Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Yoga Report from Berlin Part 2: Are Studios Open and Have You Tried Restorative Yoga?

Photo by Erik Brolin on Unsplash

by Katharina Pewny

The term yogi:ni that appears in this article is used in the German language to refer to women, men, and others in between genders. The colon (:) indicates that it includes people between genders––similar to yogi*ni.

This report from Berlin's yoga community is informed by my experience as an Accessible Yoga (AY) teacher over the age of fifty with recurrent health issues. I started to teach yoga in the fall of 2019 and now work with mainly women, over the age of sixty, who have chronic illnesses such as rheumatic and asthmatic conditions, fibromyalgia, and post-cancer conditions. During the pandemic I have been offering nourishing practices that foster balance, trust, and courage with a strong Restorative Yoga focus.

In March 2020, my colleague Katja Sandschneider and I re-activated an informal network of AY teachers in Berlin for regular exchange of information and among our first topics were the pedagogies of online teaching. In this group, as in other international AY communities, one core question we faced was: Does the use of streaming technologies make yoga more, or less, accessible for people with disabilities/chronic illnesses, seniors, and all others commonly excluded from what is known as yoga today? For many yogi:nis, online teachings are more accessible than live classes, especially during the pandemic. Many people prefer to practice at home because this doesn't require travel with public transportation or transport services for people with disabilities that might expose them to the virus.

In Germany, most studios reopened after the first wave of Covid-19 in the summer of 2020 and closed again in late autumn. Few seniors or AY yoga teachers continue to teach "in real life" except if they can get a Covid-19 test before entering the studio building, or if they were recently vaccinated. Most independent teachers I know agree that it is safest to teach online now. Even meditation workshops and silent retreats are being offered online during the pandemic––I participate regularly in sessions offered by the Zen Buddhist Center Chan in Bern, Switzerland.

Some yoga teachers are collecting signatures for an open letter to the German government calling for the recognition of yoga as a “systemic relevant” field of work––a designation that would allow them to go back to work just like medical workers, police, and some other front-line professionals. Their reasoning is that due to the health benefits of yoga practice, they want permission to re-open studios now. When spring arrives, and summer follows right after, I guess we might again teach outside and look for safe places, maybe close to the studios and assisted living facilities where we can bring our students with chairs and mats.

These days I still teach weekly integrated mat/chair classes online via Zoom, and I offer a monthly Restorative Yoga workshop in the same format. This usually takes place on a Sunday or Friday evening, and I invite people to set up a safe and cozy space for themselves, collect a few blankets, pillows, and a bolster if available. We start the practice with a mindfulness meditation wishing every sentient and non-sentient being on the planet well, including ourselves, do some gentle warm-up movements, and then rest in longer held postures on the props. As many people are at home now, on their phones, and/or sitting a lot, I offer a reclined backbend, then side-laying Child's pose, a forward-bend with the head and arms resting on a chair in front of the practitioner if possible, and end with a supported Corpse pose and mindfulness meditation.

Therefore, I offer this quite classical Restorative practice as I learned from Judith Hanson Lasater's book “Relax and Renew," and I add some modifications that I consider crucial for accessibility. I encourage people to practice on their bed or couch, and I make sure the warm-up fits a diversity of bodies and ranges of movement. When I cue meditation, I encourage people to move if needed, for example to open and close their hands when they want to. By this I aim to encourage self-agency, especially for people with traumatic experiences who might end up in a “freeze” mode when in bodily stillness. Also, a couple of times I invite students to make themselves comfortable, to check in with the inner body landscape, especially with the lower back and the neck, to perceive more clearly what is going on there.

Last weekend, when I participated in the Therapeutic Yoga Training with Cheri Clampett and Arturo Peal, I again became aware of how crucial deep rest/relaxation is for every level of our health, especially in the times of the pandemic, because the body and mind need to spend time in the rest-and-digest mode, as opposed to fight-and-flight-mode. I am looking forward to experiencing the healing powers of therapeutic yoga more clearly through the above-mentioned training, and I am looking forward to serve others with it in the future.

Katharina Pewny
. Would you like to participate in Restorative workshops? Right now, mine are held in German, but I am happy to offer them in English if anyone is interested. I did my teacher training in Zen Yoga at Dynamic Mindfulness in Berlin, in 2019 I did both a Senior Yoga and an Accessible Yoga training. As I am having recurrent health issues, my mission is to offer practices for a range of movement abilities. You can find me here:   and

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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