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Month: October 2019

What is Meditation

Have you asked yourself: what is Meditation? Dr. Rashmi Bismark M.D, Mindfulness teacher and Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist explains the different styles of meditation while offering a short, 5 minute meditation for beginners geared towards an awareness of sounds.

Find the original video on Yoga Medicine’s Youtube channel.

Oh, My Aching Back! 5 Poses to Relieve Low Back Pain

By Lisa A. Muehlenbein for Yoga Medicine®.

Whether you have been outside raking leaves, playing with the kids (or grandkids!) or if you spent your weekend cheering on your favorite sports team, odds are, you’ve found yourself saying, “Oh, my aching back!” There is good news and bad news. The bad news is you are not alone. Back pain is one of the most common complaints and according to the Mayo Clinic, most of us will experience it. The good news is that relief is available and may not require a trip to your doctor or medications.

While no remedy is a miracle cure for every individual, many people find relief for back pain through yoga. Yoga is a 5,000+ year old practice that originated in India and has been embraced by over 20.4 million Americans. While there are many benefits to practicing yoga, relieving low back pain is one plus that many practitioners have experienced.

The following Restorative Yoga sequence of poses (asanas) are suggestions that may help bring some relief to your low back.

Supported Child’s Pose (Salamba Balasana)

POSE BREAKDOWN

  • Begin with a blanket in a Foundational Fold (fold in ½ vertically, then in ½ horizontally 2x), roughly in the center of the mat. This will provide cushioning for the knees. It’s not required, but most students find it a nice, supportive addition.
  • Kneel on the blanket, bringing the big toes together and sliding the knees apart until they are wide enough to snuggled the short edge of the bolster inside.
  • Slowly begin to lower down onto the bolster from the belly, ribs, heart center and finally the head comes to rest on the bolster, allowing whichever ear is most comfortable to come to rest.
  • Ideally, the head, heart and hips would be in alignment. If the head is lower, another folded blanket may be placed on top to lift the torso slightly.
    Hold 5-8 minutes.
  • Turn the head to the opposite side half way through.

ENHANCEMENTS

  • Use a Foundational Blanket folded in half or a rolled up mat to create some space in the back of the knee for students who have knee issues.
  • A mat square or hand towel can be rolled and placed on the front side of the ankle if the student is experiencing discomfort.
  • A sandbag can be placed horizontally across on the low back/top of pelvis.

Supported Supine Spinal Twist (Supta Matsyandrasana)

POSE BREAKDOWN

  • Begin with a Foundational blanket in the center of the mat with stripes going left to right across the mat horizontally.
  • Place bolster on the mat, going the same direction as the mat, just in front of the bolster.
  • Use a second Foundational blanket folded in half the long way or in a Long Tri-Fold Blanket as a mini bolster and keep it close by.
  • Sit comfortably on top of the Foundational blanket with one hip up nice and close to the short edge of the bolster.
  • Draw the knees up to roughly 90 degrees and place the second blanket in between the knees, shins and ankles for comfort.
  • Place the hands on either side of the bolster.
  • Inhale to lengthen. With the exhale, gentle twist toward the bolster and slowly lower down, bringing the belly button, last rib and heart center to rest on top of the bolster.
  • Hands and forearms rest on the floor next to the bolster.
  • Same ear (as the hip that is up close to the bolster) resting on the bolster will be a gentler sensation on the neck for most students, while the opposite ear coming to rest will provide a deeper twist and sensation for most students.
    Hold 5-8 minutes, then switch sides.

ENHANCEMENTS

  • A blanket, block or bolster may be placed under the arm (that is on the same side as the legs) if it is hovering/lifting/not resting flat on the floor.
  • A sandbag can be placed on the top thigh to enhance the twist.

