Wednesday, December 23, 2020

How Can Yoga Help You Today?

by Nina Zolotow

We’re all going through this pandemic together, but, if you think about it, our individual circumstances still vary widely. Some of us are sheltering in place while others are working hard at essential jobs. And among those sheltering in place, some of us are alone, some are with just one person, and some are in a busy household with multiple people. So how yoga can help you right now is going to depend on the current circumstances of your life. For example, do you need a moment of quiet? Or are you feeling discouraged and sluggish from being alone all the time? Maybe you’re sitting all day and feel like you need to move. Or maybe part of your body aches from the work you’re doing, whether out in the world or at home?

And while it’s safe to say we’re all stressed out, how we experience stress also varies from person to person. Some people feel anxious, some feel angry, and some feel depressed. Others experience stress in very physical ways, such as digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, or even breaking out in hives. So how yoga can help you right now is also going to depend on the way you are personally experiencing stress right now.

There was a time in my life, back—in the nineties—when I was super stressed out. (I was working full-time at a computer software startup company that was trying to finish the Beta version of the product while co-parenting two children with my husband, who also had a high-stress full-time job.) I was actually doing yoga at the time—two days a week in a class in my office building. And when I was feeling the most stressed out and had terrible insomnia, I did try practicing some yoga at home because I heard that “yoga can help.” But the problem was—I can see that now in retrospect—I was just doing things we did in my classes, such as standing poses and Sun Salutations, without understanding how they were affecting me. Since these are energizing practices, they definitely weren’t helping to calm me down!

Since then I’ve learned so much about how different yoga poses and practices affect me, and when I’m feeling stressed or having some kind of physical problem, rather than just doing any old yoga sequence as I did back then, I start by asking myself: How can yoga help me today? Then, when I identify the kind of help from yoga that I need, I’m able to come up with a practice that will provide that help.

So, when you’re ready to do some yoga, even just a pose or two, I suggest that you start with the same basic question: How can yoga help me today?

Here are few things you might consider:
  • Do I need to escape from the family/housemates for some quiet time?
  • Do I need energizing and/or uplifting?
  • Do I need cooling down?
  • Do I feel scattered, distracted, or unfocused?
  • Do I need to reduce stress with quieting practices?
  • Do I need to move my body and release some energy?

Is there a physical ache, such as back pain, neck pain, leg pain from standing, that yoga might be able to help with? Then, after identifying what’s going on with you on a given day, try to figure out, which poses, sequences, or practices have helped you in the past with these types of issues. Without being prescriptive about it (you need to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t—see If It's Not Working For You, It's Not Working For You), here are some ideas:
  • Escaping from the family/housemates for quiet time: Try going somewhere by yourself, shut the door (and ask someone to watch the kids for a bit if needed), and do a favorite calming yoga pose or two, meditate, or do a calming breath practices—or combine those.
  • Energizing and/or uplifting: Try practicing back-bending poses, either passive or active, and/or moving in and out of poses with your breath (Sun Salutations and other vinyasas). End with a relaxing pose or practice so you don’t over-stimulate yourself.
  • Cooling down: Try practice forward-bending poses and/or supported inverted poses. 
  • Focusing: Try practice balancing pose or any kind (wide-legged standing poses count), chair yoga poses where your legs are active and feet are pressing into the ground, a concentration meditation (yogic style meditation where you focus on your breath, an image, a mantra, etc.), or a concentration breath practice, such as Alternate Nostril Breath, that takes a lot of mental focus. End with a relaxing pose or practice.
  • Reducing stress with quieting practices: Try practicing classic stress management techniques of your choice (see LINK for a large selection).
  • Moving your body and releasing some energy: Try practicing standing poses, moving with your breath (Sun Salutations), and/or twisting poses. End with a relaxing pose or practice so you don’t over-stimulate yourself.
  • Physical aches, such as back pain from sitting, neck pain, leg pain from standing: Try gentle movement and/or gentle stretches in the area where you’re experiencing the discomfort. For back pain in particular, some people find backbends help but others find twists or forward bends helpful, so you’ll need to experiment to find what works for you if you don’t already know. End with a relaxing pose or practice because relaxation can also help with pain.

