Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Variations and Not Modifications

Natalia Tabilo in black sleeveless shirt and leggings
laying on side, supported by blocks, bolsters 

by Natalia Tabilo

Saying "modifications" perpetuates the idea that you're not doing a 100% yoga, that a full expression of the pose exists, that there is a goal when the invitation of yoga is to be with yourself, with your mind and body in this very moment. That's why I invite you to say "variations" and not modifications because everything is 100% yoga!

Since I started practicing yoga something happens in my body and mind when a teacher says, “if you need to modify” or “if you can't do this,” something similar to a knife through the heart. For so long I felt I was doing less, that I wasn't being able to do and enjoy the “complete expression of the pose,” that I needed to push, work harder in order to achieve that goal of having the gift of doing the complete, full, or traditional posture.

With time, and after becoming a yoga teacher, I've come to realize that apart from how "modify" is said (even though it might come from a place of love it can still be a loaded word) it is when it is offered. It is not that per se the word "modify" is wrong, it is because traditionally the “modification” in yoga comes after the teacher realizes someone is struggling or “can’t do” the traditional version of the pose offered.

This is when things start to get weird, students are singled out, maybe offered some props to go to the rescue (even though those props should have been available and the teachers should have taught how to use them from the beginning), or even worse, students are left out, unseen because the instructor doesn't have the tools to offer adequate variations beforehand. Or a teacher is just not interested in giving options because that person “doesn't belong to the target audience” or their class is not made for that type of student (shockingly, yes, this has been used as an excuse when I’ve asked yoga teachers why they don’t offer choices to students in class.)

That's why I embrace, promote, and encourage that we use the word variation instead of modification, not necessarily as a synonym, because, at least in the way I teach and share yoga, variations are way deeper than offering a modification when someone can't do something. They are synonymous with freedom in your practice, they are a way of honoring and meeting the needs of your body and mind.

Every day is going to be different in our bodies and minds, that's why we need to offer variations, options, exploration, and freedom every single time, without making assumptions, without choosing for our students, it is their practice!

Variations are for all bodies! They are not modifications when someone "can't do" something, they are choices and freedom for your body and mind. And the beautiful thing about variations is that they are for everybody! Anyone can benefit from choosing for themselves! And this freedom on the mat translates to life, in the way we relate with others, in the way we set boundaries and truly know what we want and what we don't.

And remember, just because you live in an able body doesn't mean that you will want to do or you will enjoy the most challenging variation every single practice! Just because you live with a disability doesn't mean that postures like chaturangas, planks, or inversions will not be available, there's always a variation for you! You can choose do a chair practice at any life stage, teenager or senior! You're the owner of your practice.

As I always say: Your body, your practice, that's why as yoga teachers we need to offer the opportunity to explore what feels good, and what your body and mind need at this very moment.

Natalia Tabilo
(She/Her) is a Body Positive 500 RYT yoga teacher, journalist, and the founder of Yoga for All Bodies.™ She was born in Chile and now lives in San Francisco, CA. After feeling left out and unseen in yoga classes, she decided to create Yoga for All Bodies,™ an inclusive and accessible practice based on variations, sensations, and freedom to meet and enjoy your body and mind where you are today. She loves Yoga props and in all her classes variations (not modifications, because everything is 100% Yoga), are offered using them! She truly believes that you don’t have to be thin, young, flexible, or strong to live and own your yoga practice! That’s why she always says “Your body, Your practice.” To fulfill the promise of sharing Yoga for All Bodies,™ she is certified in Vinyasa, Yoga for All, Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga, Accessible Yoga, The Roll Model Method, Restorative, Yin, Yoga Nidra, Somatics and Trauma-Informed Yoga. You can know more about her on the website and her Instagram @YogaforAllBodies

Natalia Tabilo will be presenting at the Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021.

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

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Wednesday, August 18, 2021

Nina Zolotow on Yoga for Anxiety

Light in the forest, photo by Brad Gibson
(Trees on hill in shadow with rays of light
streaming through and illuminating from behind)

Recently I had a chance to interview Nina Zolotow on her ideas about Yoga for Anxiety, her upcoming workshop with Barrie Risman on the topic, and here's what she said.

