Thursday, February 14, 2019

Featured Reprint: Enough

by Beth Gibbs

What does it mean to have enough? How much food, shelter, clothing, money, health and well-being is enough? And perhaps, more importantly, what does it mean to be enough? The answer will vary from person to person and depend on many factors. For me, fortunately, having enough was not an issue; but being enough was my sticking point and the factors were personal and cultural. In 1980, I was thirty-seven years old, divorced, a single parent with a full-time job in broadcasting and twenty-one credits toward a Master's degree in communications. Picture that scenario and read the subtitle: 

Middle-class, African-American woman/feminist tries to “do it all” and be a “credit to the race” to prove herself competent, capable, connected, and enough

For those who may not understand the “credit to the race” reference, it’s a term used by many minority groups whose difference in race or ethnicity is an implication that each of us needs to earn respect, not as an individual with distinct talents and skills but on behalf of the whole group, to help dispel or at least not add to stereotypes often held by the majority. That’s a heavy burden and it weighed heavily on my mind. 

The cues I was getting from society and my family fed my directives as a woman to “do it all” and as an African-American to be a “credit to the race,” but inside I felt crazy. Underneath my struggling and juggling, I was constipated and stressed. I developed TMJ (temporal mandibular joint dysfunction). There was not enough time, not enough energy, and not enough of me to go around and do all that was expected of me and all that I expected from myself. What to do? I started practicing yoga. First because the postures helped me release and manage stress, and then because I felt yoga doing something else that I could not put my finger on.

By the time 1995 rolled around, I got a glimpse of that “something else” when I began learning about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras from I. K. Taimni's book The Science of Yoga. As I read through niyama, the second set of yoga disciplines that lay the foundation of yogic life, I was drawn to sutra 2.42 and immediately recognized that santosha (contentment) was a concept that resonated deeply to my feelings of “not being enough.”

“It is necessary for the aspirant for the Yogic life to cultivate contentment of the highest order because without it there is no possibility of keeping the mind in a condition of equilibrium."

I figured if I could cultivate a sense of contentment, maybe I could recognize or create an internal sense that who I was, was enough. Tall order but worth working on. Fast forward to 2002. By this time, I realized that I could not “do it all’”without risking my health and my sanity. I had given up the business suits and heels, along with several committee and board positions. And, yes, as a result, external validation from a number of people and organizations melted away like cold butter on a warm summer sidewalk. I was still struggling with the “credit to the race” directive but had begun questioning what that really meant. Did I truly need to fit someone else’s image of what that was or looked like? Could I be a “credit to the race” and still be me? I didn’t know but I felt myself inching closer to santosha and that was a huge payoff in my mind. 

It was a yoga weekend in New York’s Catskill Mountains when the concept of santosha shifted from an intellectual idea to a cellular understanding. I was in the middle of a sweat-popping Sun Salutation strength series, struggling to hold up my body's weight on one foot and one hand in Side Arm Balance. 

"Hang in there," said the teacher. "Breathe. Feel your power. Let me hear some deep sighs." I sighed and hung in. Next came alternate leg lifts and Locust pose. I followed along carefully, feeling how much my spine had loosened up over the years. Glued to the ground from chin to pelvis, I inhaled both my legs off the ground and felt them "float up." 

"This is a powerful strengthener for the back," said the teacher, "so squeeze that butt. A few groans and sighs would feel good about now." My legs ached with the effort but I groaned and sighed and squeezed and held just a bit longer than I thought I could before lowering them. At last Savasana!

"Just let yourself blob out on the ground and feel the energy circulate." Her voice was soft, soothing and very musical. "Welcome the benefits of the universe. Feel yourself melt into the ground. Breathe deeply. Inhale through the head; roll the breath down the body. Exhale it out through the toes. Relax."

Being away from home with all family and work responsibilities postponed, I found myself, in that moment, floating somewhere between here and there at the same time. Grace, surrender and santosha! In The Secret Power of Yoga, Nischala Joy Devi, comments on Sutra 2.42:

“When at peace and content with oneself and others (Santosha), supreme joy is celebrated. By this affirmation, we firmly identify with our inner essence rather than with external objects. Our identification then travels with gratitude, appreciating how much we have rather than how much we want.” 