The ability to identify how yoga can help you and then practice what’s right for you on a given day is one of the great gifts of home practice! And many say that this process of taking time to study yourself and exploring how various practices effect you—and help you—provides a deeper way to experience yoga than just taking classes. As Timothy McCall wrote in his book Yoga As Medicine:

"If you are taking yoga classes but not practicing at home, you may be missing the best—and potentially most therapeutic—part of yoga. Your personal practice is where the deepest work happens, when you go inward and go at your own pace."

Of course, if you’re feeling lonely, isolated, or disconnected and taking a class (in whatever form) feels like the best option for you today, then that’s the best option for you today!

Nina Zolotow
is the former Editor-in-Chief of the Accessible Yoga Blog, and
 current Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging. Nina is also the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being.

This article was originally posted on 4/10/2020 as part of the Blog's Home Practice Series.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Grief and Yoga: Interview with Dr Lynn Somerstein

Nina: Thanks so much, Lynn, for the interviews you did with me about Yoga and Anxiety, Yoga and Depression, and Yoga and Anger. Today I’d love to hear your thoughts about grief.

Grief is such a complicated emotion, I think. It seems to me that people can experience this emotion—or maybe this set of emotions—very differently from one another, and that grief may not always feel like sorrow. From your perspective, how do you understand grief?

Lynn: Grief follows loss; the griever feels broken, like a tree killed by a hatchet. With time, branches and leaves can grow on the tree’s stump, grief changes to sorrow, and the heart softens and stays open. Alternatively, grief can be unchanged, the tree stump dies, and the heart becomes frozen, perhaps bitter; the heart stays closed for what feels like protection. Mourning calls for courage.

Nina: Although people tend to think of grief as a feeling we have after the death of a loved one, is this a feeling we can have over other losses? And do people tend to feel more grief during times of change?

Lynn: Death of a loved one, a parent, a spouse, a friend, a child worst of all, brings grief, of course. At other times the lost loved one is the self, lost through many little deaths, such as bodily change, cognitive harm, or social disability. Accustomed ways of being or doing disappear.

Right now, we are all suffering many little deaths. Covid-19 has produced a world of loss. We are grieving, but not yet able to metabolize our grief into sorrow. We live in between. Covid-19 has changed out world; our past is disappeared, our present is ambiguous, our future is unknown. What happens next?

Nina: I’ve heard from various experts, including a death doula and a hospice nurse, that grief needs to run its course. They say it needs to be felt completely and given as much time as it needs. What do you think about that?

Lynn: Grieving is an organic process that needs to run through the body/mind in its own way and its own time, and like a deep yoga practice it effects every cell.

Nina: How can yoga support us while we are moving through grief?

Lynn: Yoga helps us stay in the moment while realizing that moments are temporary and so are we. We learn to be patient with pain and not jump away from it or from ourselves, to endure, to treasure joy, to know life and all things are fleeting.

Nina: What are some of your favorite poses and practices for helping people who are experiencing grief?

Lynn: A full yoga experience of whatever style wakes you up to your feelings and attaches you to your body/mind is key. Child’s pose and Yoga Nidra, after your body has been reached and relaxed, are ways to live with your grief, and then much later, cultivate contentment.

Nina: My own experiences with grief felt a lot like stress, maybe stress mixed with sorrow. If you’re experiencing stress, anxiety, depression, or anger as a part of your grief, does it make sense to use yoga techniques that might help with those emotions?

Lynn: Yes, seek whatever yoga feels appropriate, from strenuous to restorative. Forceful movements can release anger. Breathing techniques reduce anxiety and depression. We feel stress mixed with our sorrow because we are breaking open. Yoga Nidra and Savasana can help people feel protected so that they can grieve safely.

Yoga helps us recognize and accept who we are, where we are. Most of us have had the experience of suddenly sobbing during practice, or remembering, realizing, understanding something that we weren’t even conscious of thinking about. Yoga helps us open and connect with our deepest emotions.

Nina: Can people get stuck in their grief? If so, how someone tell? And can yoga help with that?

Lynn: Grief can become an endless cycle of remorse and pain, recriminations of whys and wherefores, repetitive and going nowhere. Sometimes people feel it is disloyal not to remain in grief. Not so.

Nina: Are there any yoga practices and/or poses that people who are grief should avoid?

Lynn: Proceed with your whole heart into the practice that calls to you. Do not avoid your grief, sorrow will come and your heart will open to find space for joyfulness sometimes, too.

Nina: Is there anything else you’d like to say to our readers about this topic?

Lynn: “Practice and all is coming…” This is a phrase often spoken by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.