Priya: Tell me a little bit about yourself and what brought you to yoga?

Nina: I’m a long-time yoga practitioner and a certified yoga teacher who focuses on yoga for emotional well-being, which includes stress, anxiety, anger, depression, and insomnia, as well as on yoga for healthy aging. In my yoga career, I’ve actually done most of my “teaching” through my writing. I’m author/co-author of four books on yoga—my latest “Yoga for Times of Change: Practices and Meditations for Moving Through Stress, Anxiety, Grief & Life’s Transitions” will be published in Spring 2022—and I’ve been blogging for 10 years now on the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog, which I’m also the Editor in Chief of. I do also teach specialized workshops, however.

I originally came to yoga in my twenties as a form of exercise because I felt it just worked really well for my body and I enjoyed the practice. It wasn’t until many years later after I had already had some problems with anxiety and depression that I learned from Rodney Yee and Patricia Walden how helpful yoga can be for emotional well-being.

The thing is, not all yoga practices are helpful for people with those types of problems. So you can’t just “do yoga.” There’s actually a lot to learn about how to use yoga effectively to target stress, anxiety, or depression. Once I realized this, I started studying these topics as much as I could. And as I learned more and more, I changed my own practice to help myself become more balanced and that worked! I haven’t had serious problems with anxiety since then.

Ultimately, one day I had an epiphany that I should become a yoga teacher so I could share with others what I had learned over the years about how to use yoga for emotional well-being. So after many years of being a practitioner and writing about yoga, I decided to take a 500-hour training at the Berkeley Yoga Room, with my main teacher Donald Moyer. I also took various workshops with people like Patricia Walden and Roger Cole as well as various yoga therapy workshops to supplement what I learned in my teacher training.

Priya: I hear you're offering a workshop on yoga for anxiety with Barrie Risman---what got you interested in this topic?

Nina: As I said earlier, I’ve been interested in yoga for anxiety for a long time and I’ve actually written about it in my new book. But the reason this workshop came about is that both Barrie and I were noticing that a lot of people were having problems with anxiety during the pandemic. And recently, even though there are now vaccines and more ability to see our family members and friends, some people were saying their anxiety was even worse and they didn’t know why! Barrie even said she was having anxiety, which is highly unusual for her.

To me, this wasn’t surprising because the chronic stress of the last year and half could very well be triggering anxiety in many people. And being stressed out for that long isn’t easy to recover from—you don’t just instantly snap out of it. But yoga can really help with these problems because with regular practice you can use yoga to reduce your baseline stress levels while at the same time you reduce your feelings of anxiety. So I said to Barrie, “I think we need to do an online workshop as soon as possible so we can help as many people as we can with their anxiety.” (And for people who can’t attend the online workshop, we’ll be offering a recording of it.)

Priya: Is there one limb of yoga that helps the most with anxiety, such as meditation perhaps, or does each limb have a way of helping?

Nina: I’m assuming you’re asking about the eight limbs of yoga in the Yoga Sutras For now, I’ll start by discussing those eight limbs, but everyone should keep in mind there are other yogic techniques, both ancient and modern, not to mention other limbs that can help with anxiety besides the eight limbs of classical yoga.

As far as Patanjali’s eight limbs, goes, your question is important because there is an assumption that all eight limbs can help in some way with anxiety. For example, people think oh, meditation is quieting so obviously it’s good for anxiety or they think pranayama would be good for anxiety because it’s always calming to work with your breath.

In fact, meditation is not typically recommended for anxiety because being alone with your thoughts can increase your anxiety! So starting a meditation practice when you’re experiencing anxiety is considered a bad idea by the experts I’ve consulted. Of course, if you’ve been meditating for years already and it doesn’t increase your anxiety, you could still meditate. But then obviously meditation is not actually helping your anxiety and you should do something else in addition to meditating.

