Mindful, Trauma-Informed Yoga Online Training

Learn More

Most Popular Articles

Month: April 2020

Yoga for Every Body: Supporting Students with Disabilities

By Jaci Gandenberger for Yoga Medicine®.

The first time I offered a group yoga class to people with disabilities, only one student showed up. She was an experienced yogi who had fractured her elbow, so we focused on standing poses followed by restorative shapes to soothe her nervous system. After class, she said that it was the first time her nerves had stopped jangling since her injury and that she looked forward to coming back.

Great! I thought. Next week, I’ll create a sequence that’s designed to support her.

The following week, she didn’t attend. Instead, she was replaced by a student who had never practiced yoga and who used a wheelchair. Needless to say, that lovingly designed sequence had to be tossed out the window.

Every experienced vinyasa yoga teacher has stories of creating sequences that were completely wrong for the students who came to class, but when teaching adaptive yoga, the challenges can be more dramatic. I’ve also found these classes to be some of the richest, most enjoyable, and engaging that I’ve taught, and they’ve made me a better teacher in my able-bodied classes too. 

Here are a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned:

1) Be aware of your own ableism.

This can range from careless language choices (I still cringe at the time I thoughtlessly described myself as “spazzy” in one of my classes), to deeply rooted and perhaps unexamined assumptions. For example, not everyone who uses a wheelchair sees that as a burden or has the goal of one day getting out of their chair. Take the time to really listen to your students and learn what their goals are, rather than setting out to “fix” them according to your own values and priorities.

2) Consider the purpose of each pose.

As you create a class – whether by planning it in advance or developing it in the moment – take time to reflect on your true goal with each shape. Take tree pose, for example. Your primary goal with the shape could be grounding, a gentle hip opening, increasing core strength, building the stabilizing muscles of the ankle and foot, teaching about drishti, or something else entirely. Once you know your true goal, you’ll have a much better sense of how to adapt the pose for a wide variety of bodies.

Tree pose can be done with the foot as a kickstand, using the wall for support, from a chair, with a block to support the shape, or even on the floor, pressing into a wall for grounding.

3) Take your time.

Many people with disabilities are expected to spend most of their lives adapting to the able-bodied world. That often includes having other people move their bodies for them. In my experience, many disabled students savor the opportunity to take a class that moves at their pace. Sometimes that means me giving five minutes for a student to move themselves from their chair to the floor, or collaborating with them to find a prop set-up that will allow them to settle into a pose rather than being expected to skip past it. Don’t be afraid to converse with your students so that they have space to tell you how you can best support them.

4) Move through the joints.

Feeling overwhelmed about where to start? One structure that I’ve found helpful is to move through the major joints of the body, starting at either the top or the bottom. So, I might start class with neck releases, then shoulder circles, then moving the spine through its major movements (forward bending, back bending, side bending, and twists). Next would come elbow, wrist, and finger movements, then hip releases, followed by knee, ankle, and toe movements. If you move slowly and mindfully through the class, and take time to make each shape work for each student (which might include them physically manipulating parts of their bodies, such as using their hands to move their legs through hip circles), this is often a sufficient physical practice. If you add in a bit of breathwork and some restorative shapes and savasana, this work can comfortably fill a 60-90 minute class.

If you want to learn more about how to teach students with disabilities, one great resource is Accessible Yoga. They offer trainings around the country, an annual conference, an educational blog, and an online community that is readily available to answer questions and offer fresh perspectives.

Teaching Yoga Outside the Studio

By Jaci Gandenberger for Yoga Medicine®.

For me, it started with a concussion. I’d been hit in the head while sparring in tae kwon do, which led to a headache and mental fog that lingered for months. I couldn’t maintain any of my regular physical activities while I was unfocused, in pain, and unhappy. Then I walked into a yoga class and for the first time in months I felt better. So I kept coming back, eventually falling so deeply in love with the physical and internal practices that I decided to become a teacher.

While each of our stories are unique, most of us became yoga teachers because we experienced the power of practice in our own lives and witnessed its power in the lives of others. In theory, these benefits should be widely accessible—you can practice yoga virtually anywhere, without any special clothing or equipment, and there are adaptations that can make it available to any body type or ability level. Yet many people face barriers that can stop them from ever experiencing yoga. Studio memberships are expensive and attending a class can be challenging with transportation or childcare needs. The “Instagram yogi” – typically a white female who is young, slim, and remarkably flexible – can lead many people to feel like yoga isn’t for them.

If you’d like to take yoga from the studio and into the wider community, here are some ways to get started:

1. Reflect

What first drew you to yoga? What made you fall in love with it? If you could only
teach one theme for the rest of your career, what would it be and why? What skills,
insights, or gifts can you offer? What cause or group are you most passionate about?

2. Really Reflect

What really draws you towards the work you identified? Is it because of
unhealed wounds? Is it out of a desire for positive attention? What are the gaps in your training, and what are you truly ready for?

As a social worker, I know many people who want to work in domestic violence shelters because of their own history of being abused, who want to work in addiction treatment centers because a loved one has struggled with addiction, and so on. That’s a beautiful response to pain, but if you haven’t worked through your own experiences – in therapy or treatment – then you are likely to bring your baggage into your classes. The best thing you can do here is to heal yourself first, and then offer support to others.

Or maybe you were just born with a deep desire to help others. That’s beautiful too. However, that desire is only a starting point. If, for example, you have no experience or training in working with trauma, you shouldn’t jump straight into teaching classes to people who have experienced a great deal of it. If you’re really invested in working with a particular population, look into training opportunities so you can support them effectively.

In either case, you can still do some things right away. For example, maybe you aren’t ready to teach students who are living at a domestic violence shelter, but you could teach classes to the staff who work there. They’re likely to be less vulnerable, but they still carry an enormous burden of stress and secondary trauma. By supporting them, you are also helping support their clients.

3. Reach Out

Once you have an idea of what kind of work you’d like to do, start researching and reaching out to organizations. In addition to more obvious spaces such as domestic violence shelters, rehabilitation clinics, etc., consider contacting local community centers, places of worship, and studios to see if they’d be willing to donate space for a class. I’ve taught weekly donation-based classes to people with disabilities at a local studio and weekly self-care classes to social workers at a local church, and in each case they provided the space for free because they believed in the cause.

4. Prepare

If possible, visit your site ahead of time and talk to someone who works there. Ask them about the population you’ll be teaching, including:

  • What language(s) they speak. Don’t assume that everyone is fluent in English.
  • Their overall physical fitness levels. Many students may be less fit than those in a “beginner” studio yoga class. Things like transitioning between sitting and standing or spending time on hands and knees can be difficult for many people.
  • The space you’ll be teaching in. One local organization had trouble retaining students because they offered classes in an open, central area with a lot of foot traffic. Many students felt uncomfortable practicing there, and the class quickly grew once they moved into a separate room. Brainstorm with the organization to find an arrangement that will lead to the greatest sense of safety and ease.
  • Props. Unless you’re teaching at a studio, it’s unlikely that mats or other props will be provided, but the organization may be able to purchase them if you ask. If not, this is a great opportunity to solicit community support for your work. Many studios are willing to donate used mats, or you may be able to organize a fundraiser so you can buy them yourself. Just make sure you’re giving yourself enough time to do so before classes begin.

5. Promote

If this is a “top-down” class (initiated by you or the organization, rather than being requested by the clients), it may take more effort to promote the class. Some effective approaches include:

  • Offering an ‘intro to yoga’ session that includes a brief, accessible teaching demonstration and time to answer questions.
  • Communicating with clients to find the best time to offer classes. I’ve seen classes grow from 2 to 20 students, simply by changing the schedule.
  • Being intentional about promotional materials. This includes considering what language(s) to present the information in, and what images to use. For example, if you’re new to yoga and not very physically active, which of these images would make you feel more open to trying out a class?

6. Protect Yourself

I am not a lawyer, and you’d be smart to talk to one before you get started. At a minimum, make sure that your teaching insurance covers what you’ll be offering, ask your organization about their insurance coverage, and ask all of your students to sign liability waivers before their first class.

Beyond your legal protections, make sure that you’re creating boundaries and self care practices for yourself. By stepping into spaces with more vulnerable populations, you’re likely to hear difficult stories. Take time to ground yourself before and after each class to recognize that you are only there to serve as their yoga teacher. Give yourself space to process your own experiences and reactions in a healthy way – perhaps with a therapist, through journaling, or with a trusted loved one. Most of all, notice if you’re become more anxious, reactive, or burned out over time. If so, that’s a strong indication that you need to change or increase your self care practices and re-evaluate your boundaries as a teacher.

7. Consider Safety

Teaching outside the yoga studio isn’t inherently dangerous, but you may be offering classes to populations at higher risks for outbursts, in less safe communities, or without easy access to back-up if a situation does occur. At a minimum, ensure that you have contact information for at least one person within the organization where you’re teaching who can support you when needed, and consider partnering with a co-teacher. That has the added advantage of providing you with a built-in substitute when needed, as well as someone to share ideas and process your experiences with.

8. Teach

When the time comes to teaching, leave perfection at the door! Teaching in the community is quite different from teaching in a studio space, and you may feel like a beginning teacher all over again. Embrace the opportunity to learn, and focus on connecting with your students in a meaningful way. As long as you leave them feeling better than they did when they began your class, you’re doing a beautiful job.

Insights and Reflections on COVID-19 from a Surgeon

By Dr. Doreen Wiggins for Yoga Medicine®.

The last few weeks amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, have been a new frontier in the 28 years that I have practiced medicine. As a breast cancer surgeon, I am often the first caregiver a woman meets when facing a new cancer diagnosis. Me leading the charge, expediting a multidisciplinary plan and moving swiftly to treatment has been a way to help curtail anxiety for my patients. The viral pandemic has created an unseen enemy amidst the delivery of patient care. Moving surgeries, delaying standard treatment for less invasive cancer care, so not to compromise the immune function an individual’s health while awaiting the surge of the pandemic. Nationally and locally, new guidelines for treatment have emerged based on the need for systemic preparation to care for ventilated viral patients had lead to closing operating rooms, furloughing some healthcare providers, reassigning others. Paradigm shifts of uncertainty for all of us, well beyond medicine. Each decision I have made with thoughtfulness and compassion, bears weight for uncharted trajectory of patient care.

Bewildering as our circumstance is, my yoga training has taught me to dive within. To cultivate compassion for myself and others as I settle in to the discomfort of this moment. Realizing we are all connected, and that such immobilizing circumstances can be liberated with mindfulness to quell fear and isolation.

There are many things we can do as the Yoga Medicine Community. Our intentions, thoughts and actions, the sum of our choices can help others during this pandemic. In times of great challenge, is an opportunity to stand witness to uncertainty and fear, yet move beyond to inspire elevation. Inspiring elevation is the embodiment of altruism, connection to all, reaching through suffering to uplift, and create change within ourselves and others. Reach out to others, check in on neighbors and loved ones. Stay connected to your community.

Left image credit: Dr. Doreen Wiggins | Right image credit: Dwight S. Williams

Yoga Medicine® is closely monitoring the spread of COVID-19. Please check our COVID-19 Resources Page for informational resources and training updates.

How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times with Diane Malaspina

By Beau Henderson for Authority Magazine.

a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Malaspina Ph.D., Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist and Applied Psychologist. Combining yoga tradition and modern science, she teaches evidenced-based methods for healing, stress prevention, and sustainable well-being through yoga sessions, workshops, and teacher training — both locally and across the globe.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

a graduate student, I was burned out and carried a lot of stress, like most grad students, and a friend recommended that I try yoga. My area of study in school was coping with stress and resilience and when I came out of my first yoga class I was completely hooked — I felt like I genuinely tapped into the experience of what I was studying about — a mind-body modality that also helps me feel more connected to life. Through the years I maintained a consistent yoga practice, and later in life, as a psychology professor, I dedicated most of my free time to take as many yoga and meditation workshops and training that I could find, while also teaching yoga on the side. Eventually, I took a deeper look at my life, felt that it was too stressful, with too much pressure, and that I wasn’t able to directly help others like I wanted to — so I left my career and went into business for myself. Along the way, I completed an advanced certification with Yoga Medicine® which brought together my two passions of blending Eastern and Western modalities as therapeutic approaches to healing and well-being, that I incorporate in my work as both an Applied Psychologist and yoga instructor.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I opened a yoga studio and ran it from 2010–2016. In the 2 -year transition from leaving academia to opening the studio, I had a few side jobs to help sustain me financially. When one of the contracted jobs I was working was about to end, I didn’t have a solid plan for what was to come next. So I embarked on a 30 -day meditation practice with the intention of ‘staying open.’ By day 15, it came to me that I wanted to run a yoga studio. On day 17 of the practice, I entered negotiations with a local studio to see if I could buy their business. On day 22 the owners decided not to sell. On day 26 my friend told me her mother’s Pilates studio had a space for rent that could be used as a separate business entity. And on day 29 of my ‘staying open’ meditation, I garnered a business license, started an LLC, and obtained the keys to my first location for a yoga studio! The meditation practice provided me with the space and insight to connect to something that I didn’t even realize was a dream. The experience of owning the studio gave me a lot of teaching experience, pushed me to learn and offer different styles of yoga, create workshops and a teacher training, and provided me with business experience that I still rely on. Five years into owning the studio I went on a 2-week meditation retreat. I found myself very emotional and crying uncontrollably for several days. As I delved into the emotions, I realized I was ready to move on from owning a studio. I uncovered a new vision for my work, eventually closed the studio, and started taking the steps which brought me to my current work as both a Psychologist and yoga teacher trainer (with the perks of international travel)! I have never felt so fulfilled professionally. Again, meditation paved the way for me to connect to my deeper intuition and inspired me into the next phase of growth.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle is a book that I come back to time and time again, and every time I discover something new or relate to a lesson in a different way. One of my favorite passages in the book is the re-telling of a Zen story where two monks are walking and pass a woman who is trying to cross the road, but she can’t get across because there is a deep mud hole, and if she were to go through, she would ruin her kimono. One of the monks picks her up and carries her across the road, sets her down and the two monks continue on their way. Several hours pass, and one monk says: “Why did you carry her across the road? We are not supposed to do that.” The monk who carried her responds: “I put her down hours ago, are you still carrying her?” I love this story because as humans we carry around so many grievances and stories that take us out of the present and block our ability to see clearly, thus creating stress and burden. These thoughts keep us from living in the reality and beauty of the present and affect many aspects of our life.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

Mindfulness is a practice and like anything that is a practice it needs to be done over and over again. There is no end point. It requires the honing of all of our senses and taking in each experience through the five senses while turning off the internal dialog. It is a state of allowing the mind to be full of the current experience and not full of thoughts. The state of being mindful is the ability to get quiet and apply focus to each moment. I also see it as a place where we can just ‘be’ — versus having to take action or do anything.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

Physically, practicing mindfulness reduces stress which has positive effects on the nervous system. When our nervous system is more balanced, we see a variety of health outcomes including enhanced cardiovascular health, immunity, and reduced muscular tension and inflammation which could be related to feeling less pain in the body and lower risk for disease-causing states. There is also evidence that practices reduce cell aging, affecting the integrity of specific proteins (called telomeres), which may be related to enhanced longevity and protection from the effects of aging. Mentally, mindfulness practice is associated with improved focus and executive functioning — which includes better problem-solving and decision making. In addition, mindfulness-based practices minimize activity in an area of the brain called the Default Mode Network (DMN) which is where we tend to engage in mind wandering and often times this mind wandering is related to negative thinking. Mindfulness may also slow the cognitive decline associated with aging and Alzheimer’s Disease. Emotional benefits include improved mood, increases in positive emotions, and decreases in anxiety, emotional reactivity, and other stress-related conditions like feelings of overwhelm and burnout. Since mindfulness practice re-directs neural circuity, it takes the patterns away from the emotional centers related to fight or flight and into the areas of the brain where we can process emotions and respond versus react.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

