Monday, September 30, 2019

Interview with Patricia Schneider on Trauma-Conscious Yoga

Patricia Schneider responded to our call for interviewees and what follows is our discussion about the important trauma-conscious yoga classes that she offers in prisons.

Priya: Tell me a bit about your background and experience teaching yoga.

Patty: My focus throughout my yoga teaching career has been on adapting yoga to make it accessible for all. From the time I received my 500-hour teaching certificate, I knew I wanted to teach people who would not necessarily walk into a yoga studio, maybe because they feel their age, state of health, or body size doesn't suit them for yoga; or because they are hospitalized or incarcerated.

I teach yoga in a women's maximum-security prison, and at a local Gilda's Club for people living with cancer. I have also taught patients in the nursing home section of a VA hospital. In addition, I currently teach chair yoga classes to seniors, and am a teaching assistant at a Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis class. I've also taught private classes to people with mobility and health issues.

Priya: You have a wide range of experience working with different populations. In particular, I'm curious about your time teaching trauma-informed yoga. Tell us about that.

Patty: To follow through with my interest in teaching incarcerated people, I took James Fox’s Prison Yoga Project workshop in 2011. This training made me understand the importance of considering the background of the people I teach, and that many, if not most of the men and women in prison deal with unresolved physical and emotional trauma. At that training, I met Anneke Lucas, who became the founder and director of Liberation Prison Yoga (LPY), the non-profit I teach with now. LPY’s trauma-informed training has been an enormous influence on my teaching both inside and outside of correctional facilities.

In yoga studios the teacher-student relationship is hierarchical, and the inherent imbalance in the relationship can have the unfortunate effect of the teacher behaving in an authoritarian manner (“I command, and you do”), and the student turning their power over mind and body to the teacher. This type of relationship is triggering to people who have experienced trauma, either as children or as adults. They may have suffered physical, sexual, and psychological abuse by an authority figure at a time when they had no power over their own lives or bodies. Incarcerated people have no power over their bodies or their actions; they are watched and commanded 24/7 by a system that has absolute authority over them.

According to Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, healthy relationships encourage neural integration. In trauma-conscious yoga we connect with our students as equals through empathy and non-judgment. We don’t command but use invitational language, offering options and emphasizing the personal nature of one’s practice. Through unconditional acceptance, the teacher creates a safe space for the student to experience emotions, develop empowerment from within, and find release and healing from trauma. Along with asana practice, a trauma-conscious class may include mindfulness exercises, meditation, and healing modalities such as support group-style sharing and stream-of-consciousness writing.

Priya:​ Can you share with us some of the specific poses, language, or techniques that you use in trauma-informed classes, and please explain why they are appropriate for this practice?

Patty: No matter where I teach, I always remind my students that it is their practice. I am just a guide, and although I may come in with my own ideas of what to teach, if something we do is not appropriate for their bodies, if something doesn’t feel right to them, it is always OK to do another pose, to modify, or to sit it out. I always offer different levels of a pose, and never imply that one version of a pose is better than another, always referring to them as “options.” I use the word “maybe” a lot, as in “maybe you lift the arms overhead, or maybe you prefer to hold them in a wide V-shape.” This type of language is especially important in my prison classes, as my students are always told what to do by the authorities, and choosing how to conduct their practice gives them a sense of control over their bodies and actions.

In setting up the room for trauma-informed classes, we arrange the mats in a circle, with the teacher positioned so his or her back is to the door. People who have undergone trauma are hypervigilant, and this set-up prevents anyone coming up behind them. For the same reason, the teacher does not walk around the room or touch the students; he or she stays on the mat and practices with them.

For students who have suffered sexual trauma, whether they are incarcerated or not, any pose that resembles a sexual position is best avoided as it could be triggering. Some examples of those poses are Downward-Facing Dog, Happy Baby, and any pose where students are on hands and knees. For classes in prison, we avoid clasping the hands behind the back which resembles handcuffing, and poses where hands are placed on the wall as for in a Downward-Facing Dog modification, which is like “assuming the position” to be frisked. As with any class, it is important to know your students.

Priya:​ Can you give an example of a mindfulness exercise that you use in a trauma-conscious class, and share with us any additional thoughts you may have on the subject before we end the interview?

