Thursday, February 28, 2019

Featured Reprint: The Need for Accessible Yoga in Yoga Teacher Trainings

by Ryan McGraw
Have you ever been in a yoga class ready to dive into the practice, only to have the teacher demonstrate a posture you were certain would not work for your body? Did the instructor then offer an adaptation of the pose that you could comfortably accomplish, or did you struggle to complete the pose as shown by the teacher? Did you feel you were risking injury while attempting the pose?

If the instructor offered an adaptation, you’ve experienced accessible or adaptive yoga, which offers solutions that allow people of all abilities and body types to successfully practice and benefit from yoga.

An adaptive yoga pose may look different from the traditional pose, but it offers similar benefits. For example, some of the benefits of triangle pose include stretching the hips, groin, hamstrings, calves, shoulders, chest, and back muscles. Someone who uses a wheelchair may be able to gain the benefits of triangle pose while seated in their chair by tilting to the right and placing their right hand on another chair of similar height, and then reaching their left arm to the sky. Another adaptation (in this case for someone who may not feel balanced when standing in triangle pose) would be to stand with their back to the wall and placing a hand onto a chair instead of the floor. Of course, there are several other variations of triangle pose that can give yoga students the same benefits of the classical pose as well. Since all bodies are unique, one adaptation of a pose will not be suitable for all.

While 200-hour yoga teacher trainings accredited through Yoga Alliance cover many different topics—yoga postures, breathing techniques, meditation, the history and ethics of yoga, etc.—they often teach only one version of a posture or breathing technique, which is usually the classical form. However, the classical form of each posture may not be accessible to all students. Students who have disabilities or injuries, are sore or are curvy, may need a different form of some postures.

Students of all abilities and body types may come through the door of a yoga class; thus a teacher should have the skills needed to teach them all. That’s why it’s important for teachers to learn how to adapt yoga poses in their teacher training.
How to Incorporate Accessible Yoga 

One might ask, “Given the time limitations of a teacher training, how could teacher trainers teach how to adapt each yoga posture?” Answer: They can simply change how each pose is taught in the training. Jivana Heyman, founder of Accessible Yoga and creator of the Accessible Yoga teacher training advises: “Rather than approach a posture by teaching one form, instead, focus on the overarching goals and benefits (and even contraindications) of that posture.” When using this methodology, teaching the “correct” or “classical” form of a posture becomes secondary to enabling future teachers to help their students experience the intended benefits of a pose—whether through the classical form or an adaptation—and a whole array of possibilities are then opened for teachers and their students.

Heyman uses cobra pose as an example for trainers: “Instead of teaching cobra pose as the classical pose, first consider the benefits of cobra, which could include strengthening the back muscles in deep spinal extension, expanding the heart center, and digestive organ massage, among other things.” After you have discussed the benefits of cobra (or any other pose), the training group can then, Heyman explains, “consider how you can find those qualities at whatever level the student is practicing, whether it’s in a chair, on a mat, or even standing.”

Learning how to adapt poses allows the trainee to see how to help any student accomplish the goal of a posture, or gain its benefits, by using different forms. By observing their instructor engage in the process of finding suitable adaptations for people of various abilities and needs, trainees at any level learn how to do this themselves.

Karina Ayn Mirsky, director of Sangha Yoga in Kalamazoo, Michigan, explains how she incorporates adaptation into her teacher trainings: “I’m always experimenting with individuals and trying things with them until comfort and stability are realized [in yoga postures]. In other words, trainees witness me exploring with a person what works for them [and] then defaulting to the wisdom of that person’s body.”

After this process of experimenting, Mirsky invites the individual to share with the rest of the class what’s happening for them. “The person with the limitation teaches all of us,” Mirsky adds. In this collaborative process the teacher learns as much from the student as the student learns from the teacher. The student’s body guides the teacher as to how the teacher can best adapt the posture for that body. The goal here is not to fix the student with the limitation, but instead to allow that individual to experience the benefits of the yoga pose.

The Importance of Accessible Yoga

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that all yoga teacher training programs be accessible under federal law. In addition, allowing people with disabilities to feel welcome in yoga studios and making sure that they can successfully participate and benefit from yoga classes is vital to encouraging students of all abilities to become yoga teachers.

Lori Gasper, the owner and director of Prairie Yoga in Lisle, Illinois, says, “Opening yoga teacher training to people with disabilities mutually benefits trainees with and without disabilities. It allows trainees without disabilities to see the benefits of making yoga accessible from the very start of their teaching journey, at the same time as allowing people with disabilities to realize the possibility of teaching."

If adaptive/accessible yoga is to be taught successfully in teacher training, teacher trainers must have experience and knowledge in methods of making yoga practice accessible. Gasper, herself a director of teacher training for 15 years, first apprenticed under Iyengar master teacher Gabriel Halpern, working one on one in his gentle class with students who had different disabilities or injuries. She stresses, “You cannot just learn about accessible yoga conceptually, you must work with people of all abilities.”

A Call for Change

Currently, instructors who lead Yoga Alliance 200-hour teacher trainings are not required to have any background in accessible yoga or adaptation. The only requirement is that the lead teacher trainer be a registered teacher with Yoga Alliance at the 200-hour experienced level (an E-RYT). This means that there are probably many yoga teacher trainers who lack knowledge in how to make yoga accessible.

At the present time, Yoga Alliance is undertaking a teacher training Standards Review Project. Many people within the accessible yoga community sincerely hope that Yoga Alliance will add the teaching of accessible yoga practice adaptations as a curriculum requirement for completing teacher training. The long overdue inclusion of this requirement is essential—not only to keep students safe, but to make practitioners of all abilities feel welcome in classes, both as students and as potential teachers of yoga.

Ryan McGraw approaches every class with the belief that everyone can do yoga. As a person with cerebral palsy who has been practicing yoga for 15 years, Ryan is well aware that yoga poses can be adapted to meet the needs of the student, no matter what their ability level is.

Ryan earned his 200-hour yoga teaching certificate from Prairie Yoga in 2011 and completed two adaptive yoga teacher training with Matthew Sanford. Ryan received his Master’s Degree in Disability and Development from the University of Illinois at Chicago, in 2013. For his Master’s Thesis, Ryan created an adapted yoga manual for people with disabilities. He continues his studies in accessible yoga with Gabriel Halpern in Chicago.

Ryan was featured in a US News and World Report article on adaptive yoga. He has written about his yoga experience in Yoga and Body Image, a collection of essays from people who are not the average yoga practitioner.


This article originally appeared in Yoga International at The Need for Accessible Yoga in Yoga Teacher Trainings.

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 25, 2019

Yoga and Advanced Aging, Part 2: Teaching in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care Spaces

By Carey Sims

With prevalent forward-leaning posture in mind, I focus a part of class on spinal extension. For kyphotic students, postures with a “lifted chest” or “long spine” will require a good deal of effort. Exaggerated flexion of the spine and deep twists are not part of my sequencing for this population. I am not saying that we should abandon these movements altogether; I am simply suggesting that we encourage them subtly. We want students to gently engage the muscles around the spine without compromising its structural integrity. Example: You might teach spinal flexion by having students give themselves a hug and asking them to notice the breath in the back of their bodies. By teaching with an awareness of the inevitable presence of osteopenia and osteoporosis, we can help students move safely, avoid injury, and help to improve their bone health. Remember we are talking about teaching group classes and we want the class to be safe first and foremost. In a one-on-one setting I might be willing to explore more.

Accessible Yoga trainings instruct how to teach true all-levels classes with different body types practicing various forms of asanas together in a communal space. But for this population, I encourage you to teach from the same orientation. Even if there are students who can physically do more than others, all of my students practice from a chair. I do occasionally have students in beds and I accommodate them. In these environments, if one student is doing something that looks very different (i.e. a standing asana), other students can feel inadequate or attempt an unsafe movement, and to me, the risk is simply not worth it. I try to understand what my students can manage and set them up for success. Continuity leads to accessibility. As explored in the first installment of this series, teaching in Assisted Living, Skilled Nursing, and Memory Care Spaces requires creativity and adaptability. The relationship between your students and yourself is the yoga. Creating a community is the most versatile tool in your yoga toolbox.


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, February 21, 2019

Featured Pose: Chair Boat Pose


Today we're pleased to present two different accessible versions of Boat Pose (Navasana) that we learned from yoga teacher Karen Barker. In the first variation, which is the easier of the two, Karen is seated on a chair with her knees bent, feet lifted up off the floor a few inches, and her arms extended forward. Although she is leaning back slightly, she is not touching the back of the chair, but it's there if anyone needs the support.
The second variation of Chair Boat Pose is a bit more challenging. Keeping the same general position as the first version, Karen now straightens both legs almost fully, while still keeping her feet just a few inches above the floor. 

Karen suggests that before moving into these poses, you imagine wrapping the muscles of your torso towards the midline in the front and back of your body (but not so tight you can't breathe!) to create a suit of support for your spine.

