As you practice, try a movement once to see if it’s comfortable. If it feels like it’s working for your body, consider doing a few repetitions rather than holding in a static way.
Tips for Teachers
Empower Your Students
Use invitational language such as “try this position” or “see how it feels to do this,” rather than command language such as “do this” or “do that.” This empowers students to make decisions regarding how to move their bodies rather than simply follow instructions.
Let Go of the Perfect Pose
Ask yourself if you are teaching a physical practice that is just about moving the body into shapes. Or, is your offering aligned with the underlying purpose of yoga—connecting with the heart? Advanced yoga is not just about challenging asana. This understanding can create a more welcoming, less competitive environment.
Yoga allows us to shift our focus from the outside world to the inside world. This inner awareness, interoception, helps us to become more sensitive to our experiences. Invite your students to notice what is happening in their bodies. For example, are there sensations in the bones, joints, muscles, or organs? Are they feeling tired or awake, hungry or full, hot or cold? This is a time to observe rather than judge.
Deepen Your Practice
Find the “Why” in Each Pose: Identify a pose’s underlying benefits, then try to access those benefits with props. For example, when practicing heart openers such as Cobra Pose, a seated version using a bolster on your lap can help you anchor into your hands, open your chest, and lessen the backbend’s intensity. This allows you to focus on opening in a conscious way.
Explore Trial and Error: As you practice, try a movement once to see if it’s comfortable. If it feels like it’s working for your body, consider doing a few repetitions rather than holding in a static way.
Use Your Creativity: Let the underlying purpose of the practice—whether it’s relaxation, strengthening, or increased mobility—inspire you. As long as you feel safe in your practice, it’s fun to explore and create on your own or with your teacher.
Sit on your chair with your back supported and your feet grounded on the floor (or on props if your feet don’t easily reach the floor). Take a moment to check your posture and lengthen your spine. To do this, exhale, feeling energy moving down into the earth. Inhale, and notice energy rising up from the earth through your body as you elongate your spine.
2. Neck Rolls
Inhale, and lengthen your neck. Exhale, and lower your chin to your chest. Inhale, and roll your head to the right, bringing your right ear toward your right shoulder. Exhale, and bring your chin toward your chest. Inhale, and roll your head to the left. Exhale, and bring your chin to your chest. Continue for 3–5 rounds.
Avoid rolling your head back, since you can grind your vertebrae together, causing unnecessary compression in your cervical spine.
If you have arthritis or osteoporosis, try these moves as micromovements, meaning as subtle, internal movements with almost no motion at all.
3. Marjaryasana-Bitilasana (Cat-Cow Poses)
Exhale, and round your back like a cat, tucking your chin toward your chest and sliding your hands down your knees, making “claws” with your fingers. Inhale, lift your chest, and gently arch your back into a Cow shape. Continue for 3–5 rounds.
Avoid rounding your back if you have osteoporosis. Instead, try sitting tall with a neutral spine, moving into Cow Pose, then returning to a long spine.
4. Goddess Twist
Widen your legs, and turn your toes outward. You can place your feet flat on the floor, or on blocks to increase the stretch in your inner thighs and hips. Raise your arms out to your sides at about shoulder height. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Inhale to lengthen your spine. Exhale, and turn your torso to your right. Inhale to return to center. Exhale, and twist to the left. Continue for 3–5 rounds.
5. Foot Movements
Extend your feet out in front of you, placing them on the floor, a folded blanket, or a bolster. Explore different foot movements, trying to coordinate them with your breath. Roll your feet from side to side like windshield wipers. Slowly point and flex your feet. Try spreading your toes apart and squeezing them back together. Try other foot movements like circling your feet or pretending to draw letters in the air with your toes. Spend 15–30 seconds per foot on each move.
6. Arm Raises
Bring your arms out to the sides of your body with your palms facing up. Imagine your breath is like helium filling a balloon, and visualize that you’re filling your arms with it as you inhale. Observe your arms lifting, as if on their own, just from the power of your breath. When you reach the top of your range of motion, exhale, turn your palms to face the earth, and allow your arms to float down slowly. Repeat 3–5 times.
7. Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose) with a Bolster
Place a bolster on your lap and drape your arms over the prop to hold it against your belly. Exhale, and lean forward over the bolster, gently lowering your head. Inhale, lengthen your neck, then slowly lift your head, neck, and upper chest. Keep your shoulders back and, using your palms, gently pull the bolster toward your belly, which can help lengthen your spine even more. Continue moving in and out of the shape, or hold the backbend for 3–10 breaths, then slowly release by reversing the movements you used to come into the pose.
8. Leg Stretch
Sit tall with both feet grounded. Lift your right leg so that you can wrap a yoga strap around your right foot. Elongate your right leg and rest your foot on a bolster or block. Keep your left knee bent and your foot grounded. Hold the ends of the strap in your hands, and use the tension to help lift and lengthen your spine as you inhale. Exhale and, without rounding your back, hinge your torso forward slightly until you feel a stretch in the back of your right leg. Hold for 3–5 breaths. Return to the start position. Repeat on the other side.
9. Savasana (Corpse Pose) with Neck Support
To practice safely in a chair, slide your feet forward rather than having them directly under your knees. This will help prevent you from slipping out if you fall asleep. Now check that your neck is well supported during the relaxation. A rolled-up blanket can serve as a neck pillow if you wrap it around your neck like a scarf. You could also use an airplane pillow, or place your chair against a wall and have a blanket or pillow behind your head. Let your body relax, close your eyes if you like, and rest. Stay for 5–20 minutes.
10. Deerga Swasam (Diaphragmatic Breathing)
Sit tall, and rest your hands on a bolster, or bring one palm to your belly. Inhale, feeling your abdomen expand. As you exhale, feel your diaphragm relax, which naturally draws your belly back toward your spine. Work with your natural breathing rhythm with great awareness. Then, if you’re comfortable, try lengthening your inhalations and exhalations a few seconds longer than your normal rhythm. Try not to strain to breathe. Stay for 3–5 minutes.
11. Making Friends with Your Mind Meditation
Sit tall and deepen your breath just a little. Do a quick body scan, noticing how you feel. Are you nervous, tired, relaxed, happy, or something else? If any emotions arise, allow yourself to experience them. Whenever you have an emotion or thought, say yes. Spend a few minutes practicing this technique. To finish, notice how you feel. Take a few full breaths and thank yourself for spending time practicing meditation.
Jivana Heyman is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga. He lives with his husband and two children in Santa Barbara, California. Learn more at jivanaheyman.com.
Text adapted from Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body by Jivana Heyman. Shambala Publications, 2019.
Model teaches yoga to under-resourced and highly traumatized communities that have numerous emotional, physical, and psychological challenges. Learn more at idreaminyoga.com.