Lynn Anjali Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, LP, RYT, is a licensed psychotherapist and yoga therapist in private practice, specializing in anxiety, depression and PTSD. She is also the author of numerous articles about yoga, anxiety, attachment issues and psychotherapy. Lynn is grateful to her many teachers at the Integral Yoga Institute and the National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis who offered her extensive and deep training in yoga, yoga therapy, and psychoanalysis. See for more information about Lynn.

This post was edited by Nina Zolotow
Editor in Chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging. Nina is also the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being. 

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Saturday, December 12, 2020

La evolución del Yoga

Por Jivana Heymann, traducción al español de Alma Durán

This article was previously posted in English.

Investigaciones recientes han revelado que a través de millones de años, cinco tipos independientes de animales han evolucionado hasta convertirse en cangrejos. Si: has leído correctamente. Cinco tipos diferentes de animales han acabado convirtiéndose en cangrejos al pasar por su proceso de evolución. Es sorprendente si consideramos que los cangrejos son tan efectivos y eficientes en términos evolutivos que otros animales se han transformado en cangrejos también, o en algo bastante similar.

Los resultados de estos trabajos de investigación me han llevado a reflexionar sobre la condición humana y nuestra tendencia a recrear en nuestras vidas personales aquello que no hemos logrado resolver satisfactoriamente––¿Acaso no acabamos casándonos con alguien que es exactamente como uno de nuestros padres, o, literalmente, terminamos siendo como uno de nuestros progenitores conforme envejecemos? Pienso también en la tendencia que muestran las naciones a repetir su historia. Cualquier estudiante de historia identificará fácilmente los paralelos entre el gobierno actual de los USA y el de la Alemania nazi antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.

Parece que estamos destinados a seguir redundando en nuestros errores, tal vez es parte de irrevocable de nuestra condición humana. Me pregunto: ¿Está pasando algo parecido en el mundo del yoga? La historia del yoga en las Américas proporciona un considerable número de ejemplos de imperios construidos a base de manipulación y abuso. Los mas recientes son Bikram, Sivananda Vedanta y Kundalini, todos los cuales han protagonizado escándalos por sus abusos mayores en los últimos años.

¿Estamos destinados a redundar en nuestra historia, o será que después de esta crisis del COVID podremos encontrar otra forma de seguir adelante en la que sea posible relacionarnos con nuestra práctica con tal efectividad que podamos ver mas allá de nuestras samskaras (las tendencias de nuestra mente)? Hace unas semanas la cadena mas grande de yoga estudios del mundo, YogaWorks, se declaró en bancarrota. “La pandemia del COVID-19 ha creado retos sin precedentes para nuestra industria y negocio; aún y cuando los centros podrían abrir, éstos tienen que cerrar a ciertas horas y guardar medidas de seguridad y distancia personal que afectan la capacidad y operación de los estudios,” indicó Brian Cooper, Director General de YogaWorks. Honestamente, esos son los daños menos graves que la pandemia ha ocasionado. ¿Y que dice sobre el hecho de que la mayor parte de los estudios independientes han tenido que cerrar definitivamente sus puertas, y que l@s maestr@s de yoga han caído en el desempleo?

La pregunta es: ¿Será que la desaparición del estudio de yoga moderno ofrece la oportunidad de construir algo nuevo en su lugar, o estamos destinados a recrear los mismos problemas que plagaron la industria antes de la pandemia? Esas lacras incluyen la falta de accesibilidad, el racismo, el abuso y una apropiación cultural que ha sido largamente ignorada. Todas estas calamidades han sido generadas por un sistema basado en la avaricia y la especulación, ya que se han ignorado las enseñanzas fundamentales del yoga

En otras palabras, la industria del yoga se convirtió en un caparazón hueco que servía a un tipo de práctica completamente divorciada de la filosofía y las bases morales que son en realidad parte intrínseca de lo que, supuestamente, estaba vendiendo. La industria del yoga se transformó en un cangrejo–– evolucionó en esa dirección en la medida en que cayó en los patrones en que nuestra codicia y egoísmo con frecuencia recrean: un sistema centrado en ganancias y balances finales jugosos.

De hecho, las enseñanzas del yoga están en conflicto con el capitalismo. Literalmente: no se puede vender el yoga. Lo que puedes vender son los sofisticados artículos que pudieran asociarse a su práctica, puedes vender un tipo de cuerpo aunque en realidad no tiene nada que ver, pero el yoga en sí no lo puedes vender. Puedes vender tiempo en un espacio con un maestro, libros, cursos en línea, pero el yoga no.