Patty: A guided meditation that I have used in my prison class is called “magic carpet.” As the students lie on their mats, I tell them the mat is a flying carpet that can take them anywhere they want to go. I ask them to choose a place, then “fly” there and visualize it – what do they see? Are they in a city or an open space? Are they alone or with other people? What is the weather like? What sounds do they hear? What do they smell? After visualizing the location in as detailed a manner as possible, their “carpet” brings them back to the room and settles down again. I remind them that, any time they need to, their minds have the power to take them wherever they want.

Many mindfulness exercises have “grounding” as a goal. However, people in prison do not forget they are in prison. Guards, bars, locks, and ribbon wire are the everyday reality surrounding them, their eternal present. An exercise like “magic carpet” reminds them that although their bodies are incarcerated, their minds are not. They may not have physical freedom of movement but their imaginations can always fly free. It is my opinion that this knowledge can lighten the emotional burden of incarceration. 

Patty Schneider received her 500-hour yoga teacher certification at YogaWorks, and a 100-hour certificate in Healing Yoga with Jillian Pransky. She received her certification as a Laughter Yoga Leader from Joan Castellano. She has completed workshops in teaching yoga to seniors and to victims of trauma, served an apprenticeship in teaching chair yoga, and is also a Reiki practitioner. Her desire to bring yoga to underserved populations led her in 2011 to James Fox’s Prison Yoga Project training. Since 2013 she has taught yoga to the women at Bedford Hills Correctional Facility (Bedford, NY) through the non-profit Liberation Prison Yoga.

Besides leading gentle and slow flow classes at Gilda’s Club in Westchester County NY, Patty teaches restorative yoga in Mamaroneck, chair yoga for seniors in Dobbs Ferry and Mamaroneck, and is a teaching assistant for a Yoga for Multiple Sclerosis through the National MS Society.

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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Core Qualities of Yoga, Part 4: Balance

This post is part of a series that explores a variety of core qualities and suggested practices to consider for inclusion in your classes and private sessions (whether on a mat, in a chair, or a combination of both).

by Beth Gibbs
“Step with great care and great tact, and remember that life’s a great balancing act.” Dr. Seuss

Physical Balance

Due to a variety of cognitive and physiological issues, our ability to balance changes as we age. How we face that reality is important because improving our ability to balance is the best way to prevent falls and live longer in an optimally healthy state.

There are two primary types of physical balance:
1. Moving balance allows you to maintain your balance while walking, climbing stairs, stepping up and down on a curb, exercising, and performing daily activities.
2. Static balance is the ability to maintain a position without moving, such as standing in a long line in the supermarket, reaching away from your body without falling, or standing on one foot.

Moving is like breathing for me and I’m really good at it. I move from the first moment my foot hits the floor in the morning to the last moment when that same foot completes my plop into bed at night. I have been known to stop in the middle of the day and "dance like nobody’s watching." Of course, I have my "slouch on the couch" time (who doesn’t), but I try to be self-aware of when I move and how I move to maintain my moving balance ability.

If you find moving balance difficult because of a physical condition, vision problem or fear of falling, you may limit your activities. However, limiting your activities could in turn result in further reducing your mobility. Therefore, if you are challenged by moving balance here is a suggestion to try. *If you've been diagnosed with a condition that adversely affects your balance and gait, please consult a physician before starting any new exercise program.

Heel-Toe Walking
Benefits: strengthens the leg and trunk muscles and improves coordination

1. Begin by standing with an elongated spine on firm flooring (no carpets or rugs).
2. Hold onto a counter, table, or wall if you need extra support.
3. Lift your toes and the balls of your feet off the ground and balance on your heels.
4. Walk several feet on your heels while keeping your body upright.
5. Pause and set your toes down while lifting your heels off the floor. Return to your starting position by walking the distance on your toes and balls of your feet.
6. Repeat the entire exercise 2 more times.
7. Try to do this twice a day until your moving balance improves.

Static balance is another matter entirely. It has been a lifelong challenge, in part, I suspect from three structural misalignments in my pelvis, which is rotated and tilted with one side higher than the other. Sigh. I used to avoid yoga balance poses because it was difficult to hold them. However, once I learned the importance of good balance as a way of reducing the risk of falling and injury, I decided to work with my dislike of balance poses, and as Cher said to Nicolas Cage in Moonstruck, “Snap out of it!”

It has been a few years but I can confidently say that with practice and a consistent routine of pelvic alignment exercises that I learned from Lee Albert, founder of Integrative Positional Therapy (, I am much better at static balance.

If you are challenged by static balance, try the following exercise. I learned it from Ruth Bender, my very first yoga teacher. She has passed on but you can still find her books and information online if you search for ruthbenderyoga.