Many people also have the mistaken impression that pranayama is always quieting. Yes, breath awareness and pranayama practices that lengthen the exhalation or that pause at the end of the exhalation are calming and those can be very helpful for those with anxiety. But there are many practices that should be avoided, especially those that are stimulating (practices that lengthen the inhalation or that pause at the end of the inhalation). In addition, for some people just focusing on the breath can cause anxiety, so they shouldn’t do any breath work at all.

So I’m going to say the two most important “branches” for anxiety are asana and the niyama svadhyaya (study of the scriptures) in the niyama branch.

Asana is so powerful for helping with anxiety because when you learn about which poses are calming (and which are not), you can really reduce your anxiety and stress with the right yoga poses. And because yoga poses bring your mind into your body, you’re not focused on anxious thoughts, which can give you some respite.

And I include study of the scriptures because I think that yoga philosophy can help you accept impermanence and uncertainty, and to face challenges in your life with more equanimity. Changing the way you think about your life—taking a more yogic approach—is so helpful for reducing anxiety. The Bhagavad Gita is a good place to start.

For example, I overheard my husband, who is not a serious yoga practitioner, talking to a work colleague about how he was going to follow the wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita as he engaged in a political battle at his work. He said like Arjuna he was going to fight for what he believes is right while trying not to be attached to the outcome. That’s a great way to reduce stress and anxiety!

The Yoga Sutras also contains some very interesting ways of working with your thoughts and Tantra Yoga philosophy includes many powerful ideas that can help you cultivate equanimity as well.

Priya: Can you give us examples of what helps?

Nina: The first principle of practicing yoga for emotional well-being is that everyone is different and what helps one person might not help another. We all have different bodies, different personalities, different temperaments, different preferences. So I always give people a whole menu of things to try to see what works for them and what doesn’t. Some of the things on that menu are:
  1. Active poses can burn off the excess energy that’s often associated with anxiety.
  2. Moving with your breath in gentle vinyasas can bring you into the present moment.
  3. Stretching your hip joints can release physical tension and stored energy to relax you.
  4. Supported inverted poses can calm you down.
  5. Restorative poses can soothe you.
  6. Prone poses (that face the floor) to comfort you. These including supported prone poses, such as Child’s pose and Prone Savasana, as well as supported forward bends. 
  7. For those who like them, calming breath practices can reduce anxiety.
  8. Guided meditations can help you relax without being left alone with your thoughts.
(Jivana’s book Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body shows how to make many of the poses listed above accessible.)

But I also always say, “If it’s not working for you, it’s not working for you.” So always keep in mind that if something that is supposedly calming isn’t having that effect you on, there is nothing wrong with you. You should just move on and try something else instead. Something may even work for you that’s not on my menu, say, like mudras or chanting.

Priya: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Nina: I just want everyone to know that anxiety isn’t something that you need to be at the mercy of. You can take charge of it! I think of this as a simple two-step process. First you need to learn about what anxiety is, what causes it, and how it is related to chronic stress. From there, you can then learn about which yoga practices help reduce your anxiety and stress and which do not, and then start to practice the helpful ones regularly. It can make a huge difference in your life!

So I hope that some of your readers with anxiety—and those who teach yoga to students suffering from anxiety—will join Barrie and me for our Yoga for Anxiety workshop on Saturday, August 28, because our focus will be providing you with all the information you need to get started with practicing yoga for anxiety. See for more information and to register.

I also have a lot of information on my blog about anxiety that’s useful for both practitioners and teachers. See Yoga for Anxiety: The Big Picture to get started. If you want to send me questions about anxiety to address on the blog, go to and use the Contact Us form there to send me a message.

Nina Zolotow
, RYT 500 is the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging: A Guide to Lifelong Well-Being and the editor-in-chief of the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog. A certified yoga teacher as well as a long-time yoga writer, she teaches workshops and series classes on yoga for emotional well-being, yoga for stress, yoga for better sleep, home practice, cultivating equanimity, and Yoga for Healthy Aging. Nina is also the coauthor, with Rodney Yee, of Yoga: The Poetry of the Body and Moving toward Balance.

