200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training

Mexico | July – September, 2020

Learn More

Most Popular Articles

Resources

What is Trauma? And Why is It Important to Know for a Yoga Teacher?

By Katia Shulga for Yoga Medicine®.

When I started researching trauma in literature over 10 years ago, I had no idea how wide-spread the concept of trauma would become, and I didn’t think much about its influence on my yoga teaching and practice either. To me, it was just something that belonged to psychology research and cultural studies. This has all changed in recent years. We have seen a steady increase in books, articles, talks, workshops and trainings on yoga and trauma. There is trauma- sensitive yoga, trauma informed yoga, yoga for PTSD and so forth. It is becoming as important for a yoga teacher to be aware of trauma as of hypermobility or joint issues. This is great, but also complex, because it is easy to think that trauma is one thing and one thing only, when in fact it’s unique to each person and each experience. This makes it harder to say what yoga for trauma should look like. On the other hand, we also know that not all hypermobility is addressed with the same pose adjustments, so perhaps it’s the same approach we need to apply here.

So, what exactly is trauma? We can simplify trauma to say that it’s an experience, or a collection of experiences, that impact our nervous system, so that it becomes trapped in a fight, flight, freeze or fawn response. Bessel van der Kolk explains it as: “something that overwhelms your coping capacities”, Peter Levine defines it as: “an overwhelm of our natural defensive responses that creates something like an injury in our autonomic nervous system, which affects its ability to self-regulate”, and Judith Herman says: “Traumatic events are extraordinary, not because they occur rarely, but rather because they overwhelm the ordinary human adaptations to life”.

A good example to think of is how animals in nature respond to danger, attacking their predator, freezing so that they become unseen or running away. Animals tend to release these events from their bodies relatively quickly afterwards by shaking, but if the danger persists, they become traumatized in the same way as people do. Think of a dog that has been neglected or abused, what’s its body language like? How will it respond to a stranger coming over to it? How would you approach it? This is similar for people who have experienced trauma, but it’s often less overt. Sometimes, they may not be aware of it themselves, or that their reactions are anything out of the ordinary. This is why it is important for yoga teachers to be aware of the many ways in which trauma manifests in people’s bodies and minds, especially if we do hands on assists.

The difficulty with trauma is that it is experienced in different ways by different people, not one singular event is inherently traumatizing. As Dr Gabor Mate suggests, “Something bad has happened to you, or not enough good things have happened to you.” Some people come away from a terrifying accident completely unharmed, others carry the event within them, unable to process it. Therefore, we shouldn’t assume that trauma is expressed the same way by different people. Cultural, generational, and gender issues impact this as well, adding to the complexity. Knowing this, it becomes apparent that there isn’t one way of approaching trauma in the context of yoga – what may be soothing to one nervous system, may not be for another. Restorative yoga may be healing for some but triggering for others, same for any style of yoga. So what can we do?

Well, there are some simple things that can make any yoga class more conducive to trauma healing. The teaching space has to be one of exploration of connection, but within a safe structure. This may seem paradoxical, but the most important thing we can create in a yoga space is a sense of safety so that the nervous system can start to let go of some of its hypervigilance, and therefore start to explore what it’s like to be in the body. Simple ways to establish safety is being clear about what you will do in the class, what the sequence is, where you will place yourself in the room, whether you will turn the lights off or not during Savasana and why you may look at someone’s pose. All it takes is a couple of words stating: “We will do X, I will be walking around making sure your practice is anatomically safe, and during Savasana I will play some music/turn off lights etc.” And it’s paramount to be clear about time, always being on time and finishing on time is an underestimated technique for creating safety. It develops trust that you will do, what you say you will do.