Standing Balance Exercise
Benefits: strengthens the muscles in the feet and legs

1. Stand behind your chair and hold on with both hands
2. Stand on your right foot, bend your left knee and raise your left foot to the back without moving the hips and pelvis.
3. Hold this position to the count of five. Return the left foot to the starting position.
4. Stand on your left foot, bend your right knee and raise your right foot to the back.
5. Hold this position to the count of five.
6. Increase the holding time every day for a few seconds to reach the current recommended time of 30 seconds.
7. After a few weeks of practice, try to do it with your hands off the chair but keep your hands close to the chair.

For more of a challenge, you can gradually work up to one to two minutes, practice with your eyes closed, and/or practice on more uneven surfaces such as a carpet, grass, or sand.

Life Balance

As the following quote points out, finding and including the quality of balance in our lives can be more complicated than physical balance. "Balance in life like in the body is not a given, we need to work for it.” -Unknown

The complications can come from a variety of power-sucking sources such as:
Trauma (acute, chronic, or complex)
Health issues
Money, work, or relationship worries
Being seen and treated as other (race, poverty, politics, class, gender identity, etc.)

The bad news is that we often don’t have control over the situations that throw us off balance. The good news is that we can learn to manage our responses to them. There are no quick fixes. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, and what’s needed to get started are healthy doses of self-awareness, stress management, and self-care.

A regular yoga practice helps. Here is one of my favorite energy practices. It can be done on a mat, in a chair, or in a supine position.

Adhi Mudra
One of the definitions of the Sanskrit word, adhi, is "primordial" and refers to our natural state of being. The gesture is said to bring the breath to the base of the body, help with anxiety, and instill a deep sense of grounding and stillness.

Sit with your spine comfortably aligned.
Soften your chest and shoulders.
Close your eyes or keep them slightly open and gaze down at the floor.
With both hands, form soft fists by placing your thumbs across your palms and folding your fingers around your thumbs.
Rest your hands, knuckles down, on your knees or thighs.
Hold the mudra and sit quietly for 2 - 5 minutes as long as you are comfortable.
Focus on your natural breathing process.
When you are ready to come out, release the mudra and stretch your body in any way that your body needs to stretch.

In Mudras for Healing and Transformation, by Joseph and Lilian Le Page, it notes that Adhi Mudra should be practiced with caution if you have low blood pressure. On a personal note, I have low blood pressure but am able to practice Adhi Mudra regularly with no problems.

Good luck working with the quality of balance in your body and in your life.

Elizabeth (Beth) Gibbs, MA, C-IAYT, is a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists and is a guest faculty member of the Kripalu School of Integrative Yoga Therapy. Her masters’ degree in Yoga Therapy and Mind/Body Health is from Lesley University in Cambridge, MA. She is the author of Ogi Bogi, The Elephant Yogi, a therapeutic yoga book for children. For more information please visit her website at:

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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Yoga Asanas and Injuries

by Ram Rao

Yoga philosophy has its origin in the Vedic texts and the underlying principle is that an individual's well-being at the level of body and mind helps re-connect to his/her true nature through direct and personal experience. A clear mind is not affected by stress and a clear mind produces a healthy body thus creating a greater connection with one's own pure, essential nature. Thus, Yoga prepares the body and mind of the individual for the eventual liberation and enlightenment. 

Yoga philosophy describes achieving mind-body oneness through four different methods and one of them called Raja yoga, the Royal Path of Yoga, or the Yoga of Practice, utilizes an 8-fold path, Ashtanga Yoga, (Ashta=eight; Anga=limb) to achieve the union of the body and mind. Each step in the 8-fold path is additive as it prepares the individual for the next higher step. The third of the eight steps is “asana” which means seat, settle, and in the yoga context "posture."

In today’s world, Yoga is thought of as “asanas only,” something like a stretching tool to keep the body limber and agile. People are drawn to yoga as a way to keep fit even though the idea behind the physical practice of yoga is to help the mind to become clear or pure and develop deeper mind-body awareness. Adults who are mostly sedentary and unfamiliar with yoga look to asanas for improving flexibility, agility, and strength. Although asanas do contribute to these beneficial changes in a proper setting that includes an experienced, sensible, and competent teacher, a tight, inactive, or aging body mixed with a forceful practice and an inexperienced teacher is only a recipe for injuries and disaster.