It was a long process but when I look back, I realize that it took 37 years for the threads of external directives, striving, and “not enough” to tie themselves into knots big enough to feel. So, does it really matter that it took another 35 years to untie the knots and let the threads dissolve? Nope. In the end, the only thing that matters is that through yoga, I found the discipline to work the issue through moment-by-moment, bit-by-bit, and thread-by-thread. 

Today at 71, I’m a lot better at managing stress. I haven't been constipated in years. My TMJ bite plate gathers mildew on the top shelf of the medicine cabinet. And my daily yoga practice is as important to me as breathing. Of, course, the physical practice does not look like it did in 2002. Pranayama and meditation make up a larger percentage. My physical practice varies depending upon my needs for the day. Sometimes it’s stronger—I love Plank poses! And sometimes it’s slow, flowing Sun Salutations or 10 minutes in Legs-up-the-Chair pose. I rejoice in the fact that underneath the “African,” underneath the “American,” and underneath the “woman,” is a being who can occasionally and surprisingly "be here now" and be content. In those moments, I can rest amid chaos and be present in the midst of my life with all its joys and problems. I can experience this and me at the same time. I am competent, capable, connected, and a credit to universal consciousness in all its forms. And that is enough.

Beth Gibbs, MA, E-RYT 500, is a certified yoga therapist through Integrative Yoga Therapy. She is a senior member of the IYT teaching faculty and directs the school’s Professional Yoga Therapist Internship Program. Beth has a Masters degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA, and has served on the Educational Standards Committee for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Her website is: proyogatherapeutics.com.


This post originally appeared on the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, where it 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, February 11, 2019

How Yoga Can Help You Cope with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome

Elasticity, Umberto Boccioni, 1912, Oil on Canvas, Milan, Italy 

by Ram Rao

The Ehlers-Danlos syndromes (EDS) are a group of connective tissue disorders that are genetic in nature and are currently classified into thirteen subtypes. While, each type of EDS affects different areas of the body, all share one thing in common: hypermobility. Additionally, there is other significant symptom overlap between the EDS subtypes and other non-genetic connective tissue disorders.

The condition primarily involves the body’s connective tissues—primarily skin, joints, and blood vessel walls. The connective tissue provides strength, structure, and elasticity to the underlying structures in the body and consists of a complex mixture of proteins, cells, and fibrous material. In EDS, the protein collagen is defective and depending on the extent of the structural defect of collagen will result in the varied subtype of EDS. In order to understand the problems associated with having a defective protein, just imagine a cemented structure that is built using poor quality cement. The cement is unable to hold the bricks and beams together thereby weakening the building.

The characteristics of typical EDS include hyper-mobile joints, swan neck deformity (the joint closest to the fingertip bends toward the palm while the nearest joint to the palm bends away from it), skin hyper-elasticity, fragile skin that tears easily, redundant skin folds, eversion of the upper eye lids, the Gorlin sign (ability to touch the nose with the tongue), flat feet, and passive bending of the wrist or thumb to touch the forearm. 

Just like a weakened building, individuals with EDS can easily bruise themselves as evidenced by unexplained swelling and ecchymosis (escape of blood into the tissues from ruptured blood vessels) on the palm, hand, eye, thigh, or trunk. What may seem to be a gentle pat on the back for most individuals may result in an internal bruise for EDS individuals. A gentle hit can also produce a blood clot and swelling in the impacted area. Owing to a poor grip due to the soft skin on the palm, EDS individuals have a tough time opening bottle lids and invariably end up bruising their palms. Contact sports will result in a multitude of internal and external bruises together with swollen areas all over the body.


People with EDS who practice yoga need to be extremely careful and go very gradually into poses that require exceptional flexibility. While hyper-flexibility may be a blessing, it can also lead to severe pain in the joints and limbs as well as internal bleeding. These individuals need to focus on poses that strengthen and stabilize major joints. In standing poses including Warrior poses among others, emphasis should be on engaging/contracting the muscles around the circumference of the joints while performing the pose. Placing a block between the thighs in all of the standing poses is a great idea as it requires engaging all the muscles starting from the ankles all the way up to the hips.


The same idea of contracting the muscles needs to be applied to the ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, and wrists. Instead of going deep into the pose immediately or twist unmindfully, the goal should be to strengthen all the vulnerable joints. While these modifications may limit the depth of the range of movement, they are safer and help reduce the risk of causing symptoms for individuals with EDS. 

In standing asanas such as Parsva Uttanasana (Intense Forward Stretch), Utthita Parsvakonasana (Extended Side Angle Pose) or Utthita Trikonasana (Extended Triangle Pose), individuals with EDS need to be aware to not overstretch the front leg hip and knee joints. While leaning into the full pose, it is necessary to contract and firm the muscles around the hip (of the front leg) and knee joint. This feeling of strength needs to be maintained while staying in the pose and even on the way out. By consciously contracting these joints, people with EDS may not go far down, but they get to be in the pose without suffering undue pain and most importantly not hyper-extending.

Being mindful of the body and making suitable modifications not only helps to improve the skill level but also leads to a higher state of positive experience, contentment, and a sense of accomplishment for people with EDS.


Rammohan Rao (Ram) 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, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.


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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Featured Video: Modifications for Knees to Chest Pose


Knees-to-chest yoga pose options for plus size bodies was originally posted on Body Positive Yoga.

We love this video because yoga teacher Amber Karnes offers several different options for making Knees to Chest pose accessible to those with larger bodies. According to Amber, this pose is a wonderful reset for the spine, which is often done as a counter-pose to backbends and forward bends. It creates space in the lower spine where many of us carry tension. Amber says, "I also like to think of it as giving yourself a hug and taking a moment to reflect on the fact that you’re caring for yourself and your body in a world that constantly tells you you’re not good enough. (Note: you’re totally good enough, just as you are.)"

I think these modifications may also be helpful for anyone who finds that doing the classic pose causes pain in the hips. See Knees to Chest Yoga Pose for written instructions on how to practice these variations. —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.

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Monday, February 4, 2019

Yoga and Advanced Aging: Teaching in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care Spaces, Part 1

Music, Dorrit Black, 1928
By Carey Sims


Carey will be presenting a workshop “Yoga and Advanced Aging: Teaching in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care Spaces” at the Accessible Yoga Conference in St. Louis, May 31-June 2, 2019.


Part One: Shifting Expectations and Embracing Possibilities

When we use a phrase like “Yoga for Seniors,” what do we mean? Who are we referring to? Most often we think of students in their sixties or seventies who are ambulatory, independent, and adjusting their practice to accommodate their changing bodies and brains. But what about students in later stages of the aging process? Or students with dementia? What techniques and practices would be beneficial for them?


I often say that if you can effectively teach yoga in an assisted living or skilled nursing facility, then you can teach to anybody anywhere. Teaching in a senior care facility is a lot like teaching in a gym; the energy of the space is often antithetical to what you are bringing in and looking to share (which is all the more reason to be there). These can be challenging environments to navigate and are not always ideal places for yoga classes. 

For instance, in my experience, having a dedicated yoga space is usually not feasible. The majority of my classes take place within a larger communal room and the energy outside of our yoga bubble is often frenzied and chaotic. We may hear the TV blasting from a resident’s room down the hall, or nurses and staff holding conversations within earshot, other times a confused resident roams about anxiously, or a family member arrives to take a loved one out of class for a visit or doctor’s appointment. All of these distractions and disruptions can be quite frustrating. Students feed off of my energy and I have learned to let those little annoyances go. When I embrace creativity and adaptability, my students are able to stay engaged, focused, and calm.


Conversely, the collective mood in the building is at times depressed and languid. This is only natural. Many residents are heavily medicated and are negotiating a great deal of pain, illness, and loss. On the days the energy is off or a bit low, getting students to participate in class can be a struggle. This is where I need to look for small hints of connection. There are many times I feel like I am practicing by myself, but careful observation reveals focused effort and participation. Students that look like they are napping are actually breathing on cue and others perform small movements in the feet and fingers when I am demonstrating larger movements in the limbs. Unity is revealed in simplicity.

The real joy is noticing a shift in the communal energy at the end of class. The grounding is usually palpable. From the outside it may not have looked like a lot was going on, but we touched something deep within our shared humanity through our smiles, our breath, and our community. Isn’t that what we are after in our yoga practice—the experience of connection?




Carey Sims, RYT500, E-RYT200 lives in Charlotte, NC, where he teaches at NoDa Yoga and offers Chair Yoga at various senior living centers in the Charlotte area. He is a student of Adaptive Yoga pioneer Matthew Sanford (Mind Body Solutions, St. Louis Park, MN.) His mission is to use Yoga to help students explore their bodies in an accepting and non-judgmental way. 

This article is part of a series exploring the practical application of yoga in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care spaces. Carey will share some of the challenges he has encountered teaching in these environments and offer practical techniques that he has found useful in sharing yoga with this population.


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, January 31, 2019

Featured Pose: Modified Extended Child's Pose



We love this unusual version of Child's pose that we recently saw shared on Facebook by Gabriela Bon. Because this modified version provides more space in the hip joints than the classic version of Extended Child's pose, it can make the pose accessible to those who feel pain in their hips or knees while practicing flat on the floor. And resting your forehead on the chair seat will enhance the quieting aspects of the pose. Because the arms are extended as in Downward-Facing Dog pose, this version provides additional benefits of stretching the back of the body, opening up the shoulders, and building arm strength without bearing weight on the hands. —Nina

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, January 28, 2019

A Leadership Issue in Yoga Media


by Jivana Heyman


I’m so happy to see our Accessible Yoga Blog growing, thanks to the hard work of our volunteer editors, Nina Zolotow and Priya Wagner. Our goal is to create a forum for the diversity of voices in yoga to be heard. I’ll also be writing regularly, and I look forward to exploring issues around accessibility and diversity in yoga.

In fact, the current lack of diversity in mainstream yoga media came to light recently when there was an outcry regarding the cover of Yoga Journal’s January issue. A few months ago, they announced that Jessamyn Stanley, a well-known, large-bodied, queer, African-American yoga teacher, would be on their January cover. The announcement was met with sheer joy and relief by all of us who don’t feel represented by the stream of thin, white, flexible women who have been on the cover of the most popular yoga magazine for years on end.

But Yoga Journal (YJ) didn’t handle it well. After the initial announcement that Jessamyn would be on the cover a few months ago, they posted a survey on Facebook asking their readers to select between Jessamyn and Maty Ezraty, a well known, thin, white teacher, for their January cover. In the end, they printed half of the magazines with Jessamyn on the cover and the other half with Maty.

This follows a similarly bizarre cover drama in November when YJ announced that the winner of their 2018 Good Karma Award would be on their cover. When the winner ended up being an African-American man, Marshawn Feltus, they only printed half the issues with his image on the cover. For the other half, they printed a thin, white woman in a complicated pose. She was a teacher from the amazing Warriors at Ease organization, and she was wearing fatigues, but she fit the standard YJ cover image narrative. When these two issues occur back-to-back it’s hard to say it’s an accident, and you have to wonder what’s at the heart of the matter.

Last week after a few teachers called out Yoga Journal, including Michelle Cassandra Johnson, Susanna Barkataki, Heather Jones, and myself, we elicited a response from YJ’s editor, Tasha Eichenseher, which you can find here. You can also read a response from Jessamyn Stanley here regarding how she felt about being on the cover of what she calls, “...one of the whitest magazines in history.”


It’s worth noting that many yoga activists have been talking to Yoga Journal about this for years (in particular, the Yoga and Body Image Coalition). One issue that this brings up is how much our understanding of yoga is shaped by the media. Is what we see on the cover of Yoga Journal actually yoga? Scholars refer to the Westernized yoga practice as MPY (Modern Postural Yoga), and this is what most people think of when they hear the word, “Yoga.”

While MPY is relatively new in the history of yoga, it has such a loud booming voice that it has drowned out much of the other subtler traditional practices like ethical living, chanting, meditation, and self-inquiry. It has also had the unfortunate effect of convincing people that yoga is only for the young and able-bodied by making us believe that contortionism is the same as embodiment.


The media has had a strong influence on the growth of MPY, and Yoga Journal, in particular, has helped to shape the way we perceive these ancient, and not so ancient, practices. But anyone who has studied the history and philosophy of yoga knows that it is complex and diverse. Yoga is more of an organic, living thing than a static, definable object. Yet MPY has convinced us that yoga is simply a form of exercise, and that performing complex asanas makes us more “advanced” when it may just mean that we’re hypermobile or used to be a gymnast when we were younger.