  1. Minimize the amount of exposure you have to all media, including television and screen time. Choose a trusted source for news and read articles, versus watching videos or live updates. Stay current on events but limit your news intake to two times per day. I have found that when I mindlessly look at social media or have the television running that there is sensory overload which is highly stimulating and evokes fear responses. We don’t experience the same sensory overwhelm when reading the written word versus seeing and hearing it on a screen.
  2. Spend time outside daily. Look up at the sky and broaden your perspective to take in the landscape around you. Close your eyes and notice the smells, breeze on your skin, and sounds of nature. I live near the ocean and I make a point to spend time on the beach daily (no matter the weather). The sounds, smells, and sights help me to be in the moment and recognize the larger scope of all life as it lives on this planet. My daily world seems less significant when I ponder and expose myself to the vastness of the natural world.
  3. Start your morning reading something inspiring. Avoid looking at a screen for the first 30 minutes of your day. I wake up early enough to read 3–4 pages of an inspirational book to set the tone for my day.
  4. Practice being quiet and still, with the eyes closed and focus on the breath. I do this after I read, but it can be done at any time during the day. Start with 1 minute (you can use a timer). Commit to sitting, eyes closed, quietly observing your breath. When ready, increase to 2 minutes, then 3. You might build up to 10 minutes, but don’t make it a goal. Simply practice sitting quietly and following your breath and naturally, you’ll crave more time doing this.
  5. When you find yourself overwhelmed or in a negative state, write down all of your concerns on a piece of paper or in a journal. Free write without editing, just to get it all out. After writing down concerns, evaluate which ones you could actually have an influence on. Take a moment to reflect, how much time do you spend thinking/worrying about these concerns? Next to the ones that you can do something about, record 1 -2 things that you will do to shift the concern so that it loses its power. Reflect again, wouldn’t it be a better use of your mental time and energy to focus on things you can influence versus the concerns you can’t do much about? Every thought creates a mental map for better or for worse. Spending time in a proactive state vs a reactive state will rewire your mind and prime you toward creative solutions. When we are in a fear state, we activate the parts of the brain that create more stress and worry. When we are in a solution state, we broaden and build our thought repertoires towards creativity, flexible thinking, and inviting social support.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

  1. Reach out and let them know you are thinking of them. I just recently went through a hard time and receiving messages from others was really helpful in knowing that I wasn’t alone and that someone took a moment to let me know they care.
  2. Listen empathically. Try not to interject and make the conversation about yourself — allow them to express/vent. Ask: “How can I help?”
  3. Encourage self-care on a regular basis and share ways that you are engaging in self-care, too. This might be a daily exercise, taking a bath, watching a funny movie, or something else that brings joy or relaxation.
  4. Bring attention to what is going well. Right now we are exposed to a lot of negative information and fear. Emphasize areas that are going well and celebrate those successes.
  5. Encourage reaching out for mental health support. Many therapists are offering tele-therapy sessions. I had a Zoom call with my therapist recently and it was really supportive in helping me navigate some grief and anger that I was experiencing.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Awareness is always the first step in starting a new behavior or changing a habit. Taking the time to learn about what mindfulness is and how it is beneficial is a great place to start. There are several yoga and meditation classes offered online for beginners that can be helpful. I personally like YogaGlo as they have a large library and classes that range from 5 minutes up. I also suggest reading articles and books on mindful practices which can bring help with learning new perspectives.

Keeping an end of day log of what went well today and what seemed challenging today can enhance reflective capacity and bring awareness to day-to-day living. Once we have an idea of the current state of life, we can start coming up with strategies for doing things differently. I recommend starting with small steps — doing one thing a day differently that will increase being more mindful and feeling more serene. Then, at the end of the day, reflect: how did that make me feel? If it made you feel good, you’ll be more likely to keep doing it as it will become an important part of daily living. As these feel-good strategies start to take up more of our time, it becomes a lifestyle versus one more thing to add to our day.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

“Challenges are gifts that force us to search for a new center of gravity. Don’t fight them. Just find a new way to stand.” Oprah Winfrey

I recently experienced the unexpected loss of my beloved dog. It was a tremendously difficult experience as she was very healthy and through the negligence of a vet, her life went from thriving to not surviving. In the course of it all, I was by her side for weeks, praying and doing all that I could in hopes of her getting better. Unfortunately, she did not, and I had to let her go. I experienced deep shock, anger, and loss. I connected back to what my dog’s life taught me, and that was unwavering love. My original reaction was seeped in the negativity of anger, but I shifted my center of gravity toward love and have found a new way to stand. I’ve always been drawn to work that helps others, but now I am even more inspired with a sense of service in the healing power of support and love.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see more awareness around mental health, stress reduction, and ways to live more connected in our bodies and minds start early in life and in school curriculums. Based on my own research and that of others, we can clearly see social and emotional challenges as early as kindergarten. Not enough time is devoted to developing the whole person. I’d love to see a paradigm shift where mind-body education and wellness is an inherent part of our life-long educational system with supports embedded for those who are struggling. This should be a community-wide approach with guidance for students, school personnel, and families. We could be learning effective coping strategies and lifestyle habits throughout our life that prevent anxiety and depression and that enhance overall well-being.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

www.yogamedicine.com

www.dianemalaspina.com

IG: @Yoga_Medicine

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

The Ins and Outs of Yoga and Scoliosis

By Sara Lindberg for Healthline.

When looking for ways to manage scoliosis, many people turn to physical activity. One form of movement that’s gained a lot of followers in the scoliosis community is yoga.

Scoliosis, which causes a sideways curve of the spine, is often associated with children and adolescents, but people of all ages have this disorder. And the spine, like the rest of our bodies, can change over time.

Physical activity, such as a regular yoga practice, is one form of treatment your doctor may recommend to help you deal with the challenges and pain that accompany scoliosis.