With asana practice now turning more into some sort of a competitive sport, it has resulted in yoga-related injuries and a bad rep for yoga. Just as uncoordinated or improper movements can put any individual at risk and subsequent injury in any sport or training program, the same is true for Yoga asanas which require coordinated movements of several areas/parts of the body. A research study in 2016 concluded that yoga-related injuries nearly doubled from 2001 to 2014. Some of the most common yoga injuries include the following.

Lower Back: Lower back pain is a common asana-associated injury due to rounding through the spine in poses like forward bends and downward dog. Tight hamstring, lower back muscular problems, over-stretching the major muscle groups in the lower back, or forcing the muscles into elongation can result in disc injury and lower back pain.

Knees: Knee injury is very common among yoga practitioners according to a research study owing to meniscus tears primarily due to tight hips or preexisting injuries.

Wrist: One of the smallest joints in the body, the wrist is already overused thanks to repetitive movements, many hours spent typing and texting on computers or hand-held devices. Many yoga poses such as downward facing dog, plank, side plank, chaturanga, handstand, crow, and others require for the practitioner to be on their wrists. If done incorrectly, these same poses can cause or aggravate wrist pain.

Shoulders: Shoulders and elbow pain primarily arise due to repeated and forceful exertion resulting in injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Doing a pose incorrectly and repeatedly, holding the pose for a long time, several repetitions of a certain pose or a sequence of poses, practicing several rounds of sun salutation and doing it incorrectly all may result in strain and overload in the shoulder joint (the meeting place of the arm's humerus bone and the clavicle). Often, practitioners become so fatigued from the repetitions of the same pose that they miss align themselves and incur injure.

Neck: Neck injuries come from putting undue pressure on the neck in poses like wheel, shoulder stand or headstand. If not properly done, these poses add tremendous body weight on the neck resulting in compression of the cervical vertebrae and subsequent injury. In addition, other common injuries involve the sacro-iliac joint, sciatic nerve, and hamstrings.

Given that there are so many benefits of yoga but also the potential risks, what does a practitioner do? The best solution is to avoid yoga injuries and this is how.

1) Recognize the fact that each individual’s body and yoga journey is different. Learn the foundations of yoga poses from an experienced teacher to safely build your practice.
2) Be patient and gradually ease into the pose, listening to the cues from the body, and not pushing past the zone of comfort.
3) Move into a pose at our own pace, even if everyone else is moving fast.
4) Provide sufficient time to open up the parts of the body that are more prone to injury.
5) Be honest and brave to find out from the teacher about the various options to be in a pose partially and find the benefits from this option of a pose.
6) Stretches and warm up exercises before any vigorous yoga practice helps to loosen areas of the body that might be prone to injuries.
7) If a teacher pushes on you, pulls, or applies pressure to get you further from your comfort zone, request the teacher to back off. If you have existing injuries, tell your teacher, modify your poses, and back off on the intensity to avoid making the injury worse.
8) Practice gentler styles of yoga if you are more prone to the effects of heat and dehydration, dizziness, or muscle cramps.
9) Never feel shy to use props and do not hesitate to ask the teacher for recommendations using props if you have any limitations.

In the early stages of our asana practice when we hold a pose, we are simply mastering the skills to sustain the correct posture. As our practice deepens, we blend our asana technique with energy, passion, and wisdom to find ourselves fully “in” the pose. Each pose offers an individual the opportunity to explore and control physical and mental aspects including breath, attitudes, emotions, concentration, and intent. 

The goal of asana practice is not to assume a physically perfect posture but to fully come into the pose, to feel open, grounded, and calm even if it is a challenging pose. The focus is more on achieving stability, mobility, and encouraging integration—gently coaxing all the tight muscles to move and work together, paying close attention to connections—between one part of the body and another, between thought and action, and between breath and movement. 

So whatever it is that you do as part of your yoga practice, make sure you are in your comfort zone, be aware of every move, and recognize the fact that yoga is not a workout but more of a mind-body experience that has the power to transform from the inside out. You’ll then be surprised at how rewarding it is!

Rammohan (Ram) Rao 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.

° 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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

How to Order "Accessible Yoga" from Countries Outside the U.S.

Some people who don't live in the U.S. have been frustrated by the fact that if you order Accessible Yoga from the Shambhala website, the shipping charges for the book are ridiculously high. I sympathize! But unfortunately I'm in no position to get Shambhala to change their company policies. Instead, I asked the sales department there to please recommend the best ways for people who don't live in the U.S. to order the book. 