¿Cómo podemos rehacer la industria de mejor manera?¿Como instaurar una comunidad real de yoga, en vez de una industria interesada en las ganancias? Con toda honestidad, quizá no es posible. Lo mas probable es que vamos a crear otro cangrejo. Pero podría ser que un pequeño grupo de nosotros decida separarse y encuentre la oportunidad de evolucionar en otra dirección... ¿quizá en una medusa o un pulpo? Me imagino que el yoga comercial regresará rugiente en algún momento. Pienso que no es factible detener esa evolución, pero eso no significa que tengamos que contribuir a ella.

Podemos instaurar un tipo de comunidad de yoga diferente cimentada en las bases éticas del yoga: ahimsa y satya, benevolencia (compasión) y verdad (honestidad). Esto significa que necesitamos empezar por reconocer el daño que se ha hecho en nombre del yoga y comprometernos con el cambio. No se trata de avergonzarse, sino de obtener claridad (viveka).

No estoy sugiriendo la creación de una nueva organización, ni nuevos estándares para la acreditación de maestr@s, tampoco un nuevo estilo de yoga. En vez de ello, simplemente pregunto ¿Cómo puedes vivir mas coherentemente la verdad del yoga en tu vida? (Y me estoy haciendo las mismas pregunta a mi mism@.) ¿De que forma que podemos dedicarnos a lo verdaderamente importante en el yoga, en vez de mentir con mercadotecnia? Esta exploración empezaría al hacernos preguntas como las siguientes:

  • ¿Que significa el yoga para mi?
  • ¿Se puede decir que mi práctica y mis enseñanzas reflejan esa verdad?
  • ¿Integro ahimsa (compasión) y satya (honestidad) en mi práctica?
  • ¿Son tanto mi práctica como mis enseñanzas accesibles, activamente anti-racistas y combaten el problema de la apropiación cultural? 
  • ¿Estoy dedicad@ a lograr mi libertad individual y el empoderamiento de mis estudiantes? 
  • ¿Cuál es la relación entre mi libertad personal y la libertad de la comunidad? 

Una de las peculiaridades mas asombrosas del yoga es su naturaleza simultáneamente personal y comunal. El trabajo que hago en mi mism@ contribuye al bienestar de la comunidad porque genero menos sufrimiento en el mundo. Mi práctica me permite también verdaderamente servir a los demás al mostrarme cómo nutrirme a mi mism@ en vez de constantemente necesitar que otr@s me validen o me proporcionen soportes externos. La forma en que enseño tiene un impacto aún mayor en el mundo. Mis palabras y los mensajes que comparto pueden crear dependencia o inseguridad. Pero también tengo la opción de guiar hacia el camino de la independencia, el empoderamiento y la libertad.

Tod@s l@s practicantes de yoga deben considerar la forma en que practican y enseñan, así como el impacto que tienen en el mundo que les rodea. Esta intima exploración personal nos permitirá acercarnos grupalmente de manera bien intencionada y crear una comunidad de yoga con solidas bases morales. De otra forma, solo terminaremos convirtiéndonos en cangrejos.

Jivana Heyman
, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, es fundador y director de Accessible Yoga, organización internacional sin fines de lucro dedicada a incrementar el acceso a las enseñanzas del yoga. Accessible Yoga ofrece conferencias, conversaciones comunitarias, un blog, y el Programa de Embajadores. Jivana es el creador del Accessible Yoga Training, y autor del libro “Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body” (Shambhala Publications, 2019). Se ha especializado en enseñar yoga a personas que enfrentan retos de salud; a partir de esta labor creó la organización Accessible Yoga con el objetivo de educar, entrenar y promover políticas de empoderamiento; el cambiar la percepción pública del yoga forma también parte de su misión. Para mas información, visita por favor

El original en inglés de este artículo fue editado por Patrice Priya Wagner, Gerente Editorial del ACCESSIBLE YOGA BLOG y miembro del Consejo de Dirección.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Smashing Four Common Myths About Ayurveda

by Anjali Sunita

Many people shy away from Ayurveda because it classifies substances and people into basic categories or bio-energies called the doshas; classification of people in general bares warranted suspicion. As we have seen in Westernized Yoga communities, half-baked information can lead to stereotyping and a diluted understanding of rich indigenous wisdom, which remarks on natural patterns. Like yoga, when filtered through white supremacist capitalism, Ayurveda falls into the trap of many common misconceptions, a few of which I would like to smash through this post.