Some other aspects of yoga may be both more triggering and more healing, and it’s a fine line to walk, knowing that we all may get it wrong from time to time. This is where it gets more complicated. One of the profoundly healing qualities of yoga is its ability to cultivate a connection between body and mind. Often, trauma separates the connection to the body, or makes the body an unsafe place to be, for a variety of reasons. As van der Kolk explains, “Trauma is actually NOT the story of what happened a long time ago; trauma is residue that’s living inside of you now; trauma lives inside of you in horrible sensations, panic reactions, uptightness, explosions, and impulses. Because trauma lives inside of you, getting to know yourself can be the scariest thing to do.” The invitation to experience the practice from within, is where the experimentation and exploration part comes in. As a teacher, you are slowly coaxing and inviting the person to connect to what it may be like to sense the body.

This doesn’t have to be complicated, in fact, it may be very simple, yet profound. Some embodiment practices that we may want to incorporate, and that we may already use, are as simple as feeling the breath and the movement of ribs, with hands on ribs. This combination of interoception (feeling from the inside) and proprioception (feeling from the outside) is a simple link that can bring the person back to the sensation of being in their body. Deep breaths are always good as well! Feeling feet on the floor, inviting the students to touch their own skin to feel the boundaries of their bodies, feeling the sensations of hands pressing into each other, all of these small things can be some of manageable and digestible moments of when a person returns to their body and is able to experience the union of body and mind.

One thing that we must be aware of with trauma, beyond anything else or any training that we do, is our own traumas and how we harbor them in our bodies. Working with our own traumas as teachers, is probably the best thing we can do to provide a safe space for our students. Seeking support in holding space for our own trauma will help us in holding space for other people’s traumas.

Guidelines and Grace: Recommendations for Teaching Trauma-Informed Yoga

By Jaci Gandenberger for Yoga Medicine®.

As a social worker and yoga teacher who has supported many other teachers in offering classes to vulnerable populations, I’m often asked about “trauma informed yoga.” In many cases, teachers want to know a formula or list of rules that can be used to create a trauma-free space.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t exist. Trauma is deeply personal and triggers – things that remind someone of a past traumatic experience – can be unpredicatble due to the unique nature of a traumatic experience. Moving your body into a certain position, hearing a particular melody, or catching a whiff of a scent can all bring past experiences crashing back, and sometimes even the person experiencing this has not foreseen their own triggers.

A given pose – child’s pose, for example – might feel grounding and soothing for one person but feel vulnerable and unsafe to another. Similarly, breathing practices, room configurations, music playlists, and more can all carry the potential of triggering someone. I know of one yoga teacher who worked to create a “trauma informed” playlist that only had traditional Indian music. It had been well received, until one day she had a student from India who broke down sobbing during one song. He later explained that that song had been played at his father’s funeral.

While it can be scary to have no guarantees and no perfectly safe approach, here are some general tips that I use to mindfully plan safe classes for vulnerable students.

1. Ask your students what they want.

Would they prefer the lights bright or dimmed? The door open or closed? What kinds of music do they enjoy? In addition to setting yourself up for success, you’re also conveying that you’re someone who cares about your students’ preferences and needs. That alone can create a greater sense of safety.

Important note: Do NOT ask your students about their trauma histories or triggers! At most, you might ask in a general sense what makes them feel safe and if there’s anything they want you to know makes them unsafe. However, as their yoga teacher it is inappropriate for you to dig any deeper than that.

2. Do not give physical assists.

Many forms of trauma are related to people’s bodily autonomy being taken from them. Depending on your students’ experiences, they may not feel comfortable setting boundaries with you, so you can support them by refraining from touching their bodies at all. If you do want to give physical assists (only after developing significant rapport with your students), use an opt-in rather than opt-out approach and describe exactly what assist you are offering. Yes, this means getting permission for each assist – this gives students the opportunity to change their minds, and it recognizes that people have different boundaries around different ways of being touched. For example, I might be fine with someone pulling my heels down while I’m in down dog, but that doesn’t mean I’d be comfortable with them lifting my hips in the same shape.