They said, depending on where you live, they like to recommend:

  1. Book Depository (free delivery worldwide)
  2. Better World Books (free international delivery)
  3. Waterstones (United Kingdom)
  4. Powell's City of Books (ships to India)
  5. Amazon (available in 14 countries)
Hope you find this helpful!


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 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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Monday, September 9, 2019

Interview with Molly Lannon Kenny: Yoga for End of Life

Molly Lannon Kenny responded to Accessible Yoga blog's call for interviewees and what follows our discussion about the important work that Molly does with end-of-life students.

Priya​: Tell us a bit about yourself and your yoga training.

Molly​: I was born and raised in New Jersey to a quintessential Irish Catholic family that deeply valued service, collective care, civic duty, and solidarity with the marginalized. I took my first yoga class in 1987, but when I look back at my journal notes from that time, the class had no asana at all, it was only an exploration of the "divine spark" and our interconnectedness through God’s presence. It was only in 1995 or thereabouts that I took my first hatha yoga class, an ashtanga class offered at a gym. I was instantly hooked. During that same time, I was playing in rock bands and getting my Master's in Speech Pathology. I was an independent studier and never took a formal yoga training. As the years passed, I had the opportunities to study with Richard Miller, Rod Stryker, Joseph LePage, but also Ram Dass, and most recently completed a two-year program in Christian mysticism with Richard Rohr.

Priya​: ​You've been working with diverse populations and I'm particularly interested in your experience teaching end of life care. How did you get started with that?

Molly​: Around 2002 or 2003, I started offering a class called "Life after Loss" at The Samarya Center, ​the non-profit yoga center I started in Seattle, Washington. That class was designed as an opportunity for students to explore yoga as a pathway to healing from bereavement back into an experience of wholeness. After some time teaching that class, which was always packed, my teaching partner at the time said, “If we are going to work with grief, we should work directly with the people they are losing,” and just like that, we started a new program. We approached the Bailey Boushay House, which is a residential care facility in Seattle for people with serious illness and at the end of life, and talked about what we wanted to offer.

The volunteer coordinator told us that he had been approached before by folks who wanted to offer yoga, but he was rightly concerned about things like medical fragility, confidentiality, and scope of practice. Because we were clinicians first, myself as a speech pathologist and my teaching partner as a clinical social worker and both having worked extensively in conventional medical settings, he agreed to let us develop our program. It is actually still running in Seattle. During that time, I also began to work with friends and neighbors who had loved ones who were dying and continued to gain experience and insight. It was last October taking care of my sister as she died that really gave me the greatest perspective and ability to truly understand the depth of what people were going through. I really thought I knew, ​I really thought I had been present and compassionate with people in bereavement or at end of life, but it wasn’t until I was in it myself that I realized how many little details there are, how many unknown and unexpected needs there are, certain words and phrases that are so specific and so helpful, even the profundity of the grief experience itself. I still believe I was present, and I still believe I was compassionate, but my understanding and capacity has evolved immeasurably having walked through this experience myself with someone who was so precious to me.

This has now become one of my primary areas of focus. Back in the early 2000’s, people weren’t talking about end of life care in this way, we didn’t have the term “Death Doula” or at least I wasn’t aware of it and I was deep in that work. Now everywhere I go, I hear people talking about wanting to be present to this phase of life. I am so honored and feel both passionate and confident in my ability to share practical information, skills, and techniques as well as to express the need for profound and committed self-study. I have come to truly understand that, regardless of what “skills” you have, without doing the work to know who YOU are, what your faith is, what your beliefs are, what agenda you might bring, even unconsciously, you won’t be the true wisdom presence that is really needed in this sacred time.

Priya:​ Can you share with us some of the techniques that you use for end of life students, and please explain why they are appropriate for this practice?

Molly​: Sure. I think of them being in three distinct categories: 1) self-study, 2) movement and breath, and 3) contemplative tradition. I will start with movement and breath since that is what most people think of when they think of Bedside Yoga. We can definitely offer gentle stretching and movement depending on where the person is physically––how they are feeling, what their nausea levels are, etc. But we also do a lot of passive stretching, or basic Thai Yoga. I have been told over and over that gentle, rhythmic compressions to the body are the number one most useful hands-on technique for moving energy and decreasing pain and neuropathy.

We might also explore breath in different ways, usually something very simple like just paying attention to the breath or extending the inhales and exhales. We also talk about breath as spirit––as it is referenced in the Bhagavad Gita, in the Sutras, and in the Bible. The thing to remember here, in my opinion, is to not just give “pranayamas” and suggest that they will be helpful, but rather to explore, in partnership, the person’s relationship to breath.

