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Arthritis and Yoga

The post below is reprinted from my Neurons Firing blog, where I write about the brain, body and related topics.

I woke up this past Monday morning with pain and swelling in my left wrist and by Tuesday, when it had not dissipated, it was time to have it checked out by a doctor. X-rays revealed mild radoiocarpal joint arthritis (also see this Cleveland Clinic article for a clear explanation of arthritis), which prompted me to see an orthopedist on Thursday. The end result is a left wrist splint cock-up and a 10-day prescription for 800mg of Motrin taken 2 times a day to mitigate the swelling and pain.

I am intrigued by this diagnosis as it is yet one more look into my body, and am not fully surprised because having turned 63 recently and knowing that my Aunt (my Mom’s sister) has arthritis, it is something that is not foreign to me. Age sometimes brings with it interesting challenges, plus I have been practicing yoga for over 12 years and a favorite pose has me balancing on my arms in an egg shape.

Thankfully, this appears to have been a mild occurrence, with my arm not currently in the splint as I type. By the end of this coming weekend, if not sooner, wearing the splint will have been  phased out. I am now only wearing it while at school due to teaching in a makerspace; the splint ensures that my left hand is not pressed into inappropriate use for the types of activities that cause the pain, mostly lifting or pushing if my hand is in a certain position.

So what does arthritis look like?

A trained eye can distinguish the arthritis as well as the mild tendonitis identified by the orthopedist. Arthritis occurs when there is an inflammation between the joints, a joint being the place where two bones come together. In a healthy joint cartilage allows for smooth movement between the bones at the joint. Tendonitis refers to inflammation of a tendon, tendons being fiber that attaches muscle to bone. Essentially, the arthritis and tendonitis together have sent a signal that something is amiss and should be tended to!

Being an avid yogi, practicing and also teaching, it is no surprise that yoga is also recommended for people with arthritis. (See these articles from Johns Hopkins and the Arthritis Foundation.) With that said, I suspect an errant move on my part while doing yoga may have exacerbated this instance! Nonetheless, there are two useful books for assisting people with arthritis thru the practice of yoga:

I am a yoga teacher.

My husband, Fred, is a designer of 3D light sculptures. He first draws them on paper, then creates then in SketchUp and eventually transfers them to the software for his 3D printer. Once printed and assembled, he codes the colors and rate of change using an Arduino, and assembles it all on wood pedestals. This is all by way of explaining Yoga Flow, the sculpture below. Fred created it for the Monday night Restorative Yoga practice I lead.YogaFlow

My neighborhood has a clubhouse that a little over a year ago was razed and rebuilt a full floor higher than ground level in order to protect it against future flooding. Situated on a shore of Mamaroneck Harbor, the second floor room is spacious with windows on two sides, and my first reaction upon seeing it was “this is a perfect space for yoga!”

IMG_1055And so it is! For the past year and a half I have been leading yoga practice twice a week. Restorative Yoga is Monday evenings, and as night falls the room darkens. The overhead lights are too bright, and the wall sconces shine onto people’s faces; the light sculpture is just right for providing unobtrusive light. Yoga Flow, a more active practice, takes place Friday mornings, and as long as there is sunshine we have no need of lights.

I have not blogged since my YTT graduation, instead spending the time preparing sequences, working on my cueing, and gathering poetry to share. I have free use of the space in exchange for not charging people and for opening the practice just to people who live in the neighborhood (in other words, to the people who pay the dues to maintain the club!) It seemed like a fair exchange to me, as I didn’t want to be paid, and I was eager to give something back to this neighborhood where we have lived for 29 years and where we raised our children.

Together we have created a sangha, a community of yogis practicing together and supporting one another. We celebrated our one year anniversary this past June with a communal breakfast following our Friday morning practice.



Not too long ago I was having a discussion with my doctor (whose practice is surgery with a focus on women’s health), and she mentioned that she takes 1/8 teaspoon of tumeric every morning. She went on to say taking tumeric is a way to help boost one’s immune system. She then mentioned that her plan is to move her department to an integrated health approach that includes some eastern approaches to medicine, the body and healing.

In my YTT there has been mention of ayurveda, and I have been curious to know more about it. That’s how Vasant Lad‘s The Complete Book of Ayurvedic Home Remedies came to be borrowed from my local library. I always thought of ayurveda as non-medicinal, with medicinal being interpreted in the western sense of prescriptions for pharmaceuticals, particularly antibiotics. Ayurveda turns to nature for non-pharmaceutical medicinal remedies. Lab has this to say when describing ayurveda:

Ayurveda is the art of daily living in harmony with the laws of nature. … Both prevention (maintenance of good health) and healing are carried out by entirely natural means.