Supported Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)

POSE BREAKDOWN

  • Begin by placing the bolster at the foot of the mat; horizontally spanning the mat from left to right.
  • Place a Foundational Folded blanket on the mat just behind the bolster with the fringed edge on the bottom and toward the bolster to avoid uncomfortable pressure points from the knots on the fringed edge.)
  • Create a Long Rolled Blanket and place it on top of the Foundational blanket with the open edge of the roll toward the corner that was created by the Foundational blanket and the bolster.
  • Position yourself so that you are sitting on top of the bolster with their feet on the floor in front of their mat. Slide all the way to the front edge of the bolster—almost as if you were about to slip off of the front edge—this will leave room for the hips to rest on top of the bolster as you begins to lay back.
  • Place the hands on the Foundational blanket or mat as support as you descend, slowly lowering the shoulders to the mat.
  • The Foundational blanket serves as a cushion for the shoulders, the head is on the mat. The rolled blanket fills the space in the lower/mid back, while the height of the bolster provides a lift of the pelvis creating a release in the lower back.
  • Arms reach wide out to the side; palms face up.
  • Hold 5-8 minutes.

ENHANCEMENTS

  • A flat hand towel or blanket may be placed underneath the head if there is evidence of discomfort in the neck.
  • Students may extend legs straight for a deeper sensation; however, this variation should be used mindfully for students with low back issues.
  • Blocks can be placed under the soles of the feet if the back is showing signs of “breaking” or sharpness/compression in L5-S1.
  • For students who are managing low back concerns, they may enjoy using a folded blanket under the pelvis in a height that is lower than the bolster.

Legs Up The Wall (Viparita Karani)

POSE BREAKDOWN

  • To get into Legs Up the Wall, sit with one hip all the way up close to the wall and then slide forward toward the long edge of the mat.
  • Place hands next to the hips and slightly behind. Use them for support as you shift and swivel on the hips, bringing the shoulders to the floor, swinging the legs up toward the sky.
  • If the sitting bones are away from the wall, shift and shimmy the hips and walk the shoulders toward the wall until the sitting bones make their way to the wall.
  • Arms can extend wide out to the sides like a “T,” down by the sides or wherever comfortable.
  • Hold 8 minutes. *May also be used as an alternative to Savasana.

ENHANCEMENTS

  • If hamstrings are too tight to fully extend the legs up the wall, students may opt to take the hamstrings out of the pose by placing the legs on top of a chair. In this case, place a blanket over the seat of the chair for warmth and comfort. Another option would be to stack two bolsters on top of each other instead of using a chair.
  • A blanket with a partial roll may be placed underneath the neck for support.
    If legs tend to roll out to the sides and be unruly or distracting, we may opt for straps around the thighs and mid calves.
    To ground the hips and release the low back, a sandbag may be placed on the soles of the feet. Straps around the legs may also be used in conjunction with the sandbag.
  • To take Legs Up The Wall into more of a Supported Shoulder Stand, we can find the foundational pose of Legs Up The Wall and then slide the feet down the wall, pressing into the wall and lifting the hips high enough to slide the bolster (or folded blanket) underneath the hips.

Savasana

ENHANCEMENTS FROM TRADITIONAL SAVASANA

  • A partially rolled blanket may be placed behind the neck to fill the space between the cervical spine and the floor. The remaining flat portion of the blanket would provide a soft cushion underneath the back of the head.
  • A blanket roll may be placed behind the knees instead of a bolster with the optional additional blanket roll underneath the ankles.
  • Legs can drape over a bolster with the option of a rolled blanket underneath the ankles.
  • Legs on a chair.
  • Add an eye pillow.
  • Add essential oil temple to deepen relaxation.

The sequence of yoga poses described are suggested for use to relieve low back discomfort and are therapeutic and restorative in nature. When exploring your options for yoga classes, it is important to educate yourself before entering into a yoga studio and unrolling your mat.

  • If your lower back is in need of TLC and you have never done yoga before, look for classes that list Gentle, Restorative or Therapeutic in their names.
  • Upon meeting your teacher, be sure to inform them of any injuries or health issues you may have so that they are able to specifically address your needs.
  • With Restorative Yoga, it’s important to remember that less is often more. These poses are meant to relax and restore the body with minimal effort, so give your body permission to do so!

Finally, when you decide to venture into a yoga studio, don’t be intimidated! Studios are used to seeing new faces each day, and you can be sure that you won’t be the only one! Plus, the staff and teachers are there to help and they want you to have the best experience possible. Their intention is that you leave feeling well, healthy and ready to take on the day!

Changing Your Internal Landscape – A (Not So) Little (and Super Cool) Thing Called Neuroplasticity

Valerie Knopik, Yoga Medicine® Instructor, discusses how mindfulness-based techniques, such as yoga and meditation, can cause structural and functional changes in the brain.

There is growing research that mindfulness-based techniques, such as yoga and meditation, induce changes in brain structure and function. How can this happen? What are the underlying mechanisms? How can this behavior get ‘under the skin’ to affect our biology? Let’s take a quick look….think of this as the speed-dating version, because we could seriously spend a career delving into this cool stuff!

Luders and Kurth (2019) describe meditation as an active mental process that, when done repeatedly, regularly, and over longer periods of time, can change brain structure. This is due, in part, to the fact that meditation incorporates efforts to exercise awareness, attention, concentration, and focus. Yoga is a mind-body practice incorporating many of these same qualities alongside movement. There is accumulating evidence of positive effects on yoga on mental health, physical health, and well-being (Tolahunase et al., 2018). Going even further, a recent investigation examining all studies to date (or meta-analysis) suggest that mindful-based practices, such as yoga and meditation, hold promise as evidence-based treatment for mental health disorders, particularly depression (Goldberg et al., 2018). I think that this is something that we, as yoga practitioners have ‘felt’ for a long time and I love that, as a mental health researcher, there is now some evidence to back up our experiential claims.

Diving just a bit deeper……A recent review by Tang et al (2015) in Nature Reviews Neuroscience discusses possible mechanisms that lend further support to these processes. They suggest that one possibility is engaging the brain in mindfulness affects brain structure by inducing dendritic branching, synaptogenesis, myelinogenesis or even adult neurogenesis – all super cool brain changes we tend to lump together under the umbrella term of ‘neuroplasticity’. Neuroplasticity is the ability of the central nervous system (CNS) to adapt and reorganize its structure and function in response to internal or external stimuli and manifests at both biological and clinical levels. You may have heard the phrase, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” and this is a general underlying principle of neuroplasticity. Yoga and meditation teach us to slow down, notice, be aware, and (hopefully) be non-reactive. By practicing these behaviors over and over, we are reinforcing these positive neural pathways making them the ‘default’ pathway. In other words, we have the capacity to change the way our neurons (brain cells) connect with one another! We can actually, through mindful awareness, reinforce positive neural connections!

Relatedly, research also suggests that mindfulness positively affects autonomic nervous system regulation and immune activity (think stress response!), which may result in neuronal preservation, restoration and/or inhibition of apoptosis (aka cell death). We know, experientially, that mindfulness-based techniques are highly effective in stress reduction, and it now appears possible that such stress reduction may also mediate changes in brain function (Tang et al., 2019).

If you don’t already have a yoga or mindfulness practice, here are some simple tips to get you started on changing those neuronal connections:

  1. Bring mindfulness and meditation into your daily practice. Starting with just 3 minutes a day and building to 10 minutes over time. If sitting down to meditate feels too daunting, try a walking meditation. This isn’t just going on a walk. Being barefoot is really helpful for this approach as it will help you stay very aware of each blade or grass or grain of sand or plank of wood floor. You could literally walk back and forth over the same area trying to stay very focused on the feeling of each movement of your feet, noticing your mind wandering, and staying super present in your experience.
  2. Bring breath to the forefront of your yoga practice. I come back to this a lot. I wrote a piece for Yoga Digest last year about going back to the breath and well, it’s hard, but it just might be a game changer for your practice. Approach your practice as if your breath is the peak pose. Instead of thinking about what you look like in each shape, focus on your breath instead. Notice how a shift in mental focus might stir things up and change your perspective.
  3. Notice your habitual responses. When your alarm goes off in the morning, do you automatically say something to yourself (or out loud) like, “Argh (or insert another expletive here)!” Try shifting your internal (and possibly external) voice to be more positive….something along the lines of “It’s going to be an awesome day! I’m grateful to be able to experience this wonderful day and all that it brings.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m sold. Well, I was already sold. But if I wasn’t, I would be! Even though we, as scientists, as still exploring these underlying mechanisms, I find it so powerful (and super cool!) that we have these initial results that suggest we have the capacity to change our internal landscape …. What about you?