Techniques from various contemplative traditions might include: from yoga, an understanding of the koshas and how a person can relate to each one in the exact place where they are now; from the Christian mystic tradition practices like Lectio Divina; and from earth-based or indigenous traditions, we might include altar-making and creating specific rituals to connect to the natural world.

And then, above all, is the self-study of the Bedside Yoga practitioner. This includes a courageous inventory of our own fears, our own views on death and dying, our own experience with grieving and end of life, and our own ability to truly act as a wisdom presence.

Priya: Before we end the interview, is there anything else about working with end-of-life students that you'd like to share with us?

Molly​: Oh so much! But I guess the two last things I would offer are that: 1. End of life looks very different for different people. Some people are up and relatively active until their last day, others have been in bed for weeks, some people are at peace, others are afraid and looking for you to reassure them. We can’t have any agenda about what we want to do or what we think people “should” be doing. This is a deeply sacred time in which we are being honored by having our presence be invited. Use this honor well and don’t squander it by trying to “do” or “accomplish” anything with the person. Release your ego from any involvement with your efforts.

2. If we think of yoga as being a practice of connection, to ask ourselves in every session, or even every moment, what can I do now that will encourage this sense of connection? Sometimes that means tidying a person’s room, sometimes it means changing their nail polish, sometimes it means cleaning out the fridge and labeling everything in there. In other words, allow yourself to flow with what is happening and what the needs are. There is your connection. There is your yoga.

Molly Lannon Kenny has been teaching radically inclusive yoga for over twenty years. She has started countless outreach programs in a variety of settings including end of life care, trauma recovery, homeless and transitional shelters and intensive care hospital units. She has served on the boards of IAYT and YSC and has been published multiple times in various yoga oriented journals and popular press. Her current areas of interest are teaching Bedside Yoga retreats, as well as comparative spirituality and religion. She is a graduate of the Living School with Richard Rohr. Molly lives full time at her home in the jungles of Mexico. Bedside Yoga––Yoga and End of Life Training Retreat

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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga in the U.S., go to Shambhala PublicationsAmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Melitta Rorty on Service, Social Activism, and Karma Yoga

After working with Jivana on Discussing the Yoga Path of Service with Jivana Heyman, I thought it would be a good idea to interview a friend of mine, Melitta Rorty, as an example of someone who practices service and karma yoga the way Jivana described it in that interview. Although many yoga practitioners perform service in the form of teaching yoga, there are many other ways you can provide service to your community as your karma yoga practice. In Melitta’s case, both her full-time day job and her after-hours volunteer work and social activism provide opportunities to deepen her karma yoga practice. —Nina 

Nina: Melitta, can you tell us a bit about yourself, including something about your yoga background and your interest in community service and social activism? 

Melitta: I have been practicing yoga regularly for more than 25 years. I did take a yoga class while in college, with an excellent teacher, but it just didn’t “grab” me then. When I sought out a yoga class at age 34, my moment of knowing that this yoga was for me was in that first Savasana—it was a moment of awakening, where I truly let go. More than 25 years later, I avidly practice and love yoga, and I added meditation to the mix. 

I became interested in community service at an early age, although I can’t tell you why. I assisted with Special Olympics at my high school, I was a co-president of a lesbian support group in college, and as a young adult I helped found the Rainbow Community Center of Contra Costa County, a non-profit LGBTQ+ organization which thrives to this day. 

My purpose in life, my true calling, came to me via a devastating medical diagnosis. In 1995, shortly after I had begun yoga classes, I became extremely sick due to the onset of Type 1 diabetes. I was hospitalized near death, in diabetic ketoacidosis. But because I was 35 years old, and Type 1 diabetes previously was wrongly labeled a “childhood disease,” I was misdiagnosed by the endocrinologist on call at the hospital as having Type 2 diabetes, an altogether different disease. I was taken off of the insulin that had saved my life and released from the hospital. I was given a prescription for a medication for Type 2 diabetes, which did nothing for me. I was sent to classes for Type 2 diabetes at the local diabetes center, which weren’t pertinent. 

Because I am a scientist, I studied the information provided to me about diabetes and realized that phenotypically I fit the textbook description of Type 1 diabetes and that I had no risk factors for Type 2 diabetes. So one week after I was hospitalized, I confronted my endocrinologist regarding the “Type 2 diabetes” diagnosis. To his credit, the endocrinologist admitted he made a mistake; I was put on exogenous insulin and given the diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes. Because of the horrible treatment I received when first (mis)diagnosed, I have worked ever since to change the perception that Type 1 diabetes is a childhood disease. It is not—it is far more prevalent in adults than children. Since my diagnosis, I have met numerous others with adult-onset Type 1 diabetes who were also misdiagnosed as having Type 2 diabetes. 

Also, when I was newly diagnosed, I was in extreme despair and believed that my life was ruined. But yoga saved my life then by allowing me some space and freedom from thoughts of my new diagnosis, and yoga continues to save my life today by helping me stay calm and focused despite the daily grind of self-care I must perform. I recommend yoga to anyone who has to live with the stress of chronic illness. 

Nina: What is your main focus these days as far as service?

Melitta: After being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, I realized that all the medical information was geared towards newly diagnosed children—there was nothing for adults and no acknowledgement that adults can be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, despite the fact that actor Mary Tyler Moore was diagnosed at age 33. I started acquiring whatever information and scientific studies I could find that mentioned adult-onset Type 1 diabetes, and I started writing to organizations such as the American Diabetes Association and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (now JDRF) to raise awareness of adult-onset Type 1 diabetes and to try to get them to change their materials that said that Type 1 diabetes is a childhood disease (note that ADA and JDRF have since updated and corrected their materials). 

Progress was glacial, and back then I had many medical doctors who became apoplectic when I challenged the conventional wisdom and who lashed out at me. But I persisted, in part because I kept meeting people who like me had been misdiagnosed and suffered terribly as a result. Misdiagnosis is serious, and can result in rapid onset of diabetic complications and even death due to diabetic ketoacidosis. In recent years, I started a blog, in part because I was so often challenged about the facts that I presented. My blog is and my most popular post is Melitta’s Top Ten Tips for the Newly Diagnosed Person with Adult-Onset Type 1 Diabetes

On Facebook groups and online resources for people with diabetes, I help people get correctly diagnosed by coaching them on how to speak with their doctors and get the autoantibody tests that can differentiate between Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes (Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease and specific autoantibodies are indicative of the immune response.) Of course, I have a post about autoantibody testing! Quite a number of people, after they have gotten a correct diagnosis and treatment, have told me that this literally saved their lives. 

Nina: For many years, you’ve referred to your work in community service and social activism as your “karma yoga.” What does that mean to you? 

Melitta: I think I first read about karma yoga in something that yogic scholar Georg Feurstein wrote, and I said to you, Nina, “that is what I do.” Georg says that karma yoga is the yoga of self-transcending right action, and that its most important principle is to act unselfishly, without attachment, and with integrity. For me, that means I act in service to others, for a greater good, without regard to personal gain or being attached to a particular outcome. My most profound service is advocacy on behalf of people with adult-onset Type 1 diabetes. 

Nina: Is there any wisdom in the Bhagavad Gita that guides you as you follow this yoga path? 

Melitta: The Bhagavad Gita stresses selfless service without regard for the fruits of one’s actions, or the outcome. For me, not being attached to a specific outcome is essential—I follow specific actions, but I never know what the outcome will be. Because so much of what I do is online, my work is all the more challenging. I have coached people to advocate for themselves with their doctor, to request autoantibody testing to determine diabetes type, and many have subsequently been correctly diagnosed and treated with exogenous insulin. Many of those who I have helped have gone on to assist others who are newly diagnosed. Some people who I have coached are not willing to stand up to their doctors—to be their own best advocates within the medical system—and I have had to simply let go in those instances. Those situations are heartbreaking. In two cases I distinctly remember, the people kept insisting that they believed the doctor’s Type 2 diabetes diagnosis, and they both rapidly developed horrific diabetic complications, which are preventable if correctly treated. 

Nina: Is there any other yoga philosophy or practices that you find helpful? 

Melitta: Yoga philosophy has so much to offer us today, including practices that help us find equanimity, contentment, and focus, among many other benefits. Yoga and meditation include practices that help us distill down what is truly important and to be awake in this life. Yoga is a set of technologies, physical and mental, that can bring about self-transformation. Or, as I once said to you, Nina, when you questioned why we do yoga, “We practice yoga because it makes our lives better.” 

