PRACTICING FOR LIFE’S DIFFERENT STAGES

PRACTICING FOR LIFE’S DIFFERENT STAGES

Practicing For Life’s Different Stages

By: Jai Sugrim
Photos: Chas Kimbrell
YOGA
Jai Sugrim is a Yoga Teacher, Athletic Trainer, Public Speaker, recognized Men’s Health Expert and creator of the Jai Sugrim Method

We are the first generation to be able to see what thirty years of a consistent, physically demanding yoga practice produces. Some folks look rested, bright, agile and positively energetic. Others look ragged, dry to the bone, exhausted and hobbling. Some of this boils down to genetic predisposition and lifestyle choices like rest, nutrition and sleep. We should definitely keep an eye on adapting our practice to each new decade of life. Wisdom is the trimming away of the un-essentials. 

Vinyasa yoga is a very attractive form of exercise that has numerous physical and psychological benefits. The practice hones our attention, and when done consistently, can be deeply revealing. In New York City, as in any large metropolis, it’s easy to pour the addictive side of our personalities into the practice and pursue poses like rungs on the career ladder. Most practitioners have gotten carried away with the physical side of the practice at some point. After injury, or total exhaustion, we may ask ourselves: “What is the right way to practice, for the current stage of my life?” At age 42, I’ve made every practice mistake in the book. After 18 years on the path, I have started to adapt the practice to a new goal: living a long, healthy, mindful life. I practice fewer asanas, vary my physical exercise movements, and sit in daily meditation. Here are my tips and what to consider for the evolution of your practice: 

INTELLIGENT DESIGN 

For a decade I practiced 4 hours of asana, daily. Now, I’ve shifted my approach to reflect positive aging, with a focus on long-term bone health and muscle strength. I now practice 5 hours of vinyasa yoga, 2 hours of weight-training, 2 hours of martial arts, and one dance class, per week. This kind of periodization is a systematic planning of one’s physical training through the arch of a year. To avoid exhaustion, injury, and mental fatigue it involves zoning in on one part of the year devoted to peak performance. Different phases are divided with different goals. I intentionally allow the body to pack on 10 extra pounds of weight in the winter, while running 2-3 times per week in the summer to lower my body fat percentage to reflect peak fitness and extra self-discipline. Then I let it go. I’m no longer trying for personal records. My aim is to harmonize strength, endurance, flexibility, brain health, and physical balance, while respecting the body’s need for rest. 

AGE 

Ride the physical peak, if you feel inclined to do so! From puberty to the mid 30’s most people go beast mode. Once adapted to training, the body recovers well from hard practices as well as injuries. When I worked with the New York Yankees, we called age 33 onwards the “back stretch of a guy’s professional career.” For most athletes, this is when their pitches slow down and agility declines. It’s important to recalibrate after age 40. Everyone after 40 should incorporate weight training, because it maintains bone health, tendon strength and muscle mass, which declines with time. The consequences of over-training or moving inappropriately are greater after 40. Youth forgives many training mistakes, but men and women over 40 carry less testosterone and the body does not heal as quickly as it once did. 

CONSTITUTION

Initially, I’d advise approaching yoga practice with skepticism, become a tourist, and visit several schools. You will find a yoga style that moves your heart, and more importantly, fits your constitution. You may be drawn to the mantras, meditation and vegetarian diet associated with Jivamukti Yoga. Personally, I find Iyengar yoga too intellectual as a daily practice, but use it as a supplement to my Ashtanga practice. In order to dig the well very deep, and find water, it’s best to stick with one style. 

ANCESTRY

Additionally, look over your shoulder and explore where your ancestors lived. You are likely to perform best with the foods that match the region your genes spring from. Anyone hawking a one size fits all training or nutrition program is selling a false bill of goods. Constantly experiment, and listen to the body for feedback. It’s best to select locally grown/raised food, so as to adapt your immune system to the pathogens of your area. 

VOCATION

Some folks have jobs that require more physical energy, while others are sitting at a desk and using more mental energy. Our brains burn about 30 percent of all calories consumed, but our lower backs, biceps, quadriceps and core muscles are firing differently. If you work in an office all day, a 90 minute vigorous vinyasa class may reconnect your head to all four limbs and the axial skeleton. The key is to think of how to appropriate your energy. 

NEW MOVEMENT

Asana practice is more or less linear, with lots of repetition. This allows us to deepen our flexibility and develop a personal relationship to each pose, with regard to our specific anatomical proportions. All good stuff, but it comes at a price. Once we master a specific set of movements, the brain undergoes “synaptic pruning,” a process by which extra neurons and synaptic connections are eliminated in order to increase the efficiency of neuronal transmissions. In order to engage and maintain neuro-plasticity (the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections throughout life), we should always be practicing some new form of movement that we have not mastered. Supplements to an asana practice could be, salsa dancing, basketball, martial arts or even juggling. When we are learning something new we engage the primary motor cortex of the brain, which is responsible for the preparation of movement, the sensory guidance of movement, the spatial guidance of reaching, and the control of trunk muscles in the body. So always study something new for long-term brain health and plasticity. 