Balancing Yin and Yang for the Fall

At the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine is the belief that we are a reflection of the world around us. Each season is marked by characteristics that can be seen in ourselves and in the natural environment. Grief is the emotion tied to the fall, and it makes perfect sense. The green, thriving landscape changes almost imperceptibly at first – a shift in the wind and a few leaves down. The transition becomes much more obvious when the leaves change and the air grows cooler. Without death life cannot exist. Fall marks the end of growth and renewal, and the beginning of harvest season – a time for our bodies to gather energy for the months ahead.

We are approaching a Yin time of year. In Traditional Chinese Medicine fall is associated with the Metal element. This is a time to become more introspective and organized; a time to protect boundaries and guard what we hold sacred. Carefree days of summer are followed by the need for routine and structure. We become a little more introspective. If you’re feeling the need to stay home and turn down invitations, you’re not alone. This is the perfect time of year to tend to unfinished projects, and to begin organizing your life. This is also a great time to deepen your home practice.

The Lung and Large Intestine are the internal organs related to fall and the Metal element. Taking in and letting go are characteristics of these organs. The sequence below offers a balance of Yin & Yang. It targets the Lung and Large Intestine meridian lines, which are like rivers or tributaries that flow through the body. *Note – The Lung and Large Intestine meridians flow primarily through the arms. Practice the poses below to celebrate this season and welcome change in your body.

1. Supported Fish Pose

 

Place a blanket roll or bolster set perpendicularly beneath the rib cage. Allow the body to relax into the support beneath it. Breathe fully but keep the ribs and chest soft and easy. Count to 5 on the inhale, 5 on the exhale. After 3-5 rounds insert a small pause at the very top of the inhale. Repeat several rounds.

2. Sukhasana to Side Bend to Twist Flow

Link breath and movement, lifting/lengthening on the inhale and transitioning/twisting on the exhale.

3. Cat/Cow

Move through 5-8 rounds, then add side to side movements to bring awareness to the rib cage.

4. Parighasana (Gate Pose)

Add arm circles and move in time with your breath.

5. Downward Facing Dog to Plank to Side Plank Flow

Move between these three poses with the breath. Lead with the chest and let your arms, shoulders, and core support you.

6. Shalabhasana (Locust Pose)

Hook thumbs or interlace fingers behind your back. Draw the shoulder blades toward each other and lengthen your arms. Lift the sternum and upper ribs away from the floor. Soften and then repeat.

7. Anjaneyasana (Crescent Lunge)

Knit the ribs in and reach through the fingertips. Lift gently as you breathe in, ground as you breathe out.

8. Low Lunge Twist

Bend and lengthen top arm in time with the breath.

9. Puppy Pose

For more, bend the elbows and bring the hands together behind the neck. Find stillness for several deep breaths.

10. Savasana

Place a folded blanket over your chest. Allow the arms to lengthen along your sides. Imagine lines from the center of your chest out to each thumb and index finger. Notice any sensation, pulsation, or change in temperature here.

Yin Yoga for “The Gap”

In meditation “the gap” is described as the silent space between thoughts. It’s a deeper layer of consciousness that for many of us, myself included, can be hard to find because of the layers upon layers of thoughts, memories, and judgments that seem to run on an endless loop. Brain stuff can be challenging to work with because we give our thoughts and emotions so much power. But, as with any sort of training, the more you practice, the easier it is to drop into a calmer, more spacious way of being.

Yin yoga offers a direct route to the gap, with opportunities for many mini meditations within a 60-minute class.

Finding the Gap

The gap is a simple concept to understand, but applying the practice requires that we relearn stillness. We’re masters of distraction; skilled at running from ourselves. The first step is to create conditions for the mind to be still. Physical stillness is the rock star of the yin practice, so check!