There is an Ayurvedic diet

While you may find South Asian Ayurvedic cookbooks out there, did you know there are many “Ayurvedas”? Yes, these traditions are as varied and vast as the people. Did you know that there are twenty-two official languages in India? Imagine then, how much diversity there would be in home remedies and recipes passed orally in the kitchen.

Ayurveda is not a fad diet, prescribed for losing weight or getting a better “insert body part here.” In fact, traditional images of beauty are vastly different. Kapha, the most heavy and substantial of the three doshas, comprised of elements earth and water primarily, is the least celebrated in Western media next to less substantial body frames. Yet because of the oily quality of Kapha, Kapha types frequently have the most lustrous, well-formed skin and hair.

The concept of diet in Ayurveda is not cookie-cutter. Ayurveda says that every person and thing is made of a composition of the five elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. These are organized roughly into three categories: Vata, which is ether and air; Pitta, which is fire and water; and Kapha, which is water and earth. My first Ayurvedic practitioner explained it to me as follows: if you are naturally a flower, we aim for healthy flower; if you are naturally a willow tree, a healthy willow tree; if you are a naturally an oak tree, the healthiest oak tree. Ayurveda does not use diet to make ourselves thinner physically and sicker mentally but to make ourselves well and balanced versions of ourselves.

Some of my favorite Ayurvedic Cookbooks take Western food choices and palettes but explain in Ayurvedic terms. Check out Eat Taste Heal as a great example. I also love the more Indian-inspired books such as Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Dr. Vasant Lad and Usha Lad, or even Amadea Morningstar, who recently published one just on drinks of Ayurveda titled Easy Healing Drinks. My favorite way is to adapt any meal into an easy-to-digest version with recommendable food combining.

Ayurveda is separate from Yoga

I’ve heard even leaders in the “Yoga Industry” say, “Ayurveda is a whole other thing.” And while yes, it is a whole other line of study, have you heard of four sister sciences? There is Yoga, Ayurveda (which translates to life-knowledge and relates to health), Jyotish (study of astrology), and Vastu (like the Indian version of Fung Shui, relating to environment), each of which relies on understanding of the five basic elements: ether, air, fire, water, and earth. Never heard of this in a yogic context?

Did you know that the closest philosophy to Classical Yoga is called Samkhya (truth realization) philosophy and that Ayurveda, too, has fully absorbed this philosophy? This profound philosophy describes the origins of life, like the big bang theory, how nothing became something. It maps out the journey from Consciousness to Matter, from the most subtle Awareness (Purusha), to the gross material world experienced through our senses. This journey from the subtle to the gross in reverse, from gross to the subtle, is a pathway to meditation. Yoga and Ayurveda share philosophy. They come from peoples closer to nature and the elements. To learn and reflect on Samkhya philosophy is to better understand Patanjali's Yoga Sutras as well as the Ayurvedic concepts of the Pancha Maha Bhutas (five great elements).

You might not realize that some therapeutic Yoga schools already integrate Ayurvedic knowledge. For years, I annually attended Life Force Yoga for Depression and Anxiety weekend intensives that embraced a view and asana, pranayama, and mudra sequencing related both to depression and anxiety and aligned with the teachings of Ayurveda. I found the same with the Yoga for Arthritis School. I am sure there are many other examples.

Beyond that, in Ayurveda School at The Ayurvedic Institute and Vasant Institute of Ayurveda we learned yoga through the lens of Ayurveda, changing routines by season or symptoms. Having a basic understanding of the physical and mental symptoms of illnesses through the qualitative lens of Ayurveda can be extraordinarily helpful when working with individuals and making Yoga accessible to all. This does not make the Yoga curative, but it does personalize the process and guide the teacher toward movement qualities and choices that better serve each person.

Your constitution is determined by your race or skin color

When I heard from one of my friends that in his Yoga teacher training, all brown and black people were categorized as a single constitution or prakruti, I was irritated but not surprised. This speaks volumes as to how just a little information can be more dangerous than no information in the hands of bias. In Ayurveda, it is understood that everyone is a combination of all three doshas (Vāta, Pitta, and Kapha) in different proportions. There are some references to color words like blue, “Anila,” is synonymous with the word Vāta; Vāta is associated with the color blue, and with the color of cloudy skies, grey. The colors red and yellow are often associated with Pitta (fire and water elements); and white with Kapha (earth and water), this understanding gets warped when taking the ever common dosha quiz which labels skin color under these categories.