The self-care that yoga and meditation provide has been instrumental in my ability to persist in my efforts, despite the obstacles, setbacks, and attacks. As I mentioned, when I first started my diabetes advocacy more than 20 years ago, many medical doctors insulted me, dismissed me because I am merely a patient and not an MD, and declared I was wrong regarding the prevalence of adult-onset Type 1 diabetes and the importance of a correct diagnosis and correct treatment. I often had to retreat back into my practices to find respite. Thankfully, now that the “patient voice” is more valued within medicine, these attacks have lessened. Online, I frequently experience misogyny from men engaging in personal attacks for my voicing my science-based positions. In part, I use so many scientific references to support my posts because of these attacks. I have used Sharon Salzberg’s audio loving kindness meditation, among other practices, to try to regroup after these incidents. 

Nina: It seems me that in your day job, the job you’re doing now to earn a living, you’re also performing karma yoga. Can you tell us a bit about this work and how it is a form of service? 

Melitta: My background is in geology and environmental science, and for my paid work, I manage large, complex environmental cleanups. Yes, cleaning up the environment is so important, but it can also be disruptive to a community because the cleanups are big construction projects. Most often, I am working with members of the community who have questions and concerns, and it is essential that I listen and understand their concerns. That way, they are heard and I can take measures to work with them and alleviate their concerns. Sometimes I encounter members of the public who are angry, and I use yogic practices of centering to stay calm and present and try to work with them, but some still remain angry. Every day, I strive to act with integrity, let go of the outcome, and serve the community. 

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

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To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Bringing Yoga To Heart

By Cheri Clampett

Cheri Clampett will be teaching a Therapeutic Yoga workshop and lecturing on "Yoga, Compassion & The Dying Process" at the Accessible Yoga Conference in New York, Oct. 11-13, 2019.

Accessible Yoga is one of the cultural movements bringing awareness to the beauty of our diversity. It asks each of us as yoga teachers to answer the question: how can we do better at recognizing and celebrating diversity in our yoga, and creating an active environment of inclusion?

Our ways of teaching are usually a blend of the lineages and traditions we’ve studied under combined with our own personal experience. It can ironically be all too easy to be focused on embracing inclusivity within our students and honoring their needs, while at the same time becoming quite rigid ourselves about other styles and traditions of yoga––whether that be focusing on only one right way to teach within our preferred style or lineage, to seeing all other ways of teaching yoga as wrong.

We see this mirrored in cultural struggles and politics worldwide. On the one hand we see a progressive opening towards non-binary, non-exclusive ways of addressing and embracing all people. It is a recognition that life is nuanced and most aspects of ourselves land along a spectrum.

And yet, on the other hand, we see the contracting exclusionary energies and ideologies insisting that people and life should look and act exactly one way, their way. We must cultivate the self-awareness to recognize when this thinking is invading our yoga mat.

As leaders in accessible yoga, we must ask ourselves: where do we leap to judgement?

Like so many aspects of inclusion, one of the keys is in the language. Do you find yourself saying “You should never” or “You should always"? There are so many variations in students and environments that the most effective and appropriate next step or action for a yoga teacher is most often totally specific to the moment, especially for any sort of inclusive practice that is meant to be adapted to the needs of the individual.

So we must also ask: what is our true emotional driver when we resort to hard-line binary statements? Using politics as a touchstone, where we see fear, the desire to be right, and the desire to be the authority figure at the front of our consciousness (at least in the US), our self-awareness must be our guard against letting those qualities slip into our yoga teaching.

Even better, we can recognize that those fears and desires spring from a reactive place, and that the best way to avoid them is to shift the center of our practice to the heart. To keep returning to yoga as union. To accept the joy of not knowing, while opening to all that is possible in any given moment. 

When we transmit that to our students, they know and feel that they too are included in the possibility of the moment. When we embrace yoga as an evolving practice, with a great many unique expressions, our students implicitly get the message that yoga can evolve with them and nurture their own unique personal expression.

It’s more important than ever to keep an open mind and an open heart, especially in our yoga, for ourselves, our students, and the world.

Cheri Clampett, C-IAYT, ERYT-500, is co-author of the Therapeutic Yoga Kit and Founder and Director of the Therapeutic Yoga Training Program.  She is a certified yoga therapist with over 25 years of teaching experience and has presented Therapeutic Yoga at Beth Israel Medical Center and the Langone Medical Center at NYU. Cheri started the yoga program at the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, Santa Barbara, California, in 1999, where she continues to teach weekly classes for patients and staff. She is passionate about bringing the benefits of yoga to those recovering from or living with injury or illness. For more information

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.

To preorder Jivana Heyman's forthcoming book Accessible Yoga, go to AmazonBarnes and NobleIndie Bound (for independent bookstores), or your local bookstore.