3. Stay on your mat.

In my teacher training, I was urged to spend as little time on my yoga mat as possible. There are a lot of good reasons for that, but if you’re teaching a population with high levels of trauma, it’s better to stay in place. Many students feel vulnerable if someone is walking around the room while they’re practicing, particularly if they can’t see where that person is. In addition, if you’re not giving physical assists your visual cuing becomes more important. By staying at your mat and demonstrating the poses as you describe them, you’ll be be giving them a different, and typically safer, form of assisting.

4. Encourage body awareness and choice.

One of the most empowering things you can offer your students is a sense of bodily autonomy and the freedom to make their own choices. Rather than direct instructional language, use invitational language to encourage them to explore what would feel most helpful in their bodies.

For example, if we’re releasing the neck I might say: “If you’d like, begin rolling your neck slowly from side to side. As you do so, notice if there are any areas that feel a little tighter, or where there’s a feeling of tugging or resistance. As you notice those areas, you might choose one to linger with. You can send your breath into that spot, or maybe even give it a little massage to help it release. When you’ve spent enough time in that spot, you can roll your neck a little more until you feel the next place you’d like to linger.”

5. Give your students tools to ground themselves.

If students start to feel triggered or disassociated, an effective ways to recenter them is to encourage them to focus on what they’re experiencing with their five senses. This returns their attention to the present moment. One simple way to do this is to ask students to notice 5 things they see, 4 things they feel, 3 things they hear, 2 things they smell, and 1 thing they taste. You can offer this as a practice towards the beginning or end of class, or any time students seem to be becoming disconnected.

6. Don’t try to be their therapist.

You can offer a powerful, healing practice as a yoga teacher so focus on what you’re trained to provide and are there to offer. If you have a student who seems to be in crisis, or one who comes to you before or after class seeking a level of support that you aren’t equipped to provide, the best thing you can do is to refer them to other support systems. One valuable resource is Psychology Today’s “Find a Therapist” tool, which allows you to search for therapists in your area by categories including specialty, language(s) spoken, and types of insurance accepted.

7. Give yourself grace.

Because there is no fool-proof formula, know that you aren’t a failure if a student is triggered in one of your classes. You’re being present with the reality of being human. Make sure that your student has the support they need, which will likely include connecting them with an outside resource. Then learn from it, grow from it, and release it.

How Does Yoga Affect the Different Systems in the Body?

How does yoga affect the different systems in the body?

When we look at the research and breakdown how yoga can be helpful, we’re still really just barely touching the tip of the iceberg when we talk about being able to explain it.

The Nervous System

The effects of yoga on sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation and circulation are a big part of the effects of a yoga practice that we can explain right now. Our capacity to efficiently & effectively regulate stress and recalibrate the nervous system responses and increase blood flow. Interestingly enough a large number of pharmaceuticals target the nervous system to create their responses and yet we actually still know very little about the nervous system and the brain.

Then there’s the flip-side. The sympathetic also gets a bad rep. New research also shows that the power of stressing the system is really important to our health & longevity, with things like intermittent fasting and athletic training being examples. What’s important is that we can rise to the challenge and then smoothly transition back to a more parasympathetic dominant state. With such a diversity of movement and more introspective practices, yoga is an excellent way to train these shifts in the nervous system.

The Brain

The mind & mental health are a huge part of the effects we see from a regular yoga practice. In fact one the things that makes researching yoga so difficult is that so often prompts positive lifestyle changes from these mental shifts. A regular yoga practice changes the lens through which we see the world by creating a more nonjudgmental appreciation for what’s within & around us. It allows us moments to sit in the middle and watch the waves of our lives around us, which is a big part of its use in stress reduction.

It’s fascinating to look at the placebo studies coming out of Harvard and how we look at placebo as a negative outcome rather than the power of the mind. The importance of our perspective, our mindset, our purpose, setting an intention with practice, all these really simple things are also a big part of what’s shaping the effects of our practice. We’re learning so much more about the brain and how powerful it is in regulating so many things, including pain and our experience in the world.

