Welcome to the Accessible Yoga Podcast where we explore how to make space for everyone in the yoga community.
Amber Karnes 07:31:37
This podcast is brought to you by the Accessible Yoga Association, a nonprofit organization focused on accessibility and equity in yoga.
Hi, I'm your host, Jivana Heyman, my pronouns are he and him. And I serve as the director of Accessible Yoga.
Amber Karnes 07:31:52
And I'm your co host, Amber Karnes. My pronouns are she and her and I serve as president of the Accessible Yoga Board of Directors. Hey, everybody, welcome to episode number 45. Today, we're going to be talking about tips for keeping students safer and her yoga classes and I'm here with Jivana This is Amber. Hey, Jivana.
Hi, Amber. How are you?
Amber Karnes 07:32:13
I'm doing good. How are you?
I'm okay. You know, life.
Amber Karnes 07:32:18
Yeah, I'm like, I don't know. Maybe I'm retiring from answering that question for a while. Like, I'm good. In this moment. I have everything I need. I'm safe. There's food in the fridge. The heat is on. That means I'm good. It's like pandemic goods a little different.
Yeah, Yes, true. And I'm struggling a bit to be honest. I've had stuff with my eye going on, like last week. And it's something that happens to older people.
Amber Karnes 07:32:52
I don't want you in that category of older people. But I guess we're older than someone.
I'm 54. And it happens when you're over 50. So it's called vitreous detachment. It's not I mean, it's scarier, it sounds worse than it is. It's just made a lot of floaters and stuff in my eye. I can't see. And it's weird how that's like, shifted my whole way of like, being in the world, it's really something. So it's like, what kinda like a temporary disability actually, it's an interesting experience, whatever you have, you know, for me, when I should say, like, when I have an injury, or something happens, it's like, really makes me reflect on how much I take my body for granted. And yeah, how I work, how I use my body and engage with the world.
Amber Karnes 07:33:39
Totally, I can identify with that a little bit with the, you know, I had the shoulder injury going on for since April. And now it's sort of like pulling into my rearview mirror as I am graduated from PT and all that stuff. But yeah, it really does, you know, I think change things to it had me reflecting to definitely on the things I take for granted, and how my body is part of my teaching are part of my, you know, just kind of like daily life and what has to change. So, yeah...
Yeah. I mean, it's related to our topic today, actually, which is part of why I brought it up. And the other thing I find interesting is like, I have ongoing challenges in my life, like, you know, I don't need to list them for you, but it's just a when there's another one, like, when there's a new one, it just kind of throws me for a loop. You know, it's like, somehow, I think I learn how to get along with the issues that I have, and the challenges in my life, but then when, like when life throws me something else, and like really, something else now, on top of all that, like I just barely figured out the rest. So it's kind of like starting over again. Each time.
Amber Karnes 07:34:53
Yeah, I hear that. It's funny that the name of the thing that you're dealing with is like something something detachment, I'm like, You think like, like non attachment or like is good?
Or bad? Yeah, no, it's not a good kind of detachment. No, no, no, no, but thank you for that. I'll try. I'll refrain. I'll reframe it in the way I think about it.
Amber Karnes 07:35:17
Comic relief? I don't know. Or just tell me to shove it like that works.
Yeah, it's a yoga joke about my eye. My eye is detached but, you know, not my mind. I guess
Amber Karnes 07:35:31
We're working on the rest. Yeah.
But seriously, you know, I I brought up because I think our theme for the month of December is yoga for pain care. And, I mean, this I think is not painful physically, but it is painful emotionally. And I, I am struggling. And I feel like, I'm just excited about this topic. I think it's something we don't talk about enough in yoga. And I'm excited for all the programming we have around it, including this conversation today. And what I think what we're going to do today is talk about more practical things that we can do as yoga teachers to keep our students safer, more about avoiding injury, I think is where we're going. Right?
Amber Karnes 07:36:13
That's right. Yeah. And please definitely check out the other programming that Accessible Yoga has going on around this theme and every month for the theme that we will have going on. But I yeah, I agree. I think that you know, I'm excited. about the sort of like, maybe new frontier of you know, yoga combined with these different, like chronic pain or chronic illness because so many people are dealing with those things. And I feel like I don't know about you or the other people listening. But certainly when I went through my initial yoga training, we didn't get a lot of information about pain, or how to work with people that have injuries other than like, here's some modifications, or here's a prop that you can use. And so I'm really excited to see the the folks that are really, you know, specializing in this, and I was lucky enough to my 300 hour training that I took with Jules Mitchell, we did a good amount of pain science and studied with folks like Todd Hargrove and Greg Lehman around that stuff. And I find it fascinating. And really, I think encouraging the new ways that the new research and the new ways that some folks are working to treat chronic pain, because a lot of it has to do with the brain and working with the mind. And that's something that we can help build skills in. In yoga, so yeah,
I mean, yoga offers so much, but I think, I think the first step, at least for me, as a teacher, I mean, I don't specialize in working with people who have chronic pain, but I feel like as a yoga teacher in general, I need to find ways to keep people safe and avoid causing more pain. You know what I mean? Like, my goal is to like, not hurt anyone, And at first, yeah, exactly. First, do no harm and like to do some potentially offer support and help people feel better, but at least Yeah, not make things worse. And yet, I do think that happens. I've been injured in yoga classes, have you? Have you been injured?
Amber Karnes 07:38:20
Yeah, I have. I've definitely hurt my back and yoga classes. And I've also had, like, hip things that were annoyed and kind of became chronic until I stopped practicing with the teacher that wanted to like wrench my leg around, and then that sort of took care of itself. But yeah, I definitely have dealt with my own issues that come and go with yoga. So -
Yeah, me too. I mean, it's unavoidable, I guess, at some point, because we're moving our bodies a lot. You know, and like injury can happen. But I think there's so much we can do to prevent them. And that's what we're going to talk about today. I, I was, you'd mentioned props earlier, and I wanted to share with you something that I was reading about actually, Ann Swanson, who's a great yoga teacher, and who focuses a lot on yoga and research. She has a book, I think it's called Science of Yoga. She was talking to me a few weeks ago about this research on prop usage, and that using props actually may increase injury in yoga. And it just like kind of blew my mind because I think we I there's this idea in yoga and the yoga world that using props is actually makes yoga easier and is less than Yeah, and like there's like some shame in some yoga circles around using props event. And then this research is showing actually prop using props may increase injury. And I was just blown away by that. Isn't it shocking?
Amber Karnes 07:39:56
Yeah, it's a little it's, it's a little different than what you would expect, which is that maybe props would decrease injury if like the the common understanding is like props make yoga easier or more accessible automatically. But as we know, prompts can be used in many different ways. So what else did it say? Did it say like, when there was there
was more, there was a very broad view, it was like, one of these research papers that looks at like all the other research that's being done. And so it was whatever that's called as a word for that meta analysis, but
Amber Karnes 07:40:28
that's right, I
think, I think it's, my guess is that the reason props were causing injury is that often with props, people go further in a pose, you know, we often use prompts to actually intensify the practice, rather than to make it more gentle. So I can think of lots of ways that you know, like for me, say you're in like a triangle pose, a Trikonasana and use a block and you really like, all of a sudden you can reach the floor and you can really like stretch out right towards that block now, when before if you're kind of hanging out
Amber Karnes 07:41:04
You can engage and push into it, like use your body more. Yeah,
Yeah, exactly. And I think that could potentially lead to injury because you might be going further than you would have without that Prop. Same with like a stress. I think I think yoga straps can be used similarly they can actually kind of give you this kind of ability to move the body like you know, with a strap around your foot and like afford it can really engage more and that could potentially cause an injury. So I think that's my guess. But we'll add the link for that research paper, people can read it themselves if they want. Anyway, I just wondered, What do you think? What do you think is the most important lesson here? You know, for yoga teachers in terms of avoiding injury in their classes? Do you have like a message?
Amber Karnes 07:41:58
A message... I would just say that. I know, we're going to talk about some practical tools in some ways that we do this in our classes. But I would just say that, to me, I start thinking from the very beginning, before we even get in the class, you know, it's not really always about what's the most appropriate prop here, or being able to, like, look in front of me and read every body and understand what's going on. Like, I think that takes a lot of time to really become more intelligent about the prompts that we offer, or guessing, like what variation on a pose might be most appropriate for a student just by looking at them practice. You know, I think that takes a long time to be really proficient at that kind of thing. But the things that I think are like big bang for your buck is, how are you setting up your classroom, not just like, the physical space, but like, the expectations that you set can help students to, you know, you'll set the environment of is this a class where people are expected to keep up and stay on cue? And do one breath one movement? And do it like it? You know, it is in the yoga videos, or whatever? Or is this an environment where folks are all going to be encouraged to practice in a different way and listen to their bodies? And that we're actually like teaching the tools to do that. So I think if we shift the lens a little bit away from like, you know, yeah, we want to look at individual students, and like, How can I, you know, give students support and keep them safe, based on like, whatever is going on with their bodies, but a lot of times, especially for teaching online, or we don't have a long time for a class, it might be really hard to give each student individual attention. And so I think some of the ways that we can set up our classroom, the expectations of the learning environment, the way that we speak about the practice, you know, I can tell our students like, hey, it's actually okay to have your own practice here and keep yourself safe according to what's going on with your body today and the needs that you have. So maybe that's just what I'll say at the outset.
Yeah, I totally agree. And I love that I think the way I would say that would be to teach, like, teach your students what yoga is, rather than allow people to continue to believe that yoga is about advanced Asana. Because I think that maybe it's this striving and our competitive nature that makes us think that well, and the imagery we see around us from social media and yoga media around advanced physical poses as being the goal. And I think we need to teach people, I've actually, I feel like my mission is to teach people that yoga is more than that. yoga is a spiritual practice. It's about connecting with your self, with your with your true Self. And we engage the body in the practice, but it's not really about the body at all. And that's the big irony of yoga to me, is that we're using the body, but it's not the body's not the goal. And so I think we need to find a way to use the body that is in alignment with the actual teachings of yoga, rather than to push the body in a way that can cause injury, and other kinds of harm. It's not just physical injury, but I think, I think continuing a culture that that really emphasizes Advanced Physical Asana is dangerous in so many ways. It excludes people. I mean, that's the obvious thing, right? It causes injury, but it also hurts us, I think, emotionally and in terms of our self image and our sense of belonging and in our sense of how no one's like, fitting in as a yoga practitioner, like I think for many people, but I'm just projecting here but I think many people who don't or can't do advanced physical poses think they think, Oh, I'm not good enough to be a yoga practitioner, or something. You know, I feel like you you've done an amazing job, like putting yourself out there with a larger body showing people like I'm, I'm a yoga practitioner, like I can do yoga, too. You know, you don't have to look like that person over there.
Amber Karnes 07:46:22
Yeah, I think that's so important that like, we not only you know, do the practical things to help People not injured themselves, but also, you know, kind of help our students to unlearn some of this stuff that they've been taught about yoga. You know, like yoga is only for advanced physical practice, or like for a yoga practice account needs to be strenuous, you know, kind of feeling or if you don't look this way, or if you can't afford these types of clothes, or, you know, I think about all the ways that yoga has been marketed to us and like to get an overview of that, all you have to do is Google image search, yoga, and you'll see what comes up and like –
Don't do it, don't do it.
Amber Karnes 07:47:03
I mean, you can do it. But then you're gonna see a lot of like, very extreme gymnasticy type of contortiony poses by, you know, thin, young, hyper flexible, hyper fit, looking, you know, able bodied, quote, unquote, you know, all the things. And so I think
I did that on Instagram. Recently, I looked at hashtag yoga. And I shared a screenshot, you know, in a talk I was giving, and it's so disturbing, you know, it really, it makes me insecure. Like, I start doubting myself, like I see, you know, I've been practicing for almost, well, I mean, almost my whole life, really, but at least 30 years solid practice. And I still look at those pictures. And I think, Wow, I'm not, you know, I'm not able to do that. Right. Like, it doesn't matter. I mean, it's not, that's not what yoga is about, you know. So it's so insidious. And anyway, that's not what we're talking about today.
Amber Karnes 07:48:09
No, but what I think like the point of discussing this is saying that like, part of the I think the education and the Yeah, part of the education that we can do for our students around how to be safer in class is also like unlearning, this notion that yoga is only for, you know, skinny, flexible, rich, white women. And yoga is all about physical practice. And yoga is for people, you know, who can afford to attend the studio, or all of those sort of myths, I think that have been perpetuated about the practice. In America, at least, we have to, like, specifically name those and call those out that like, you know, once we have people who are in front of us, like we have that opportunity to, not only like Teach ways to move forward with their practice safely, but like, we need to unlearn some of the things that we've maybe unconsciously adopted as beliefs or as beliefs about yoga, if that makes sense.
Right, which also, some, at the same time, addresses cultural appropriation, because that Western practice that you're that we've been describing is very much an appropriated practice that is not in alignment with the ancient indigenous teachings of yoga, that that are universal spiritual teachings. And so I feel like, you know, when we make yoga accessible when we, when we teach and share yoga in a way that doesn't harm people, either physically or emotionally, or make them feel excluded, it's more in alignment with yoga itself, right, unless an appropriate practice. Also, the other thing I think that's important in this, for me is around giving people agency and some sense of control over their bodies and their lives. And I think that the westernized practice tends to force people to conform, or encourages them to conform through a sense of competition. You know, like, I often ask people, like, if you're in a yoga class, and everyone else is doing the exact same thing, how would it feel for you to listen to your body and do something different, versus if you're in a yoga setting, that feels much more diverse, people are doing all different levels of practice, some students are in a chair somewhere on the mat, and everyone's kind of taking care of their bodies. How would you feel in that space, doing what you need to do for your body? And I think, to me, I've been in both settings. And when I'm in a setting where everyone's doing the exact same thing, it really takes a lot of inner strength to stand up for myself and listen to my body and do something different than everyone else. And I'm not encouraging people to like, not listen to the teacher and do their own thing, but I kind of am. Because I think at the heart of yoga is a sense of finding our inner power and connecting with that source. Like the M Camellia talks about all the time, like I love when they speak about it around agency and power in yoga culture. I think it's really important that we understand the way it works, especially as a teacher and our responsibility for actually sharing power with the students and giving them a sense of control. Not even a sense giving them actual control over their bodies. And when They're doing during that time choices. Yeah. And their choices. Exactly. Yeah, yeah. So, what do we do?
Amber Karnes 07:51:39
so, yeah. How do we do that? You know, I think one thing that you and I were talking about was, you know that there are sort of explicit ways and implicit ways that you can encourage a, you know, this environment that we're talking about, of giving students agency over what happens to their own bodies in a class, how they use their bodies, what they participate in, versus like, sort of the standard environment that maybe we kind of came to our practice in, or that we see in a lot of places that is about striving and competing and needing to like nail, the perfect pose and all of that stuff. So do you want to talk about that a little bit? Like how, what are the some of the explicit things that you do to create that environment where, where students tend to be safer?
Yeah. And I guess I want to echo what you're saying that so explicit, things are like, literally, what do you say out loud? In terms of teaching around this topic, versus implicit to me is more like, what are the subtle cues that you're giving during the practice that might connect to this concept. So explicit things for me are like, when you start class, first of all, first of all, I think it starts with how you perceive your role. And just making sure that you're coming in as an equal to your students, even though you're responsible for keeping people safe. During that time, you're really an equal in terms of that the relationship you're having with your students. So starting their changes, maybe the tone that you use when you're speaking and teaching, and then saying things saying things like, this is your practice, please make sure to keep yourself safe, feel free to stop to practice differently than the way I'm describing it today. So something like that, like actually just saying it out loud, right? In the beginning of class, like, I'm giving you the choice here to do to practice the way that works for your body, like, and I think that is a very explicit way of, of getting people in out, you know, saying it's okay to stop or slow down. Watch your mind and the competitive nature, you know, the competitive mind and your tendency to look at other people and really try to focus on yourself and how you're feeling. Turn your attention inward. And I would say an emphasis on that sensitivity to what's going on inside or interoception. I think that, to me, would be like almost the theme of my teaching, because I think that's, that's what yoga is all about. Right? Yoga is about having an internal focus, rather than an external focus. And that's what we're trained in yoga philosophy. The idea is that what we're seeking is actually within us, rather than out in the world, which is like the opposite of the way we're normally trained in the West, right? Like capitalism. So in yoga, we're trying to help people gain that capacity to focus inward. And Asana is an excellent tool for that. Mm hmm. Does that help?
Amber Karnes 07:54:52
Yeah, no, I love that. And the things you said about like, just simply saying that stuff out loud at the beginning of class, like things like this is your practice, you know, if you need to test stop or take a break. My friend Dianne Bondy likes to say "verbalize to normalize." And I love that little phrase like that, how much permission can just be given in the environment when the teacher says, oh, it's normal to take a break? Everyone does that from time to time, if you need to address your critical needs, get some water, go to the bathroom, like get up and take a break. You know, like just saying that out loud, creates an opportunity for folks to really get in touch with that personal power in the agency. And I think it's, you know, you and I definitely are, are really, I think similarly conscientious of leveling the playing field as far as like, we're not standing in the front of the room as some kind of like guru with all the answers. Like it's the opposite, actually, like we're here to co create this experience. And hopefully, we can offer some questions or some inquiries or some ways into the practice, but the students are doing the practice, you know, and so I think that's so important just to say that stuff what what do you say out loud to really set that tone?
I say, listen to me, but don't listen to me. Yeah. Because it's there is an irony or a paradox here, which is that like, you know, especially for newer students, they really rely on you. And they're expecting you to guide them. Like I know so many people, so many stupid So, you know, we're like, Am I doing this right? Am I doing this right? Tell me, you know, tell me what to do right like that they want that guidance. So I'm not saying like that you don't give it like you can give very clear explicit instructions when you're teaching. Yeah. And I think you also give them an out. Right? And you and you're constantly directing them inward. So there's this kind of, I don't know, what's the word - dialectic. That's the word I like to use. A dialectic is two things, two seemingly opposing truths, which is to say that we're a teacher, we're giving direction, we're giving very clear instruction, as the best we can. At the same time, we are giving students permission to not listen to us. Only though, I would say to the point where they're not bothering other students, so I do draw a line. And I want to say in terms of the freedom I give students is like, do whatever you want, as long as it doesn't bother anyone else. And I have to say that does happen sometimes their are - I've had, I almost have, the biggest challenge that I have in teaching are often between students, you know, not people doing anything to me or my relationship with those students, but more like a student who is like helping another student this is comes up a lot for me, and accessible yoga classes often have a student who all sudden takes it upon themselves to like, be my assistant without actually having my Okay, without talking about it before, they just go and start helping somebody or giving them bringing them their props or whatever too much, and giving them too much attention, or someone who's just like really loud, or like moving around a lot and like literally in other people's space. And I feel like that you got it, you got to protect the students from each other a bit. But other than that, I pretty much give people freedom to do whatever, whatever they want.
Unknown Speaker 07:58:22
Hey everyone, we'd like to take a quick break from the podcast to thank one of our supporting organizations Garden of Yoga. At Garden of Yoga, we share uplifting and supportive yoga, Pilates, chair yoga, and aerial yoga classes online and live in our Northcote studio and Melbourne, Australia. Creating a welcoming and nurturing space to help you grow in your own way is our goal. The teaching team, Jo and Rane, also co host The Flow Artists Podcast, where they speak with inspiring movers thinkers and teachers, as well as artists and activists about how they find their flow and share it with the world. You can visit garden of yoga online at gardenofyoga.com.au
Amber Karnes 07:59:16
Yeah, I agree unless the student is being very disruptive in some way, like, you know, we're all doing Child's Pose, and they're doing handstands and wildly falling in front of the class, like, you know, or whatever, then I tend to let folks like, do what they need to do to take care of themselves. And one thing that I've, you know, told my teacher trainees before is like, just be aware of the fact that, like, if you see someone doing something annoying, and I'm putting that like in quotes, but like someone doing something disturbing, or irritating or unexpected, like that person is probably trying to self regulate in some way. Right? And so like, just kind of, like hold that with that lens of compassion? And how can I help that student to feel a little more safer? And sometimes, you know, there needs to be a conversation, if it's, if the student's needs are conflicting. And like you said, What, what's happening there is bothering someone, but also like, can I be a bit more permissive around, you know, fidgeting and shavasana or something like that, that we've been taught is like, not supposed to be happening, you know, that sometimes folks need a little bit more freedom as far as like, seated meditation might not be completely still for, you know, neurodiverse folks, it's like, easier to really turn the attention inward, if there's something that they can do to, to bring some movement into that. So like rocking or walking or whatever needs to have. So yeah, I think I'm just echoing what youre saying here.
Well, this is also trauma informed teaching, you know, giving people permission. And agency is basically the the heart of what it means to support people who've had trauma. Because often with trauma, you feel like you have less choices, and that you're stuck or something and then experience and so we don't want to trigger people in class, we want to support them to self regulate in a healthy way, and give people power over their situation, whatever that means for them. What are some of the implicit ways that you do this? So like, Do you Do you have ideas about like, how does it apply to your teaching?
Amber Karnes 08:01:23
Yeah, one way I would say is that like, if I'm teaching Asana, oftentimes I will model practicing a variation. That's not the, you know, like the classical expression of the pose, I would say. So like, if I'm teaching a pose with props, then I will use the props when I'm demonstrating. Or if I give folks a choice, like, let's say we're doing, you know, a lunge. And they get to like, keep your hands on the blocks, or put your hands on the waist or lift your arms up, I might choose not to do the sort of push it to the furthest one. And oftentimes, we'll model the other postures. So that that might be one way. I think also just, you know, teaching about concepts like Ahimsa, or Satya, and like how those might apply to something like this with the body, right? That you know, how are we practicing Ahimsa in class, when it comes to the thoughts that we have about our body, or our practice, or the things that we say to one another, or to ourselves, you know, just really like keeping those reflections, like at the top of students minds, and tying it back into yoga in that, that way that you were saying, like, teach them what yoga is, you know, not just Asana, but like the whole of yoga. And I think that's ways that you can bring some of that back in.
The other thing I like to do sometimes is to take one take one practice or a pose and do it a few different ways. So like, I don't know how to even say this, like, say you're doing a forward bend, there's so many different ways into the same pose, like you can come into the pose in a real striving way, pushing to your limit. So and people can experience that, like, I don't want to get hurt, but you can like try that like just go into the pose like you normally would. And just like kind of reach for your edge. Another way is to come in, and really kind of in a slow motion awareness. Like how can you come into this really, really conscious of your breath and energy on a more subtle level? Where could you be aware of your mind, as you're moving to this pose? What thoughts are happening as you do this, because I think, you know, like, with the Kosha model, looking at how we have all these different levels of being of our being, we tend to work on the physical most. And then sometimes we take it to the breath, but I feel like it actually makes yoga more accessible to get to those more subtle layers. And it simultaneously makes it deeper and more powerful. Because in yoga, I always say more subtle is more powerful, unlike in the natural world. Where where there's actual force that can have power, but in yoga, it's like, if you can get your mind engaged in this practice, then you're really doing that pose without practice on a very deep way. If that makes sense. So I feel like an implicit another implicit style, style. But another implicit way of teaching would be to continually take people to more subtle low levels of experience, rather than focus just on that physical.
Amber Karnes 08:04:44
Yeah, I love that. And I think I think some of those, you know, the more subtle experiences are also how we get to know how to, you know, listen to our bodies, right, and, like, explore those things like interoception, like understanding what's going on in the body, which directly feeds back into this concept of agency, like, if you can understand what's going on in your body, then you can feel a little bit more in control of that and control of your choices. And so, and I think, too, you know, when we're talking about pain, and folks with chronic pain, or even, just how do we get, you know, our students in general to understand that edge of like, Oh, I'm working, I'm using my body, but I'm not pushing past the point of what's healthy or safe or sustainable for me, like, the way we learn those edges is booked through those subtle practices and things like as simple as a body scan, and learning to like, identify sensations where they live. I mean, that stuff has such far reaching implications, like how we process our emotions, like we got to learn first, like, what are we feeling and where are we feeling it sensation wise? And then, like, how do we, you know, get a little bit of the charge out of that, so that we can like sit with it and watch it and not just, you know, try to avoid it or push it away. So I really feel like, you know, the subtle practices while it can be it can take time. You know, I think it takes a lot of time to sort of like prepare the body to want to be still enough to explore some of that stuff sometimes but it's really worth it because it has so many benefits to the students.
Right And and I think what you just said is so important, like, especially you mentioned people with chronic pain. So I feel like people with chronic pain are a great example of where our teaching is limited in this regard, because I think most yoga teachers are taught that the way we help support people to avoid injury and yoga is you say, Stop when you feel pain, right? And then we end there, and then we expect the students to kind of deal with it, you know, so okay, just don't do that if it hurts, but it's like, if you have chronic pain, that means you have pain all the time. How will you know if this thing hurts? Or what if you're dealing with someone who has paralysis, like spinal cord injury, or from a stroke, and they literally don't have sensation, or at least nerve nerve sensation in parts of their body? And you're like, Okay, well stop when you feel pain. It's like, well, I don't feel pain there anymore. Yeah, yeah, I feel like those, you know, this is that this is why I always say like, to me accessible. yoga is like advanced, I mean, not to toot my own horn, but I'm just saying like, to me, accessible yoga, making these practices universal as a way to really get to the heart of it. And I. And so I would say, in those cases, students who have paralysis or chronic pain, I think we really need to work on those more subtle layers, like you said, like, I think that's where we don't simplify necessarily, like, I think that the tendency with students like that is to adapt a practice and make it physically more gentle, and just say, Okay, well just do this instead. But actually, I would say, to me, the way of adopting the practice for someone who maybe can't, can't or doesn't want to do, the physical form that you're describing, or can't experience pain in their body in the way that you might think they'd should, is to take them to a more subtle level of experience and experience the pose, energetically working with the breath, and prana, like, the amazing Matthew Sanford, who's like an incredible teacher talks about this, he is, he has paralysis himself. And he talks about feeling prana moving through his paralyzed limbs, and describing how he can connect with that prana and all those different poses. And he showed me that it's beyond nerve sensation yoga is yoga is a much more subtle practice than that we're not teaching physical therapy here, right? That's not what we're doing. We're practicing yoga. And a lot of that has to do with the mind. Like, can you put the mind there, bring your awareness into that area, and really be engaged in a much deeper way than you might write, then you might have thought, you know, if that makes sense.
Amber Karnes 08:09:18
No, it does. And I yeah, I love that you brought up Matthew, I really encourage folks to check out his teaching, but specifically his DVD that he has, I love the language that he uses to describe like more subtle sensations. And like you said, you know, not that are not just like nervous system, or nerve based, I guess. And like, the way that he speaks about prana is really cool. So if folks want more language around that, or to hear more about that, I encourage you to check out the DVD that he has.
Yes, for sure. Any other ideas around this, like techniques, or anything that we could share?
Amber Karnes 08:10:03
You know, I really like sort of these, like, when I'm trying to teach interoception really simple exercises, where we asked folks to like, put their awareness in a certain body part body scans, like the type of stuff we do during yoga nidra, I find like, those are the experiences where students have really come back and said, like, oh, I finally got it, like what you're talking about when you ask us to like look for sensation here or there. And so I think it doesn't have to be super complicated. Like it can really be just the way that the way that we give folks like the language for it, if that makes sense. So I like you know, during a body scan, or if I'm trying to get folks to do an interoception exercise just to like, suggest different imagery suggest different, you know, what are you feeling hot, cold, tingly, pulsing aliveness? Like, give a bunch of those options so that folks can kind of recognize in themselves if they're new to this skill, because I think a lot of us don't ever learn this skill of like, Hey, what is actually going on in your body? You know, and I think especially about folks who, you know, like I used to be on chronic diets, you know, and like, there are a lot of things in the world that ask us to kind of like, divest from paying attention to our body. You know, chronic pain is also another thing I think a lot of folks tend to try to turn down the listening of the body because what they're listening to is not always easy to be with, you know, and so I think it's important to, to take time to teach these skills, especially if we're working with populations that, you know, maybe a little less than bodied. But honestly, I think that if we're, you know, if you're raised in this culture, like we're discouraged from being embodied, it's all about striving and attaining things outside of ourselves, and, you know, thinking about the past or the future. So I think, yes, really? Does that make sense?
Yes, and I would say, I would expand to people, any, anyone who has any kind of mental health issue, or, you know, is self critical, because I feel like there's this, like, an inner voice is very, can be very negative. And I don't know what the word is, like, put us down. So it's like, if I find that's, that's my tendency is like I have, you know, I work with anxiety a lot. And I feel like, my tendency is my mind is overactive. But then when I start listening to it, and I slow it down, oftentimes, the messages that I'm sending are really harmful to myself. Yeah. And so I feel like the pain like we could potentially expand this conversation to include emotional pain and like talk about like, the way that we're doing harm to ourselves, in the way that in the way we talk to ourselves. And like you said, that could be influenced by culture. So it's often it can be an internal voice, but maybe the result of external messaging we received from culture or from abuse, right. And I think, I think we, we really need to be conscious of that in a yoga class, just because I think that if our teaching encourages any kind of like striving or competition, it could, it could kind of lead people down a dark path where they're gonna just, you know, turn on themselves. Do you know what I'm saying? I don't know if that makes sense.
Amber Karnes 08:13:53
Yeah, I definitely think it makes sense. And I appreciate you saying that, you know, one of the things that I try to encourage folks to do is like, let go the story that you may be telling yourself about your body, you know, even during a body scan, like when I tell people to like, notice your breath, like how fast or slow Are you breathing? Where do you feel movement as you breathe in and out, you know, and don't worry too much about whether that's good or bad or right or wrong, but just like, identify what it is, like, that's the goal, you know, and so, what we have to, like, consciously, really realize what's going on inside of us before we can, you know, start to change it. Like if that's what we want to do, you know, that awareness precedes the change. And like, I think that's the first thing we have to teach is like being able to just identify and detect and sort of play that, you know, sometimes I call it like, our friend, Deb Malkin calls it the lazy detective, that like, you don't want to get too attached to like any one thing. Like, we're not gonna follow that story yet. But just like, What are the facts, like, look around, and kind of like, take some notes, but don't latch on to anything, too, too. Don't be too sure about anything yet, because you just getting started being the detective in this case? I don't know. I kind of like I like that metaphor a little bit, because it's like, I'm just gathering data, but not to, not to -
Well it reminds me of being the witness, you know, that's what we're doing in yoga is is to, to really embody that witness perspective, which is our true self. Right? That's our Atman and Purusha. Those are the Sanskrit words for that part of you that is that is like that's the essential, universal, unchanging essence of all of us that we're trying to connect within the practice that is like a detective in a sense. I mean, it's the witness watching everything else happening in the mind and in the body. And I just want to say like, I, I think what you got to do is important, it's not, it's like, the negative self talk isn't bad either. It's just you want to watch that. You just want to see it for what it is you don't want to even, it's not that you're gonna avoid negative feelings. That's the other thing is like, if negative feelings come up, that's okay. But just watch watching them without pushing them away either and saying, oh, no, I can't have one one very simple technique that I like to use in that regard. Is that I have a tendency to want to be really positive and supportive when I teach. And I'm trying to stop that, and just allow people to be and so what I mean is like, I might teach a practice, I always think about it with alternate nostril breathing. Like I used to say, you know, alternate also breathing is very calming, or relaxing. But then I found, you know, when I'm having anxiety, like alternate, and also breathing is not calming, it's actually me feel more anxious, right. And I know many of my students feel the same way. Like this sucks, like, this is making me feel bad. So can I speak about it when I'm teaching in a way that that allows the student to experience it, however, they experience it right now. So it's like, this may be relaxing. Like, I could say that this may be relaxing for you right now, like, but saying it may be relaxing is different than saying this is relaxing. Because then it it devalues your experience. And so I think giving students the chance to actually have their own experience of things, positive or negative. Similarly, the other way around, like if I'm like, Oh, this pose is really hard. Like I'm making a judgement based on my experience, that may not be true for you like for you, this could be the easiest thing in the world. So I think I can talk about my own experience, I could say, for me, this pose is very hard for me, this is challenging, or this can be this is relaxing for me, or this may be relaxing for you. This might be challenging, but I think speaking of it in a way that's not just so Black and white, like it's unclear, allow, and basically my point is allowing people to have their own experience.
Amber Karnes 08:18:09
Hmm, yeah, I love that. And I think that goes back to sort of the, you know, some of the implicit ways that you can do that you can encourage this. Yeah, you know, sort of individual pursuit of the practice that honors, you know, the body that they're in today in the brain that they're in today, and all of that stuff like that we can, you know, manage folks expectations about like, you know, this may, you know, for many people, this is calming or whatever, but without setting up a thing where it's like, oh, I don't feel calmed by this. Am I doing it wrong? Maybe something's wrong with me, maybe yoga is not for me, you know, all the places that our brain wants to go, when there's this sort of, like, implied thing that like, Oh, if everyone else finds this calming, and I feel like I'm having more anxiety, like, what did I do wrong? Which is, I think, what, we tend to go to a place of self blame, and not like, oh, the teacher didn't facilitate this correctly, which, you know, maybe the case instead, we tend to blame ourselves. So yeah.
Yeah. Awesome. Well, I love this conversation. I have to say like, This, to me is, I think I say, I think both you and I say a lot of the same things over and over again, but I feel like this topic, really like - I don't know, it just feels so important. And I just could talk about this forever, but I feel like we should probably stop.
Amber Karnes 08:19:41
Yeah, we can leave it there. I appreciate everybody tuning in. And we will see you in the next podcast. Thanks, Jivana.
Thanks, Amber, talk to you soon. Thanks for joining us for the Accessible Yoga Podcast. We're so grateful to be in community with you.
Amber Karnes 08:20:00
Please check out our website accessibleyoga.org. To find out more about our upcoming programs, including our annual Accessible Yoga Conference. At our website. You can also learn more about how to become an Accessible Yoga ambassador and support the work that we're doing in the world.
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Amber Karnes 08:20:19
You can also submit a question or suggest a topic or potential guests you'd like us to interview at accessibleyoga.org See you next time.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai