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:

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 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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