Anyone, no matter how much or little melanin in the skin, can have a pallor from a tendency toward anemia, a bluish look from lack of blood circulation, or grey ashy dryness to the skin, as can be associated with increased Vāta dosha. Anyone, no matter how much or little melanin in the skin, can have a rosy undertone associated with heat and red blood cells closer to the surface of the skin; and that oily quality associated with Kapha can create a porcelain-like shine on any skin color. An Ayurvedic doctor is called a Vaidya, a person who views or sees more deeply. The dosha quizzes that many rely on for information are flawed.

Further, all assessment based on form has to keep in mind one’s ethnic background and compare within ethnicities. Ayurvedic practitioners and doctors also do not assess based on one single factor. They use the Ashta Vidya Parikshznam (eight ways of seeing), analyzing Nadi (pulse), Mutra (urine), Mala (waste), Jihva (tongue), Shabda (sound of voice and words), Sparsha (touch/ palpation), Drig (eyes), and lastly Akruti (form)––of which colorations is just a minor part.

It must be acknowledged that a result of colonization has left India with colorist leanings toward “fair” skin; industry marketing and products for skin lightening exist in service of whiteness. This is a separate issue from determining constitution which warrants a separate and longer post given this historical context.

Ayurvedic Herbs are not accessible for “Western Bodies”

I hear this one a lot: Should Westerners only take Western herbs, Indians–– Indian herbs? First let me back up and say that I find this concept of there being a Western body or Eastern body, Western mind or Eastern mind, grossly offensive. It erases the incredible diversity of bodies and minds across all geographies and ethnicities and as a biracial woman, for me this whole concept stinks of racial science and white supremacy. What is different is land, and what grows on that land.

However, Ayurveda views any substance as potentially medicinal or poisonous depending upon the individual’s needs and constitution. Substance, or dravya, is defined as that which has quality and action––meaning all herbs can be interpreted through the lens of Ayurveda, whether grown on Western national lands or lands in the East. Ayurveda understands that everything, organic and inorganic, is made of the five great elements.

A great book I recommend to herbalists often is called Dravyaguna for Westerners by Atreya Smith. (While I don’t love the title, I understand why it is necessary.) Dravyaguna means substance quality or pharmacology. The book takes herbs and plants found in mostly in North America, Turtle Island, and puts them into Ayurvedic terms. A true lover of herbs is interested in the substance of life which one can find throughout the globe, often growing in the form of weeds.

In conclusion, my teacher Dr. Vasant Lad always said “a doctor is a good teacher.” And that he is. Teachers who love their subject aspire to reach the people in front of them; this communication is at the core of teaching. Ayurveda is not for one kind of person. That is antithetical to its nature. It is for everyone and easily applied to everyone; so long as the teacher or doctor has clear vision, open ears, and ability to connect with others it can be easily applicable to all.

Anjali Sunita
is the founder of Village Life Wellness, and offers Ayurvedic wellness consultations, and courses in yoga and pranayama from an Ayurvedic perspective. As a biracial Desi woman, she shares with a deep respect for traditional roots of the practices with a focus on accessibility and equity. To learn more about Anjali or contact her, see and follow @villagelifewellness on Instagram and Facebook.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Illuminate Your Shadows and Ignite Your Courage: Meditate with Fire on Winter Solstice

by Kate Lynch

This year, we need ritual more than ever. Every solstice and equinox, I set aside time to gain clarity and illuminate my emotional shadows. This fire ceremony helps me to shed fear and experience stillness.

Fire is not depleted by sharing it. This reminds me that the more generous we can be with our warmth, the brighter we each become. I see a spark of potential for a more courageous, compassionate, and self-aware culture.

This year on winter solstice, I will be practicing on Zoom with my yoga and meditation community. Trāṭaka(gazing meditation), svādhyāya (self-inquiry), and restorative yoga postures will precede a celebration.

In our collective grief, uncertainty, and anxiety, we can take refuge in community. We will each be gazing into our own candle, rather than a single flame, but by projecting our warmth we can ignite communal energy online.