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

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Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Caregiving is my Yoga Practice

Black woman in blue tank top seen from waist up,
turned slightly to her right, hands in prayer pose, eyes closed
Photo by Madison Lavern on Unsplash

by Tanisha Hubbard-Hood

My mother suffered an aneurysm rupture in August of 2020 and was left unable to walk and talk, let alone take care of herself. Although I had been a parent for many years, I was now forced into this role as a caregiver for a disabled parent--a role I reluctantly took on. I was definitely not prepared at all for what was being asked of me, and I want to share how caregiving informs my personal practice and teaching.

Examine and build relationships. The relationship between caregiver and the bodies they care for is not only crucial but it’s an intimate one. The work calls for you to see this other person in their most vulnerable and human state. Who is this human in front of me and how does my connection to them affect the type of care I am providing? Is it a close family member or a complete stranger? I strongly believe that any emotional ties or stories we have to the person we are caring for can show up in different ways and it's important that we lean into the practice of examining our own hurt, biases, and conditioning. Our unique lived experiences shape how we relate to one another and the work we do as caregivers is no exception. Honoring humanity in others as well as ourselves is essential.

As a student and someone who shares the practice of yoga, examining and building relationships is also important when it comes to holding and facilitating movement space. I always have to keep in mind that my students are whole human beings who bring their own experiences, biases, and unique understandings to the practice. This practice also requires that I examine my own thought patterns about my body and my relationship to it and its limitations as I show up on the mat. As I care for my mother, I have to be aware of how I care for myself in the process.

Welcome shifts and new perspectives. Becoming a caregiver requires a lot of shifts. Sometimes this means changes to living situations, routine, and often lifestyle. Sometimes I find myself wanting to spontaneously do ‘things’ and then realizing that it’s not always possible. Tasks that seem as simple as a trip to the grocery store with my mother require planning ahead for those assisting someone with limited mobility as I am. Are there handicap accessible parking spots? How many bathrooms are located where you are going? Is there room to navigate the space with a wheelchair? I also want to acknowledge that my personal grief from these shifts comes with a layer of privilege and ableism as I have never before had to think about these scenarios.

As a yoga teacher and space holder, I never know who is going to show up to the space. While I may have a set plan or "flow" for a particular class, I must remain open-minded and ready to throw it all out so everyone is seen and included. I can recall many times where I was strictly teaching from a place of what I could physically manage, and it’s guaranteed that I caused harm. These days I welcome opportunities to be creative and curious in real time as different abilities and bodies show up in the spaces I hold.

Be willing to be vulnerable. Caregiving is LABOR and it is hard. Those providing care are worthy of also being cared for and resourced. We wouldn't expect a person working a 9:00 to 5:00 to not sleep, shower or eat, let alone do it for no pay or breaks. Resource yourself and get help from others, if and when necessary. Be mindful of your capacity to give care. You do not have to do it all and you don't have to do it all the time. It takes bravery to say I can’t or will not do this right now.

I solely teach asana and movement classes online because of Covid-19. Being able to hold space virtually has relieved the financial burden and stress of commuting to studio settings and finding alternate care for my children and disabled mother. However, teaching from home isn’t without its challenges. Being in-person allows me to leave my messy family life behind, even if temporarily. Teaching over Zoom invites people to witness all my mess: kids fighting in the background, my oblivious mother screaming at me from another room, the unswept cheese puff crumbs littering the living room floor. Vulnerability is a new and messy practice for me and I have been getting in the habit of naming the mess at the beginning of each class and sometimes deliberately inviting it in. There have been numerous times where I have had to console a crying child while teaching asana. Neither my teaching or practice as a caregiver exist in a vacuum and both inform the other.

While we still have our not-so-good days, I am grateful for this work and practice as a caregiver. It's a practice in boundary setting and service, and a daily reminder that we are all temporarily able-bodied. For those who are new to this role, I invite you to lean into your own humanity and consciously align your core values with how you show up and care for others.