Karen Barker believes that yoga is for everybody and every body. She found yoga during a stressful time in her life, after having thought for years that she couldn't practice yoga because her body was not a "yoga body." She is a Yoga and Body Image Coalition Partner, Accessible Yoga Ambassador, and Yoga Service Council Member. Some of the additional certifications she has received include Yoga for All, Curvy Yoga, Accessible Yoga, and Body Positive Yoga. Karen is passionate about making yoga accessible and available to all who wish to practice it. She is the owner of Sunbeams Yoga in Ruckersville, Virginia, where she leads adaptive yoga classes, including pay-what-you-can classes.


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 18, 2019

Measuring Up: Donna Farhi's Thoughts on How We Measure Success

Paul Klee, Senecio, 1922, Oil on Canvas
By Donna Farhi

Success in Yoga, as in life, may have more to do with opening our hearts than opening our hips.

It’s late afternoon and one of my longtime students has come to visit. After a few minutes of chitchat, Sarah relates how inadequate she felt at the Yoga workshop she attended over the weekend. Just about everyone could do the advanced postures except her, and she left feeling that her practice was inferior. I asked Sarah what her life was like when she began practicing Yoga and whether she had noticed any changes since then. After a brief pause, all kinds of insights began to pour forth as she recollected how difficult and confused so many areas of her life had been and how so many of those rough patches had been smoothed out.

Since that meeting, I’ve been struggling
 with the question of how we measure success in Yoga practice--our's and other's. I’ve begun to question the gauges we use to draw our conclusions. In particular, I’ve noticed--in myself and in others whose Yoga practice focuses on the physical postures--how deceptive the outward indicators of so-called achievement can
 be, and how some of the most remarkable changes can go unnoticed and unacknowledged. How do 
we measure a movement toward greater kindness and respect for others? How do we gauge the strengthening of presence and awareness?

Many of us entered the world of Yoga through the door marked ‘physical.’ In measuring our success, it 
is too easy to make direct correlations between our physical adeptness (or lack thereof) and the state of our souls. We must begin to reevaluate our measuring devices so that our sense of satisfaction with ourselves and others is not identified with physical form. If we measure ourselves on the ruler of the back bends we can do, the arm balances we have mastered, and the flexibility of our hips, we will find ourselves cast adrift the moment any of these attributes is taken from us. Life gives and life takes. Through injuries, aging, life changes, and sheer economics, we may find that what we could do yesterday we cannot do today. Will we then pronounce ourselves failures?

My partner tells me the purpose of Yoga practice is very simple: To open the heart.
 I can think of no better definition. When students query me about ‘the right way’ and ‘doing things correctly', I ask them to reframe their questions. I ask them to measure their success in their postures not by how far they went but by how aware they were in each moment. I ask them to judge the correctness of their positions not by what they look like but by what makes them feel most alive, most present, most whole. Instead of, “How many hours did I spend on the mat today?” we can ask, “How did I live my practice in every moment of the day?” I fear that something is tragically missing in Hatha Yoga practice when I see someone who, through the most diligent effort, has managed to become a perfect posture instead of a person.

Our society tells us that success has to do with how much money we earn, what kind of car we drive, how we look. We would be foolish to think that just because we practice Yoga we are immune to the dangers of such superficial criteria. Three people show up to our class and we feel like a failure. Thirty people pack the studio and we pronounce that we’ve made it. As long as we measure success using society’s devices, we will be as fraught with fear of failure as any executive scrambling up the corporate ladder.

When we do touch our toes, when we finally accomplish that deep backbend, anyone who has been there could tell you: nothing happens. It hasn’t brought us one iota closer to ourselves or others, unless somewhere along the way it helped us to open our hearts.



Donna Farhi is a Yoga teacher who has been practicing for over 40 years and teaching since 1982. As a post-lineage pioneer, Donna has been at the forefront of generating a new model for teaching and practice that fosters self-inquiry through the cultivation of each person’s inner reference system.


Donna Farhi leads intensives, retreats, and teacher training programs internationally. She is the author of four contemporary classics including The Breathing Book; Yoga Mind, Body & Spirit; Bringing Yoga to Life: The Everyday Practice of Enlightened Living; and Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship. Her latest book, Pathways to a Centered Body: Gentle Yoga Therapy for Core Stability, Healing Back Pain and Moving with Ease co-authored with Leila Stuart, was published in 2017. For more information on her intensives, online trainings, videos, and audio recordings visit www.donnafarhi.co.nz.

This article originally appeared in Yoga Journal magazine, March/April 1997. © 2018 by Donna Farhi.


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

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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