The second step is to recognize the gap on an experiential level. To get there, simply focus on these 2 anchor points during your practice:

  1. Breath
  2. Sensation
  3. Breath

When we become conscious of the breath, we are present in a way that allows us to be an observer rather than a doer. Conscious breathing can pause or at least slow the process of thinking. We’re fully awake, training the mind to watch the body’s own natural rhythms. If you’re anxious or restless, try diaphragmatic breathing. Diaphragmatic breathing or belly breathing can trigger your body’s natural relaxation response. When you breathe deeply, you can slow your heartbeat, lower your blood pressure, and calm your nervous system. Too much might make you sleepy. Find the right dose for the moment you’re in and be willing to play with the breath throughout your practice.

Sensation

The comforts and distractions of modern-day living make it easy to be completely disconnected from our bodies. When we focus on sensation in a yin pose, we can reacquaint ourselves with the flesh and bone of the physical body, and the subtle vibration and current of the energetic body. Because a key ingredient
to a yin practice is time, make sure that you set yourself up in a way that you can stay and be still. Props can decrease pressure in the joints and allow for a more relaxing experience. Once you’re situated, observe sensation that’s close to the skin, and sensation that’s deep. Notice what’s speaking the loudest and notice subtle sensation. Keep going inward and investigate what’s there. Pain is a one-way ticket out of any pose. See if you can distinguish discomfort from pain, and restlessness from a real need to shift.

With all this focused awareness on breath and sensation, you might have forgotten about the gap entirely. That’s great! It means you probably fell right in. Each time you practice this way notice the part of you that notices. This is what meditation is all about. We remove the layers of self (the ego) to get to our true essence. Some might call this the soul – I like to think of it as home.

“Discover inner space by creating gaps in the stream of thinking. Without those gaps, your thinking becomes repetitive, uninspired, devoid of any creative spark, which is how it still is for most people on the planet.” — A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

Teaching Older Beginners: Medical Considerations to Keep in Mind

Senior Yoga Medicine® teacher, Rachel Land, explains on Yoga International which medical conditions become increasingly common with age and how teachers can adapt their classes for them.

Injuries and medical conditions exist in any population, but the prevalence increases with age. Older beginners aren’t fragile, but even if they have been lucky enough to avoid injury or surgery they may be experiencing other challenges less common in younger beginners. As teachers, it’s not our job to diagnose injuries or medical conditions, but it can be helpful to know more about those we’re likely to encounter most often. That way, we have an idea of how to help our students work with them and make our classes more accessible.

Here are some of the most common conditions you may come across while working with older students, as well as how they might impact a yoga practice.

1. Inflammation and Soft Tissue Changes

Some of the degenerative changes we call “aging” are thought to be linked to persistent low-level inflammation, 1, 2 and natural changes to soft tissue.

Inflammation is a natural process required to fight infection or repair tissue damage. However, it should be balanced by equally important anti-inflammatory processes that tend to become less effective as we age. Chronic inflammation has been linked to many of the conditions we will discuss later including arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and certain kinds of cancer. Several studies have suggested that regular yoga practice can help reduce inflammatory markers. 3 4 5

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Be aware that older students are more likely to feel stiff and sore after exertion. In addition to this, our skeletal muscle tends to lose mass and strength as we grow older—a condition called sarcopenia—while our connective tissue, or fascia, often becomes more fibrous, less elastic, and less readily hydrated. Due to these natural changes, our students’ range of motion, strength, and endurance may decrease.

IT CAN HELP TO:

  • Start gently and progress slowly.
  • Incorporate simple practices that lubricate and mobilize the body, such as joint circles, gentle twists, and side bends.
  • Include varied poses rather than overemphasizing a single muscle group.
  • Allow rest between poses and between yoga sessions to allow for full recovery.