The Immune System

With all the super bugs and viruses right now, the immune and lymphatic impacts of a yoga practice are precious modalities. There are so many great ways to support the immune system with yoga. Simple stress reduction, pranayama and gentle flow for lymphatic circulation; or more specific movements to target the lymph nodes. The lymph nodes intelligently congregate around the joints and rely on changes in pressure to pump lymphatic fluid through them. Movements targeted to these areas help to pump fluids through the lymph nodes and the lymph flow through the nodes is an important part of our immune function.

I love seeing how new research supports these things and the implications of how important the flow of the lymphatic fluid is to supporting the immune system. It just comes down to digging in a little deeper to understand how it all works in order to create a purposeful practice to support lymphatics.

The Connective Tissue

Connective tissue research is teaching us a lot and much of that information can be applied to a yoga practice. I believe the next wave of sports medicine will build off of this new info.

There are so many implications to support the connective tissue in yoga. We find simple things like eccentric contractions, slow flow and held passive stretches as a great way to apply a healthy stress to the connective tissues which help hydrate the connective tissue and stimulates the cells to lay down more collagen, making the tissues stronger & more resilient.

There’s some interesting research on the impacts we can have on the connective tissue and the implications in yoga. Yin yoga has some interesting applications in particular. Imagine the connective tissue right under the skin like a sponge. If you think about pulling that sponge from both ends—and they’ve done studies on this—the fluid content of the fascia goes down right away. Then as you come out, once you’ve stayed in for two minutes or longer, the fluids come back into the connective tissue, to where they were and then keep increasing beyond that for up to three hours afterwards.

There’s a whole lot more to the connective tissue, but that gives you a quick peek into one area of research. Yoga is such a big part of this and since the connective tissue is a sensory organ and a key part of our proprioception and interoception there are many more connections to how yoga can benefit the connective tissues.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

What is Pain Education and How Can Yoga Help Us Understand Our Pain?

What is pain education and how can yoga help us understand our pain?

There’s some interesting research out of Australia with Professor Lorimer Moseley and Professor David Butler on how pain education changes pain. I think teaching mindfulness is such an important foundation when working with pain as it allows us to peel away the filters of our past experiences as we shift to this nonjudgmental attention.

We actually don’t have pain receptors in our tissues, we have nociceptors, which are basically just sensing extreme changes in pressure, temperature & chemicals, and relaying that information back to our brain. Our brain is then filtering that against all of its past experiences, emotions and beliefs about pain or fear of pain. It’s filtering all these things and then predicting whether there is an inherent danger to the system. So ultimately the nerves are actually danger receptors, protecting us from harm to our tissues.

The interesting thing about that is that our brain is always going to air on the side of safety and protection. The feelings that we feel don’t always match up with the threat to the tissues, especially in chronic pain when the mechanical issues are long gone. For me, this is where yoga becomes such a really important tool; being able to slow down and peel away the filters of our emotional body & past experiences to sit with the experience (safely of course). Is there actually a threat or danger? Can I relax here and see if it’s still there?

Pain is in some ways our greatest teacher. If something is painful, can I go slower and allow it to shift? If I go slower and it’s still there, what is it trying to teach me? Maybe I shouldn’t be moving there. Maybe not every day. Maybe that changes tomorrow. The idea of being able to look and take away the judgment, take away the reactions, the emotional reactivity of it, and really look at this experience and remind ourselves of the fact that we all experience stress. We all suffer. We all experience pain.

Empowering our students to understand their bodies rather than be afraid of it, is really an important & empowering part of our practice.

Fear-based approaches never benefit anyone. “Don’t do this or you’re going to hurt this.” We need to empower our students to be advocates of their health and empower them to appreciate pain as a learning opportunity. To respect it by slowing down enough to listen and adapt rather than pushing through.

Pain is a precious signal and a brilliant and intelligent system that is constantly adapting. Pain education is an interesting field that we’re still learning so much about.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

How do Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yoga Complement Each Other?

How do Traditional Chinese Medicine and yoga complement each other, and how does it inform you as a yoga teacher?
 

For me, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) really helps to decode the individual I’m working with. We often talk about it as the root and the branches. The root is someone’s unique individual makeup, their constitution, versus the branches being the symptoms.

Maybe someone has headaches, indigestion & back pain, but underneath it, in Chinese medicine, we’re looking at the root diagnosis of what’s driving those symptoms. I always compare it to a game of Connect The Dots. When someone comes to you as a yoga teacher and they say “I have back pain, what should I do?” I always joke in our trainings that that’s just one dot, it’s just one piece of information that doesn’t tell me that much about the person and what’s really going on.

In some ways it’s harder when teachers leave our trainings because now they have so much information swimming on their head. We can give general things that can be generally helpful, but without knowing someone, without getting more dots, I don’t really know who this person is to build or draw the picture of what’s going on and what might be most helpful to them as a whole person.

For instance, you might have 20 people coming with headaches in Chinese medicine, but will potentially have a different cause and a different approach needed. With headaches, some people find inversions make their headaches better, some find that makes it terribly worse. Some find that movement helps or makes it worse. There are so many things to adjust.

Rather than starting from scratch and trying all of those options, I can collect information from the person and sketch a picture in my head to support them more uniquely & three dimensionally.

Then of course, like anything, I have to start to move forward and, err on the safer side so that I don’t make things worse, experiment and see what helps. Even the best theory, whether that’s western medicine or eastern medicine, still has to be tested out. Not everyone’s going to respond in a perfect way.

The great thing about Traditional Chinese Medicine is that the meridians tie into this to give us more physical access points to work with in the practice and the asana. It’s really helpful.

I feel like for those in yoga, so many of the yogic books are a great reference for “do this for headaches or do this for this.” But it’s not that straightforward, so I really like teaching yoga teachers how to decode and individualize their work to the student in front of them to make what they do really potent.

Learn more in Tiffany’s episode of The Yogapedia Podcast!

Growing Mindful Partnerships in the Midst of Mayhem

Actionable steps we can all take now to come out of chaos stronger.

How extreme are these times? We are urged to physically distance ourselves in public and yet many of us find ourselves at home in close proximity to our partners and children. We are disconnected from our local community and extended family, but technology provides an extended sense of community outside of our walls. Life and routine is interrupted. 

Within our home, the stress and closeness can literally bring us together or exacerbate any underlying issues that our relationships might have been hiding. Globally, divorce rates and domestic abuse have spiked worldwide since Coronavirus appeared. On the flip side, experts predict an increase child births in the next 7-9 months.

“This pandemic is not treating everyone equally,” says Atlanta-based family and marriage therapist Sadé Ferrier. “Some couples are feeling the walls close in as pre-existing friction intensifies while others are relieved to slow down, talk more, and gaze into one another’s eyes.”

Ferrier says the one thing we have is common is that we are now faced with the current core temperature of our relationship. 

“Most distractions have been stripped away, making the status of your relationship more evident,” says the intimacy expert. “It’s a good thing. Whether you realize you need to address years of hidden wounds, or you realize that you truly do enjoy one another and need to make more space for reconnection.”

Psychotherapist and New York Times bestselling author Esther Perel suggests that we use this time “cocooning” to hone in on the people who really matter to you. Instead of bracing for the worst, we can embrace this opportunity in close quarters to build connection. Here are some ways to get started:

Set a Relationship Meeting

The idea of a meeting may sound tedious, but setting aside time for it is important. Often our mundane business of marriage, family or relationship infiltrates our day-to-day living. And now with this pandemic, it’s even more important to have a check in. 

You and your partner should schedule an agreed time once a week to discuss schedules, finances, home maintenance, planning, etc. Keep to an agenda for the meeting and keep it to a set time. This opens up your other time together for just fun and more effective ways of getting closer and building rapport. We actually have two meetings in our family — our marriage meeting and our weekly family meeting. The latter always ends in us playing some game or activity together. 

Make it Last

Collectively, our kisses and hugs are just too fleeting to have an impact on our brain and hormonal system. Science suggests a 6-second kiss, lips to lips. And for hugs, a full-on 20-second hug with each person supporting their own weight. The benefits are numerous from heart health and stronger immune system to the release of positive feel good hormones throughout the body.

Renown family therapist Virginia Satir once said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.”  In our marriage, we take this literally. My husband and I run a business together and on especially stressful days, we make it a game to stop and get a hug and reach our twelve. 

Give Each Other Space

All this togetherness, can be too much togetherness! Take time out for yourself and use it to set your own personal goals and daydream about your aspirations. Maybe even try journaling. The key is that you know yourself intimately. Ask yourself questions about who you want to be? And what do you want to do with your life that is fulfilling? Find a way to connect and express yourself. 

I highly recommend listening to Perel’s new four part workshop to help you learn how to navigate this time for yourself and your relationship with others. 

Intimacy Challenge

About a year ago, our trusted marriage adviser Dr. Mike issued us an intimacy challenge.

The goal: aim for 30 minutes a day cuddling, two times a week make out sessions that never ended in intercourse. In fact, we had to wait after 24 hours after a make out session to have sex! My husband and I had to set clear, ahem, rules of engagement. I definitely thought to myself that we would nail this challenge but we have found it challenging. And to this date, we have fun trying, and sometimes failing, to hit our goals. 

Seek Out the Different, Fun and Funny 

Even though we find ourselves limited in resources right now, try to be creative. Set up a picnic, dress up more than usual, arrange a dance party, or dinner by candlelight. 

Ferrier tells her clients to be sure to “add the element of playfulness. Touch should be fun – whether that be the fun of passion and intensity, or the fun of giggling and tickle fights.”

Lastly, don’t be afraid to laugh. Watch a funny movie, play a family game, but just find a way to laugh with each other.

Seek Outside Help 

Not everyone is experiencing harmony at home, and some of these tactics may be met with resistance or unable to get started. Or it is possible that a partner is too triggered with anxiety to reciprocate. It might be time to reach out virtually to a marriage counselor who can help you come to an understanding. 

Visit websites like BetterHelp and Psychology Today to screen counselors’ profiles. 

Ferrier recommends that couples should ask therapists what percentage of their clients are couples and what their specialities are. “Online counseling has unique differences, and you’ll have more success navigating this as a couple if your counselor is already skilled in couples counseling,” she adds.

Ayurveda In 2020: Why This 5,000-Year-Old Practice Is Still As Relevant As Ever

By Julia Guerra for MindBodyGreen.

If you’re an avid yogi, swear by oil pulling, practice intermittent fasting, or sip warm lemon water first thing in the morning, you’re one of many people subscribing to the ancient practices of ayurveda

Ayurvedic values can be applied to every aspect of life—from physical health to mental well-being, beauty rituals, and diet. “The literal definition of ayur is ‘life’ and veda is ‘knowledge,'” ayurvedic health counselor and Yoga Medicine instructor Cristina Kuhn tells mbg. “[It] is the knowledge of life or the knowledge of how to maintain health in daily life and therefore support longevity.” 

And it’s hardly a recent development. Ayurvedic expert Shrankhla Holecek, MBA, tells mbg that the first teachings of ayurveda are documented in the vedas—Indian scriptures on spirituality and life that trace back over 5,000 years. They describe what modern medicine is just beginning to grasp: That the mind and body are intricately connected, and one of the most effective ways to heal and transform the body is through the mind.