There has even been research that specifically explores the impact of Yoga Journal cover imagery on self-image. After reviewing thirty years of YJ covers, researchers concluded, “Findings suggest that the female “yoga body” conforms to the contemporary thin-and-toned media fitness ideal, particularly recently, which may promote objectified body competence, an unhealthy drive for leanness, and dissuade higher weight women from considering yoga practice.”

In her January 2019 YJ editor’s letter, Tasha Eichenseher says, “We want to bridge old and new, the past and the future, in an effort to find common ground, to celebrate the benefits of the practice, and to help lead the community toward solutions to some of modern yoga’s biggest challenges including, but not limited to, accessibility, safety, abuse of power, and the best way forward.”


I couldn’t agree more, and I pray that it’s true. But there’s some painful irony here. YJ is the very magazine that has not only perpetuated these problems, but may have helped create them in the first place. For example, the first step in resolving the lack of accessibility in yoga is to stop glorifying complex asanas such as the one that Maty Ezraty is doing on the cover. To address safety and the abuse of power, stop referencing known sexual abusers such as Pattabhi Jois, as Maty Ezraty also does in her interview in this issue.

In a way, Yoga Journal has defined a period of time in yoga and Tasha is referencing it in her letter with the idea of bridging past and future, old and new. But the past of yoga goes way beyond Maty Ezraty. The past of yoga is thousands and thousands of years old. The challenge of the next generation of yoga media leadership is to reconcile the ancient past of yoga with MPY’s false idols and abusive gurus.

This is a special moment in the evolution of yoga because these topics are finally being discussed openly. Perhaps we are disillusioned with the yoga-like lifestyle that YJ is selling, and we’ve discovered through our own practice that the power of yoga is not in poses but in the peace of mind they bring.


I invite you to join this conversation. At Accessible Yoga we create platforms for this discussion at our Conferences and through social media. Our work has been about finding ways to bring the whole of yoga to people who don’t normally have access because they are either excluded or unwelcome in yoga spaces - or they simply feel unwelcome. Accessible Yoga has focused on education and advocacy in this area. But, our goal isn’t to simply show that anyone can practice asana, rather it’s to expose the underlying spiritual essence of yoga which is by nature equitable and inclusive.


The heart of yoga is naturally accessible because it connects us to our very own heart beating within our own chest. We don’t need to buy anything or get anything to experience yoga. We simply need to find a way to turn our attention inward – to find the sound and texture of our breath as compelling as likes and shares on Facebook.

I challenge Yoga Journal and mainstream yoga media to become leaders – to find a way to reflect the truth of yoga, which we have experienced in our lives. The truth that yoga can be found in any moment, when we focus our attention. This can happen when we’re taking care of our children, or elderly parent, or when we’re taking care of ourselves. Nothing to buy and nothing to sell. Nothing to become or create. With the body we have at this very moment - without an ounce less fat or an inch more flexibility. Yoga is awareness, full presence, complete acceptance. Can we put that on the cover of Yoga Journal?



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.

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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Featured Photo: Chair Triangle Pose


In this photo by Sarit Z Rogers, Marie Aroch, who uses a wheelchair, demonstrates how she practices Triangle pose. With her knees bent and feet on the footrest, she takes her arms out to her sides and then bends to the side, keeping her head in line with her spine, placing her bottom hand on a block that is at its highest and directly under her shoulder. She stretches her top arm up toward the ceiling, aligning it with her bottom arm, and keeps her eyes looking forward. The result is a beautifully aligned and open Triangle pose.


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, January 21, 2019

Yoga and ADHD/ADD

Mural, Jackson Pollack, 1943, Paint and Mixed Media on Canvas

by Krista Hrin


I teach yoga because it is an activity I am passionate about. It helped me connect with myself, and in turn I want to help others connect to themselves, too. My clients come from all walks of life; some are young, some are old, some have round bodies, and some are thin. The commonality is that they all have a story and within that story lies their ability to connect with yoga on their mat, with some type of attention span.

I teach a class called Focus Within that is geared towards those with ADHD/ADD, although all are welcomed. ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition where some people experience inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. The symptoms differ from person to person. (ADHD was formerly called ADD, or attention deficit disorder.) Both children and adults can have ADHD, but the symptoms almost always begin in childhood. Adults with ADHD may have trouble managing time, being organized, setting goals, and holding down a job. Living with ADHD/ADD is an experience which many of us have not had. Can you imagine trying to concentrate on something, such as stillness, in a room full of strangers during Savasana?

When I started planning to teach this group, I wondered: Was yoga something that someone with ADHD/ADD would shy away from because of environment, movements, or even stillness? Would the expectations be too demanding? And while the goal of choice for many is breath work, connectedness, or calmness to engage in the silence of the moment, for some of my clients finding stillness or being completely quiet is a rare occasion and one that does not come easily. Connecting to breath is a difficult skill.

How could I possibly expect someone with ADHD/ADD to be able to feel that my yoga classes are accessible to them? That was a question weighing particularly heavily on my mind. After befriending one of my clients, I started to work with them one on one to understand their thought processes and learn how to make yoga inclusive and accessible for those who may be affected by ADHD/ADD. What could I offer? A thought emerged: a class of choice and flexibility that could be chosen beforehand, given options to know step by step. Brilliant! And a step-by-step written guide accessible online to prepare the student to help understand the class concepts and be aware of the happenings. Know the surrounding, follow through with the steps—no surprises.

These classes are smaller in size, offer a step-by-step instruction of what would happen throughout the class, repetition in instruction, and engaging conversation. Unlike a typical yoga classwhere you would typically listen to the instructor and not deviate from the instructions these classes gave freedom to those who could not still their minds and concentrate on the actions of the instructor. They allowed for tapping your hand or foot on the ground as you counted melodic rhythms to the beats of some form of chanting or song. They allowed each participant to connect with their breath when they felt comfortable. They gave extra time to become comfortable on their mat.

Flowing through the poses, I give cues and then reminders, allowing time for transitions, so each student is able to get into the correct pose if their mind wandered. I would see some who are on another page but giving those cues to remind where their right foot should be help get the room into a space where comfort is achieved in the pose or in the space they are in at the moment.

The key to success was adapting my style to help those who really wanted the class. Although these students may be labelled, we try not to categorize their ailments. The classes prepared for those with ADHD/ADD include calculating the time for realignment, reengagement of the senses, and breath and balance when ready. This is a class that encompasses the students own needs while not separating them from traditional yoga class concepts, such as breath connectivity, sequential movement, and Savasana..

At the end of our class we sit together, not in complete silence or even stillness, but with the intention of being present. We allow ourselves to be thankful for surrendering to our practice, for our breath, and just being. Savasana can be achieved by all; we just have to be accepting of the difference in what each Savasana may look or feel like. My class Focus Within allows each and every participant to feel connected and be in their yoga as it was meant to be, personal and free.


Krista Hrin, RYT500 lives in Niagara, ON, where she teaches yoga to those who are in need. She offers various classes of chair yoga, trauma-informed yoga, and basically yoga for all. She is a student of Amanda Tripp Yoga in St. Catharines, ON and Amara Vidya in Gananoque, ON. Krista’s mission is to help those whose bodies cannot move in the ways we typically would see move, increase awareness, and bring about positivity in mind, body and soul. Instagram: @yogabykae 
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yogabykae/
Email: yogabykae@gmail.com



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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Thursday, January 17, 2019

Featured Video: John Azlen's Accessible Yoga Practice


This is how John Azlen adapts his yoga practice for his abilities. He says it "looks a bit different but it's equally effective." We love the way he uses the bolster.

John Azlen been an amputee since he was 6 months old. He believes that the only limits we have are the ones we put on ourselves, so in his spare time he works with amputees, both in and out of the hospital, to help them understand that anything is possible with hard work. He also runs a Para-Sports club that currently offers wheelchair basketball in his community. Now that he is studying to become a yoga instructor, he wants to share this journey with the world and break down perceptions of what yoga should look like. This video is his first step towards that.

Follow John on: IG @jonny_eh, Facebook @JonnyEhYoga, YouTube https://bit.ly/2FezJen. Or email him at JonnyEhYoga@gmail.com.


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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° 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.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Yoga Therapy and Parkinson's Disease

Elasticity, Umberto Boccioni, 1912, Oil on Canvas, Milan, Italy 

by Ram Rao

Parkinson's disease (PD) is an age-associated, progressive neurological disorder that affects movement. It all starts with resting tremors progressing to a noticeable tremor to full blown tremors, joint stiffness, and slowing of movement.

As the condition progresses, the individual’s face may show little or no expression, the arms remain stiff while walking, and speech is often soft or slurred. Tremors, slowed movement, muscle rigidity, impaired posture and balance, speech changes, and loss of automatic movements aggravate as the individual ages. Although PD does not have a cure, medications might significantly improve or delay the symptoms.

Most of the symptoms are due to a loss of neurons that produce a neurochemical called dopamine. As the dopamine level decreases, it causes abnormal brain activity, leading to symptoms of PD. While the exact cause is unknown, risk factors for PD include: Age (PD begins in middle or late life, and the risk increases with age, young adults rarely experience PD), Heredity (having a close relative with PD increases the chances that you'll develop the disease), Gender (Men are more likely to develop PD compared to women), and environmental toxins (herbicides and pesticides increase the risk of PD). Since the cause of PD is unknown, doctors are unable to suggest suitable interventions to prevent the disease. However, research studies have shown that regular aerobic exercise might reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease.

There are also a few research studies that suggest that yoga may help counteract PD symptoms, thereby providing moderate improvement. Yoga together with meditation helps to cultivate greater body awareness, thereby allowing an individual to resort to suitable interventions when the symptoms aggravate. If a yoga student has PD, a competent yoga teacher needs to understand about the student’s condition, the duration, and the extent of the disease. A yoga teacher needs to consider four factors in order to suggest specific yoga poses to a student with PD including a) mobility, b) balance, c) strength and, d) flexibility. Based on the above factors, the teacher can also decide whether the student needs suitable support props like belt, chairs, and bolsters. In fact, I would recommend that students with PD not attend a regular public class, but seek out a therapeutic class as they definitely need extra attention.

Poses need to focus on improving the sit-to-stand ability, functional mobility, and lower-limb strength. Standing yoga poses including chair pose, warrior poses, and tree pose serve as mobility focused exercises because they simultaneously target three functionally important muscle groups: the hip extensor (e.g., hamstrings, gluteus maximus), the knee extensor (e.g., quadriceps), and the ankle plantar flexor (i.e., the muscles used when “curling” the toes). Balance training is an important component of therapeutic yoga as persons with PD fall more frequently than other older adults. Improvement in balance through suitable yoga poses also contributes to a reduced fear of falling. This is important as persons who have the fear of falling tend to keep away from physical activity, leading to further decreases in strength, flexibility, and balance putting them at a greater risk for additional falls.

Improved strength is important, as muscle weakness progresses in PD. Holding static postures for a longer time and controlled systematic movement from one pose to the next increases muscular strength. Similarly, incorporating several poses and holding each pose for a certain time improves muscle endurance. Flexibility is important since muscle rigidity is a common PD symptom. An improvement in upper-body flexibility (i.e., shoulder, spine) helps 
support a more upright posture and, thereby, overcome the stooped posture that often presents in people with PD.  Yoga poses that focus on hips, quads, and hamstrings are essential for regular stride length to improve balance and overcome the shuffling gait that may occur in people with PD. 

People with PD often suffer from anxiety and depression. Hence, each yoga session needs to end with 10-15 minutes of meditation and pranayama practice that helps to reduce fear and anxiety. Attention to the inhalation, retention of breath, and exhalation is very important. It usually gets easier 
over time for the student to stay focused. Yoga teachers need to keep the sessions fun and mobile and, at the same time, be careful to avoid injury in these sessions. There are several stages of PD and symptoms vary among students so it is important for teachers to speak confidently and clearly, and to maintain a positive attitude as this can keep students at ease. A teacher’s ability to change the postures or offer thoughtful modifications is an important part of yoga therapy for people with PD. 


Rammohan Rao (Ram) 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, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.


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Thursday, January 10, 2019

Featured Video: Maria Kirsten's Chair Pigeon Pose



This chair version of Pigeon pose makes the pose accessible to those who are only practicing in chairs. But it's also a version that is good for anyone because Maria says it may be more effective than the floor version. In addition, it looks safer to me because you are not dropping all your weight onto your hip and knee joints. —Nina

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, January 7, 2019

Interview with Nicola Harvey on Mindfulness as a Calming Strategy for Children with Special Needs



Accessible Yoga Blog: What is the age range of the children you work with, and do the children have chronic conditions other than autism spectrum conditions?

Nicola: The ages range from 5 -11, but sometimes I have early teens join in the sessions. The needs differ per child. Some have Autistic Spectrum Condition, Fragile X, Down Syndrome, Cognitive Developmental Delay, or a similar condition. Everyone is welcome!

Accessible Yoga BlogDo you instruct them in their schools or some other place?

Nicola: I carry out sessions in schools and within community settings like church halls and playgroups.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What made you choose to teach children with special needs?

Nicola: I decided to work with children with special educational needs because I have a passion for children’s mental health, their emotional wellbeing, and making a real difference in their lives. I have always been drawn to special educational needs and although this area of teaching can be challenging at times, it can also be incredibly rewarding when you see children achieve their goals and grow in confidence.

Whilst working as a special needs classroom teacher, I found that many children experienced difficulties expressing their emotions and would often have melt-downs. Also, due to funding cuts within the education system a lot of children with special needs, particularly from deprived backgrounds, would not have access to regular therapeutic interventions. I felt frustrated at the impact this had on children’s mental and emotional wellbeing so I decided to explore other teaching methods with therapeutic benefits, which is how I found out about mindfulness and yoga.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you share with our readers some details of what you teach the children, and how it helps the young yogis?

Nicola: I use the STAR model in all of my sessions; STAR stands for Stop, Take a Breath, And, Relax. This is a strategy which can be used to ground and centre children, bring them into the present moment, and guide them to become calm. It is a simple process where children initially pause (Stop) for a few moments to take a step back and process what is going on within them, particularly if they are in a heightened emotional state. Next, I guide children to mindfully breathe (Take a breath) which gradually calms them down and allows them to feel connected to the present moment.
After this I use a self-regulation strategy (And) like going for a mindful walk, practicing yoga, or listening to music to direct their thoughts, feelings and behaviour towards a supportive calming strategy. Lastly, I use positive strategies to help children relax (Relax) and let go, by guiding them through a meditation or another appropriate relaxing activity. This process is very fluid which means we have the STAR structure but the way it’s delivered can change depending on children’s emotions, the day’s events, and what I feel would work best for the group.

Within our sessions we use sensory toys, music and yoga games. We also explore stories, emotional regulation, body language, and dance. The structure and methods support children by giving them the tools to learn how to develop their own calming strategies and gradually learn how to approach life in a balanced and mindful way. There is no right or wrong – it’s all about exploration and allowing the children to grow and learn at their own pace in a safe environment.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you tell us about a particular experience you’ve had while teaching mindfulness to a child (or group) that was especially meaningful to you?

Nicola: Every mindfulness session I teach is incredibly meaningful because I see first-hand the difference it makes to the lives of children, especially when they are going through a range of emotions. I particularly enjoyed teaching the mindfulness session during my book launch. I was able to use the STAR model, as described above, to practice some of the self-regulation tools from my book with the children and talk to parents/teachers about the calming strategies they could use at home or school. After the children’s mindfulness session, I got talking to a parent who was delighted that her 5-year-old daughter who has selective mutism, a form of complex anxiety, fully participated in the session and enjoyed the activities because it was a safe space for her to learn about mindfulness and have fun whilst doing so!



Nicola Harvey is an experienced and qualified Special Needs Educator, Therapist, and Children's Yoga Mindfulness Practitioner living in the UK. She is the author of Mindful Little Yogis: Self-Regulation Tools to Empower Kids with Special Needs to Breathe and Relax, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. To find more about Nicola, visit: www.mindfulnicstars.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, January 3, 2019

Featured Tip: Water Meditation

Nude in the Bathtub by Pierre Bonnard


Today I just want to take a moment to share an idea with you that I just heard about from my friend Brooke. Because she has serious chronic pain, Brooke has an "unconventional" meditation practice, which she does in her bathtub. She has found that when she's immersed in water, it's the only time she doesn't feel her chronic pain. So practicing meditation in the tub at night has been very beneficial for her. Combining this with a more conventional sitting practice a few days a week allowed her to establish a regular meditation practice, which was one of her goals for 2018.

Of course, because it is important not to fall asleep in a bathtub, you should take precautions to stay awake. For example, you could use a meditation timer that goes off at set intervals. 

Thanks, Brooke, for this wonderful tip. I hope some of you out there will find this helpful.

—Nina


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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