Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – June

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“What I do at this moment is all that I have control over.” Dr. Gloria Petruzselli

June's Gift: Acceptance

As I do most days lately, I woke up this morning remembering we are still in a worldwide pandemic. And as I do most days, I reminded myself that my own moderately annoying and sometimes troubling experience has been many times over easier than the experience for so many people.  That said, my distress is my distress and here’s where I am at the moment. This morning I had a clear and happy plan to write my June blog post on acceptance. On the 9th day of my strict Vermont Covid 19 quarantine, after a somewhat daunting drive from Florida, all was going reasonably well. Looking longingly out at a beautiful summer day, I was actually feeling pretty good. Yesterday was slightly better than the day before.  Yesterday, I hadn’t seen quite so many wasps invading our three-season room, so maybe I didn’t have to call in an exterminator. Yesterday, unlike the day before, I had not experienced a single encounter with the determined little snake living under the back deck who was eager to join me at even a slight opening of the patio door.  We had found a way to get groceries delivered and were well supplied with food (and even wine).  After a Saturday-long struggle installing a new cable box, we were set with movies. Last night we finally figured out how to open the painted-stuck bedroom windows and a cool breeze had surrounded me in a relaxed, deep sleep. As a dear friend always reminds me “these are quality problems I have,” right?  Now happily enrolled in an online yoga program, I enjoyed a sweet first class from Kripalu Center via zoom, and it seemed that life was finally beginning to get a bit back to normal.   Today I was set for a live- stream yoga class, a relaxed brunch with my husband, and Facetime with my grand-daughter.  I could see and feel the end of quarantine just around the corner and soon-to-be sunny walks by the lake were in my future.  Two hours of quiet writing time loomed ahead of me as a true pleasure as I sat down with my coffee and my laptop.  I thought to myself, “you got this.”

A short thirty minutes into my peaceful writing time, my husband appeared at my closed writing space door, and calmly said, “the upstairs bedroom window just fell two stories to the ground.”  He pulled on his shoes and his mask and ran just outside the door to fetch a big presumed-shattered window.  Finding it was (amazingly) still in one piece but not possible for us to put back into place, we spent the next hour figuring out how to cover the gaping hole in our bedroom with plastic.  We started searching online for window repair people who could come for an appropriately distanced visit after quarantine ends.  Dutifully and carefully taping ourselves in with plastic we found in the basement seemed the perfect metaphor for where we were this morning. Really wanting all the windows WIDE open, we actively worked together to safely seal this one up as best we could.  The window taping worked great and happily the day went only slightly downhill from there. “At least the plastic is clear,” we said to ourselves. Now eight hours later, I am back at the computer feeling a heightened need to practice acceptance and find a way to better tolerate distress.  After all, things aren’t that bad for me right here, right now; nevertheless, I am still feeling short on acceptance and long on aggravation.

“Said the river: imagine everything you can imagine, then keep on going.”– Mary Oliver

River Keeps Going

Doing some research on acceptance, I bumped into information on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT).  As I began to educate myself a bit about this therapy approach, I learned that DBT was developed by Marcia Linehan in the 1970s through her work with clients with borderline personality disorder.  DBT is especially appealing to me because of its connection to Buddhism and its focus on mindfulness.  There is quite a bit of info about DBT on line and I easily located several DBT therapists, so check this out online if you want to learn more. While this form of therapy has been used in variety of treatment settings, it has some basic tools that can be useful for anyone in daily life.  (Sevlever, Melina, PhD., manhattanpsychologygroup.com)

Two DBT concepts that seem particularly relevant today are the idea of “radical acceptance” and a set of skills called “distress tolerance skills.”   For the past several months, and especially in the last couple of weeks as we have begun to move into a new phase of dealing with the Covid 19 pandemic, I have been looking for words to describe what I feel like I need to do to find acceptance to transition to a next step.  The term “radical acceptance” makes sense to me in this context.  Radical acceptance means coming to a place where we accept that things are the way they are.  It doesn’t mean, we have to like the way things are. It just means deciding to stop fighting the way things are.  It means stopping complaining and stopping trying to change the situation to some other situation. It means not being in denial.  It means looking the reality straight in the face.  Accepting the situation RADICALLY means, doing so fully and completely.  As Swami Kripalu would say, this means accepting the situation as it is, without judgment.

DBT uses “distress tolerance skills” to help one deal with painful emotions without making the situation worse.  The “Wise Mind Accepts” below are ways to distract from one’s emotional response to a distressful situation.  Some of these techniques may work for some of us some of the time.  They are worth a try to see if we can let go of some of the emotionality in the situation to move closer to acceptance so that we can figure out how to move forward instead of just being stuck in sadness, worry, fear and anger. We could try one or two and see how they work.  The first letters of each skill go together to form the word “ACCEPTS.” Dr. Melina Sevlever offers the examples below. (Sevlever, Melina, PhD., manhattanpsychologygroup.com)

Activities:  Engage in some kind of healthy activity and shift your attention to that activity. Examples include calling a friend, baking cookies, and going for a bike ride.

Contributing: Contribute to someone else.  Surprise someone with a thoughtful gesture or volunteer. Doing things for other people causes us to feel better.

Comparisons: Compare yourself to those less fortunate or to yourself at a time when things were worse. Try to come up with a list of things you feel grateful for. Your pain is still valid, but the focus is to put it in perspective for now so you can tolerate what you are feeling in the moment.

Emotions: Create a different emotional experience by listening to something that usually makes you laugh or feel happy. Listen to your favorite upbeat song or put on a funny video.

Pushing Away: For the moment, decide that you will put thinking about the crisis on the backburner and chose to think about something else. This does not mean we ignore our problems, it means we decide to come back to it at a time when we are more able to handle it.

Thoughts: Replace your thoughts with any other thoughts that are neutral and unrelated to the situation. If you fill your head with other thoughts, there will be less room for thoughts related to the problem. You can do brain teasers, sing songs, imagine positive memories.

Sensations: Distract yourself with physical senses. Our bodies are designed to focus on new or intense sensations. If you engage your body in a sensory experience, such as putting your face in cold water, holding an ice cube, soaking your feet in hot water, your thoughts and focus will follow.

Another example of an activity to shift your attention:

“Petunia takes her mind off her problems by reading about Dr. Who”

Petunia the Pig
Photo Credit: V.A.Welsh

                                Reading by Veronica A. Welsh, age 8

reading beneath

the beautiful blue sky

in a fantisy or mystery

hearing the birds chirping

like there talking to me

and the flowers’ fun singing

in a

fun and beautiful land

of

reading

This month’s yoga pose: Yoga Mudra Pose

Yoga Mudra Pose

Don’t practice yoga mudra pose if you have recent chronic back, knee, abdominal, or shoulder injury or injury or inflammation of the eyes or ears or uncontrolled high blood pressure. 

Yoga Mudra means “the symbol of yogaand is done with an attitude of surrender, placing the head below the heart and with great awareness of the breath. Begin seated on lower legs with knees together.  Lengthen though the waist and reach through the crown of the head.  Raise your arms in front of you.  Sweep arms to the side and back, interlacing the fingers if possible and keeping the elbows unlocked.  Reach your knuckles down toward the floor, lengthening the arms and hugging shoulder blades together as you open the sternum. Lifting the tail bone, hinge forward from the hips and extend the torso over the thighs. Bring the forehead to the floor or a block or cushion.  Reach your knuckles away as you lift arms overhead pressing outer edges of the hands toward the floor in front of you.  To release, extend sternum forward and up and reach back through knuckles, and raise shoulders over waist.  Release hands to thighs.

Wishing you a gentle summer entry with time for finding acceptance of what is.

I hope the idea of radical acceptance provides some support as you begin this unusual summer and work to find moments of acceptance and ease in our shared new normal.  Take some deep breaths, let go of judgment, work on tolerating the distress, and do what you can to move yourself gently into a welcoming summer.

Summer Flower
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Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – May

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"Stress is caused by being 'here', but wanting to be 'there'." Eckhart Tolle

May’s Gift: Present Moment Awareness

This morning I sat down to work on my blog for May with a deep awareness of the usual heavy heart I have been carrying around lately. I am guessing I am not alone in this feeling as we all struggle to make our way through the day with our own versions of pandemic-induced problems. For those of us with the luxury of staying home and isolating, each day seems to require a new effort to move toward optimism and away from sadness, depression, worry and frustration. For those of us without the luxury of being homebound, who are out in the world working and struggling to keep body and soul together each in our own way, the feelings are probably even more challenging. Wherever we are, nothing seems normal, right or very manageable. Checking out my proposed list of blog topics for the year, I had mixed feelings when I realized the May gift was to be “present moment awareness.” I felt relieved to see this topic on my list because I’ve used it so often in yoga classes, with clients in therapy, and for myself in daily living that it seemed like a familiar old friend. Then I realized that most of my present moments lately haven’t felt that great and so with an “ugh” in my mind and a sigh in my heart, I tried to figure out where to begin.

 

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” 
Thich Nhat Hanh

I pulled out my computer and set out to research the idea of “present moment awareness” and this month’s yoga pose, angeli mudra. Surely, I thought, if I just go out there and look around, I’ll bump into a place to start writing. The first thing that came to mind was the quote I often use in class from Thich Nhat Hahn so I typed that onto my blank page. Yes, breathing in and breathing out are good starting points. Taking my own deep breath and diving in, I decided to try to find out more about the author of this quote, a Zen master and peace activist who I knew little about. Reading about him, I was in awe of this man and could not understand how I had managed to not know more about his amazing life. Having lived over forty years in exile from his native Vietnam because of his efforts to end the Vietnam war, in his late eighties after suffering a stroke and unable to speak, he was finally allowed to return to live again in Vietnam. During his lifetime, he established several important Buddhist centers throughout the world; taught at Princeton, Columbia and the Sorbonne; and was a beloved teacher to hundreds of thousands. His teachings, poetry and art are known and loved worldwide. If you want to feel inspired by what one person can do to change the world, click on the link below to read his life story. 
https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/

Beginning my work on this blog as I often do, I looked at the field of positive psychology and found an interesting article called “How to Live in the Present Moment: 35 Exercises and Tools” by Courtney E. Ackerman, M.Sc. on the website, www.positivepsychology.com
Ackerman offered some great suggestions and resources for present moment awareness and I bookmarked this to come back to at some point. Check out the link to read this excellent article: https://positivepsychology.com/present-moment/
As often happens in this kind of Internet search, as luck would have it, the author led me directly to a talk by my new-found inspiration, Thich Nhat Hanh. Perfect. The video was about present moment awareness…the very topic for my yoga class theme where I had used his quote (the one posted just above). “Breathing in I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” I certainly do love that quote and from the first time I heard it, I’ve always found it calmed me so immediately and so sweetly. I clicked on the YouTube video, started to watch and thought to myself, “Wow, this is great, but I really don’t have time to watch this whole thing…It is about an hour long and I have to get this blog written and get on with my day!” After all I did have a walk to do and a face time with my grand-daughter, and Lindsay’s wonderful 4:45 yoga class on zoom. This beautiful monk’s words seemed interesting and important, but his language wasn’t that easy to understand, so I decided I would fast forward the video and see what I could pick up. Moving the little red dot forward on the screen, I listened in a couple of points and realized, that it did all seem pretty interesting. Then I heard him say that we are all running all the time, even in our sleep. And then, “If you don’t know how to stop running, the healing cannot take place.” Ok. Ok, I thought to myself. I will indeed stop running and sit down and go back to the beginning. So, the hour of listening was totally worth the hour. Find yourself an hour and check it out at the link below. I don’t think you will regret it. I’ve typed the short version of my reaction his wonderful talk below. Sometimes, less is more, but in this case, I encourage you to take the time to really listen to these inspiring words at:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N93IvR45D80&t=6s

I can never possibly perfectly explain with proper depth and understanding the beautiful thoughts of this amazing 92-year-old monk whose life is an epic story of suffering and sacrifice and learning and teaching. What I did take away for myself in my own simple way this morning, however, were some lovely ideas which I share with you here. 

  • Stopping is so important. In the Buddhist tradition (in my very simple understanding), samatha (pronounced shamatha) means” to stop. “
  • Our bodies do not stop. They have the habit of running and they run even when we sleep. Our lungs breathe, our heart beats, our blood flows.
  • Our minds do not stop.
  • Our bodies and our minds contain each other. Helping one to stop helps the other to stop.
  • Stopping can help us heal ourselves. It can help more than anything else we might do for us to stop, breathe in, be in the present moment, listen to our bodies, appreciate our bodies, and breathe out with a loving smile.
  • And when we can begin to heal ourselves, we can begin to be a healer for others around us.
  • We can stop and listen to the music of our hearts and our breath.
  • We can STOP when we are sitting, standing, walking or lying down, by remembering that our in-breath isn’t about a fight. Our in-breath is an expression of our arrival. It is a way of saying, “I have arrived, I am home.”

This month’s yoga pose is actually a mudra, angeli mudra. While so many of us are staying home these days, angeli mudra can help us to say, “I have arrived, I am home.”

Angeli Mudra

A mudra is a placing of the hands in a certain way to regulate energy flow and redirect energy to a particular area of the body. Angeli mudra is a greeting used in yoga and it is often used with the word Namaste. Namaste has many definitions, and my favorite is, “the light in me bows to the light in you.” We use angeli mudra often at the beginning and the end of yoga class and it is also used in certain yoga poses, most typically tadasana (mountain pose) and vrksasana (tree pose) as a way of centering oneself in the body. Angeli mudra is a way of aligning our mind, our feelings and our actions by bringing the left and right sides of the body and the mind into the heart center. Angeli can help to open the heart, reduce stress, and calm the mind. We can begin to do angeli mudra, seated, by finding an easy comfortable seat. Bring the palms together in front of the heart, with the palms resting lightly together and the thumbs resting lightly on the sternum. Rather than pressing palms into each other, leave a very slight opening where you can imagine placing an intention or wish for yourself or for the world. You may lower your chin slightly toward the heart and say Namaste. You might also try saying softly to yourself, “I have arrived. I am home.”

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Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – April

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If you are reading this in search of some bright rays of optimism, I’m hoping that you will find them here as I seek to find them, myself.

April's Gift: Optimism

Several months ago when I developed a list of themes for this blog, optimism seemed like a perfect choice for April, the month of daffodils, baby leaves on trees, and greener grass. After all, April often finds us appreciating the beauty of new growth outside in our lawns and in the woods and welcoming a new attitude about the future in our hearts. This April, for everyone in the world, optimism seems hard to find. I’ve been postponing sitting down to write this until I could get my attitude in the right place. I have been trying, as a friend suggested, to “get my head screwed on right” and to find my usual positive attitude. This morning, I’ve decided to sit down at the computer and write about what is real and see if the idea of optimism could help move me to be more optimistic

My go-to place when I’m trying to figure something out has always been the library. In recent years, my library has often become my laptop. This week with the library closed, my laptop is the only option for my usual effort to find “the truth” somewhere out there. Someone told me once that I seem to always believe there is an “expert” for every possible problem and I think that is actually my tendency. My “expert” place to start to read about optimism most recently has been the field of positive psychology. The field’s, founder, Dr. Martin Seligman, defines optimism as “reacting to problems with a sense of confidence and high personal ability.” On the website Pursuit of Happiness.org, the author states that according to Seligman, optimistic people believe that negative events are temporary, limited in scope (instead of pervading every aspect of a person’s life), and manageable. Seligman describes optimism as having three features including:

  • Permanence: Optimists believe the causes of bad events are temporary and the causes of good events are permanent. Pessimists believe the causes of bad events are permanent and the causes of good events are temporary.
  • Pervasiveness: Optimists believe the causes of bad events are just part of a particular area of life and the causes of good events are pervasive. Pessimists do the opposite. If something bad happens they think this badness affects everything and if something good happens they think this is just in the one particular moment.
  • Personalization: An optimist tends to take credit for good events and attribute bad events to external causes – luck and happenstance, or someone else’s mistake. The pessimist takes responsibility for bad events and not for positive ones.

In his 1991 book, Learned Optimism, Martin Seligman described his theory of optimism and a type of “explanatory style,” a way we have of explaining what happens to us. He says that “if every bad thing is permanent, life-altering, and our fault, we’re bound to be pessimistic about the future; if it’s temporary, limited, and a fluke, it’s easier to be optimistic. If you want to read more about these ideas, Seligman’s books and a variety of websites featuring his work are available on line.

Yesterday morning I sat in Florida, struggling to think about the idea of optimism at a time when nearly everything I see and hear and literally EVERY SURFACE I MIGHT TOUCH (cardboard, plastic, metal, etc.!) feels negative, scary and dangerous. Happily, later in the day I had the great fortune to do a virtual class with my favorite yoga teacher, Lindsay Armstrong from Embodied Yoga in Montpelier, Vermont. One of the few bright spots in the last few weeks has been Lindsay’s virtual classes. As is so often the case, yoga helped me make connections between what I was feeling and several other things I already knew. These connections happened during and after class in a way that was energizing and calming all at the same time. The theme for the class was Yoga Sutras 2.33 and 2.34, Cultivating Opposites. The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali are 2500-year-old words of wisdom which describe yoga philosophy. I was delighted to learn about Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavana, the idea of cultivating opposites, because it was exactly the kind of concept I had been craving.

This morning I went to my laptop to read more about Cultivating Opposites and to think about how it might relate to my unsuccessful ability to find and then to retain any sense of optimism. My internet search led me to several articles about Yoga Sutra 2.33. Among others, one short helpful online article by Richard Parenti reminded me of the importance of paying attention to our feelings, acknowledging them, making peace with them and then trying to move ourselves toward their opposite. I really appreciate Parenti’s idea that we attract what we think and feel and his statement that “Nothing is more important than to know how to feel good.” In feeling good, we can do so much more to help both ourselves and others. As Lindsay had said in class yesterday, I discovered that my modern-day psychology resources matched up with ancient wisdom. Cultivating opposites is a similar notion to the kind of cognitive reframing I used to do with clients in therapy. I remembered how important reframing negative thinking can be in changing how one feels. I also remembered the daily yoga practice I created a few years ago and important pieces of it I had slipped away from. I resolved to get myself back to that regular part of my practice and will say more about that later. I realized that the basic idea of cultivating optimism begins with really identifying and sitting with a feeling that is negative (like sadness, fear, or worry) and then moving away from it and moving as much as possible toward its opposite, optimism. Here is the link to the Parenti article. https://www.ahymsin.org/docs2/News/1606/07.html

In my personal yoga practice, I use a simple tool I learned as a therapist. The Awareness Wheel (Miller, Sherod and Phyllis, Interpersonal Communication Programs, Inc.) identifies a simple internal process of SENSE-THINK-FEEL-WANT-DO. The idea is that in a situation you can slow down your awareness and change how you feel and how you decide to act by slowing yourself down and moving through the steps in the wheel. You begin by noticing what is coming in through all your senses. What do you SENSE? Then you can notice what you THINK as you respond to these sensations. Next you notice how these thoughts make you FEEL. Then notice what intentions arise from these thoughts. What do you WANT? And then what do you DO? At any point in this wheel, you can stop and pause and make change. This idea of changing your thinking is used in many forms of therapy and it was fascinating to me to connect modern psychology to the 2500-year-old philosophy of the Yoga Sutras, cultivating opposites. In my personal yoga practice, I have used the awareness wheel tool to bring focus to an intention at the end of my practice and to try to take myself from the mat back to my life with a different, more positive feeling. Today I decided that going forward I will also try this process at the beginning of my practice. I began to connect the awareness wheel idea to the idea of cultivating optimism, acknowledging a negative feeling and moving away from it to feel its opposite. So, if I could decide to notice what I am sensing and make a change at the point of thinking I could change the way I feel, which would lead me to a different want and a different action than I might have had with my negative thinking.

Playing with the idea of cultivating opposites, I decided to try to work the awareness wheel idea backwards a bit from the feeling of optimism to its opposite. If I wanted to try cultivating optimism, maybe I could try to identify what I am feeling that is the opposite of that. What came to me was pessimism, but I realized pessimism isn’t really a basic feeling. Remembering that our four basic feelings are mad, sad, glad and afraid, I realized I wasn’t just feeling one of these feelings but a mixture of all of them pretty much all the time! Clearly, I am feeling everything but glad…I am mad/angry, sad/depressed, afraid/terrified. Taking in all the news through all my senses and thinking so negatively, I am ending up in a very tough place. How could I switch mad to loving, sad to happy, afraid to brave? Maybe I need to spend more time taking each of them one by one, acknowledge them and see if I can move away from them toward their opposite. I am promising myself to work on this daily in my practice.

I recognize that for a variety of reasons we often decide we need to try to stop feeling one thing and pretend we are feeling another. This kind of pretending can’t really work because it is a lie.  The idea of “fake it till you make it” has always made a little sense for me, but right now that feels unrealistic.  Instead maybe we need to find the real feeling…visualize or imagine ourselves moving at least a bit way from it…imagine it’s opposite and do what we can to cultivate that opposite.   For example, notice fear.  Think about its opposite, courage.  Think about times we have felt fear and moved through it…think about what courage we have inside.  Where does it live in our bodies?  How can we notice courage and feel it and try to move it forward inside ourselves in some way and then take it with us outside ourselves to share with someone else? 

The "next right step" can help us cultivate optimism.

In February, back when life was sweet and so much easier (too bad we didn’t really NOTICE that), my amazing 7-year-old grand-daughter and I went to see Frozen 2. Not a big fan of Frozen, I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this movie as much as I did. One particular song, “The Next Right Thing,” melted my heart and made me cry. In the scene, Anna’s sister Elsa was missing and her dear friend Olaf the snowman was melting. Sad and scared and alone and watching her friend slowly dying, the sweet character Anna, sang the words below. This morning I was thinking about how sad and lost I feel so often these days. Wondering about the importance of recognizing the depth of our feelings and taking as many steps as we can toward their opposite, I was reminded of the idea of “The Next Right Thing.” The lyrics are below. I love the way Anna recognizes her deep sadness and talks herself into moving away from her sad feelings to do the next right thing. Instead of pretending optimism, maybe we need to sit quietly with ourselves and recognize we are feeling cold, and empty and numb. And then we perhaps can find the next right thing to move us away from that feeling. This movement can happen even if we feel we are stumbling blindly toward the light. It is the next right step and the next right step and the next one that can help us cultivate optimism, pessimism’s opposite that we need so much.

The Next Right Thing (from Frozen 2)
I’ve seen dark before, but not like this. This is cold, this is empty, this is numb.
The life I knew is over, the lights are out. Hello, darkness, I’m ready to succumb.

I follow you around, I always have, but you’ve gone to a place I cannot find.
This grief has a gravity, it pulls me down, but a tiny voice whispers in my mind
You are lost, hope is gone, but you must go on
And do the next right thing.

Can there be a day beyond this night? I don’t know any more what is true
I can’t find my direction, I’m all alone. The only star that guided me was you
How to rise from the floor? But it’s not you I’m rising for.
Just do the next right thing

Take a step, step again. It is all that I can to do the next right thing.
I won’t look too far ahead. It’s too much for me to take.
But break it down to this next breath, this next step.
This next choice is one that I can make
So I’ll walk through this night, stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing

And, with it done, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything will never be the same again
Then I’ll make the choice to hear that voice
And do the next right thing

If you haven’t heard Kristen Bell’s beautiful emotion-filled voice singing “The Next Right Thing,” consider listening to it. I suggest listening to this and doing the activity below, with a gentle warning that doing so might put you in touch with your own sadness. I’ve noticed that music, at least for many of us, can be a powerful way to tap into deep feelings. If you’re not up for this kind of serious work at the moment, stay where you are and save it for when you have a time to go there…maybe when you have someone nearby in person or on the phone who can support you in the effort to move yourself away from sadness to optimism.
IF you are up for this emotional work, here’s a link to use to listen. IF you can’t make the link work, it’s an easy google to find a version of the song. 

Photo credit: Thanks to Lindsey Smith

Moving to an opposite type of feeling some requires work. Try this if you feel up for it and have the support you need to work through the activity.

Find a quiet place (and an in-person or on-the-phone support if you think you might need one), and settle yourself in quietly. Close your eyes and take some gentle breaths in and out and give this song a listen. If it touches your difficult feelings, acknowledge them. Trying to always push them down and pretend they aren’t there probably won’t really make them go away. Instead, listen and notice what you notice. In the wisdom of a favorite Kripalu practice try to do this: breathe, relax, feel, watch and then allow your feelings to simply be what they are. Don’t try to change them just witness them. Then see yourself stepping slowly away from the negative feelings and work to moving yourself to the opposite, optimism. Yes, it is WORK. To do this, you might try some of these ideas:

  • Do some yoga on the mat or in a chair. One optimistic note is that there are so many great yoga classes online right now. If you are looking for a great in-person or virtual class to try, check out Lindsay Armstrong’s classes at Embodied in Montpelier, Vermont.  embodiedvermont.com
  • Try remembering a time when you felt optimistic and things worked out well. Notice all the details of that situation inside and out.  What was the situation, what did you do?  Write this down and put it somewhere you can find it and read it when you need it.
  • Try identifying where optimism lives in your body and try to feel it there. Smile and feel it some more. Notice, really notice what optimism feels like and what it makes you want to do.
  • Make a list of reasons to feel optimistic. IF you can’t think of anything right away, make some up or connect with a friend and ask them to help you think of some.
  • Visualize a person who is an optimist and notice what they are like. Write a letter to this person and send them gratitude. Mail it to them or to yourself.
  • Make a gratitude list. Keep it where you can find it when you need it. Add to it.
  • Make a list of people you can call when you are feeling NOT optimistic and when you are feeling optimistic. And call them.
  • Call a friend and talk together about what the two of you can be optimistic about and grateful for. Talk about how you might support each other in finding and maintaining optimism instead of staying stuck in sadness, anger and fear.
  • Write in your journal about optimism and where you have found it and where you might find it again. Write about what it feels like to move away from the negative feelings and then write about what optimism feels like inside and where it is taking you.
  • Breathe in visualizing optimism and breathing out, visualize letting go of sadness, anger and/or fear.
  • Try singing along LOUDLY with “Do the Next Right Thing’ and try smiling when you sing it. Or find another piece of music that makes you feel good and play it and sing along.
  • Stand tall and let yourself shake off negative feelings from your head to your toes. Reach up tall with both arms and laugh yourself down to your toes. Rise up and do it again.
  • Find a piece of art that makes you feel good and appreciate it or try drawing your feelings of optimism. Put your picture in a frame or on your refrigerator!
  • Practice recognizing what you are feeling and move yourself toward its opposite and practice being in that opposite feeling.
  • And practice.  And practice some more. 
  • And be gentle with yourself in this practice.
Photo credit: Rich Bokan

APRIL’S YOGA POSE: Warrior 2, Virabhadrasana

This month’s yoga pose, Warrior 2, is an opportunity to plant ourselves firmly in the present moment and find our own strength. We face the side of the mat and center our weight evenly between firmly grounded feet on strong legs. With a strong bent front leg (knee over ankle) and powerful back leg, the body faces to the side. Arms are extended at shoulder height palms down, one arm toward the front and one toward the back, parallel to the floor. We turn the head to look over the front arm, extending fingers long to each side, shoulders down, crown of head reaching to the sky. Maybe we can lift the corners of the mouth gently toward the ears. Chin is parallel to the floor and eyes are clear and strong. We can change our perspective to turn the head and look back over the back arm, maybe recognizing and accepting sadness or anger or fear. Then turning forward to look over the front arm, let us imagine we can do the next right thing to move in our minds and in our hearts toward optimism, love, happiness, and courage. And let those feelings settle deep inside.

Maybe in this calm and centered moment as quiet warriors we can even imagine ourselves arriving in a feeling place the opposite of the dark place where we have been living lately. Maybe we can find a small ray of optimism and hold onto it as best we can.

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Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – March

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"March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb." Thomas Fuller, 1732

March's Gift: Patience

I remember well an elementary school bulletin board in my Indiana classroom featuring the quote, “March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb.” I was in Mrs. Baker’s second grade class when this idea of a scary roaring lion transforming into a sweet little lamb bathed in sunshine and flowers gave me hope. On a gray winter day, it gave me hope that when things seem scary and difficult at the beginning, at some point they would always ultimately soften and feel easier. Having survived knee-freezing days in my little skirt and wool coat while waiting for the school bus, I witnessed gentle warming by the end of March and this waiting it out became a sort of metaphor for my little girl self. It added to my Sunday school upbringing ideas that if I would just be good enough and suffer through enough that things would all get better. These lessons focused on patient, quiet waiting and remembering that good ultimately would always triumph over bad. In the end it would all be certainly OK if I could just wait it out.

Lately, I find myself less charmed by this belief and struggling with whether patience is at all possible in this day where we desire quicker than instant rewards around every corner. Even in this impatient time, many of us do still seem to think some about the importance of patience relative to our children, to our peer relationships, to ourselves and to our world. We just seem to have a harder and harder time finding it.

“If the person you are talking to doesn’t appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.” —A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Patience in our peer relationships: This quote from Winnie, one of my favorite mental health experts, is a sweet and gentle reminder to me. It calls up one of my basic beliefs about positive intentions. Regardless of how hard it is to remember sometimes, I believe that everyone is doing the best she can. We often speak of patience when we are talking about the people with whom we are in relationship. We want them to be patient with us and put up with our shortcomings even as we struggle to be just a little more patient with them. We forget sometimes that they may have a little piece of fluff in their ear. Or maybe it’s a big piece of fluff. Whatever it is, we need to take the time to let them hear and to remember they are likely doing the best they can with whatever it is they are dealing with. Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking they will see whose life they can make difficult. We need to cut each other some slack and find some patience with other people in our lives.

Patience with our children: We speak of patience perhaps most often when we are dealing with our children. We ask them, beg them, to please be patient. Wait until we can take time to put down our work or our phone. Wait until it is their turn to play with the toy. Wait until after their vegetables to eat their ice cream. Interestingly, we often quite impatiently ask them to please be patient for just a little while longer. Sometimes it seems that we need them to be patient so that we can feel maybe just a little calmer and more in control inside, forgetting that they may be struggling with the same wish to have a little more control themselves. Maybe they are doing the best they can do in this moment.

Janu Sirsasana

Patience with ourselves: This month’s yoga pose, janu sirsasana provides an opportunity to practice patience with ourselves. In this forward bending pose, if you look around in yoga class, you will often see students leaning way forward over their extended leg with so much ease and grace. As a new yoga student, it is tempting to emulate what you see and really go for this stretch, maybe even grabbing a strap to get some extra leverage to pull yourself all the way to the floor. This wish to go as far as you can as fast as you can, may lead to back pain; so, it is important to encourage yourself to go slowly and only as far as you can in the present moment to get the stretch your body needs. As in life, this kind of patience with yourself on the mat can lead to a much happier result. With patience and practice you may find yourself eventually moving with more ease into a deeper stretch. Patience can be increased by gently saying to yourself, “the only perfect yoga pose is the pose that is perfect in my body in this very moment.”

“Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is the only moment.” Thich Nhat Hanh

Psychologist Carol Bokan of Vermont with daughter psychologist Jen Arner Welsh offer mother-daughter workshops

In yoga we often talk about the importance of staying in the present moment. One of my favorite yoga quotes above stresses the value of realizing that the present moment is the only moment. I really believe in the value of this present moment practice both in yoga and in daily life. In situations off the mat, lately I have tried coming to the present moment while realizing in the way back of my mind that there will perhaps be other moments in which I will be able to be present. My interest in this idea was enhanced by an interaction with my daughter about her parenting experience. When dealing with her daughter’s potty training, I was struck by my daughter’s ability to be more patient by realizing that while this was being difficult, it would probably not always be this way. I clearly remember her saying, “She’s probably not going to go to college in diapers, right?” And she was right, potty training is over and both mom and daughter have moved on to other moments. While only the present moment is guaranteed, my inner second grader still believes that this balance of being patient through difficult times, while still holding on to the hope that times may get easier, is an important idea to consider.

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” Mitch McConnell, 2017

When Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the senate floor in 2017, Mitch McConnell famously made the statement above to explain the silencing. Instead of squelching Warren, happily for feminists, this became a rallying cry for women all over the country. I found it interesting that a couple of years later when a college-aged woman I know wanted to use this phrase as a tattoo, she wasn’t aware of the source of the quote. Not knowing the Senator Warren reference, this idea of persistent women being silenced was such a pervasive one that it resonated deeply with her, just as it did with so many of us as women. Patience alone can seem like a passive activity. Persistence is about not just waiting but also about putting in some effort in the process.

“Water does not resist. Water flows. When you plunge your hand into it, all you feel is a caress. Water is not a solid wall. It will not stop you. But water always goes where it wants to go and nothing in the end can stand against it. Water is patient. Dripping water wears away a stone. Remember that, my child. Remember you are half water. If you can’t go through an obstacle, go around it. Water does.” Margaret Atwood

As I pass through my 70th year, trying to remain present in some moments of real peace and some moments of what feels like sheer terror, I’ve been giving much thought to the need for patience and persistence. I’ve been realizing that sometimes things that seem difficult don’t just require waiting it out and hoping for things to get better. Instead, difficult moments may actually require our active engagement. They require really focusing on what our own values are and finding a way to live in those values as we wait. March may have come in like a lion but we need to be present with her and find our own way to do what we can do to be in the present moment if we are going to make it to a more peaceful spring and summer to follow. Sometimes the moment we are in must simply be patiently endured. Other moments call us to find our own deepest beliefs and resiliency, to wait it out, to do what we can while we wait, and maybe even to find a way around if there is no way through.

Water finds a way through
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Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for 2020 – February

We can practice courage in many little ways every day.

February’s Gift: Courage

This Valentine’s Day month is a good opportunity to consider the gift of courage, because the word “courage” is derived from the French word “coeur” meaning heart. We often think of courage as the quality needed to face a scary challenge or we attribute it to someone we consider a brave hero. In reality, courage isn’t always about facing extremely hard times; instead, it can be something we use on a typical day to do what we need to do.  My favorite way to define courage is as “a firmness of spirit” and I think of courage as a relative quality.  That is, what feels courageous to one person might simply feel like “doing what one has to do,” to another person.  One of my favorite 100-year old yoga students commented in a class that “sometimes it takes courage just to put your feet on the floor and get out of bed in the morning.”  I think that can be true for a lot of us, regardless of our age or physical condition.  

 

Although courage isn’t always about doing something that appears to be large and dramatic, I think it IS always about being the best we can be at a given moment.  I often wonder what it would be like if I could more often be my “highest self,” myself at my very best.   I think this means different things to each of us.  For me, it doesn’t mean striving, or being perfect, but it means taking the high road and not sinking to my lowest place, my easiest place. Courage is finding a place in my head, in my body, and in my heart that makes me feel better about myself. It means deciding I can fly instead of crawl. When I am feeling courage, I believe nearly anything is possible.  I think this kind of courage to aim to be my highest self begins with breath and centering and going inside to find my belief in myself and who I can really be.

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are” --- e.e.cummings

Finding one’s own internal courage is in a way like going back to when we were brand new. In the movie archive of my life, I can easily rewind to one of my favorite scenes. It is a video in my mind’s eye of my daughter as a little girl running on the beach. She was free and happy and easy and believed anything was possible. I have a matching memory from some thirty years later of my grand-daughter making that same amazing run on the beach. In both scenes there is a “firmness of spirit” that seems to be supporting those little girls to run strong and easy. Maintaining that sense of strength and confidence in our best selves often becomes more and more difficult as we grow and maybe especially as we age. I love the e.e. cummings quote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” As we grow and age and get bumped about by daily challenges both big and small, we can begin to lose that sense of who we can be at our best. It takes courage, a firmness of spirit, to make the effort to stay connected or to reconnect with that strong sense of self and keep moving forward.

Love yourself this Valentine's Day month by finding your courage.

One of yoga’s on-going gifts is the opportunity it provides for us to get in touch with what is going on in both body and mind. Standing in Yoga Warrior 1 pose can bring an awareness of our own grounded-ness and help us find our center. In Warrior 1 our grounding is strong in our feet and in our legs. We feel strong in our backs and centered in our core. We find our breath and our hearts strong in our chests. Our shoulders relax. Our hands can be at our heart or reaching up as the crown of the head raises toward the sky. Our eyes are looking ahead with strength and clarity. Some days we can lift the corners of the mouth up into a smile. On a day when our courage feels long lost and far away, heading to yoga class and grabbing a mat or a chair and slipping into yoga warrior 1 pose can help us find where our courage lives inside. With this courage more available, perhaps our own highest selves feel just a little easier to find and to use.

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Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga for this New Year 2020 – January

January’s Gift: Self-Care

At the start of a new year, many of us appreciate the opportunity to start fresh.  We often start January with a plan to transform ourselves and our lives in some kind of significant way.  It is common experience for us to find that maybe even before January ends, we have lost track of our plan and find ourselves back where we started at the end of last year. Often these plans don’t work because they are based on our being NOT something instead of our finding ways to be more authentically ourselves.  Unlike my past resolutions, my plan as 2020 begins is not to become a more perfect yoga practitioner or a more perfect yoga teacher or a more perfect anyone.  This year my plan is to bring more awareness to the gifts that gentle yoga brings to my life and to share that awareness with others. In the next twelve months I will use the WiseWomen VT blog to share what I consider to be Twelve Essential Gifts of Gentle Yoga.

Water Gaze

Ten simple words: “Nothing to prove.  No one to impress.  Everything to share.”

I bring to the blog this first month of 2020 an important lesson that I learned from a dear friend and colleague. This simple quote has gotten me through some rough spots when I have felt anxious about teaching a new class, taking on a new workshop, or facing a challenge in a relationship.  These ten simple words can change the way I approach a situation by really helping me check in with what is important.  I love this quote because it allows me to let go of the need to get everything perfect. It reminds me that my experience doesn’t need to impress anyone.  It also reminds me that often simply sharing my experience and knowledge is all I really need to do to make a difference. In that spirit I begin this process of sharing my experience of gentle yoga’s gifts. If you are a reader of this blog, I hope you will find these gifts useful in your own yoga practice and in your daily life off the mat.   Take from them what you need and use them in the way that works best for you.

Path to Tranquility

Yoga presents us with many gifts and helps us develop these gifts in ourselves and share them with others.

Gentle yoga, specifically, allows us to take time for ourselves, breathe, stretch, increase awareness of our bodies, and relax. In addition to all these benefits, gentle yoga can deepen our ability to develop and practice many positive attitudes and ways of being in the world. It helps us get more in touch with these ways of being inside ourselves. As our own awareness of the attitude increases, this positive way of being can feel like quite a gift. And as the way of being becomes more fully ours it can become a gift that gets shared with others. We all know people who beautifully personify positive attitudes and ways of being and when such a person enters our lives, it indeed feels like a gift. And then in the best kind of situation that gift gets passed on to us and we are able to share it from ourselves to others.

January's gift is the gift of SELF-CARE

To begin the new year, I chose as the first essential gift, SELF-CARE.
Self-care is quite popular in our culture today. Covers of women’s magazines, popular blogs and the titles of self-help books shout to us that we need to take better care of ourselves, so that we can better take care of others: our children, our parents, our spouses, our friends, our work colleagues and our customers. This is similar to when you hear the flight attendant say “Put on your own oxygen mask before you try to help someone else put on her mask.” Makes sense, right? So we are told we need to take time for ourselves, get a massage, say “no” more often, get ourselves to yoga/pilates/barre/the gym/the nutritionist. In other words, the message is that we need to be more perfect in the way we take care of ourselves so that we don’t mess up and not be fully able to take care of others. So, we work at it. We try to urgently press ourselves to “take better care of ourselves.” We try to be “more this” and “less that” and we try to get it right. And we have to remember to do all this self-care without feeling guilty or stressed about it. In other words, self-care becomes one more thing we need to worry about.

The yoga pose, shavasana, practiced as final relaxation at the end of a yoga class may be the ultimate self-care. 

Shavasana is an opportunity to let go of thoughts and physical holding and find ease and comfort and quiet inside. In gentle yoga, we have several opportunities to practice self-care as simply letting go and figuring out what our body needs when we need it.  We can practice stopping, breathing, relaxing, going inside, feeling what we are feeling, observing, and allowing ourselves to be where we are.  Practicing yoga, we go inside where we can find pieces of ourselves that are gifts we want to bring forward into our awareness. Instead of resolving NOT to be a certain way, we can spend energy finding some “ways of being ourselves” and deciding to allow ourselves to really be that way.  And maybe we can find ways to bring these gifts of ourselves more fully forward into our daily lives and interactions with others.  This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get a massage, take a bubble bath, take a nap, or take a walk.  But it does mean that we can take time to check in quietly with ourselves and figure out what it is we really need to feel better and to be more fully ourselves. As we explore these new ways of being more deeply ourselves, perhaps we will find new personal gifts and qualities that can make our lives richer, more meaningful, and maybe even more manageable.

No Mud No Lotus
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Catch Your Breath and Find Your Bliss

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Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about breath and breathing.  Throughout my seventy years, I’ve been a little fascinated by the very idea of breath.  In a recent yoga class, the teacher said that breathing is the very first thing you do when you enter the world and the very last thing you do when you leave it.  Hearing this, after I took a deep breath in and out to really take that idea in, I was reminded of how many times in my life breath has made a difference. I remembered trying to learn to swim with a gasping breath taken to the side.  I remembered running feeling breathless in my first 5K, watching a loved one with emphysema struggle with an oxygen tank, seeing my daughter take her first sweet breath, and listening to my mom take her last deep breaths so bravely over several days in a hospital room.   As I constantly run around in all directions trying to do just one more thing and one more thing and one more thing, I often hear myself saying to myself, “I just need to catch my breath.”  Recently, I’ve realized I need to stop chasing my breath to catch it and just slow down and find it right where it has always been, here inside myself.  I am thankful for yoga and the way it reminds me of this simple fact over and over again.

Carol Yoga Knee pose

Yoga has been in my life for twenty-five years. There is rarely a day where I am not on my mat or longing to be there. When I feel stressed and joy is nowhere to be found, I know that I have stepped too far away from my mat for too long. I know I need to find my easy seat and find my breath, go inside, and find home again. I know this path leads to a place of comfort and peace that is as close to bliss as I get.

Twenty-five years ago I saw a small ad for a yoga class at a library an hour from my home in an Indianapolis suburb. Intrigued by the idea, I dragged my sister along to yoga on a tile floor with a group of other puzzled-looking but hopeful yoginis. I tried 3-part breath yogic breath, dirgha, unsuccessfully willing myself to get it right. I couldn’t seem to get the hang of it, but I was pretty sure it was a good idea. A couple of years later, still wondering about the possibility of what yoga might bring, I did a class in a meeting room in a southern Indiana Unitarian Church, where again I gave 3-part breath a try. Still no success but I continued to think it was a good idea.

Five years later, a friend invited me to a class in my new home in Montpelier, Vermont, where yoga is as ubiquitous as maple syrup, dirt roads and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cones. This time, I walked into a lovely old antique building to a quiet studio with sunset streaming through floor to ceiling windows, a padded floor, soft music that went straight past my brain and into my very heart, and a lovely young teacher named Lindsey. Her voice was sweetly soothing and together with the music and the setting, it took me to a place of exquisitely peaceful relaxation. I sat up after Shavasana and said to my friend, “If I did yoga every day, I know I would become a better person.”

I don’t manage to do yoga every day, but taking classes, teaching yoga and my own home practice still take me to a place I know I need to go. Twenty years later, yoga is still my go to place for relaxation, peace, and joy that feels like the closest thing to bliss I can identify. By the way, dear sweet Lindsey’s older soothing voice is still my favorite guide and yoga music along with a good sunset still just calm me right down Finding myself on my mat took me through a challenging adjustment to a new home. It got me safely through the most difficult of professional experiences, and a teetering-on-the-edge-of-sanity scary divorce and recovery. It has come with me to a new marriage that makes me smile every day, the delight of becoming a grandmother, the pure exhilaration of retirement, an intense yoga teacher training that challenged me on every level, and a reasonably calm transition into my 7th decade this fall.

Now, FINALLY, I love three-part yogic breath. I love breathing in so deeply that my whole torso is a container full of fresh clean energy and my lungs expand so that my diaphragm presses my belly into my waiting palms. Then, taking in more air, my ribs rise and then my collarbones rise; and exhaling so deeply, my collar bones fall, then my ribs fall. My belly button drops back to my spine. I love teaching to help seniors in assisted living do chair yoga to find breath, movement and hopefully some bliss. I love using my own breath and movement to find my own peace and my own place in the chaos surrounding us. I love taking that peace off my mat to share with others. Yoga may or may not make me a better person, but I know it makes me a more peaceful and joyful one. Bliss takes daily practice.

Find yourself a yoga class. Get on a mat or get a chair. And find your breath. And maybe even a little bliss.

Carol Bokan is fairly blissfully retired and practicing bliss daily as a yoga teacher, counselor, grandmother and the owner of WiseWomen VT.com

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5 Benefits of Chair Yoga for the Elderly in Assisted Living

by Carol Bokan, Ph.D.

Yoga, an ancient physical, spiritual and mental practice commonly associated with youthful hippies in this country, is also an excellent exercise choice for the elderly.

In fact, research has found that seniors who reside in retirement villages and assisted living facilities reap many health benefits from attending a beginner’s class in gentle chair yoga.

Seniors recuperating from joint replacement, osteoarthritis sufferers hoping to achieve a greater sense of mobility, the elderly in independent living who fear losing their balance: research shows all these populations can reap significant health benefits from the new practice of seated yoga.

What is Chair Yoga?

Chair yoga, usually a form of gentle Hatha yoga, allows students who face mobility challenges to do yoga poses, also known as asanas, while seated in an arm chair or a wheelchair. This form of yoga also incorporates gentle breathing exercises, known as pranayamas. Pranayamas are designed to help you better move “chi” or energy throughout the body.

Chair yoga is yoga that has been modified so that practitioners do not need to lie down on a mat or kneel on a floor cushion. Chair yoga, also known as sitting yoga or seated yoga, assumes students have a limited range of motion or muscle strength. Sitting allows seniors to practice postures without putting undue stress on their wrists, knees and hips.

Is Chair Yoga Safe for Seniors?

Many research studies have shown that chair yoga is a safe and highly effective exercise for seniors. The one caveat: beginner’s courses should be taught by a certified instructor. Not all traditional poses as practiced in standing yoga are suitable for seated yoga.  Certified instructors are trained to assist seniors in selecting the poses best suited to the flexibility and range of motion capabilities of aging joints and muscles.

A New Jersey research study of sitting yoga classes for seniors published in 2012 in the International Journal of Yoga followed sixteen elderly residents – women and men in their 80’s and 90’s, with an average age of 88 — who resided in an assisted living facility. That study, as well as others cited below, uncovered five clear benefits of seated yoga for seniors.

 

Dr. Carol Bokan, certified Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga instructor, teaches chair and gentle yoga classes at Living Well, Bristol, Vermont
Seated Yoga Increases Balance

The New Jersey participants volunteered to attend structured chair yoga classes twice a week for eight weeks. They hoped to increase their balance and strength while simultaneously reducing their risk and fear of falling.

The poses taught were highly effective at reducing anxieties about falling while also reducing falls and increasing feelings of self-efficacy among the high-risk population studied.

Since about half of all seniors over the age of 80 fall annually due to balance and muscle strength issues, yoga is an excellent preventive exercise for everyone as they age.

Chair Yoga Helps Seniors Increase Mobility

The New Jersey assisted living study cited above was designed to see if balance and mobility could be significantly improved in the elderly through sitting yoga exercises.  The study centered on asanas (postures) that benefit the musculoskeletal system. The sitting poses taught were offered in modified form based on gentle hatha yoga poses.

The study found that not only did an 8-week chair yoga regime increase muscle strength and balance among seniors it reduced participants fear of falling. Moreover practicing yoga for 8 weeks twice a week also decreased the participants reliance on mobility devices.

Sitting Yoga Lifts Depression & Elevates Mood

The New Jersey study also found that seniors in assisted living who participated in twice weekly chair yoga sessions experienced greater feelings of well-being and efficacy.

A similar mood-lifting effect was found in an Ohio study of one-hundred thirty-five healthy men and women (ages 65-85) who underwent yoga training for seniors The group practiced traditional standing poses for a six month period.

Future research on chair yoga will likely focus on its specific mood altering effects. The socialization aspect of attending a class often lifts mood. Mastering a new skill, like yoga, often leads to an increased sense of efficacy and optimism. Indeed, one of the great benefits of attending a chair yoga class is the opportunity to meet new friends who share your interests.

Yoga Benefits and Increases Muscle Strength

The New Jersey study, which looked at seniors in assisted living deemed at “high-risk” for falls, found that an 8-week course of chair yoga taught by a certified instructor led to significantly improved muscle strength. Improvements in muscle strength correlate highly with a decreased risk of falling or losing one’s balance.

Chair Yoga Relieves Joint Pain from Arthritis

A Florida Atlantic University research study recently revealed that chair yoga significantly decreases pain from osteoarthritis while simultaneously increasing flexibility.

The Florida study recruited 131 older adults with osteoarthritis. The seniors attended 45-minute seated yoga sessions twice a week for 8 weeks. The study found that participants who suffered from arthritis in their lower extremities — knee, hip, ankle or foot – all benefited from chair yoga exercises.

Many studies of traditional standing yoga have shown that regular yoga practice can also aid with or help seniors achieve the following:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Lower A1C (for diabetes)
  • Increased breathing and respiratory function
  • Better sleep

Beginning Yoga for Seniors

You don’t need to have any previous experience with yoga to get started with chair yoga. Nor do you need any special equipment, yoga pants, cushions, incense sticks or mats. You can attend chair yoga class as you are.

Wear loose fitting street clothes. Comfortable garments that do not restrict your range of movement are great. T-shirts, capri pants, sweat pants, shorts and sneakers abound.

Sit down. 

Take a deep breath.  

And let’s get started.

Dr. Carol Bokan holds a 200-hour yoga teacher certification from the Kripalu Center. She also holds a Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga Teaching certification.

Carol Bokan holds a Ph.D. in Counseling from Purdue University. She also holds a National Certified Counselor credential and a Career Development Facilitator credential. She is recently retired from a 45-year career in counseling and education. Carol chose yoga as a “retirement” transition career. She holds a 200-hour yoga teacher certification from the Kripalu Center. She also holds a Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga Teaching certification. Carol teaches gentle yoga and chair yoga at several locations in Burlington, Vermont, May through December. A snow-bird, she teaches in the Ft. Myers, Florida area in the winter months of January through April. She is a grandmother of 8.

Contact Carol

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