2. Osteoarthritis and Joint Replacement

In 2015, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that almost half of Americans aged 65 and older had osteoarthritis (OA). This condition involves gradual deterioration or loss of the cartilage that covers and cushions the articulating surfaces of our bones and the formation of bony growths (called osteocytes) around the joints, potentially leading to joint pain and inflammation and reduced bony range of motion. OA can occur in any joint, but is seen most often in the knees, hips, spine, wrists, fingers, and toes. If the condition progresses far enough, joint replacement might be required.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Students with OA might find it painful to bear weight on or through affected joints, so kneeling, all-fours positions, or standing on the balls of the feet could be uncomfortable. Bony changes in the hip, knee, or ankle joints could make it difficult or impossible to step forward from downward facing dog, come into a deep lunge, transition readily between standing and the floor, or practice postures like hero (virasana), supine hero (supta virasana), pigeon (eka pada rajakapotasana), cow face (gomukhasana), or garland pose (malasana).

IT CAN HELP TO:

  • Focus on achieving the benefits of yoga poses—such as strength, tissue elasticity, standing stability, and better posture—rather than on enforcing traditional alignment.
  • Include poses and practices that build stability and symmetry around the joints, potentially reducing further wear and tear.
  • Use props, walls, furniture, or (better yet) poses and sequences that avoid weight-bearing on affected joints.
  • Be prepared with standing sequences that allow for reduced range of motion and avoid frequent transitions between standing and the floor.
  • Try supine stretches that reduce body weight on any painful joints—like a supine figure four instead of pigeon or happy baby (ananda balasana) instead of malasana.
  • If your students have given you permission to touch them, use light, directional adjustments rather than trying to move them into an idealized version of the pose that may not be possible due to bony changes around their joints.
  • Be aware of any joint replacements. Joint replacement surgeries are more successful than ever, but some positions will still be contraindicated postoperatively. Make sure your student has been cleared for practice by their medical team and get clear guidelines on what range of motion is considered safe.

3. Osteopenia and Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis is a condition in which loss of mass makes the bones porous and brittle, much more vulnerable to collapse or fracture from even minor injury. Osteopenia, also called low bone mass, is lower than normal bone density that has not reached the point of osteoporosis. These conditions are increasingly common as we age; data from the 2010 census suggests that more than half of Americans aged over 50 had either osteoporosis or low bone mass, particularly postmenopausal women of Caucasian or Asian descent. The joints most commonly affected are the spine, ribs, hips, and wrists.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS:

Many people don’t know they have low bone mass until they experience a fracture, so as a teacher of older students it’s worth taking basic precautions whether your student is aware of having low bone mass or not. The simplest of those is to reduce the likelihood of falls.

However, some bone fractures can occur due to even more subtle factors, like chronic postural changes. Osteoporosis tends to exacerbate thoracic kyphosis, or rounding of the upper back, so positions that put additional force through this area—like standing forward fold (uttanasana), seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), seated twist (ardha matsyendrasana)—are not generally recommended.

IT CAN HELP TO:

  • Incorporate poses and practices that improve coordination and balance like crescent lunge, eagle pose (garudasana), or the kneeling balance bird dog. At the same time, reduce the risk of falls by avoiding jumping, bouncing, and rapid changes of direction as well as removing tripping hazards like props, electrical cords, low furniture, and loose rugs.
  • Focus on poses that counter thoracic kyphosis—like mountain pose (tadasana), bird dog, and active backbends like locust pose (salabhasana).
  • Avoid rounded-spine forward folds and twists, and replace them with those where the spine is neutral (such as the supine hamstring stretch supta padangusthasana) or supported (such as a reclined spinal twist).
  • For students with known osteoarthritis, avoid positions that place unaccustomed weight directly on weakened bones. Headstand (sirsasana) and shoulderstand (salamba sarvangasana) are contraindicated if there is osteoporosis in the spine, because of the weight these poses place on the neck.

4. Vascular and Heart Conditions

The CDC names heart disease as the leading cause of death for Americans over 65, so it’s reasonable to assume that some of your older students may have heart disease or hypertension (persistently elevated blood pressure) if you are teaching in a group setting.

GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS:

The implications of heart disease in yoga practice relate to poses and practices that require cardiovascular exertion, or strongly influence circulation. Known conditions should be monitored closely by your student’s doctor, but it’s sensible to take general precautions.