Here are 10 modern well-being practices that actually stem from this ancient mind-body medicine.

10 Practices That Have Roots in Ayurveda:

 

1. Oil Pulling

You know the saying “the eyes are the window to the soul”? Well, according to ancient Indian practices, the mouth is the mirror that reflects a person’s general health, which is where oil pulling comes in. Cited in ancient ayurvedic texts Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita, oil pulling is the act of swishing oil in the mouth to promote oral cleanliness.

“[Oil pulling can help with] ridding the mouth of ama (excess impurities and toxins), freshening breath, and even whitening the teeth,” explains Holecek. “It can also feel like a massage on the gums and tongue.” It’s recommended that oil pulling be done first thing in the morning, on an empty stomach, for up to (ideally) 20 minutes straight. 

There isn’t enough scientific evidence to definitively say that oil pulling is beneficial for oral hygiene, but the morning ritual has nonetheless affected Western culture. Even celebrities like Ashley Benson, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Miranda Kerr swear by the practice.

2. Drinking Water at Room Temperature

According to ayurvedic protocol, gulping down ice water is a no-go. “Ayurveda does recommend sipping water during meals,” Holecek says, adding that the temperature of that water depends on your dosha, or energetic type—preferably warm for kaphas and vatas, room temperature water for pittas. “[But] sipping is the operative word here as the ideal state of your stomach post-consumption of a meal should be a third each of water, air, and food.”

The healthy habit of drinking lemon water first thing in the morning is also rooted in ayurveda. The nutrients in the lemon are thought to help stimulate stomach acid and aid in digestion.

3. Tongue Scraping

Unlike oil pulling, the benefits of jiwa prakshalana, or tongue scraping, are backed by scientific evidence and encouraged by health experts. 

“When we sleep, our digestive system remains awake, removing toxins from our body by depositing them onto the surface of our tongue,” Gillian Mandich, M.S., Ph.D., previously told mbg. The benefits of tongue scraping include preventing halitosis (aka bad breath), boosting your immunity, improving your dental health overall, and enhancing your sense of taste. If you don’t scrape away these toxins, however, “they get reabsorbed by the body and can lead to respiratory difficulties, digestive problems, and a compromised immune system,” Mandich warns.

4. Eating a Balanced Diet

Eating an abundance of whole foods is one of the most foundational elements of ayurveda. However, unlike most ways of eating, ayurveda’s system focuses on not only what we eat but how we eat it.

“Ayurveda teaches us that not only is the quality of the food we consume essential for health, but how we connect with food is just as important to our well-being,” explains clinical herbalist Lindsay Kluge, M.S., CNS, LDN. Cooking, working with fresh ingredients, sharing meals with loved ones, and eating mindfully (chewing slowly, identifying the different flavors, smelling what’s on your plate, etc.) all help make food so medicinal in ayurveda.

5. Intermittent Fasting 

Those practicing ayurveda try to live in alignment with their circadian rhythm. This internal clock tells us when to go to bed at night and wake up in the morning, and it cues us to eat our first and last meals of the day.  

“[According to ayurveda,] we are best served to align our daily routines, as well as modern wellness strategies to leverage these default functions,” certified yoga and ayurveda health coach Carly Banks tells mbg. One of these strategies is intermittent fasting, which requires eating during a time-restricted window. (You could eat for eight hours, then fast for 16, for example.) Recently, Western culture especially has embraced this way of eating as a tool for weight loss, glucose tolerance, immune system support, and brain functionality.  

“What has long been theorized in ayurveda and is now proven by modern science is when the sun is highest in the sky, our digestion is at its strongest,” Banks explains. “When aligning this approach to ayurveda and circadian living, that eight-hour window specifically becomes 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the largest meal being taken at noon.”

