Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Interview with Steffany Moonaz on Yoga for Arthritis

Accessible Yoga Blog: Where do you teach? Who is the population?

Steffany: I work privately as a yoga therapist and conduct continuing education programs for yoga professionals. My focus has always been on arthritis and related conditions. This has been the focus of my research for many years and the topic of my doctoral dissertation in public health. I have learned so much and been so inspired by this work; I feel blessed that it is my dharma.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you share an experience that stands out?

Stefanny: There are so many that it’s difficult to choose. When writing my recent book, Yoga Therapy for Arthritis, it was important to me that personal stories be included. They really speak volumes about how life can change with these practices, and how even just a change in perspective can completely shift one’s relationship to arthritis or other chronic conditions.

I’ll share a brief story that is also in the book. One of the participants in our research study with knee osteoarthritis had an ill sister living in Florida. The participant was traveling back and forth from Baltimore to Florida and understandably missing a lot of yoga classes in the process. When she returned, I asked her if she had done any yoga practice while she was away. She told me that she only did one pose and it helped get her through this challenging time in her life. That pose was Mountain and during that time, she needed to be a Mountain, strong and resilient, for her sister, her family, and herself. She told me that it worked! She really did feel like a mountain. She even taught the pose to her sister’s kids.

What I love about this story is that it shows how asana are not just about muscles and bones. The poses are also (and perhaps primarily) energetic. I also love that the benefits of this pose were not directly about an arthritis-related outcome. It wasn’t about how her knees felt, it was about how SHE felt. But, of course, how she feels will impact her arthritis and her ability to live with it. I think this demonstrates the potential of yoga for impacting health and wellbeing. It is also a wonderful example of how a very accessible pose (it can even be done seated or lying down) can be so powerful.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Why do you teach this group or this population? What made you choose this specific group?

Steffany: The simplest answer is that my dharma found me. There were a series of serendipitous events that essentially brought this work into my life. I never sought out to work with arthritis and rheumatology. I don’t have a story like many people where my life was directly touched by these conditions either personally or through a loved one. But I can say that my life is very touched by it now, and looking back on my life I can see how many of the events of my life were a perfect set-up to step into this work with a full heart and open mind. To share that whole story would be a very long blog post! Perhaps for another time. It’s a nice lesson in being open to the journey as it continues to emerge, not always knowing where it might lead.

Accessible Yoga Blog: What are you excited to do next with your students?

Steffany: I have recently started to put more content online at arthritis.yoga for people with arthritis and yoga professionals working with them. While it is always ideal to first learn proper alignment and safety in person, live classes and private sessions can be an accessibility issue. Not everyone has safe and appropriate yoga classes available where they live. And some people with arthritis have movement limitations that make getting to a class very challenging, especially during a disease flare or before a needed surgery. Specialized classes can also be cost prohibitive for those on a fixed income such as disability benefits or retirement. Making content available online provides access to the teachings after, in-between, or sometimes instead of live instruction.

Yoga Therapy for Arthritis is now in pre-order and serves as another tool for self-paced learning and home practice. It was important to me that there be accessible yoga practices scattered throughout the book for that reason. I hope that the book will eventually be available in e-book and audiobook formats for even greater accessibility. I look forward to seeing the reach of this work expand and finding more creative ways to be of service to the arthritis community.

Dr. Steffany Moonaz is a yoga therapist and researcher, currently serving as Director of Clinical and Academic Research at the Maryland University of Integrative Health, which offers the nation’s only M.S. in Yoga Therapy. She is the founder of Yoga for Arthritis, an organization bringing evidence-based yoga programs to people with arthritis nationwide, as well as educating yoga professionals to work safely and effectively with this population. Dr. Moonaz collaborates on multiple interdisciplinary research teams and mentors emerging integrative health researchers.

This post was conducted and edited by Kathleen Kraft.

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