PATIENCE

Asana practice is preparation for sitting still. It makes us comfortable enough in our bodies so we can meditate. If you have been practicing asanas for over 10 years you should be able to sit still for 20 minutes twice per day. If you don’t want that, that’s fine my point is that there is no need to overemphasize the physical, or remain attached to hundreds of poses for a lifetime. When I turned 40 I gave myself permission to put on 15 pounds of muscle, and parted ways with some asana such as Marichyasana D, Pashasana, and Kapotasana. I’m content with Mari B, Ardha Matsyendrasana, and Urdvha Dhanurasana. The vigorous, high volume vinyasa practice of my 30’s had done its job. I now practice more meditation and fewer postures, which yields extra energy that can be applied towards my creative work. One of the biggest lessons I’ve scooped on the path is to be flexible and treat myself with respect. A wonderful meditation practice that pairs well with asanas is the Buddha’s technique, Vipassana. Like asana, it is sensation-oriented, and centered around what is happening in the body/mind system at the moment. 

LOVE

Even the times where I got injured, tried too hard, thought I knew it all, or taught beyond my experience, are all worth it. I now accept the mystery of “not knowing” and the wisdom that comes from embracing all the parts of myself. I’ve learned to maintain healthy boundaries in my personal and professional life. So much of who I am today, is a result of all the blood, sweat and tears that were shed on my mat for two decades. I am more reverent than ever for the practice and am grateful that I have two arms and legs that allow me to continue the exploration. Practice creates an involution of energy and awareness. What you find there, in inner space is between You and infinity, your karma, and the capacity to interpret your experience. It is very personal. Be loving towards yourself, and allow long-term thinking to shape your approach to the practice.


Jai Sugrim is a Yoga Teacher, Athletic Trainer, Public Speaker, recognized Men’s Health Expert and creator of the Jai Sugrim Method. For more visit jaisugrim.com

Jai Sugrim is a Yoga Teacher, Athletic Trainer, Public Speaker, recognized Men’s Health Expert and creator of the Jai Sugrim Method
Jai Sugrim is a Yoga Teacher, Athletic Trainer, Public Speaker, recognized Men’s Health Expert and creator of the Jai Sugrim Method
Jai Sugrim is a Yoga Teacher, Athletic Trainer, Public Speaker, recognized Men’s Health Expert and creator of the Jai Sugrim Method
Accessible Yoga

Accessible Yoga

Accessible Yoga

By: Lauren Cap
Photos: Sarit Z. Rogers
YOGA
accessible yoga wheel chair yoga

Jivana Heyman, founder of non-profit organization Accessible Yoga, gives readers a gentle nudge to step into a safe yoga practice that fits the needs of any person in his book, Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body. With compassion and years of experience, we are guided into an accessible yoga practice, literally for every body. Yoga Editor for NY YOGA LIFE magazine, Lauren Cap had an opportunity to chat with Jivana right before the pandemic in early 2020, and shares her interview below.

I first want to thank you for creating Accessible Yoga to make yoga available to all communities with various physical abilities. It’s important to have information like this at our fingertips to remind everyone that yoga is most importantly about feeling good, not looking good.

Thank you for your interest in Accessible Yoga, and for your awareness that yoga is really about feeling good, not about how you look or what kind of poses you can do. It’s unfortunate that the image of yoga in the media is so limiting when the benefits of yoga are so powerful and are available for everyone. In fact, I often think of how it’s those of us who are struggling the most who can really benefit from yoga.

I came to yoga to help me deal with the pain and stress in my life, and I’m so grateful for how yoga has given me tools to help me with the challenges of being human. I feel like I owe a debt of gratitude to give back in some way, and my mission is to challenge those limited ideas we hold on to about what yoga is and how it works.

The most important thing for people to understand about yoga is that it is primarily a mental practice – working with the mind to reduce stress and connect with the essence of who we are. I often say, “Yoga isn’t about having a flexible body, it’s about having a flexible mind.” With that deeper understanding of the practice, it’s easy to find ways to make all the practices of yoga accessible, whether we’re talking about the poses, breathing practices, relaxation techniques or meditation.

The use of pose orientation in this book is very creative as we are able to maintain the elements of the traditional practice while offering an accessible way to receive the healing benefits of yoga. How do you empower practitioners to look beyond their physical limitations and feel confident in their Accessible Yoga practice?

I think knowledge is power, and one of the challenges in yoga is that there’s this feeling that the classical poses can’t be adapted or somehow they lose their power. Most of the poses we’re practicing these days evolved over the past few hundred years. It’s really the philosophy, meditation and breathing practices that are most ancient. The more people understand the underlying benefits of individual poses, the more they can find those benefits in different variations. That’s the way I’ve organized my book – trying to help people look beyond the superficial appearance of a pose and consider why they’re doing it. The “why” of a practice is the key to adaptation and accessibility.

What are some challenges you’ve witnessed from students who may be reluctant to a practice that doesn’t resemble what they see on social media or magazines? How do you work with your students to identify those needs to create a safe space of acceptance?