That said, there are some things to consider before you flow into a yoga sequence. Here are some tips and moves to get you started.

Why Yoga is Beneficial for Scoliosis

Yoga can be very helpful for those with scoliosis, particularly given the combination of flexibility and core stabilization needed to perform yoga poses properly, according to Sami Ahmed, DPT, a physical therapist at The Centers for Advanced Orthopaedics.

 

Stretch and Strengthen the Sides of the Body

When practicing yoga, Ahmed says parts of the body are stretched, and others are forced to contract by performing various movement patterns that require a sustained hold of a certain position. This often results in increased mobility of the thoracic spine.

Decrease Pain and Stiffness

“When looking at the spine, especially for those with scoliosis, we think about two concepts regarding its stability: form and force closure,” says Ahmed.

By strengthening the force closure, which is made up of muscles and connective tissue that keep the spine in proper alignment, Ahmed says you can often see a decrease in pain and improvement in overall function.

Physical activity, such as yoga, can help foster the maintenance of a neutral spine or improve the overall alignment.

Maintain or Improve Spinal Position

In fact, one study of 25 patients with scoliosis found that those who performed the Side Plank pose saw improvement in the primary scoliotic curve of the spine (measured as the Cobb angle).

To show improvement, participants practiced the yoga pose for 90 seconds, on an average of 6 days per week, for a little over 6 months.

Potential Benefits of Yoga for Scoliosis
  • stretch areas tightened by spinal curvature
  • strengthen weakened areas affected by the spine’s position
  • strengthen the core overall
  • pain management
  • improve mobility and flexibility
  • maintain or improve spinal position

Introducing Yoga

 

Know Your Scoliosis Type

If you’re interested in trying yoga to reduce pain and correct your curve, Elise Browning Miller, a senior certified Iyengar yoga teacher (CIYT) with an MA in therapeutic recreation, says you first need to understand what your pattern of scoliosis is.

“In other words, they need to picture which way their curve goes from behind and understand the rotation as well because if they don’t know their curve, they won’t understand how to do the poses to correct the curve,” she says.

Begin with Conscious Breathing

When Miller works with students who have scoliosis, she first focuses on yoga breathing with simple poses to bring the breath into the compressed areas, where breathing is compromised.

“If there is the gnawing tightness on the side or sides of the back where the scoliosis laterally and rotationally goes, then stretching that area can relieve the discomfort,” she adds.

“The approach should both involve reducing pain as well as correcting the scoliosis,” says Miller. That said, she does point out that the most important thing is to reduce the pain or discomfort and to keep the curve from getting worse, which can be done with the right approach to yoga.

Accept That Moves Can Be Different for Right and Left Sides

Jenni Tarma, a Yoga Medicine® Therapeutic Specialist, says that when using yoga to help manage scoliosis, you should remember that the distribution of tension in the surrounding tissues has become uneven due to the curvature of the spine.

“More specifically, the tissues on the concave side of the curve are shorter and tighter, whereas those on the convex side are in a continually lengthened position, and most likely weaker,” she says.

Stretch or Strengthen Where It’s Needed

Ideally, Tarma says the goal is to reestablish some balance and try to get things more symmetrical with:

  • targeted stretching on the concave or shortened side
  • strengthening on the convex or lengthened side
Skip the Pose, Any Pose

She also reminds students that since there might be significant limitations with range of motion, you should feel comfortable and empowered to skip poses that aren’t feasible or productive. It’s always important to work within your own capacity.

Give the Instructor a Heads-Up

It’s common for instructors to move around during a yoga class and make adjustments to a person’s pose.

“Hands-on adjustments in classes aren’t necessarily off the table,” says Tarma, “but I would definitely recommend making the instructor aware of the specifics before class and absolutely letting them know if you’d prefer not to be adjusted for any reason.”

Practicing Yoga with Scoliosis

As to the method of yoga, Miller prefers Iyengar because it focuses on alignment and postural awareness strengthening, as well as flexibility.
 
“It is a therapeutic approach, and also, mind-consciousness is key to this system (meditation in action) where you stay in the pose long enough to adjust for your scoliosis,” she adds.
 

Yoga Poses for Scoliosis

Yoga poses that Miller recommends for scoliosis include:

  • Half Forward Bend (Ardha Uttanasana)
  • Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasna) with a belt around a door for traction to lengthen the spine
  • Locust Pose (Salabhasana)
  • Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha)
  • Side Plank (Vasisthasana)
  • Side-Reclining Leg Lift (Anantasana)
  • Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Other Stretching Exercises for Scoliosis

 

Use Bolsters, Rollers, or Other Accessories to Stretch

Miller adds that supported back opening, such as lying over a bolster, and corrective breathing, such as lying on your side where the apex of the scoliosis curve is, can be beneficial. It opens up the breathing and corrects the curve.

Practice Your Posture

Postural awareness is also key, and Miller says she teaches it between the standing poses, such as in Mountain pose.

Try Gentle Spinal Twists and Side Bends

Simple movements like spinal rotation and side bends can also be very helpful in addressing the imbalance. However, Tarma says that due to the asymmetry, these movements will be noticeably more challenging on one side than the other.

“The goal is to train a better range of motion and function on the weaker side. For example, if twisting to the right is more challenging, that’s the side we would focus on,” she says. You can do twists and side bends in a simple seated posture, either on the floor or in a chair.

Strengthen Your Core

That said, Tarma does point out that at least some of the work should be active, meaning you’re using the core and back muscles to execute the movement, as opposed to using your hands or arms to leverage yourself into the position. “Long-term results require more active strengthening to shift the spine into a more neutral position,” she adds.

Work Towards a Balance, Not Symmetry

And while perfect symmetry may not be attainable or even necessary, Tarma says that working toward it can help mitigate discomfort and improve overall function.

5 Big Benefits of Restorative Yoga (Plus the Motivation You Need to Try It!)

So much to do, so little time. If you are like most people, your list of things to do is endless. Just as you cross something off, giving you a minor sense of accomplishment, another task gets added to the list. And it certainly seems like Restorative Yoga has no place on this endless list.

But while this may seem like a never-ending saga, the truth of the matter is that many of us thrive on checking off the boxes on our to-do lists, giving us a sense of accomplishment. In today’s society, many of us feed off of the “glorification of busy.”

With unbelievable emphasis placed on how many boxes we have checked off our list, we lose sight of the benefit of finding stillness.

The Glorification of Busy and How Restorative Yoga Fits In

When we think of moving our bodies to stay healthy, we often gauge the value of the workout by calories burned or how much we sweat.

Time is a precious commodity as it is a resource that we cannot recoup once spent, so we want the most bang for our buck.

Many people who have not experienced Restorative Yoga have the impression that it is the “relax and take a nap class” where we lay on the floor, supported by props and just chill out . . . not burning many calories, not sweating, not being productive.

So why would anyone want to do that?! Click here to read the full article originally published on YogiApproved.com because the list of reasons to practice Restorative Yoga is compelling!

12 Yoga Moves to Ease Uncomfortable Pregnancy Symptoms

By Amanda Tust for The Bump.

Suffering from aches and pain, rising stress and a lack of sleep? These powerful prenatal yoga practices might be just the thing.

Pregnancy stretches us to our limits, prompting an assortment of aches and pains—from round ligament pain to back pain, gas pain and more, most moms-to-be become intimately familiar with some discomfort along their pregnancy journey. The good news? There’s something to be done about it! Certain yoga poses can not only help ease common pregnancy symptoms, but they can also help you recenter and release your mounting stress.

“The poses can be anatomically great and help our bodies, but yoga also teaches us how to be present and in the moment—which can be difficult during pregnancy when there’s so much focus on future and what happens next,” says Jennifer More, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a prenatal yoga teacher, doula, and hypnotherapist based in Santa Rosa, California.

Curious to learn which yoga moves can help alleviate which pregnancy pains and problems? Read on.

Tips for Staying Safe

The overarching end-goal of these poses is to help ease any discomfort you’re currently experiencing—so it would be pretty counterproductive to suffer an injury. Listen to your body and be careful not to overstretch, which pregnant women are more susceptible to doing thanks to the added weight of your belly and the pregnancy hormones that are lubricating your connective tissue and joints. The hormone relaxin, which helps support early pregnancy and ramps up in the third trimester to prepare you for labor, can also make you more prone to hypermobility or overstretching, so it’s important that you don’t push yourself to your max.

“If you’re in a Wide-Legged Forward Fold during pregnancy and your hands can suddenly touch the ground, it doesn’t mean that they should,” says Allie Geer, E-RYT 500, RPYT, a registered yoga medicine therapeutic specialist and prenatal yoga teacher based in Boulder, Colorado. “Don’t go to the depths of your flexibility or hang out in your end range of motion. Come out of it a little bit and use props to support you.” If anything is painful or doesn’t feel good, stop immediately.

For Getting Centered: Calming Breath Practice

More recommends starting a prenatal practice in a seated position, such as Sukhasana (Easy Pose), and simply focusing on your breath for a few minutes. “There can be so much anxiety with all the tests you’re getting and all the newness and the huge transformational time this is, so breathing is one of the simplest and most important things you can do to start to find balance,” More says.

Tune into your breath and simply observe each inhale and exhale. Notice any rising and falling of your belly. After a few minutes, you can start moving in a gentle rocking motion along with your breath, which should help deepen it and give you a focus to help quiet the mind chatter and activate your parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous system to give you a sense of calm. (This same rocking with your breath can also be helpful in labor.) You can also start moving your head and shoulders, doing some gentle side bends and moving your hands behind you for a gentle backbend.

For General Discomfort: Belly Breathing

Belly breathing can help minimize your discomfort during daily movements, such as getting out of bed or in and out of the car. “Belly breathing helps you connect to the layers of your core and draw your abdominals in gently to feel more support,” Geer says.

After taking some grounding breaths in Sukhasana (sitting cross-legged), place your hands out toward the sides of your belly. On an inhalation, feel your belly swell into your hands. On the exhalation, draw your fingers in toward your navel and sense that you’re hugging in around your belly, like you’re giving baby an internal hug, Geer says. You can also try making a “shhh” or “haa” sound on the exhale to feel how your abdominals have to draw in slightly to make this sound—that’s the gentle engagement you’re going for. As you hug in, you’re engaging your transverse abdominis, the deep abdominal muscles that wrap around your torso like a corset. On each exhale you’re gently fastening the corset for support, Geer says, which can be especially helpful if you’re experiencing back pain or round ligament pain. Continue this breathing pattern for three to five minutes; use it throughout your yoga practice and your day.

For Back Pain: Cat-Cow

“If I had to pick only one yoga position to tell pregnant women to do daily, it would be Cat-Cow,” More says. “It helps take pressure off the lower back and can gently stretch and support the ligaments that connect the uterus to the pelvis.” If you’ve been sitting a lot, the contractile tissue of the round ligaments may pull your uterus into a position that leads to discomfort and back pain, she says. Cat-Cow can serve as a reset.