IT CAN HELP TO:

  • Emphasize practices that soothe the central nervous system. These include slow and mindful movement, restorative poses, guided relaxation, savasana, yoga nidra, meditation, and calming pranayama techniques. Humming bee breath (bhramari), left-nostril breathing (chandra bheda), and lengthened exhalations are considered particularly calming.
  • Start gently and progress slowly. There’s nothing wrong with building strength, stability, and endurance, but allow your student’s circulatory system to gradually adapt to yoga practice.
  • Avoid rigorous or heated practice and observe your students’ breathing, color, and facial expressions closely to ensure that they don’t overexert themselves and overtax their circulatory systems.
  • Avoid forceful breathing exercises, including bellows breath (bhastrika), skull shining breath (kapalabhati), or breath retention (antara kumbhaka), all of which have the potential to overstimulate the nervous system and thereby increase blood pressure.
  • Avoid strong inversions, which significantly increase blood pressure in the head; headstand, shoulderstand, forearm stand (pincha mayurasana) and handstand (adho mukha vrksasana) are commonly contraindicated. You may also suggest that your student consults their doctor for advice on more gentle inversions including downward facing dog (adho mukha svanasana), standing forward fold, or legs up the wall (viparita karani).

5. Other Conditions: Respiratory, Diabetes, Cancer

Any population can experience serious health concerns (such as cancer, diabetes, spinal stenosis, respiratory illness, stroke, Alzheimer’s, or dementia), but prevalence does increase with age. Any serious illness requires specific advice from the student’s medical team, but even if yoga practice is unable to help the student’s symptoms directly, a growing body of research suggests that it may be able to help indirectly.

  • Reflective practices that soothe the nervous system can reduce perceived pain and support faster healing and improved immunity.
  • Any condition that limits our capacity to breathe freely, including respiratory disorders and chronic pain, could benefit from gentle, gradual pranayama.
  • Yoga philosophy offers concepts designed to build mental and emotional equilibrium in the face of hardship. It may be appropriate to discuss non-attachment (vairagya), reflection or self-study (svadhyaya), contentment or gratitude (santosha), and surrender to a higher power (ishvara pranidhana).
  • Even something as simple as connecting regularly with a friend or two in a private or small group yoga session can have a hugely positive influence on energy and mood.

It can be daunting to start working with anyone who has an injury or medical condition. While it helps to know about the conditions we commonly encounter when working with older beginners, there’s no need to be fearful, or treat older students as fragile. We don’t even need to be experts—our role is to simply help and support however we can. Even when we are unsure how to start, we can rely on simple and time-honored practices like progressive relaxation or mindful breathing to help our students feel better.

FOOTNOTES:

  1. Inflammaging and anti-inflammaging: A systemic perspective on aging and longevity emerged from studies in humans: Claudio Franceschi, Miriam Capria, Daniela Monti, Sergio Giunta, Fabiola Olivieri, Federica Sevini, Maria Panagiota Panourgia, Laura Invidia, Laura Celani, Maria Scurti, Elisa Cevenini, Gastone C.Castellani, and Stefano Salvioli, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0047637406002491.
  2. Innate immunity and inflammation in aging: a key for understanding age-related diseases: Federico Licastro, Giuseppina Candore, Domenico Lio, Elisa Porcellini, Giuseppina Colonna-Romano, Claudio Franceschi, and Calogero Caruso, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1166571/.
  3. Exercise, Inflammation and Aging: Jeffrey A. Woods, Kenneth R. Wilund, Stephen A. Martin, and Brandon M. Kistler, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3320801/.
  4. Impact of Yoga and Meditation on Cellular Aging in Apparently Healthy Individuals: Madhuri Tolahunase, Rajesh Sagar, and Rima Dada, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5278216/.
  5. Yoga, Meditation and Mind-Body Health: B. Rael Cahn, Matthew S. Goodman, Christine T. Peterson, Raj Maturi, and Paul J. Mills, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483482/.

Transcending Challenges by Cultivating Acceptance

Enjoy more peace in life by finding freedom from resistance and accepting the simplicity of the moment.

By Diane Malaspina for Thrive Global.

Life does not always turn out the way we would like it to. Relationships, career, health, and life quality may not match the dream we had for ourselves. Leaving us in distress, depression, anxiety, burnout, and a sense of hopelessness for the future, this affects many aspects of our lives and it becomes difficult to move on. When life does not follow our plan, negative emotions take charge, and while this is the brain’s way of priming us for survival, it skews our ability to see the situation through a clear lens, and we have trouble coping with loss and disappointment. Fear about the future, dismay over the past, and negative emotions toward what is happening in the present are ways we resist experience and exacerbate feelings of stress and suffering. Common reactions include wishing things were different, attempting to shut down/escape from the experience, or aggrandizing the experience so that it takes over the emotional landscape. Furthermore, the digital age has created a platform for constant connection, with snapshots of life as perfect, beautiful, and full of achievement and growth. We compare our ourselves with others and forget that the images we see are not a complete picture of reality, and that much of life is about both gain and loss. No life is free from pain and sorrow.

In the stream of thoughts that occupy our minds, it is typical to evaluate experiences through a negative lens. In Buddhist teachings, this is called dukkha, which is translated as suffering, dissatisfaction, or misery and is considered characteristic of being human. Digging deeper into wisdom traditions, religion, and spiritual philosophy, at the root of all of the teachings, lie approaches to alleviate human suffering. For thousands of years it has been recognized that suffering is a part of being human, yet we still do not do well with it. Why? Because we do not like to be uncomfortable or discontent, and we want to fix it, make it go away, and make it stop hurting. The problem here, is that once we strive to make the suffering stop, it seems to get worse and more ingrained. This is because we are meeting the experience with resistance. Suffering is a type of nonacceptance – a resistance to what is happening in the present. Operating from a place of resistance to what life brings is a refusal to accept reality, which ultimately increases the suffering.

Moving Toward Acceptance

It is important to identify patterns of resistance. Questions for self-reflection include: Do I attempt to avoid feeling pain through addiction to substances, work, gambling, checking out, or other destructive activities? Do I fight unpleasantness with negative emotions, aggression, or rage? Do I dwell in distorted thinking about injustices, the way life should be, and evaluations of the fairness of it all? It is important to recognize repetitive reactions to challenge because these patterns become hardwired in the mind and limit the possibility of responding differently when faced with any challenge. Continued resistance towards situations we do not like adds more weight to the experience, where we allow the outer world to determine our inner state of happiness or discontent, thus putting us at the mercy of what happens. This is exhausting. As the old adage says, that which we resist, persists. When we cultivate awareness on the ways we resist suffering, we can start to move toward acceptance.

It is difficult to accept what you do not want to be true. Acceptance does not mean liking or agreeing with the circumstance, rather allowing life to be as it is. It is ok to feel loss and disappointment in the process – in fact, its beneficial to be present with and allow the feelings to flow. The shift happens when we change our minds from a resistance state of pushing away or wanting life to be different to an acceptance state of yielding to what is and not trying to change anything. This does not mean giving up, succumbing to defeat, or failing to rise to the situation. It is developing the capability to bring the mind into a state of acceptance in order to experience a sense of peace around the situation.

Acceptance starts by letting everything in, rather than avoiding how life unfolds. Recognize the transient nature of each situation, as supported by the statement, ‘this too shall pass.’ Accept the moment versus the story created about the moment. Take regular pauses to attend to what is real: the breath, sights, smells, sounds, and the immediate surroundings to find presence with true reality. Find freedom from the story of resistance, by accepting the simplicity of the moment. With practice, acceptance allows us to come to terms with whatever life brings and gives us the capacity to navigate more peacefully through life.

Mindfulness and Yoga Explained: 3 Minute Mindfulness Meditation

By Dr. Rashmi Bismark M.D. for Yoga Medicine®.

Dr. Rashmi Bismark M.D. explains the deep connection between mindfulness and yoga. When yoga is used as a way to live life more meaningfully, we naturally infuse the way we relate to ourselves and others with the care of mindfulness. Rashmi also shares a 3 Minute Mindfulness Meditation.

Find the original video on Yoga Medicine’s Youtube channel.

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