Thursday, March 28, 2019

Our Upcoming Accessible Yoga Conference: St. Louis, Missouri, May 31-June 2, 2019

We're super excited about our upcoming Accessible Yoga Conference in St. Louis: Reimagining Yoga.

In this conference, we will be exploring topics that allow us to search for the deeper meaning of yoga, such as yoga and wellness, yoga and rehabilitation, yoga therapy for illness or injury, race and yoga, indigenous consciousness, yoga to support underserved communities and folks with marginalized identities, and living our values while still operating in systems of oppression. There will be 26 sessions on a wide range of topics, including yoga service, radical self-acceptance, race and yoga, creative prop setups, peace-filled parenting, and yoga for cancer, for amputees, and for queer and trans folks, bedside yoga (yoga for the terminally ill), and more. Presenters include: 

  • Jivana Heyman
  • Michelle C. Johnson
  • Jules Mitchell
  • Susanna Barataki
  • Amber Karnes
  • Marsha Danzig
  • Dara Brown
  • Elizabeth Regan
  • Camella Nair
  • Kelly Carboni-Woods
  • Kathy Randolph
  • Lori Pierce
  • Cheryl Albright
  • Amy Samson-Burke
  • Ryan McGraw
  • Carey Sims
  • Amina Naru
  • Mary Sims
  • Molly Lannon Kenny
  • Sandra Sudheela Gilbert
  • Natasha Baebler
  • Haley Laughter
  • Kimberly Dark

Here is a sample schedule:

Most importantly, however, we will connecting, supporting, and rejuvenating people who are dedicating their work and their lives to helping the world see the humanity in one another. 

We hope you will join us in reimagining yoga! See here for further information or to register for the conference.

This post was written by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Yoga and Advanced Aging, Part 3: Reconsidering the Breath

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 Three: Reconsidering the Breath

Many of us have discovered that connecting with our breath is where the rubber meets the road in our practice. But some of the breath techniques we find effective in the general population may not always apply to adaptive and senior students. In this article we will rethink how we cue the breath and explore the challenges our students may be facing when we ask them to breathe in certain ways.

How many times have we been encouraged to take a deep breath in a yoga class? Probably more than we can count. But for some students with advanced aging, a “deep” breath can feel invasive and even violent. I often kid that handing out a cough drop or a cup of water counts as an assist in my classes because breath work inevitably ignites a coughing spell.

I have found that replacing the word “deep” with “gentle” allows for a full inhale, but invites softness into the breathing experience. Students are less likely to overexert, grip, and become tense. Example: “Take a gentle breath in and a slow breath out.”

I also give students the freedom to breathe from their nose and/or mouth. Usually most students inhale through the nose and exhale through the mouth, but not always. As teachers, we must constantly ask what we are trying to achieve with a particular cue or technique and allow ourselves to be creative in achieving that goal. Connection to the breath is what matters to me; I don’t get dogmatic about methods.

When teaching movement, consider the breath as a layer of experience. Matthew Sanford has a saying, “Prana follows consciousness more than it follows breath.” This is one of the cornerstones of my teaching. I come from a vinyasa background and this was initially hard to wrap my head around, but once I stopped leading with breath, I began to tangibly see the results in my students’ ability to connect with their bodies. Why would this be?

Students with advanced aging and/or dementia often struggle with left/right discrimination and moving in two directions at once. Managing these types of movements and coordinating breath at the same time is extremely challenging and often causes frustration. I know that linking breath with movement is powerful, but my solution is to explore movement first and layer in the breath after we have connected with the body.

A simple change in my cueing order creates the necessary rhythm, connection, and space for the breath to benefit rather than impede my students. For example, “Lift your arms up toward the ceiling and lower them back down by your sides. Do this a few times and notice how that feels. Now we are going to move with our breath. Breathe in and lift your arms up and breathe out and lower your arms down.” I don’t want my students to feel like they are doing something wrong and become frustrated. If that happens, they may quit participating or decide not to come to yoga the next time. I am not their Physical Therapist or Occupational Therapist— I want them to feel good during our time together.