Come onto your hands and knees with your hands directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Bring your index finger forward, which will spin your hands out a couple inches to externally rotate your arms, which allows more space between your shoulders. (If you have any discomfort in your wrists, put blocks under your palms.) On an exhalation, move into Cat Pose by gently rounding your back, releasing your head and relaxing your neck. Imagine that you’re gently bringing baby in toward your body with a hug that goes all the way to your lower back. This is a gentle hugging —you don’t want to be too aggressive. It’s just to allow a slight muscular engagement so your lower back is supported. On your inhalation, lift your head up and allow a very slight sway in your back for Cow Pose. Repeat three or four cycles of Cat-Cow.

For Round Ligament Pain: Leg Extensions

During pregnancy, your uterus expands from roughly the size of an apple to the size of a watermelon. That’s a lot of stretching! No wonder it can hurt a bit—officially known as round ligament pain. One of the best things to ease that pain is to use the belly breath to hug in on an exhale to offer support while you transition between poses or get up from lying or sitting down, Geer says.

To warm up your round ligaments for more movements, do some alternate leg extensions after Cat-Cow, More says. This may help settle your ligaments and gently stretch the contractile tissue to prepare for bigger stretches, such as lunges.

From all fours, extend your left leg back, curl your toes under and press your heel back. Stay here, or lift your leg up gently. Hold for three breaths, then switch sides.

For Lowering Stress: Modified Sun Salutations

A yoga practice as a whole can help reduce stress—and let’s face it, expectant moms have a lot on their minds these days. “Taking time for yourself is so key,” Geer says. “It’s important to make yourself a priority and your practice a priority.” More suggests doing about 15 minutes of yoga a day, including a gentle form of Sun Salutations, to reduce stress and bring major areas of the pelvis into balance.

After warming up with Cat-Cows and Leg Extensions, stand with your feet hip-distance apart and a block between your feet. Inhale as you reach arms overhead. Exhale as you bend your knees and bring your arms out to your sides, resting your hands on your thighs or bringing your hands to a block (at any height) slightly forward of your feet. Inhale, then lengthen your spine to flat back.

Bring your right foot next to the block, then exhale as you step your left foot back into a lounge and place your knee down onto the ground. Your left knee should be in line with your left hand and your right hand should be in line with your right foot.

Once in the lunge, inhale, reach your arms up and bring your hips back so your hips are directly over your left knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then lunge forward, making sure your knee doesn’t go past your ankle (to avoid overstretching). On an inhale, lengthen your spine and lift back up so your hips are once again over your back knee. Exhale, gently hug baby in, and then bring your hands back down to the ground. Bring both knees back into a wide-knee Child’s Pose. Inhale, then move to all fours. Exhale, then press up into Downward-Facing Dog. Inhale here. Exhale, place your knees back down and repeat the lunge sequence on the other side.

For Relieving the Weight of Your Belly: Downward-Facing Dog Pose

Carrying your growing baby around all day can be tiring work. Downward-Facing Dog takes weight off the pelvis and decreases that constant downward pressure you feel during pregnancy, says Geer.

Start on your hands and knees with your arms slightly forward, then lift your sit bones toward the sky and ground down through your hands. Keep your knees forward and gently press your heels down. Hold for at least three breaths.

As a modification, you can try an L-Shaped Pose. Stand facing a wall and bring your hands to the wall at shoulder height. Slowly walk your feet back so your arms and legs form an L shape. Press your hands into the wall and lengthen through the sides of your waist, reaching your sit bones toward the center of the room. Try not to collapse in your lower back or rib cage—instead, imagine a straight line from the crown of your head to your tailbone.

For Swelling: Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose

Your belly isn’t the only thing to get big during pregnancy— swelling in your legs and feet is super-common among moms-to-be, thanks to all that extra blood and fluid your body is generating. Good news: This yoga pose can take pressure off your feet and legs to potentially give you some relief, Geer says.

Position a bolster near a wall at a 45-degree angle with one edge on the ground and the other resting on two blocks, one at medium height and the other at a low height; you can also prop up a couple pillows. Leave enough space between the bolster and the wall for you to sit. Bring your left hip right up next to the bolster and lower down from your side, mindfully rolling onto your back so it’s resting on the bolster. Take your legs up the wall. (You can also put your feet up against a chair or even your couch.) Stay for about five minutes, focusing on your breath, and imagine the swelling reducing and fluid draining out of your legs. If at any time you feel dizzy or nauseous, rock over to your side.

Yoga Modalities for Symptoms of Depression

By Diane Malaspina for Yoga Medicine®.

Whether you experience depression to a point where you need medical intervention or it’s something you find you can personally manage in your life, yoga for depression can be a supportive practice and can help alleviate some of the associated negative patterns that come up. Depression can present itself in many forms, particularly patterns that are considered low energy with symptoms like fatigue, exhaustion and inability to engage with life – or high energy, presenting with symptoms like anxiety, anger, muscular tension and irritation.
 
Follow along and learn about the array of symptoms associated with depression and why it’s important to understand the diversity of ways depression can show up so that we can support our students coping with these challenges. This is a short yoga practice for depression that can be used on yourself or with your students.
 