Safety and acceptance are the two most important elements of a yoga class. I want people to feel like they belong in the space, and that they will be safe – physically and emotionally. In order to do so, I often directly address the misrepresentation of yoga in the media. I try to teach my students about what yoga is – working with the mind to connect with the heart.

The main challenge that comes out of the misrepresentation of yoga within yoga classes is the idea that more is better. I constantly see students straining and potentially injuring themselves. It can take experience to learn about how far to go into poses and how long to hold them. I worry that with the competitive nature of our Western culture, many people are getting hurt in yoga. I also worry about the emotional suffering that people experience in yoga classes – feelings of not being good enough, or that they don’t belong.

There’s a common phrase, “The students are our teachers.” Along with your extensive training and experience, do many of these sequences and alternative practices come from practitioner feedback?

Yes, pretty much everything I teach comes from collaborating with my students and from other teachers who have inspired me. A key element of accessible yoga is collaboration, which is based on the idea of seeing the student as your equal and lifting them up. The traditional teacher/student hierarchy can be disempowering and lead to many problems, including much of the abuse we are seeing in the yoga world.

Collaboration is a key element in my teaching because it asks the student to step into their inner wisdom and sharpen their awareness. It can help them take on their yoga practice in a more profound way. In many ways, my goal is to make the students independent yoga practitioners who aren’t reliant on me. The more they feel that they have their own practice the more yoga will become an important part of their lives.

How has your personal practice changed over the years from when you first started?

I’ve been practicing yoga intently since I was in my early twenties, and now I’m in my early fifties, so a lot has changed. As my body ages, I try to find a practice that is supportive of my wellbeing in every way. When I was younger I would push myself into some of the more gymnastic poses, but after a lot of injuries, I’ve finally learned my lesson.

Nowadays, I don’t plan what I’m going to do when I get on the mat. I like to take a moment to notice how I’m feeling and consider what will be most supportive of my body and my mind in the moment. In fact, my mental state may be the most compelling part of my daily practice. I ask myself, do I need a more inward, slow, gentle practice with restorative poses and longer pranayama? Or do I need a faster, fun practice with music? Is there a part of my body that needs to be protected, strengthened, or stretched? Each day is a new adventure.

I realize that for a new practitioner that might be too much to take on. In the beginning it’s fine to do the same practice every day and notice how it feels. Gaining sensitivity to what’s happening inside your body. Introspection is an essential skill that comes with practice. Also trying out all different styles is a great way to learn about all the different tools that yoga offers.

What has surprised you the most since founding Accessible Yoga?

I’ve been most surprised by the incredible reaction I’ve gotten, and how much this work resonates with so many people who love yoga deeply. A big part of the mission of Accessible Yoga, the non-profit, is to support yoga teachers who are making yoga accessible. I’ve been amazed by the work that yoga teachers are doing all over the world. These are teachers who are serving day after day to bring yoga to communities that have been disempowered or underserved. They are often serving without recognition, and sometimes without even getting paid!

Wherever I travel, I meet yoga practitioners and teachers who have found the power of yoga and are sharing it with others. Their dedication and service is what propels me to continue to work for greater understanding and to break down barriers to access. All the issues that limit access to wellness also limit access to yoga – racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, etc., are all issues in the yoga world.

Physical adjustments in class has been a hot topic recently. To quote you, “Ongoing consent means that just because a student gives you consent at one point in class doesn’t mean that you have consent to touch at another time…Ongoing consent means that we open up a dialogue with our students during class…you can create an environment where declining touch is accepted and even celebrated, where students are learning to connect with themselves and speak up for what they need.” Do you have any additional comments on this topic?

It’s very important that we have more discussions in the yoga community about the lack of consent for touch that is happening in a lot of classes. Most of us weren’t trained in how to gain consent from our students, and we assume that hands-on adjustments are what the students want. I think we’re just starting to address this issue as a community, and I’m sure we’ll see more policy changes in the coming years to create more clarity around this topic.

The first thing we need is a clear scope of practice for yoga teachers, as well as a thorough code of conduct. We currently don’t have either, and it means that many yoga teachers are offering touch, adjustments and other practices without appropriate training. It also means that as a community we don’t have clear guidelines to follow to keep students safe.

Ironically, the real power of yoga resides in its ability to calm the mind and allow us to turn inward. I think we need to turn to the heart of yoga, which is already accessible, in order to make the practice safer and more effective for all our students.

Learn more: jivanaheyman.com

accessible yoga chair yoga
A 4-Pose Self-Care Chair Sequence for Working At Home

A 4-Pose Self-Care Chair Sequence for Working At Home

A 4-Pose Self-Care Chair Sequence for Working At Home

By Allison Jeraci
Photos: Miko Hafez
YOGA
Chair Yoga in the park

With more people working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been a few silver lining discoveries for some. Cutting down travel, spending more time at home, avoiding awkward or negative workplace scenarios, and the occasional “wear your sweats to work” dress code are all benefits of the virtual office. But one challenging arena to navigate is finding work-life boundaries. You may have noticed you’ve been working longer hours than usual from the comfort of your home and find yourself taking fewer movement breaks. Maybe those trips to the water cooler weren’t so bad? Periodic movement throughout your workday helps release unwanted tension and unburden your mind.

Here is a gentle and feel-good chair yoga sequence you can do right from your desk that helps counteract those long hours of sitting.

Neck and Spine Relief

Maybe you’ve been leaning into the excitement of your work or slouching into the comfort of your couch. This side bending pose can help you rebalance your spine, release a tense neck and stretch your intercostal muscles to facilitate better breathing.

Start seated in your chair with a neutral spine. Lean your right ear towards your right shoulder and straighten your left arm down alongside your chair seat. Take a few breaths here, sensing the elongation of the side of your neck. Then allow the rest of your spine to follow suit by side bending to the left and reaching your left arm overhead. You can walk your right hand down the side of your chair or support your hand on a block. Take 3 to 5 deep breaths as you observe the movement of your left side ribs. Next, lower your left arm to hang heavily by your left side while you slowly rotate your neck to look down towards your right hand and then up towards the ceiling. Do this for a few cycles. When you are ready to change sides, center your head and bring your torso upright.

Dynamic Twist and Lift

When your back is feeling achy, and your breathing feels off, try this dynamic combo. Begin seated with a neutral spine. Take your right hand to your outer left thigh and support your left hand on the chair seat or chair back (do the one that feels natural in your body to do. Inhale, and as you exhale, turn to the left. Breathe smoothly and steadily rather than forcing a deeper twist. On an exhalation, unwind your twist. Then hold onto the sides of the chair slightly behind your hips, and lift your chest. Stay for a breath or two, then repeat and turn to the right. Do this for as many rounds as you need.

Lunge It Out

Does it feel difficult to stand up after being seated for a while? Give your hip flexors some love with one or both of these supported lunges.

For the first variation, begin seated and turn your body to the left so that your left shoulder faces the chair back and your feet are on the floor. If they are not, try using blocks under your feet. Lean your torso forward as you step your right foot back, maintaining your left hip and back of your thigh on the chair. Straighten your right leg and take a few breaths. Then bring your torso upright and bend your right knee so that the feeling remains in the front of your right hip. Stay here, or lean your torso to the left as you support your left hand on the chair and lift your right arm overhead. Stay for a few breaths, then release your right arm, lean over your left thigh to step your right foot forward, and come upright to sit. Swivel around to change sides.

The second variation is done standing. Stand behind the right side of the chair and place your left foot in the center of the chair seat. Take your hands to the chair and walk your right foot back some. You can keep the ball of your right foot on the floor or drop the heel to the floor for more balance. Steady your legs, and when you’re ready, lift your torso and reach your arms overhead. Stay here or take your left hand to the chair back and side bend to the left with your right arm overhead. Take a few deep breaths as you press the ball of your right foot into the floor and observe the sensation along the front of your right hip. To come out, lift your torso upright, take your hands to the chair seat to step your right foot forward, and then step off the chair. Stand in tadasana for a few moments before changing to the other side.

Soothing Forward Fold

The chaos of the day usually catches up at some point, so having a few moments of quiet can go a long way. This forward bend can help soothe your nervous system by decreasing the stimulation of your senses.

Begin seated with a neutral spine and your feet wider than your chair. Press your palms into the tops of your thighs as you elongate your spine. On an exhalation, tip your pelvis forward and then round your spine. Support your forearms on blocks on the floor or thighs. Use a blanket for additional support. Close your eyes or soften your gaze and sink into that sweet feeling of release.

Working from home carries the incognito weight of defining clear boundaries between work and rest. As you take on that challenge, these poses can serve as a reminder that small increments of activity can reduce stress and tension while taking care of your body and mind while you work.

 

Learn more: allisonrayjeraci.com

Chair Yoga in the park
Chair Yoga in the park
Chair Yoga in the park
Science of Yoga – Interview With Author Ann Swanson

Science of Yoga – Interview With Author Ann Swanson

Science of Yoga

Interview With Author Ann Swanson

By: Frances Hunt
Art: Dorling Kindersley: Arran Lewis /Daz 3D

YOGA
Yoga Plus Magazine - SCIENCE YOGA OF YOGA BOOK COVER
After completing my yoga teacher training, I wanted to dive deeper into anatomy but found most books too scientific and overwhelming. I immediately fell in love with the amazing visuals, relatable scientific concepts and explanations in Science of Yoga. I was beyond excited for the opportunity to interview Ann Swanson. Ann is a certified yoga therapist, speaker, and the author of Science of Yoga, which is being translated into over 10 languages. With a Master of Science in yoga therapy and roots studying yoga in India and Tai Chi/Qi Gong in China, Ann uniquely applies cutting-edge research to mind-body practices while maintaining the heart of the traditions. 

How did you discover yoga?

As a kid, I was always doing yoga, I just didn’t know it. I would spend hours thoughtfully moving and stretching alone in my room, pretending to teach my panda bear stuffed animals how to move with me. In retrospect, it was meditative for me. Then, during the crazy stress of college, I took a yoga class at the school gym. It helped me manage the stress. After college, I bought a one way ticket to China. Why China? Since I was little, I had always told my parents that I would move to China to see the pandas. So, I did. The pandas were super cool but China was tough for me. I felt isolated, depressed, and anxious. I did a lot of yoga and tai chi/qi gong to process this. That is when yoga became more than just a stress reliever. It was a life saver. I did my basic teacher training in China and the visiting teachers from India convinced me to go to India to continue my studies. My curiosity was sparked, I was hooked, and the journey began.

Your book, the Science of Yoga is filled with information on both human anatomy and asanas. How long did it take to research and write? 

The actual writing of the book took six intense months. However, it was a culmination of ten years of research and careful notes. I have always kept journals from as young as I could write. So, when I started seriously studying yoga in India with my teacher Yogi Sivadas of Kailash School a decade ago, I took tedious notes. From then on, I filled notebooks with insights from taking college courses in anatomy and biomechanics, assisting cadaver labs, workshops with master teachers, reading yoga research, and taking classes in yoga therapy grad school. I am so grateful that I took such tedious notes because when it was go time to write the book, it all came together quite quickly. 

You earned a graduate degree in yoga therapy? 

Yes, I was in the first cohort of the very first Master of Science graduate degree program in yoga therapy. It is at Maryland University of Integrative Health. It was a 2 year program that both gave me a M.S. and a C-IAYT (which means I am a certified yoga therapist through the International Association of Yoga Therapists). The program was phenomenal for me.

Was it challenging to narrow down to the thirty key poses you selected? 

Originally, my publisher DK (part of Penguin Random House) had 30 poses in mind that they wanted to do. I looked at that list and really fought for adding simple, common poses like Cat/Cow and Child’s Pose, as well as adding accessible modifications of poses using props, like a chair. They wanted what they called “aspirational” poses since that is what sells. In fact, they actually had the acrobatic forearm balance Scorpion Pose as the original cover. I explained to them that poses like this are dangerous for most people and are not the types of poses that most people are doing for the profound health benefits of yoga in the scientific research. The research on yoga is not on how to get into a fancy “peak pose” or how to get tight abs. The most compelling research supporting yoga is for areas such as back pain, anxiety, trauma, depression, arthritis, and neurological diseases like Parkinson’s disease. Researchers are doing more simple poses like Cat/Cow rather than acrobatic poses like Scorpion. I explained, if they wanted this book to be about science, we needed to include common poses that are used for therapeutic benefits. There was a lot of compromise. For example, they really wanted King Pigeon Pose because it is so beautiful. I said yes, if we can we show and describe gentler variations also. I am glad we had these debates because we ended up with a great balance in the end. The book includes some beautiful, challenging poses and suggestions for beginners or folks with limitations.

I was required to read several anatomy books for my yoga teacher training and found them challenging to understand because they were filled with so much science. The illustrations and design of Science of Yoga is absolutely beautiful, making it simple and understandable. Was that your main goal? 

I think most yogis are visual and kinesthetic learners and this book appeals to both. To create the visuals, I worked with a world-class illustration and design team, which makes this book engaging and easy to learn from. Many people tell me that it is super fun and addicting to read because of the way your eye moves around on the page. I went to art school for undergrad before I ended up studying science and doing the pre-med course load. It was a dream to work with professional illustrators. Over the years of studying and teaching anatomy and physiology to yogis, massage therapists, and college students, I have scoured the internet for the best pictures and taught from many text books. I sent my illustrator and designer my favorite images asking to combine them to make the perfect image to illustrate a concept. Sometimes, I even sent a sketch I did on a napkin at a restaurant and then they made it happen!

The book appeals to the kinesthetic learner. Kinesthetic learners understand through movement and feeling it in their bodies. The illustrations of the poses showing the muscles engaging and stretching invite you as the reader to get into the pose and visualize and feel what is going on in your body. However, remember that the images I created are a guideline. Different muscles may be stretching or activated in your body, since we all have unique bodies and compensation patterns. Use the book as a guide to your own inner experiments.

How is Science of Yoga different from other yoga anatomy books currently available?

What I love most about Science of Yoga is that I got to talk about every system of the body and how yoga impacts each one. Most yoga anatomy books emphasize the musculoskeletal systems. According to the research, some of the most profound effects of yoga are on the nervous system (through teaching our bodies to more efficiently go into the relaxation response), immune system (by lowering inflammatory markers in our blood, reducing the risk of many chronic diseases), and the cardiovascular system (with a yogic lifestyle resulting in reversing heart disease; something no pill has been able to do). I outline the key benefits according to the actual scientific research for each system, as well as many major diseases and concerns everyday folks are dealing with.

Also, I love the last section of the book: the Q&A. In this section, I cover areas such as chronic pain, mental health, yoga in schools, and more. I discuss the research on some of the areas where yoga shows the most promise for turning our healthcare system upside down. The shift to preventive and integrative health must happen because what we are doing is not sustainable. More and more doctors are recommending yoga for chronic pain, for example, because the science shows it works. Amidst an opioid epidemic, yoga practices are starting to show up in hospitals. Soon the status quo must be meditation before morphine. I love educating on these topics like yoga for chronic pain and mental health. Yoga goes so far beyond the muscles and bones…so far beyond the physical poses mosts books focus on.

Finally, all the research is cited in the back of the book. I looked at hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific research studies to support the statements I made in the book on the benefits of yoga. Other books that do this are more academic and inaccessible. This book has the science behind it but is simple to understand and apply practically, even if you don’t have a biology degree. 

How do you feel Science of Yoga will impact a teacher versus a student? 

This book is really written for both yoga students and yoga teachers. Every section is written in multiple levels. For example, a pose like side plank starts with simply saying: “Side plank is a challenging arm balance that may get you sweating and your heart pounding…This pose strengthens your core, including your abdominals and back muscles. Your supporting arm and shoulder muscles are also engaging strongly to maintain balance.” That is probably enough information for most yogis. However, if you would like to go deeper, like if you are a teacher, you can read further and see exactly which muscles are likely engaging as they are pointed out on the figure. Most regular practitioners don’t care that their spinal extensors, sternocleidomastoid, and pronators are engaging. But if you do care, that info is there for you to dive deeper!

Many teachers learn cues from their mentors and/or teachers. In your book you mention wondering why certain cues and claims (about the health benefits of poses, etc) are mentioned in class, and you wanted to know why. What would you like teachers and students to take away from your book, with regards to cueing and claims? 

Be curious! Constantly ask, “why?” Don’t just believe what you hear. No, lying in savasana does not clear the lactic acid from your muscles. No, twisting does not wring out the toxins. No, turning upside down does not reverse your blood flow. No, doing inversions like headstand on your period does not seem to cause endometriosis. In fact, there is no known medical reason not to do inversions while menstruating. 

There are so many true benefits that are even more profound and impactful than the myths I listed above. There is so much that the ancient yogis gave us through intuition and practice that proves to be true. For example, elongating your exhales does put you deeper in the relaxation response by activating the vagus nerve to slow your heart and lower your blood pressure. This is a free, accessible tool everyone with high levels of stress and high blood pressure should know and use.

Keep learning and evolving. We all will realize at some point that something we have been hearing or saying is not correct. That is okay. We are human. Keep at it!

What would you say to someone who wants to know how to apply the information in Science of Yoga to their practice? 

Feel it in your own body. Your experiential evidence is worth more than just reading alone. Reading it will definitely help enhance your experience to make it richer and more thoughtful, but that is not enough. Don’t just take my word for it. 

Hey, do you want to know the secret to getting the most benefits from your yoga practice? You have to simply do it.

The theme of this issue of NY YOGA + LIFE is REST. How do you make time for self care and rest with your busy schedule? 

Actually, I have been thinking a lot about this lately because I am about to travel the world. Science of Yoga is being released in over 10 languages and I will be traveling to the countries it is being released in to teach from it. I am excited to go back to China with a new perspective, as well as going to Japan, Korea, France, Italy, UK, and more. I have been asking myself how in the world I will keep balanced while living out of a suitcase for a year!

I think really, it comes back to the magic of this practice. I know that even when I am stressed and have a ton of deadlines, there is an inner peace within me that is not tarnished. Even when I make mistakes, which I do often, I know there is a part of me that is pure and deeply connected to all others. The mindset shift yoga has provided helps me become more resilient amidst challenges. It isn’t a perfect process, and I am not perfect (in fact, I am a recovering perfectionist). However, the deep spiritual connection I feel from integrating the rich philosophy of yoga into my life provides the biggest benefits. Science and spirituality do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Practically, I love doing little “yoga breaks” throughout the day like a sun salutation at the wall in the airport, a breathing practice as I fall asleep, or a minute meditation before I have an important meeting. And that is what I teach my one-on-one yoga therapy clients because let’s face it, most of us are not going to wake up and do a full yoga practice every day. These practices can provide short rest periods throughout the day, which is actually more impactful to train your nervous system to facilitate that inner peace and sense of resilience.

Remember though, yoga is a process –an imperfect, fulfilling, worthwhile process. I daily remind myself: progress, not perfection. 

Yoga Plus Magazine - SCIENCE YOGA OF YOGA BOOK COVER
Diversity in Yoga: Our community speaks out

Diversity in Yoga: Our community speaks out

Diversity in Yoga:
Our community speaks out

by: Bre Scullark
YOGA
Yoga Plus Magazine - diversity featured image Quentin Vinnie

There are words that are loosely used in the wellness community such as awakening, enlightenment, and guru. We hear these terms so often that it seems the true depth of their meaning gets lost in the perception, circumstances, and beliefs of the masses. We commercialize the same words that once attracted us to this spiritual way of life. Among those are the term and language connected to healing and being a “Healer.”

I have practiced at several wellness centers and sat with many self-proclaimed healers who promise healing if only we do things in a sacred way, which has always flushed out to be “their way.” As 2020 glared the shortcomings of our country, fears, and beliefs, some of us raised our eyebrows to the response, or lack thereof, from spiritual and sacred wellness groups. Where are our healers?

The racial tension in the U.S. rapidly spread globally following the consecutive murders of African American women and men during the COVID-19 lockdown. As many began protesting in the street for weeks and months, yoga and mindfulness practitioners of color wondered, “Where are our healers?”

Many yoga and meditation spaces and practitioners had fallen silent. They preferred not to align themselves or their brand with organizations such as Black Lives Matter, which they deemed as making a political stance. There were studios who posted to social media about diversity reluctantly to avoid scrutiny. Sending positive affirmations, memes, reposted hashtags with a surface promise to support inclusivity in the holistic community. Some even proposed financial support. But, where were our healers?

Where were our self proclaimed healers and gurus? Where were our beloved studios that always offered catchy quotes in savasana, simple but tangible resolutions to all of our daily challenges? Where were our People of Peace?

I had the pleasure of virtually meeting with three of my close friends in the wellness community to discuss words like HEALING, especially during times such as these.

Joshua Dorfman is a meditation teacher, life coach, and spiritual advisor. Lauren Solomon is an international yoga instructor, birth doula, and energy worker. Quentin Vennie: International speaker, author of “Strong in Broken Places,” and advocate for humanity. Here is our talk on healing, healers and our ideals of how wellness should begin to motion forward.

What does “healing” mean to you?
Quentin: Healing is moving beyond our trauma and not allowing it to dictate the value of who we are. It’s learning from our experiences for the betterment of humanity.

Lauren: Healing is a journey of physical and metaphysical alchemy. Healing/Healer are terms used too liberally and inappropriately for capitalistic reasons/opportunity. These terms are overused and undervalued.

Joshua: Healing is a process to liberation. Liberation of being susceptible to stress, anxiety, trauma, and fear. Of course, healing is a general term. There’s the mental, physical, and spiritual level. Healing is the process of freeing ourselves from those bondages. Our eyes are open. We begin to ask questions. We begin to seek truth and we wonder, “How can things change?” ”How do I live better?” What I’ve learned is, whatever trials, tribulations, and traumas that we go through, we are supposed to share our solutions with others. We are supposed to share our tools and techniques with the world.

How would you describe the importance of wellness in communities of color?
Lauren: Holistic wellness is vital to African Americans and POC ability to survive and thrive as a people. Illness of all kinds will continue to kill and destroy. One of my favorite quotes by Toni Cade Bambara is, “Wholeness is no trifling matter.”

Sometimes generational trauma plays out in our classroom. Some instructors are more authoritarian which can be perceived as a superior/inferior dynamic and also create trauma bonds. How can non-POC instructors and students support POC on their journey to self-healing?

Joshua: We must begin by irradiating ourselves from the sickness of separatism and competitive mentality.

Lauren: Non-POC must courageously become acquainted with their own darkness. They must focus on the inner work so that they will teach and be willing to learn from a space of authenticity and balance.

PTSD and trauma informed trainings are commonly talked about in the wellness community. We don’t often talk about Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (PTSS) or Shadow Slavery. Many POC, specifically African Americans, have been triggered by the systematic injustice and police neutrality that has gone overlooked for centuries. Have you, or do you plan to implement classes that support healing in this area?

Lauren: All people can experience PTSD but only Black People can and have experienced PTSS. Let’s unapologetically acknowledge that first, and then we can begin the work. My work, experiences, guidance, offerings, and language all implement the process of healing specifically in this area. For example, it is important to me that I am unapologetic about centering myself and my work for people who look like me without seeing it as a hindrance, limitation or exclusion.

I don’t see anything wrong with that! I think many establishments do and feel the same way. They may not openly say it but their business strategy screams it. Hiring predominantly one race, price point for classes, marketing campaigns, etc. I think sometimes we (African Americans) feel uncomfortable with saying this particular program or guidance for healing is specifically for us. We may feel bad or as though there will be a consequence for not sharing.

Joshua: I think we have POC, become conditioned to GIVE…

Ahhh! I love that! Are you proud of how the wellness community represented African Americans, POC and BIPOC during the several acts of violence from police brutality and racial injustice last year?

Lauren: No. They did not support us. What many studios and centers did at best, they showed us exactly who they are and who they are not. They engaged in superficial disingenuous optical allyship and hashtag activism. If they didn’t care, then I would prefer that they truly do not care. What many studios showed us was our money mattered but not our lives. Breonna Taylor’s face was trending. George Floyd’s video of him being murdered went viral. Our trauma became a way to monetize our suffering. To me, it felt like modern day lynching and several wellness studios participated in it. It was capitalistic and opportunist. But we didn’t need a civil rights movement to show us what African Americans, POC and BIPOC meant to these centers. We knew that based on their leadership and their marketing strategy. We always knew who and what mattered to them.

Quentin: Lauren’s sentiment is my sentiment. For real. There is nothing more that I can add to that that she hasn’t already addressed.

Quentin, your wife is white. How does that affect your household dynamic if at all? What are some of the conversations that you, your wife and your children have around race and wellness? Having two totally different ethnicities living under one roof during a civil rights movement, how has this been for you?

Quentin: The reality is that all of this is personal. And to be honest, my wife is one of the rarities in this space. She holds me when I need to be held, she can console me when my soul is weary, not as a Black man but as a human. Society will tell me I am a Black man and then society will dehumanize me for being a Black man. They limit my experience of humanity. Thinking back to the reason Blacks were selected for slavery was because of our propensity to “endure.” So if I am expected to be strong, who is going to see me when I am weak? My wife does. The conversations that we have are geared towards the Black experience and the white impression. And even with her, helping her to identify where she is actively fighting against racism and or passively moving towards it.

Joshua: When Gorge Floyd passed, it really sparked a fire under me to get the message across about racial and social injustice in the wellness community. I remember companies reaching out to me because I am a person of color just so that they could say they had a POC on their platform. It felt inauthentic so I turned them all down. It felt like a branding opportunity to say that they were a part but it did not feel like they authentically wanted to help.

How do you believe non-POC in the wellness community can authentically help?

Lauren: I don’t need to be affirmed in my life’s value from non-POC. What I would like is for non-POC to turn the work inward. Focus on you. No more “I’m not a racist” or wearing BLACK LIVES MATTERS shirts. Let’s focus on deepening the work by looking inward. “Where am I?” or “Where have I contributed to what’s at hand?”

Quentin: It starts with self, I agree. You can’t authentically do much to change the past. What you can do is begin to change self. I think it starts with acknowledging how many non-POC have upheld white supremacy subconsciously just by rules of society and continued to sustain a system of oppression. Deal with that discomfort that comes up. Sit in it and continue to heal from it.

Joshua: If non-POC want to authentically help, it has to come with humility and the acknowledgment of oppression.

What is your vision for the future of the wellness community?
Joshua: Seeking out those who have a genuine calling to serve and find truth. I want to flood the wellness community with realism. “Humans always want to do something about death when we should want to do something about life…”

Quentin: I want to see the continuation of these types of dialogue, of this level of humility and vulnerability, and stripping away the fear so we can begin to trust. Too many people have died without knowing that this can exist. This conversation was healing for me.

Lauren: We must decolonize ourselves in all ways. We must create that which we want to see, do, and be. Additionally we must be considerate of how we wield our collective energy and consciousness, and permanently do way with disempowerment.


BIOS

Quentin Vennie
@quentinvennie

Celebrated wellness expert, philanthropist, keynote speaker and author of the bestselling memoir, Strong In The Broken Places. His work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Thrive Global, Entrepreneur, Chicago Tribune, NBC News, Fox News, MindBodyGreen, and others. Quentin has been recognized as one of Black Enterprise magazine’s 100 Modern Men of Distinction and by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for his contribution in raising awareness for mental health and suicide prevention, as well as appearing as the wellness keynote speaker for Colin Kaepernick’s “Know My Rights” Camp. Quentin has guided meditations and given talks at the Wagner Youth Facility at Belize Central Prison, shared his journey of healing childhood trauma for the University of Maryland Medical Systems & University of Maryland Symposium “Not All Wounds Are Visible”, and was recognized by Lululemon at their annual Here To Be Conference.

Having spent years practicing yoga and meditation, Quentin has found a recent passion in gardening and interior design as forms of anxiety management. He continues to work with youth in under-resourced communities, helping them understand their traumas and turn them into triumphs. He spearheads initiatives that support positive mental health and challenges food insecurity by teaching and promoting sustainable vegetable gardening, as well as making yoga and mindfulness accessible among communities and populations that don’t ordinarily have access to them.

Lauren Solomon
lotussol.com

A former Wall Street professional and graduate of Columbia Business School, Lauren boldly transitioned from a decade-long career in Finance and Project Management to a lifetime journey as a certified international yoga instructor, reiki practitioner and birth doula.

From Lauren’s most recent feature in the 1st volume of “My Yoga. My City” photography table book showcasing Lauren as among NYC’s premier yoga instructors, to her inclusion in NY Yoga + Life Magazine recognizing her as a trailblazer in the “Teachers We Love” section and in WELL Summit’s “7 Black Women Making Waves in Alternative Medicine” – to Lauren’s leading international yoga retreats, and her dedication as a birth companion centering Black women and families on the childbirth continuum, she radically affirms her community in a myriad of meaningful and deeply impactful ways.

Joshua Dorfman
@joshua.dorfman

For over 15 years, Joshua has been self-taught, accepting wisdom and influence from teachers along the way while adhering to his inner guidance and direct connection to Source. Joshua stepped into his role of leadership in 2014 offering healing, meditation and life coaching services as a walking embodiment of Light.

He is a community builder and space holder for unity and communication, creating a safe space for people of all walks of life to evolve through self-realization and the integration of Spirit into the human experience. He has been offering his services one on one and in group
environments and has even brought meditation to corporate settings such as A&E
TV Networks, Broadway productions such as Hamilton, in addition to the fashion
industry while simultaneously working with your everyday man and woman. Joshua is a certified Reiki Master and holds multiple certifications in Vortex Healing.

Yoga Plus Magazine diversity image Joshua
Yoga Plus Magazine diversity image Lauren Solomon