Another way to teach breath awareness is by exploring function. When we understand the utility of a technique or pattern, we can shift our relationship to it both as teachers and practitioners. Take holding the breath for example. This is natural reaction to being over stimulated. It’s like the brain knows we need to hit pause and regroup for a second or two. The next time you are focusing really hard on a new or complicated task, observe your breathing. If you find that you are holding your breath, don’t admonish yourself; instead be amazed at your body’s brilliance at problem solving.

When I work with my senior students on a new sequence, I often ask them to check in and notice if they are holding their breath. We usually laugh and smile at this recognition. I tell them it’s okay, explain why it’s happening, and ask them to let their body catch up to the posture or movement. From there we breathe out slowly. We simply need to create space for the breath to sort itself out and trust that our bodies know what to do once we get out of the way.

As we just explored, holding the breath is a brilliant stabilizing mechanism for the mind, but I’ve witnessed many times that the body also intuitively supports the spine through breath suspension or retention. Think of an instance where you picked up something a little too heavy and grunted or held your breath for a second. Your body intuitively knew it needed stability and used a pause in the breath to create it. Understanding this function helps me appreciate why some students are breathing the way they are. For many of my students, a movement like lifting the arms overhead is strong. These students often instinctively hold the breath as a means to recruit strength. Recognizing this, I will work with what is naturally happening and layer in a slow exhalation as we lower the arms.

Elongating the breath has a similar stabilizing function to breath retention, but introduces the sensation of ease inside of effort. I may refine the last example further by asking students not to drop their chest as they lower their arms. As we continue we might focus on decelerating the downward momentum of our limbs as we exhale. Example: “Lift your arms up toward the ceiling, keep your chest lifted and slowly lower the arms down as you exhale.”

A friend of mine said something beautifully powerful to me recently. “Carey you are helping your students connect with their bodies before they leave them.” I never really thought of it that way, but it’s true. Many, if not most, of my students’ bodies are steadily declining. I have lost a lot of students over the past few years. This is all the more reason to let our time together become a place of playful exploration. My students don’t need to be concerned about getting things “right,” especially their breathing. Imperfections are welcome.


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 shares 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.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hilary Nihlen's Reclined Moon Salutations




In this short video, yoga teacher Hilary Nihlen demonstrates a very accessible version of the Moon Salutation that you practice lying on your back. Not only will this provide wonderful all-over stretching and gentle movement through many of your joints, but moving in a coordinated fashion with your breath will help improve both mental focus and agility. —Nina


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


This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Yoga Instruction: Somatic Awareness or Alignment Training?

Paul Cezanne, L'Estaque with Red Roofs, 1885, Oil on Canvas
By Theo Wildcroft

A few weeks ago, as I was messing about with a new sensory toy and thinking about current debates raging on social media, I had a revelation that had little to do with the new Liquid Timer that was making me so happy, and even little to do with the actual arguments I was watching scroll by. It had to do with something I’ve been struggling to say clearly for a while. I posted it, and Jivana asked if I’d share it here. In the hope that it is of use to you, or strikes a chord, here it is. Please note, it’s really not a criticism of any specific teacher or school. We’re all learning. We’re all trying to be better for our students. This might help.

Contemporary yoga culture has to realise the fundamental disconnect between any intention that the practice should lead to self-awareness, self-responsibility, and self-agency and a teaching methodology that emerged in the early 20th century based on telling people exactly what to do and how the practice should make you feel. Most alignment-based schools of yoga teach that the more exact the instruction, the safer the practice: so a knee should always be placed just here, and this muscle should always be engaged in this particular pose. And many teachers go further: in their enthusiasm to share the benefits of the practice, they say things like: “We get a wonderful sense of freedom in this backbend,” when there may well be students in the room who feel something very different in the same asana.

Any way you consider them, these are logically incompatible.

We are talking here about practices which use the body to touch the mystical, or in other words, many of us find that our experiences in a yoga practice can be magical, even spiritual, giving rise to feelings of divine surrender or radiant stillness. It’s easy to forget that someone on the mat in front of you might be having a very different experience indeed.

We’re also talking about practices which are taught synchronously and in groups; in other words, at the same time, and together. So we also have to consider the possibility that those senior teachers who are the most charismatic, whose own practice is the most accomplished, whose commitment to a single lineage or system is most devout, and who are most often surrounded by their most devoted students – those teachers probably have the most inflated idea of their own ability to teach, and the most inflated reputations to match.

They might just not be very good at teaching other people how to practice yoga at all, and never have found this out, because their own practice feels so advanced to them, and because no-one has ever told them, being too in awe of them.

You can trust not just my research on this, but my experience. I studied yoga with what, at the time, were considered to be some of the best yoga teachers in the world. I studied everything from intricate postural alignment to 11th century Tantric philosophy with them. And it took me too long to figure out that I’d allowed them to lead me unwittingly to a point where I didn’t trust my own judgement in movement any more. A good friend and teacher asked me to ‘just move’ in the position we all know as some version of Cat/Cow and, in that moment, I realised I was frozen without further instruction. Without meaning to, my teachers had taught me to trust them, not my own experience.

There are amazing teachers and schools of yoga out there that have been teaching somatic awareness, from a place of radical inclusivity, in a way that actually builds the ability of the student to know their body. A number of them are well-respected, but you won’t often find them teaching in workshops or shalas with hundreds of students. Throughout the 20th century the most famous yoga teachers were the ones who told students exactly what to do, not the ones who taught the students how to feel and move on their own. In the schools where students were taught exactly what to do, that level of independence is either seen as a prerequisite to practice (a student should just ‘know’ what to say no to), or its mystical and effortless side effect (as a result of being told how to move for a decade or more, a student somehow gains enough knowledge to be trusted to decide their own practice). This is so common within yoga to this day, let me say it again: you can’t teach self-reliance through telling people what to do.

Offered in peace. Come and see me talk about all this and more in person! I wave my arms a lot and it’s a lot of fun! Let’s learn together.


Theo Wildcroft, PhD is a yoga teacher (IYN500) living in the UK with multiple qualifications in yoga for diverse populations, and scholar with a PhD in the study of movement practices within contemporary religion, and an MA in community education. She is at the forefront of the movement for trauma sensitivity, diversity, and inclusion. Her ongoing research considers the democratization of yoga post-lineage, and the many different ways yoga communities are responding to concerns about safety in practice. She also blogs and writes articles on yoga, on social justice, on hope, and on untold stories.


This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Accessible Yoga Facebook Groups

There are people all over the world teaching, studying, and practicing Accessible Yoga! And one good way you all can stay connected with each other is through our Accessible Yoga Facebook groups, where you can meet each other and share information, ask questions, and support each other in your work and in your practice. That is why we have—as of today—23 Accessible Yoga Facebook groups in addition to our main Accessible Yoga page. There are groups for specific countries and areas of the world, for those who speak various languages, and for local areas in the US. If you haven't already, please join us there! We'd love to get to know you. Here's a list of all the Facebook groups that you can join and post on:

Accessible Yoga Community – this community is for everyone, worldwide, who wants to join in the conversation

Accessible Yoga Acessível - Portugal (Portugal)

Yoga Acessível Brasil (Brazil)

Accessible Yoga Teachers in Greece (Greek)

Yoga Accessible Francophone (French)

Yoga Accesible- Español (Spanish)

Accessible Yoga D-A-CH (German)

Yoga Accessibile Italia - Accessible Yoga Italy (Italian)

Anpassad Yoga för alla (Swedish) 


Accessible Yoga Finnish Group – Esteetön jooga Suomessa

Accessible Yoga - Nederland & België (Dutch)

Accessible Yoga Ireland

Accessible Yoga Asia

Accessible Yoga Australia

Accessible Yoga UK

Accessible Yoga Canada

Accessible Yoga San Francisco Bay Area

Accessible Yoga Northeast/NYC

Accessible Yoga Southeast

Accessible Yoga Northwest

Accessible Yoga Southwest

Accessible Yoga Sacramento

Accessible Yoga Midwest

Accessible Yoga Texas 


This post was written by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.





Monday, March 11, 2019

The Life of Death: Finding the Eternal in the Temporary

Lee Krasner, Untitled (from Little Image series), 1949 
By Jivana Heyman

My mother died almost two years ago and ever since then I find myself spending a lot of time thinking about my own eventual death. Her death has somehow lifted the veil on my own mortality and frayed my tether to this world. Soon after she died, I started experiencing a string of minor medical issues, and I can’t help feeling like they are part of this process of greater awareness of the limits of my physical body. I find myself weaving between the worlds of life and death, between nature and spirit, trying to understand what it is that survives after we die. How is it that death reveals the essence of life?


I lost so many friends to AIDS when I was in my twenties, and that led me to immerse myself in the spiritual teachings of yoga. But three decades later I was becoming complacent (assuming that when I went to bed at night I would wake up the next morning). Now, once again, death has become my greatest teacher, cutting to the heart of the matter. Death is asking me to live consciously, and asking me to search for the permanent in the temporary.

In the Bhagavad Gita the protagonist, Arjuna, tries to reconcile his earthly role as a warrior with the spiritual truth that he longs to understand. After arguing with his teacher, Krishna, Arjuna finally surrenders and admits that he doesn’t know how to come to terms with these two parts of himself. He says, “I am weighed down with weak-mindedness: I am confused and cannot understand my duty. I beg of you to say for sure what is right for me to do. I am your disciple. Please teach me, for I have taken refuge in you.” (Satchidananda, Swami. The Living Gita. Chapter 2, number 7.)

Then Krishna smiles and begins to teach him about yoga. He starts his instruction with a key lesson about the immortality of the spirit. He explains, “It is not born and it does not die. Unborn, eternal, and ancient, the Self is not killed when the body is killed.” (Satchidananda, Swami. The Living Gita. Chapter 2, number 20.)

As my mother got very sick, I kept thinking that I needed to talk to her about death and how she felt about dying. I had this idea that talking it through would somehow make it easier for her and for me. So, a number of times I tried to broach the subject with her. And each time, she would either ignore me or quickly change the subject. I eventually gave up, concluding that she wasn’t ready to talk about her impending death and that she was in denial about it.

As she got weaker it became harder for her to speak, and for the last few weeks she could barely open her eyes. I thought I had lost my chance to help her. But I began to notice something interesting. Every time someone she loved was near her, she would struggle to open her eyes and summon just enough energy to say, “I love you. I love you so much.” This became a mantra for her in those final days: “I love you. I love you so much,” whispered through dry lips.

One day, my kids came with me to see her for what would be their final visit with their grandmother. I could see her struggling to wake up for them, and I heard her tell them how much she loved them with so much conviction that it made me cry. In that moment, it dawned on me that she was answering all my questions about death. Rather than have an intellectual conversation with me about it, she was teaching me that love is the answer to all the questions, and that loving is the purpose of life.

I know my mother’s love is still with me even though she is gone, but sometimes I forget and feel lost. So now I’m trying to find ways to unearth that love for myself, which can be surprisingly hard. Those of us who never had a loving parent are used to that struggle, but for me it’s still new.

I know that is the ultimate purpose of yoga and meditation, to expose my heart. I can use my time in meditation to examine where I’ve gotten caught up in the world. It’s amazing how confused my ego gets—convincing me that love will come from outside of me when I get something or do something. It’s only through practice that I can remind myself that it’s safe to be love instead of constantly trying to get love. Here’s a practice that helps me:

I Love You Meditation

Sit comfortably, and notice the breath without changing it. Bring to mind someone that you love. It can be someone who has died or is no longer in your life. Try to picture them clearly in your mind’s eye. Begin to notice how you feel when you think of them. In your mind say, “I love you” a few times. If your mind wanders just notice it and then come back to their image and say, “I love you.” After a few minutes sit quietly and notice how you feel.


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.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 


° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Featured Accessible Yoga Teacher: Tammy Rose



Why I Love Teaching Senior Women

Yoga has eluded me for most of my life. It was something I found so intriguing more so for the spiritual aspect than the physical. Often I wanted to try but I found it too intimidating. I didn’t think I “fit in.” I thought I was too big or not flexible enough or didn’t understand the lingo. I would try a beginner class only to find some students practicing Handstand, which left me feeling inadequate and not wanting to return. 

Eventually, I got fed up! I decided I wanted more and I deserved more! More yoga for people like me, and there are a lot of us! So I signed up for a yoga teacher training and jumped in with both feet!

Through the nine months of training, other aspects of yoga came to my attention—thanks to social media—that I had not heard of before: Accessible Yoga with Jivana Heyman and Yoga For All with Dianne Bondy. These two amazing humans are changing the face of yoga by making toga available and accessible to all bodies. Regardless of age, body, ability or knowledge, yoga is for everyone.This is exactly what I needed to hear!

I also discovered Chair Yoga, something I never knew was even an option prior to my training. What a wonderful world this four-legged friend has opened up for me and countless others. Upon being certified, I began teaching Chair Yoga at my local community center and haven’t looked back. I teach to seniors who, as I was, are looking for an outlet to remain active and feel included while doing so. Little did they know, they too can practice yoga!

Although I was concerned that not being a senior or their peer would be a negative, none of that seemed to matter. What has developed from these weekly meetings of energy sharing is much stronger and more beautiful than any label could describe.

While we practiced Downward-Facing Dog pose using a chair and inhaled at our heart centers, something else was happening. As we were learning asana and pranayama, a community developed! Friendships blossomed and support was abundant. Of course, there is no age limit on human kindness and spiritual connection. We share stories of our families, illnesses, trips, dreams, and, of course, lots of laughter. Also, this age group is very comfortable in their skin and are not afraid of expressing their opinion, which provides an opportunity for many interesting discussions on everything from pop culture to politics. They also love music and dancing so I include a song at the end of each session and we do some chair dancing. It is so much fun that they now bring me song requests!

What started out as a journey to serve myself ended up being a gift to serve others. I absolutely love my seniors and look forward to their presence every week. Although I am considered the teacher, they have taught me as well about the resilience of the human spirit and it inspires me to continue teaching to this lovely group of people. Being a senior is not always about what you can no longer do as much as it about what you can still do and enjoy to the fullest! 


Tammy Rose completed her yoga teacher training at Sun and Moon Yoga in Dorval Quebec in June of 2017. She has also completed Yoga For All certification with Dianne Bondy and Amber Kearne. Since September 2017 she has been teaching Senior Chair Yoga at community center Centre Du Sablon in Laval Quebec. She is also an Accessible Yoga Ambassador!

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga blog and Editor in Chief of Yoga for Healthy Aging.

° FOLLOW Accessible Yoga on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube

° REGISTER here for our next conference. 

° DONATE here to help us bring yoga to people who don't have access or have been underserved, such as people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, children with special needs, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable in a regular yoga class.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Yoga Can Help With Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms

Elasticity, Umberto Boccioni, 1912, Oil on Canvas, Milan, Italy
by Ram Rao

Neurons which serve as the core components of the brain and spinal cord of the central nervous system are electrically excitable cells. Neurons process and transmit information via electrochemical signals thereby forming complex neural networks. These signals travel intraneuronally through specialized junction points called synapses. 

In order to ensure rapid and efficient transmission of information, neurons are endowed with an insulating sheath called myelin. The presence of myelin ensures speedy transmission of electrochemical impulses along the myelinated neuron to the next neighboring neuron. It also helps prevent the electrochemical signals from randomly leaving the neuron thereby permitting agile communication for long-distance signaling and to sustain such signals. Myelinated neurons (neurons that are endowed with the myelin sheath) are white in appearance, hence the term "white matter" of the brain. Under a microscope, myelinated neurons appear like strings of sausages. The main constituent of myelin is cholesterol and it also has about 15–30% proteins. The predominant protein is myelin basic protein (MBP).

For reasons that are unclear, the body’s defense system in some individuals recognizes the myelin basic protein as “foreign” and starts attacking it. This self-driven inflammatory condition is Multiple Sclerosis or MS. When the body’s defense system lays seize on the myelin, the protective sheath loses its structural and functional integrity resulting in disruption of the smooth neural communication. The more myelin is destroyed, the slower and less efficient the nerve impulses are. Eventually, as the disease progresses, it can cause the nerves themselves to deteriorate or become permanently damaged.

The signs, symptoms, severity, and duration of MS will vary depending on the extent of nerve damage, and which nerves get affected. Some people may have low grade inflammation most of their lives, while others may develop severe chronic symptoms that never go away. Women are more than twice as likely to develop multiple sclerosis as men. MS usually affects people between the ages of 20 and 50 years, and the average age of onset is approximately 30 years. 

Common early signs of MS include: vision problems; tingling and numbness in joints, fingers, and toes; pain; spasms; weakness; fatigue; balance problems; dizziness; bladder issues; sexual dysfunction; and cognitive problems. As the disease progresses, symptoms may become more severe. While MS is not a fatal disease, there is currently no cure for it. People with MS have essentially the same life expectancy as the general population. Anti-inflammatory treatments modify the course of the disease and can help to manage the symptoms as well as recover from the inflammatory attacks. Physical and occupational therapies are a great way to manage the condition.

While yoga does not cure MS, through its postures and breathing techniques, it helps to focus the mind and pay attention to the body. For example, for people with full blown symptoms of MS, mornings can be an ordeal as the body is tight and rigid from the previous night’s sleep. The practice of yoga can ease many of the physical symptoms and emotional challenges through breathing and stretching exercises to help individuals successfully complete tasks and do things for the rest of the day with less pain and discomfort. Several of the yoga postures can safely address many MS symptoms such as loss of bladder control, balance, and fatigue. Several research studies discuss the benefits and potential role of yoga as an alternative treatment of symptom management for individuals with MS and describe how yoga can improve their quality of life.

In all of the research studies involving yoga, the opinion among subjects with MS was unanimous: subjects reported improvements in mental and emotional health, concentration, bladder control, vision, and ability to withstand pain better. Yoga has been shown to lessen fatigue and increase energy level. Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of MS. Furthermore, subjects also revealed improved motor coordination, better capacities for walking without losing balance or coordination of gait, and improvement in being able to stand up from a sitting position.

For people with MS who are practicing yoga, the emphasis is on:

a) Improving strength and flexibility. Asanas include among others Mountain pose (Tadasana), Warrior poses (Virabadrasana 1-3), Boat pose (Paripurna Navasana), Chair Pose (Utkatasana), Side angle (Parsvakonasana) and Sun Salutation (Surya Namaskaram).

b) Balance. It is always advisable to use the wall and/or props to keep steady and maintain balance in each pose.

c) Agility. Always start with slow, precise changes of position in asana practices, such a slow Sun Salutation. Take one pose and vary it in several different ways including using blocks, straps, and other yoga props.

Based on the gravity of the symptoms, individuals with MS can easily adapt the postures to their comfort level. People who have difficulty holding a yoga pose without assistance can use blocks and other assistive devices to get the benefit from the pose when flexibility and other issues interfere. People in wheelchairs can benefit from chair yoga and other suitable props that will help them to get to the pose and benefit from it. Together with a short pranayama and meditation practice (Interview with Patrice Priya Wagner on Meditation for Multiple Sclerosis), yoga gives people with MS coping tools they can use for the rest of their lives. All of the research studies together with anecdotal reports are steps in the right direction as they show that a yoga program is very effective in improving the quality of life for people with MS.


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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