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

Epi-What? Change Your Internal Landscape Part 2: Epigenetics and How It Reduces Depression and Increases Longevity

In my last Yoga Digest article, we explored the concept of neuroplasticity as it relates to yoga and mindfulness. In this article, we dive a little deeper and investigate epigenetics. If you haven’t already heard this buzz word, now is your time. The term epigenetics itself is very often misunderstood and misinterpreted, so even if you have heard it, we’ll spend a bit of time unpacking what it actually means but keep in mind, this is the speed-dating version. Careers are spent on this stuff!

Essentially, the epigenome can be thought of as sitting on top of the genome (or DNA). To get a visual, think of a textbook where the printed words represent your DNA. Let’s say you go in and highlight a few sentences with a yellow highlighter. That yellow highlight can be thought of as the epigenome. It sits on top of the words but doesn’t change the words. What it changes is the emphasis; i.e., when you go back to review that section, those highlighted sentences will be emphasized (or increased gene expression). Alternatively, you could use a black marker to cross out sentences and, in that case, it would be really challenging to read those sentences again (this would decrease gene expression). Again, the words didn’t change, but your ability to read them did. Theoretically, epigenetic changes are one mechanism by which environmental exposures can ‘get under the skin’ to affect the underlying biology of a system. While there are multiple epigenetic ‘marks,’ this article will only discuss two of them: DNA methylation and telomere length. DNA methylation happens when a chemical group (called a methyl group) acts like a little sticker that adheres to specific segments of the genome. Telomeres are the end of our chromosomes and they are known to shorten as we age.

There is a small, but growing, body of research suggesting that mindfulness-based techniques, such as yoga and meditation, induce changes to our biology, particularly our biology related to stress. Luders and Kurth (2019) describe meditation as an active mental process that, when done repeatedly, regularly, and over longer periods of time, can change our biology. This is due, in part, to the fact that meditation incorporates efforts in multiple domains: 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). This has led some researchers to suggest that mindful-based practices, such as yoga and meditation, hold promise as evidence-based treatment for mental health disorders, such as depression (Goldberg et al., 2018).

How does this happen? Most of us that practice yoga and mindfulness techniques likely feel a shift in mood after practicing, but I suspect most of us, don’t sit back and think deeply about what is happening biologically to create this shift. One possible path is through neuroplasticity, which was the focus in my last Yoga Digest article. But we can zoom the microscope in even deeper to look at cellular changes! There are currently a handful of studies examining epigenetic mechanisms as one other possible avenue by which yoga and mindfulness can affect our biology. As one example, Garcia-Campayo et al. (2018) compared the methylome (i.e., 450,000 epigenetic methylation markers across the entire genome) of experienced meditators (10+ years) to non-meditators and found differential methylation at 43 genes. What is differential methylation? It’s when there is more (or less) methyl groups attaching themselves to the DNA in meditators vs non-meditators. The majority of these 43 genes that showed different levels of methylation between the two groups have been suggested to be involved in neurological and psychiatric disorders, cardiovascular disease and cancer. These researchers went on to perform experiments to show that the epigenetic response to mindfulness may modulate (or change) inflammatory pathways supporting the potential of meditation-based-interventions in the treatment of chronic inflammatory conditions. This work was supported by very recent work by Chaix et al. (2020), also comparing meditators to non-meditators, who found differential methylation in 61 genes involved in immune-related (and thus likely stress- related) pathways.

An additional study by Chaix et al. (2017) focused on the epigenetic aging rate. Did you know that there are specific patterns in the genome that can predict the rate of aging? These show up in DNA methylation patterns and also in telomere length, both of which are considered epigenetic markers. Further, cumulative life stress and trauma can accelerate our epigenetic clock and these faster clocks are associated with age-related chronic diseases. Slower clocks, however, predict longevity as well as better cognitive and physical fitness. And, guess what? Meditation and yoga decreased the epigenetic aging rate, with the more years of formal practice predicting increased protective effects on epigenetic aging markers. I don’t know about you, but I want a slower epigenetic clock.

Kaliman (2019) cautions us, however, that this area of research is in its infancy. As a mental health researcher who studies epigenetics as it relates to ADHD-like behaviors, I couldn’t agree more. We need other research groups to replicate (or find similar results) what has been done, ideally in larger and more controlled studies. We also need to be able to speak to the long- terms effects of epigenetic changes. There might also be sensitive developmental periods more conducive to epigenetic changes. And so many more questions beyond the scope of this article. Despite this, however, I feel encouraged. 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 deep in our cells (Kaliman, 2019).

If you don’t already have a yoga or mindfulness practice, here are simple tips to get you started:

1. Bring 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 tostay very focused on the feeling of each movement of your feet, noticing your mind wandering, and staying super present in your experience.

2. If meditating just feels like it’s too inaccessible, try practicing mindfulness as you practice yoga or exercise. When you find your mind wandering or creating your grocery list, bring it back to what you are doing. What muscles are engaging in the pose you are in? What muscles are lengthening? Mentally watch your breath coming in and exhaling out. What is the temperature of the air as you breathe in? As you breathe out? There are countless ways to keep your mind present while you practice and move.

If you couldn’t already tell, I have a tendency to completely nerd out about this type of thing. Our bodies are built to be resilient and to change. And, that change doesn’t have to be negative. In fact, changes can be positive. We have the capacity to change our habitual patterns, which could, in turn, create positive changes in our internal landscape—even at the deep layers of our cells and the ways our genes are expressed.

Change our immune response? Change our inflammatory response? Slow down our epigenetic aging clock? Ummm….yes, please!

Join The Yoga Medicine® Community

Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with
our latest trainings and resources.

Yoga Medicine
Scroll to Top

Find Out More