Fire ceremonies are as ancient and global as humans are. From pagan and Shamanic rituals, to Catholic offerings, to Animist worship and Hindu puja, fire runs through all of our lineages.

Fire allows for rapid transformation. It provides the avenue to let go of the old story and drama, to transform, to renew and to be reborn. –Dr. Alberto Villoldo

I feel a visceral, spiritual connection to the power of fire whenever I attend a gathering which includes its warmth. This is the simple fire ceremony that I practice at home with a candle, or in a fireplace, or outdoors in a well-contained fire pit.

Try it during the upcoming winter solstice, on or around December 21. It is the longest night of the year. This time of year, our global traditions tend to symbolize returning to the light, and many rituals bring light and nature inside. You might choose some time after dark.

You can use this framework for inspiration, but feel free to be creative. Take ownership of the ritual, so that it resonates with you. Fire is powerful and can get out of hand, so it is not to be played with. Respect it, use your common sense, and please be SAFE!

Prepare: Make sure your space is well ventilated if you’re indoors. Have paper and pen nearby, and put your candle in a fire-safe container. Place it at about the height that your eyes will be when you are seated. I use my coffee table if I’m sitting on a cushion on the floor. Have some water nearby just in case!

Tune in as you would when practicing yoga or meditation. Invoke your mentors, ancestors, or guides in your own way, honoring their wisdom. Ask yourself, “Who am I inviting into the space?”

You may want to move through some āsana (physical postures) in a way that allows your body and mind to feel settled and open. As you practice, try concentrating your gaze and attention on a focal point, applying the technique called drishti (or dṛṣṭi). Do not strain your eyes, mind, or body. Use the postures to ground you in your body and turn your awareness deeper inward.

Drishti can help you draw your outward-looking eyes (and mind) inward, so that your asana routine becomes a moving meditation.--Jennifer Allen Logosso

Then, sit comfortably and light the flame.

Gaze into the flame, allowing your mind to rest on the still point even as it flickers. This is a form of 
trāṭaka meditation. Soften your focus. This can take a while. Take whatever time is needed to immerse your awareness with the flame.

Settle into your internal still point before you pick up your pen. (You may prefer to speak, draw, sing or simply contemplate your responses instead.) Write, asking yourself the following questions:
  • · What are my core values?
  • · What am I grateful for?
  • · What inspires me?
  • · What fires me up? 
  • · What do I need to create, in order to serve my values?
  • · Who do I need to become, in order to serve my values?

Write without editing. Contemplate your intentions, passions, and commitments. Every once in a while, pause. Gaze into the fire. Then, continue to answer the prompts in a stream of consciousness manner. When you feel empty, put down your pen.

Watch the flame, and pay attention. Objections will begin to arise.

Intention is a longing that has been living inside you, and is now ready to be more fully expressed. When you think of something you long for, it is natural for obstacles to come up. Otherwise, you would already have whatever it is you’re longing for.

It can be uncomfortable to stay with those feelings. Don’t force your way through any triggering emotions, but do be willing to peel back the layers of discomfort a little at a time.

Sometimes we think that courage means having no fear. In reality, courage means becoming very familiar with our fear and learning to act even though we are afraid. -Tara Brach

Invite your shadow side, your disowned selves, your limiting beliefs, and your obstacles into the space. Welcome them as part of your wholeness. There’s wisdom in the shadows that your intuition wants to share, if you are willing to summon the courage.

Sit with your whole self, in stillness. Watch the fire. Take some time to be with these feelings, and allow them to be present, before moving on to the next step...

Tear up small strips of paper. Write an obstacle or limiting belief on each sliver of paper. Carefully, feed each obstacle to the flame. Take as much time as you need. Burn them up.

Do NOT burn your intentions! You can keep them in your journal, or creatively rewrite and frame them, or whatever helps you stay focused on taking action in alignment with your values.

Pause, watch the flame, and notice...Check in with your physical senses. Scan your body, especially your skin and your gut. Ask, is there any agitation or frustration here? Discomfort, anxiety, or resentment could be telling you that there is something unresolved, which your nervous system is contracting away from. You may feel it as tightness in your body.

Feel where your fear is in your body… It might feel like you’re holding something in, or back, or up. Take a few minutes to inhale deeply and send deep exhales of softness and release into that contracted place. -Tara Brach

Observe your physical sensations, non-judgmentally. For me, unacknowledged emotions beneath the surface can cause a feeling of skin crawling, nausea, or a lump in my throat. My jaw might be clenched, or my fist. Then, I know, there’s a need for more self-inquiry.