Tanisha Hubbard-Hood
, or Tan (they/them/she), is a caregiver, movement instructor, Yoga student and aspiring activist. While the physical practice of yoga is what drew them to the mat, it was the calling of something deeper that led to the decision to complete a YTT. The introduction of the 8-limbed path during training was the starting point of their curiosity of the intersection of yoga and social justice. Forever a student of the practice, Tan is always eagerly seeking out spaces where crucial conversations around accessible wellness and movement are being held. This includes completing workshops/programs for Yoga For 12-Step Recovery, Accessible Yoga, and Skill in Action. They believe in empowering others to disrupt the narratives and stories that uplift perfectionism and hyper-productivity. In movement classes, expect practices that encourage individual healing, as self love and care is a part of collective liberation. You can find Tan teaching weekly virtual live classes and engaging in her role as Teacher Community Manager at Core to Coeur

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

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Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Removing What We Are Not

by Shannon Kaneshige

Most of our yoga practice is removing what we are not, certainly most of my practice is.

Removing all of the things we have been taught to think about ourselves. Our socialization. Our Doxa. All of those things that we mistake for us. Sometimes it is amazing to think I am most myself when I am doing nothing. Just existing.

Like a lot of folks, I was taught, implicitly if not explicitly, that I am what I do. I am what I produce. That “being” is active and when you take away the activity…nothing is left.

For me this has created two major issues. The first is that I feel I have no value outside of what I can provide others, so much that I often feel my identity is built around others’ needs. The second is that this mindset makes rest seem wasteful. It tells us that rest is a holding pattern while we prepare to “do,” or rest is something done in service of labor.

The question I keep coming back to: If I am most myself while resting, or just being, but I find myself overcome with anxiety and guilt while resting because I am no longer serving others or providing labor—then how much time have I actually spent being me?

Pardon my existential crisis.

I do feel like I know who I am, but I only ever get stolen moments and fleeting glances during meditation. Glances of the me who exists outside of labor, guilt, and all of those things that overwhelm and separate us. The me who doesn’t feel alone and isolated, who reaches out for that universal connection I know is there without fear.

And I am afraid. I am afraid that without this anxiety and worry, the me I know, the one I think is writing these words, will disappear and I will find that I was simply a container for fear, pain, guilt, and expectation. Afraid to let go of that container, even when the reward is peace.

Meditation allows me to stop identifying with the container. To see who I am without grasping and reaching and hiding. My practice is reconnecting to me, not who others want me to be or who my ego thinks I am, but to allow the me I have met in meditation to permeate my whole life.

To be me as much as possible--completely present in my life and the lives of others. To remove the veils of labor and expectation to truly comprehend that I inherently have worth as I am and allow others to see me as I am.

If you have come to my classes you have probably heard this meditation. It was one of the first I wrote and the one I return to the most.

Most of our practice is removing what we are not.
We are not our production.
We are not the expectations others have for us.
We are not the expectations we have for ourselves.
We are not our worries, our anxieties.
We are not our thoughts.
When we let go we find space to breathe
and the space to be simply be,
perfect as we are.

Shannon Kaneshige
(they/them or she/her) is a fat non-binary yoga educator who offers inclusive and accessible fat-positive, trauma-sensitive, LGBTQIA+ affirming yoga. They help folks use movement to reconnect with their bodies and learn to take up space on and off the mat. In Shannon's classes you can expect a focus on sensation over shape, and the freedom to find asana in your body as it exists in this moment.

Shannon teaches online classes and workshops via their online studio Fringe(ish) Fat Positive Yoga. Sliding scale, private, and online classes are available through Shannon's website Shannon is currently based in Toronto on Anishinabewaki, Haudenosaunee, Mississauga, and Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation land. Certifications: RYT 200, Yoga for All, Accessible Yoga

Shannon Kaneshige will be presenting at Accessible Yoga's Conference Online October 14-17, 2021

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

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