you to figure out what to do on your own if your teacher is busy with something else and can’t help you. When I had a frozen shoulder, I used this technique in class all the time. 

Now let’s take a closer look at four different ways you can change the orientation of a pose. 

1. Lying Down 

You can take the shape of many standing poses lying with your back on the floor with your feet on the wall, as if the wall was the floor and the floor was a wall. If you can’t get up and down from the floor, you could use a yoga platform, a dining room table, a sturdy coffee table, or even a firm bed as your floor. For example, here is Tree pose on the floor: 
When you do the standing pose lying on the floor, rather than just resting against the floor in the shape of the pose, activate the same muscles that you would as if you were standing, so you’re actively doing the pose. For example, in Tree pose, firm your “standing” foot into the wall as you press the foot of your bent leg toward your thigh and press your inner thigh toward the foot. Reach your arms overhead and activate them, as if you were reaching them up toward the ceiling. 

You can even do Handstand by lying on your back with your hands on the floor! Keep the image of the classic pose in your mind as you activate your entire body. 

2. Seated on a Chair 

You can generally take the shape of any standing or seated pose with either part or all of your body when you are seated on a chair. If you can move your legs, your legs can take the same shape they would if you were standing without putting weight on them. Although though your pelvis is supported by the chair, you will still be working against gravity to hold yourself up so a chair version of a standing pose can be surprisingly physically demanding (I have tried them!). Here are some examples: 
For those who can’t do supine or prone poses on the floor, you can often use two chairs and a lot of props to get into a close approximation of the pose. 
These days I’m encouraging everyone who can get up and down to the floor even with some help from a prop and/or stand up even with support to try to do some of your poses without sitting on a chair. Even if it’s very challenging for you, I think it’s worth your effort to maintain the agility and balance you do have by continuing to work on both these skills. So if they are at all possible, consider doing some floor and standing poses as well as chair poses. This photo shows using a chair while standing in Tree pose to help with balance and strength. 
3. Standing 

If you think of the wall as the floor, there are many prone poses, such as Cobra pose, that you can do standing with part of your body against the wall. 
For example, I can see doing Locust pose with your hip points against a wall and arms lifted behind you or Plank pose with either hands or forearms on the wall. In his book Accessible Yoga, Jivana has a wall version of the entire Sun Salutation! 

One advantage of standing at the wall over lying on the floor is that there is less weight on your hands, so these variations are very good for those with problems in the wrists or hands. Half Downward-Facing Dog pose at the wall is the classic example of this: 
The wall version of Side Plank pose is another example. 
And because your orientation to gravity is different—you no longer have to lift yourself up away from the ground—these versions are less physically demanding so they're good for those who are weak or tired. 

I can even imagine some supine poses against the wall, such as a passive backbend with a prop behind your shoulder blades and arms reaching up toward the ceiling or a wall version of Standing Leg Stretch.

Obviously relaxing reclined poses are not going to be relaxing if you do them standing up, so for restorative supine or prone poses, I would recommend using two chairs and a lot of props instead as mentioned above. Even better, you could use a yoga platform, a dining room table, a sturdy coffee table, or even a firm bed as your floor. 

4. Upside-Down vs. Right-Side Up 

For those who cannot go upside down into a full inversion, if your condition allows it, you may be able to do a partial inversion in the form of a similar pose. For example, an alternative to Headstand is to do a Standing Forward Bend with your head on a block (or two) or with your head and arms on a chair or to do Widespread Standing Forward Bend with head support. I did both of those when I had a frozen shoulder. 
Instead of practicing Shoulderstand, you could do a supported Bridge pose, which is a much more gradual inversion that puts much less weight on your neck. 
You can also try the pose right side up, such as Handstand with your feet on the floor and your hands in the air, as if they were touching the ceiling. I’ve seen fellow students doing that in class. 

I hope you find these strategies useful and inspiring! If you create a new variation of a pose that you like, send us a photo—we’d love to see what you’ve come up with. 

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube


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° 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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, November 20, 2019

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 5: Transformation

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs

“Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another.” —Albert Einstein

To transform means to make a thorough or dramatic change in form, appearance, or character. We can think about this quality on two levels. One is to transform spiritually with a capital ‘T’ to Self-Realization, the ultimate goal of yoga. I will leave that discussion to the master teachers and the ancient texts. This post is about transformation with a small ‘t’ – transforming or changing our everyday energy needs.

Choosing and practicing specific yoga techniques helps us transform our energy when it’s out of balance. If we’re feeling pooped, exhausted, and drained, our energy is deficient and we need to find a way to light our fire. If we’re feeling wired and fired up with a mind that’s racing a mile a minute, our energy is excessive and we need to find a way to slow the burn.

If this imbalance of energy isn't a chronic condition, we can use our knowledge of yoga to transform our energy into an optimal state where we feel more stable, embodied, and balanced. To determine if the energy state is temporary, I personally draw the line at a day or two depending on what’s going on in my life.

We start with self-awareness (svadhyaya) and ask ourselves, “Why is this excess or deficiency manifesting at this time?" Sometimes we’ll find an answer and sometimes we won’t but the important part of the process is our inquiry. Then we ask ourselves, “What yoga techniques may help to deal with the imbalance?” The next step is self-discipline (tapas), to implement our chosen techniques in a safe and helpful way.

Here are two yoga techniques that can transform an energy state.

1. Transforming an Energy Deficiency to Light Your Fire

According to the Mayo Clinic, nearly everyone is overtired or overworked from time to time. Unrelenting fatigue is a whole different matter. When fatigue lasts longer, is more profound, and isn't relieved by rest, it’s a sure sign that you need to see a medical professional.

Temporary fatigue, or lack of energy, usually has an identifiable cause and a likely remedy. I occasionally experience a couch potato, empty vessel, sloth-like lack of energy. This state typically hits after an extended period of long to-do lists, lack of sleep, feeling blue, sad, and down-in-the-dumps or overeating carbohydrates – you know, bread, pasta, potato chips, and sugar –the ultimate comfort foods.

To light your fire, think “move, stimulate, and energize.” Here’s a combination breath and movement techniques you may find helpful when you sense a lack of energy and need or want to transform that state.

It’s called "The Breath of Joy." It’s typically done in a standing position but is easily modified for sitting in a chair. It’s from the Kripalu Yoga tradition and the instructions are from a Yoga International article by Amy Weintraub, author of Yoga for Depression, founder of the LifeForce Yoga Healing Institute, and a leader in the field of yoga and mental health.

Caution: This practice may not be appropriate for those with high blood pressure or who have eye or head injuries.

The purpose of  The Breath of Joy is to awaken the whole system, increasing oxygen levels in the bloodstream, temporarily stimulating the sympathetic nervous system, and focusing the mind. Just what I need to get my energy up! Here are Amy’s instructions:

Instructions

To practice Breath of Joy, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel, knees slightly bent.

  1. Inhale one-third of your lung capacity and swing your arms up in front of your body, bringing them parallel to each other at shoulder level, with palms facing the ceiling.
  2. Continue inhaling to two-thirds capacity and stretch your arms out to the side like wings to shoulder level.
  3. Inhale to full capacity and swing your arms parallel and over your head, palms facing each other.
  4. Open your mouth and exhale completely with an audible "ha," bending the knees more deeply as you sink into a standing squat and swing your arms down and back behind you like a diver.

Repeat up to nine times. Don’t force or strain the body or breath; simply be absorbed by the peacefully stimulating rhythm. Return to standing. Close your eyes and experience the effects. Notice how quickly your heart beats; feel the sensations in your face and arms, and the tingling in the palms of your hands."

Chair Modification: For step 4, bend forward in the chair and swing your arms down and back behind your body.

2. Transforming an Energy Excess to Slow the Burn

This state may manifest in one of two ways:

  • When we feel nervous, anxious and have difficulty sleeping, feel ‘spacey,’ unfocused, and have poor digestion – this element can be out of balance.
  • When our mind is working overtime with a burning need for perfection, competition, and over achievement, it can lead to feelings of irritation, frustration, and anger. When we press on to do more and move faster without joy – this element can feel out of balance.

To slow the burn, and reach a balanced energy state, think “cool, calm, and relax.’ Here’s a technique you may find helpful when you sense an excess of energy.

Legs-On-the-Chair Pose

Props: A sturdy chair, a pillow or folded blanket for the head, a timer, and a music source
  1. Select a carpeted area or use your yoga mat to practice this pose.
  2. Set your timer for 10 – 15 minutes and start the music if you choose to use it.
  3. Sit down close to the chair and swing the legs up and place your calves on the chair. If you have short legs, try a low ottoman, trunk, or stool.
  4. Adjust yourself so that your knees are directly over your hips.
  5. Place your pillow or folded blanket under your head.
  6. Close the eyes and breathe normally.
  7. To come out, bend the knees halfway toward the chest and roll to the side, using the arms to sit up slowly.
Chair Modification: Steps 1 and 2 are same as above. Sit with a comfortably straight spine, chin parallel to the floor. Close the eyes, relax the hands on the legs, palms down. To come out, Stretch the arms and legs in any way that feels comfortable.

I began this article with a quote from a famous physicist and I’ll end with one from another:

“Energy is a bit like money: if you have a positive balance, you can distribute it in various ways, but according to the classical laws that were believed at the beginning of the century, you weren't allowed to be overdrawn.” —Stephen Hawking


Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at: bethgibbs.com 


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing 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 order Jivana Heyman's 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.