6. Dry Brushing

Ayurveda educator Salila Sukumaran tells mbg that while dry brushing isn’t directly an ayurveda ritual, it is a Western interpretation of the ayurvedic practice called udwarthanam

Udwarthanam or ubtan is the equivalent [of dry brushing],” says Sukumaran. “It is a massaging of the body with dry powders made of sweet spices and mung pastes, mustard paste, etc., to wash off the excess oils, to soften and reduce cellulite, and to help strengthen the body.”

Udwarthanam is often administered in ayurvedic healing centers, but the practice of dry brushing can also be done at home using a stiff bristle brush.

7. Self-Massage

Self-massages are mentioned in the original ayurvedic texts as rituals that promote both skin and overall health, with abhyanga, or oil massage, being the main attraction. Abhyanga can be done for anywhere between 15 and 45 minutes, followed by a shower to soap off any excess oil. By massaging sesame oil in the fall/winter and coconut oil in the spring/summer in circular movements along the joints and bones, dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda Erin Casperson tells mbg that the skin will soften and the body will become strong and more resistant to diseases.

8. Acupuncture

Although acupuncture is a kind of alternative medicine rooted in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), experts consider the practice complementary to ayurvedic beliefs. This is because a) acupuncture, like ayurveda, dates back over 5,000 years, and b) TCM is rooted in similar beliefs to ayurveda. 

“Acupuncture believes in the meridian lines throughout the body and [that] when these energy patterns become blocked or imbalanced, this is when medical symptoms may arise,” Samantha Parker, C-IAYT and personal trainer tells mbg. Those who practice ayurveda also believe in the flow of energy, and the interconnectivity of energies, which is where the two systems run parallel: “Both aim to enhance health and overall quality of life by creating balance in the individual rather than focusing on the disease.” 

9. Yoga

This list wouldn’t be complete without the inclusion of yoga. In Western society, yoga has evolved, expanded, and been re-imagined. Things like drunk yogagoat yogaAcroYoga, and SUP Yoga are all examples of the ways Western culture has put its spin on the practice, for better or worse.

“Yoga [and other meditative practices] has become more commonplace,” says Monisha Bhanote, M.D., FASCP, FCAP, a triple board-certified physician and yoga medicine teacher. “[It] has transformed into different types of practices, most with roots which remain in the original purpose of combining breath and movement.”

10. The Doschic Approach

Sound familiar? The Doschic approach to well-being is a major component of ayurveda that modern companies have jumped on, and mbg called it out as one of its wellness trends to watch back in 2019. Knowing what dosha(s) you’re dominant in is thought to help you build a lifestyle that keeps you feeling balanced and vibrant. Eating for your dosha is thought to be especially important, so it makes sense that we’ve seen ayurvedic foods like ghee and turmeric become more mainstream in Western culture.

What is It About Ayurveda That’s So Timeless?

In a word: nature. 

“Ayurveda is rooted in our connection with nature, and its influence upon us (i.e., how we respond and adapt to our natural world) [is what makes this system so timeless],” Kluge tells mbg. “Simply by being more in touch with and observant of our own environment and habitat around us, we can use that practice to be more attuned to our own body and cultivate a deeper understanding of what we need to live a happy, healthy, joyful, and abundant life.”

The Next 5,000 Years for Ayurveda

Whatever is to come in the next 5,000 years of ayurveda, one thing experts seem to agree on is that it will reflect what we as a society, and as individuals, need from the ayurvedic practices. 

“Ayurveda will see expansion over the globe and each region will discover their own ayurveda from the past,” Sukumaran tells mbg. “This is the ayurveda that will work for the people of that region. While it may benefit a Westerner to incorporate food and supplements that grow in India in abundance, this is not a sustainable practice as each region has its own ancient wisdom, its own plant medicine to rediscover.”

While some ancient practices fade as their culture progresses, ayurvedic practices have withstood the test of time. From spiritual values to well-being rituals, the foods we eat and our relationship with nature, so much of our daily lives are rooted in ayurvedic influence, and it will be exciting to see where these practices take us next.

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.

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