Breathe and stay present. Keep checking back in with your breath and body. Notice what’s coming up. If you still feel stuck, irritated, or sad, there may be more.

Investigate the systemic, relational, and internalized obstacles you face.

Get them all out, write them all down, and feed them to the fire. Burn them all up! It may only be symbolic, but you may be surprised by how powerful you feel.

Sit in stillness and wholeness. Gaze into the flame again.

If you experience suffering during this process, you’re not alone. Send comfort to your vulnerable feelings, as if you were your own best friend. For example, say to yourself “I’m here, it’s okay” or “It’s not your fault.” The most nurturing words for you will come from within yourself. You may want to put a hand on your heart as you say them.

Listen for your quiet but courageous innermost voice.

What wisdom is your intuition sharing with you, through this investigation of your shadows? What illumination or warmth can arise when you symbolically turn your obstacles to ashes?

Reaffirm your intention. State your purpose clearly and strongly. Rewrite, refine, and display your intention somewhere that you will see it often.

Gratefully conclude your fire ceremony. Find a meaningful way to thank your guides, and the fire. Keeping the candle lit, you can mindfully place it in your window. This symbolizes generously sharing the warmth and the light.

In sharing light, I see a metaphor for the spark of potential: a new, more empathetic, and collaborative society. If we are to move towards a more evolved culture, there is inner work to be done. We need a way to relate to our longing and fear with open eyes, aligned with nature’s rhythms.

Winter solstice is an appropriate time to explore our unexamined shadows, and illuminate the darkness there. I’m not saying there’s nothing to be afraid of, I’m only saying that we can be courageous within our discomfort. As Tara Brach says, “Courage means becoming very familiar with our fear and learning to act even though we are afraid."

Remember to blow out your candle before you go to bed!!!

Kate Lynch
is a meditation coach and inclusive yoga teacher, who has been cultivating community since 2002. She specializes in supporting anxious parents of atypical kids with the mindfulness, resilience, and self-care tools that help her get through the day. Healthy Happy Yoga Podcast, Facebook, and Instagram.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.

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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Giving Tuesday 2020

Dear Accessible Yoga Family,

I’ve been thinking a lot about 2020 and what a tumultuous year it has been. I’m not of the mindset that once we reach 2021 things will magically change, but I am hopeful for a brighter future for all of us. 2020 offered the opportunity to explore accessibility in so many aspects of our lives. Covid forced us to go online and to become more sensitive to the way we connect and create community even when we’re at a distance. We got to implement so many of the lessons that the disability community has been teaching us for years.

In particular, I’m really amazed by the way that our community pivoted to make yoga accessible during this unusual time. I’ve seen all the creative and original ways yoga teachers have moved to teaching online. At Accessible Yoga, moving online allowed us to expand the reach of our work. 640 people were able to attend our first ever online Accessible Yoga Conference last month. It never would have occurred to me that moving online could be so effective and fun!

At our Conference we had tons of incredible presenters sharing in all different aspects of accessibility and equity in yoga. I’m pretty sure it was the most diverse group of presenters ever gathered for a yoga conference. We had presenters and participants from all different backgrounds and abilities sharing their love of yoga and their desire to share it with others. I can’t think of a more beautiful representation of the essence of our work.

I’m excited to expand on this success next year. In particular, I’d like to expand on the Community Networking Sessions, which were such a big hit at the conference. These sessions were opportunities for individual members of our community to share about the amazing work they are doing, and to connect with others who are working in similar areas of interest.

These have been challenging days, and I know for myself that my yoga practice has helped me to survive and thrive. I’m so grateful that I have these beautiful teachings in my life, and that I am surrounded by so many dedicated and service-oriented people who give so generously of their time and energy. I am passionate about our mission to remove obstacles to accessibility and equity in the yoga world, and I’d love your support. This coming Giving Tuesday, December 1st, is a great opportunity for you to make a donation or share about our work.

Mostly, as I look back over this year, I’m grateful to all of you who have supported the work of Accessible Yoga - making donations, representing us in the world as Ambassadors, and sharing your love of yoga with everyone around you. Thank you to all of you, to all of our staff, and to our Board of Directors. I look forward to what 2021 will bring us.