“Ayurveda” is a Sanskrit word that means “the science of life and longevity.”

Ayurveda considers the body in a way that is quite different from a western approach. According to Ayurveda, each individual has their own “constitution” that “is created by the universal energies of Space, Air, Fire, Water, and Earth.” These energies are known as the five elements, and they blend to comprise doshas, which are considered the basic energies in humans. The doshas created by this combination of elements are:

  • Vata – Ether and air constitute vata, which is the energy of movement
  • Pitta – Fire and water constitute pitta, the principle of digestion or metabolism; the transformation of matter into energy
  • Kapha – Water and earth make up kappa, the energy of structure and lubrication

According to ayurveda each person is composed of their own combination of these doshas, and you can find out which you tend to be by responding to a short questionnaire, of which there are numerous online such as this one from The Chopra Center. I have responded to it, as well as having done this in the past a few times using paper versions. As with many questionnaires of this type, I always find some of my qualities described by multiple doshas, or one descriptor only having parts that are accurate for me. Perhaps not surprisingly, ayurveda recognizes that most of us have varying combinations of the doshas, while at the same time it is possible to find the one most representative of our constitutions.

Knowing your dosha can be helpful when wanting to apply ayurveda to your life. The doshas respond differently to the seasons, and various discomforts, ailments and illnesses have differing combinations of ayurvedic remedies depending upon the dosha of the individual seeking treatment.

Lad’s book goes into all aspects of ayruveda, including a mini-encyclopedia of illnesses and their remedies. I was particularly interested in the information on cholesterol, colds and flu, cough, and sore throat, which are the most common issues in my household.

My very brief description in this post does not do justice to the art and science of ayurveda. If you are further interested, I suggest giving Lad’s book a read.

Panic, then calm. YTT session two.

I had two minutes of inner panic after scanning the first handout of my training. It consists of a packet that includes 10 double-sided pages, mostly single-spaced, listing the benefits and contraindications for 40 yoga poses. A contraindication is a reason for not doing a pose. For instance, if someone has unmedicated high blood pressure or eye or ear issues, then those would be contraindications for downward dog because it would not be healthy to place the head lower than the heart.

My panic stemmed from thinking “I’ll never be able to learn all of this.” Several minutes later we formed a circle and reintroduced ourselves by sharing a tidbit or two. I shared about my nervousness, and the very act of sharing it began the process of releasing it to the ether. Two hours later, as we partnered into groups of two or three and did practice teaching with one another, my nerves had completely dissipated, replaced by an inner glow of confidence that of course I can do this!

And in-between the first panic and the concluding confidence was the reminder that I have done this before. I have led 45 minute and hour long chair yoga sessions, I have led yoga workshops for students, and I have participated in multiple yoga trainings where I had to teach to and in front of my peers.

My growing calm was aided by Susan’s soothing voice as she guided us through a practice designed to internalize the movements of the poses we would practice teaching an hour later. What has always drawn me to yoga was the meshing of my breath with my movement. As I focus on my breathing, my body moves with grace and calm, and my brain slows down and quiets the chitta vritti (the noise of the mind).

Susan and Patty both reiterated that our teaching will be an extension of our yoga and who we are as yogis. This, too, helped to calm my nerves. As Susan said toward the end of the evening:

You should never separate yourself out from your creativity.

Driving home I realized that my yoga is my ballet of body and breath.

Head to Flow

UPDATE January 22, 2016 – I have temporarily removed the link for Head to Flow, as it is on hiatus until I complete my 200 hour yoga teacher training, begun this evening (and on the eve of a snowstorm!) Feel free to follow along!


I have not been blogging here, because I’ve been busy creating there, with “there” being at Head to Flow. The vast majority of my posts from this blog have been copied to the Head to Flow blog.

Still have a few pieces I want to improve before sharing the site, but this post is my first baby step in putting Head to Flow out there. In the next few weeks I will be switching the opening page video for one that is more natural, and tweaking content.

For anyone who has the time and interest, if you’d like to visit and provide your feedback about the site, I am all ears, and thank you for your efforts!

More to say

[If you are wondering what this is in response to, please check my prior post: 500 Words.]

The Heart of (my) Yoga

I have been practicing yoga since the year my Dad moved to King Street Nursing Home, located fifteen minutes from my neighborhood. Back then, in 2005, I began practicing yoga as a way to manage my spirit and cope with the sometimes overwhelming sadness I felt about and for my Dad.

Somewhere along the way, my yoga practice became grace on two feet. I practiced yoga because it made me feel balletic, because my posture made me feel graceful, because my muscles felt stretched and massaged. I was internalizing the asanas and thriving from the reinvigorated strength and flow of my body.

And then, at a moment that is imperceptible, my yoga practice was spiritual. Oh, not all the time, but with certain teachers and certain classes, in certain moments, I was in the church of the inner-smiling/moving/chanting/being. As T.K.V. Desikachar explains, “there are many definitions of yoga…These definitions of yoga have one thing in common: the idea that something changes.” [p. 79]

It was the chanting that spoke to my spirit, and it was my teacher Deb who taught me these chants. Loka Samasta Sukino Bevantu. May all beings everywhere be happy and free. Ohm namo bhagavatay ~ Vasue dayvaiya. To see the light of God within everyone and everything. I do not believe in a God, but I do believe in the good within everyone and everything.

Desikachar goes on to say that “Each of our actions shows its effects either immediately or after a period of time. Every action has a consequence.” [p. 82] When my mind needs calming or when my body needs energizing or my spirit needs nurturing, my yoga practice quenches that need. And sometimes, I have no noticeable need other than to simply be in class for my practice. My personal practice is my practice at The Yoga Sanctuary, where I have been taking classes since that day back in March 2005.

Desikachar spends Part II of his book sharing his understanding of yoga. He is explaining what I see as yoga’s philosophic approach to a way of striving to live. Ellen, one of my teachers, often plans her classes around yogic principles, and from her I learned of the yoga sutras, which she likens to ”the 10 Commandments of Yoga”. Here, too, I have found enjoyment in the chanting: ya-ma  ni-ya-ma  as-a-na  pran-a-ya-ma  prat-ya-har-a  d-har-na  dh-ya-na  sa-mad-ha-ya-ha  aush-tau  an-gan-i.  Desikachar informs us that “The attitude we have toward things and people outside ourselves is called yama…, and how we relate to ourselves inwardly is called niyama.”

I do not consciously consider the yamas and niyamas in my daily life, but am certain that bits and pieces find their way into my daily living. How can they not, for the yamas relate to social and personal behaviors for peaceful living. Most of the niyamas, however, are a bit further removed for me. While I came to yoga for self-healing, and have certainly seen self-development, I rarely pause to ponder the principles of purity, discipline, or surrender to a higher power.

Undeniably, what gives me the greatest simple pleasure is moving through asana practice where my mind is focused on my breathing and I have, as my teachers say, Nowhere to go and nothing to do but be here now.

(written June 15, 2013)

500 Words

Back in the Spring, while perusing the Kripalu catalog, I came upon the Yoga for Seniors Teacher TrainingThe description meshed with what I am looking for in terms of learning how to facilitate yoga for older adults, but while I have the required years of practice (plenty more, actually!), I do not have the teaching experience.

I contacted the teachers via email, and after several exchanges they suggested I read T. K. V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice and write a 500 word essay in response to it. Here is my first essay. Yes, first, because the next morning I woke up and decided there was more to say. So I wrote a second essay. And since the first one had already been sent, Carol and Kimberly became the recipients of two 500 word essays!


Gentle Edge of Expression

Take it to your gentle edge of expression – where any
more would be too much, and any less would be too little

Deb Gorman, my first yoga teacher, regularly exhorts us with the above suggestion, and I have taken her words to heart. This advice is indeed helpful if you want to make the most of your practice while avoiding potential injury that could come from being over zealous.

But Deb’s words resonate for another reason. They bring to mind psychologist Lev Vygotsky and his idea of ZPD – the zone of proximal development. Vygotsky believed that children could learn from watching and following adults, with the adult assisting the child to go beyond what the child was able to do on her or his own. The optimal learning takes place in each child’s ZPD, and that zone is specific to each learner.

I believe this is true not only for children, but adults as well, and it is true for all types of learning. Having taken up yoga in 2005 at the age of 51, I became my own best example of what it is like to start from scratch to learn something new. Over the years I learned to listen to my body, realize I wasn’t in a competition, and appreciate the many benefits I derived from yoga. For most of the years since, I have had a regular practice, taking time off every now and then. I have learned from each of my teachers and know beyond a doubt that their individual approaches and philosophies inform my practice and style of teaching.

Set an intention for your practice

When I first met Deb, my ears perked up at the mention of her being a yoga teacher, as I had been thinking about my Dad and taking care of him, and wondering how to also take care of me. You see, my Dad had Alzheimer’s and I felt good caring for him, but sad at seeing a part of him disappear. Walking around with sadness doesn’t do much for the spirit, let alone for my being able to bring cheerfulness and good feelings to my Dad. Yoga sounded like it could help me handle my sadness and lift my spirits for both him and me.

My engagement with yoga evolved from being a personal practice to a place where I want to bring movement to others to help lift their spirits. Yoga – Dance – Music – Movement. Any of these on their own can provide an endorphin release. A calming and soothing of the soul. A moment’s haven for someone living with Alzheimer’s. Combine dance with music, and movement becomes elegant for someone with Parkinson’s.

I just completed my 31st year as a teacher of children and adults. It is a selfish profession, because it makes me feel tremendously good to see eyes light up in the faces of kids as they explore and discover. And it makes me feel good to help colleagues become empowered to enhance their learning, and thus their teaching.

So it is with teaching yoga and facilitating movement for those who no longer move with ease. To create a space where folks with Alzheimer’s reconnect with themselves and others. To reawaken the ability to move with grace for folks with Parkinson’s. To bring comfort to the muscles, bones or spirit of anyone who needs a gentle reminder that they can still feel good. To smile.

This is my personal practice.

(written June 14, 2013)

Gather to Move – an idea for a conference

I volunteer on Sunday mornings. My plan each Sunday is to help those with limited mobility to move in whatever ways work for them. Plain and simple. And in the process we sing a bit, laugh, and at the end whoever would like a massage always winds up having some combination of their shoulders, arms, neck or legs gently massaged.

The people I spend my Sunday mornings with are a mixed group. Most are in wheelchairs, and quite a few are somewhere on the dementia spectrum. Besides the movement, it is the music that often helps them participate, singing along to old, familiar tunes.

Several years ago, I participated in my first Dance for PD training. Besides learning how to teach a Dance for PD class, we heard from neuropsychiatrist Melissa Frumin, who explained Parkinsons to us. Not only did she understand Parkinsons from the perspective of a medical person, but also as a caregiver for her father.

Several months later, at a subsequent Dance for PD workshop, the bulk of the weekend workshop was spent sharing movement ideas with one another to broaden our movement repertoires.

I know there are many people who do something similar, be it through Dance for Parkinson’s, Let Your Yoga Dance for Special Populations, chair yoga or approaches I don’t even know about. It would be quite something if all of these teachers could connect with one another to learn and share!

As far as I can tell, though, there is no conference for movement professionals who work with people living with Parkinsons, MS, stroke, Alzheimer’s or illnesses with a similar impact.

Here is my hope for a Gather to Move conference:

  • Gather together the many LYYD for SP teachers, chair yoga teachers, Dance for PD teachers, volunteers and teachers of other modes.
  • Invite medical professionals to demystify the diseases that our student population lives with.
  • Create an environment where we can share movement and engagement tips to enhance our toolkits.
  • Provide a space where we can take demo classes to experience alternative approaches that might work for our students.
  • Invite our students to talk about what works for them.
  • Invite family and professional caretakers to share tips for positive engagement.
  • Wherever the conference is held, offer free classes to the local community as part of the conference. (Both of the Dance for PD workshops I took – one in MA and one in NY – included a Dance for PD class with students who are part of a regular Dance for PD group. We, the students in the workshop, were both participants and observers, and both classes concluded with conversation, so that the students in the class helped to teach us, the students learning how to facilitate a class.)
  • Invite other groups (such as ARTZ (Artists for Alzheimer’s), Music & Memory, massage therapists, and similar entities that exist for any of the other diseases) to provide workshops. This would help us to develop a more rounded understanding of the many ways our students can thrive.

Essentially, such a conference would educate us as teachers, help build a network of movement professionals with a specific focus, and empower us to return to our students more informed, aware, and better able to facilitate movement, smiles and a more positive experience for each of our students.

The 1-2-3 of Chair Yoga

I follow @Teachasana on Twitter. Teachasana is “a site for yoga teachers by yoga teachers.” Last week, thanks to one of their tweets, I discovered these three articles about chair yoga.

Chair Yoga Part 1: Why Teach Chair Yoga
     Chair Yoga Part 2: Setting Up Your Class
Chair Yoga Part 3: Adapting Poses to the Chair

These informative and helpful posts were written this past fall by Bruce Binder and Lakshmi Voelker, of Get Fit where you sit. On the east coast, where I live, Lakshmi’s trainings take place in the metro-NY area as well as at Kripalu. My plan, barring family vacation, is to take her August 2013 training at the New York Open Center.


Here and There

Long gone is my commute to New Haven! In its place is a short drive on parkways (no trucks!) to a delightful and progressive school in an area of the Bronx known as Riverdale. 

Meantime, I’ve picked up some yoga links here and there to share.

Yoga to help you:

and to help your teaching: