Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

A lot of folks hold strong stereotypes when they hear I’m a yoga instructor. They assume I work at a studio and teach asana based yoga classes. When I clarify, saying I’m a trauma-sensitive yoga instructor, many people are confused. The conversation usually goes one of two ways, I describe what trauma-sensitive yoga is in detail or I’m asked what the difference is between what I do and what “mainstream” yoga is. When I further describe sites I work at, such as addiction treatment programs and jail programs, it seems even more confusing for some. I get asked why these populations need yoga, why people who have “done something wrong” need it.

Instead of typing out a clarifying blog post, I’m going to let me own words speak for themselves. Here’s a recent interview I did for the Beyond Theory podcast, a podcast for The Meadows Behavioral Health.

Beyond Theory Podcast | S1 E12: Aditi Desai on Bringing Yoga to Diverse Populations

Check it out and let me know what you think! I hope this clarifies a lot of what I do and also what yoga can do for the world.

Accessible Yoga – Yoga for EVERY BODY

When you think of yoga, what images come to mind? You might see a very specific type of person. You might see a specific race, size, shape, and ability of that person. Imagine you’re walking into a yoga studio, who do you see?

As I’ve started to discuss in my last post, the Westernization of yoga has created this image of yoga that strays very far from the roots of yoga. While there are stories of yoga being restricted to men in India, there are stories and there is a history of people of all shapes, sizes, and genders practicing yoga. Now, as yoga has become a financial commodity, it seems that the population practicing yoga has narrowed. This brings me to my topic today, accessible yoga.

We live in a world where there is potential for variety. Depending on where you live, there may be a variety of foods available, a variety of leisure activities, and a variety of people. So why has yoga in the west seemed to cater to one type of person? Accessibility is a huge issue…not just in yoga but in many realms of life. Access to healthy, fresh foods. Access to transportation. Access to healthcare. So why aren’t we talking about access to yoga? This is a multi-billion dollar company in the west and yet somehow we are limiting it to a very specific type of person for a very specific price point.

We all know the benefits of yoga. We all know that it can help with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. So why is this only available to certain people? Even studios and classes that are low-cost or promoted to “everyone” seem to only be taught or attended by specific people. Why? Simply put…accessibility. This doesn’t just mean being able to get to the yoga studio or being able to pay for the class. This means being able to do the poses comfortably, being able to do the breath and meditation practices comfortably. This lack of accessibility affects many populations, including but not limited to people of color (POC), larger bodies individuals, people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, people living with differently abled bodies, and people who may not speak or understand English well.

So what do we do? What do we, as yoga teachers and students do to make sure EVERYONE has access, in every way, to the wonderful practice of yoga? Well, I’m glad you asked.

Here are just a few of my tips to make your studios and classes more accessible (in no specific order):

  • Hire POC teachers
  • Hire larger bodies teachers
  • Hire teachers who identify as LGBTQIA
  • Provide classes in different languages
  • Promote chair yoga or accessible classes
  • Use props
  • Provide a variety of mat sizes and thicknesses
  • Do not use words like “full expression of pose” or “more difficult version”
  • Use words like “modification” or “adjustment”
  • Use invitational language
  • As a teacher, model these modifications and adjustments
  • Incorporate pauses
  • Allow students to decide what feels good for them
  • Use consent cards for hands on adjustments
  • Ask permission before using essential oils or scents
  • Attend/offer trainings for accessible yoga
  • Provide all-gender or gender neutral restrooms

This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to make classes more accessible. Let’s start by being open and welcoming to EVERYONE.

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Yoga as Therapy

Medicine is full of options for treatments. Medications, physical therapy, talk therapy, and many others…these are all used to assist in resolving ailments of all varieties. Some of these therapies come with many side effects, leading to more therapeutic interventions.

Yoga seems an unlikely option to many. Yoga as therapy is often thought of as a supplement to physical therapy, but it is so much more. Yoga therapy does more that provide physical benefits. It combines the mental health benefits with the physical, allowing individuals to heal in a more complete manner.

Yoga can help with the following ailments:

-Chronic Pain


-Physical Injury Rehabilitation




Yoga Therapy is now a certified program, resulting in a certification allowing practitioners to provide therapeutic yoga in various settings. From hospitals to rehabilitation centers, many medical companies are now looking to yoga therapy for long term healing and benefits. Yoga therapy has the power to reduce readmission in hospitals as well as reduce relapse in addiction treatment. Yoga therapy can be catered to any ailment, physical or otherwise. Ultimately, yoga therapy is a great addition to any treatment plan.

Yoga for Flying

As the holidays approach, many of us will be taking trips to see family and friends. Whether long or short, flying can be rough on the body. Sitting for long spans of time can put strain on certain joints and muscles.

Here are some poses that can be done fairly easily during that long flight to see grandma (or whoever it may be).

  1. Seated cat/cow with eagle arms
    • Sit with your feet grounded and your back slightly away from the back of the chair
    • Cross your left arm under your right, clasping hands
    • Inhale, reach the elbows up, opening the chest
    • Exhale, bring the elbows down, folding forward
    • Repeat with right arm under left
  2. Forward fold
    • Bring your hands to your knees
    • Inhale lift your chest up
    • Exhale slowing fold your chest towards your lap
    • Repeat
  3. Seated spinal twists
    • Sit with your feet flat on your ground
    • Take one hand to arm rest
    • Slow pivot upper body towards that side, twisting at the hips
    • Repeat on opposite side
  4. Leg lifts
    • Slowly raise one leg at a time, holding in raised position for a 2 breath count
    • Inhale lift leg
    • Exhale release leg
  5. Ankle rolls
    • Slowly lift the foot off the ground and roll in one direct, repeat in opposite
    • Repeat for opposite foot
  6. Neck rolls
    • Sit with your back straight
    • Slowly roll neck in one direction
    • Repeat in opposite direction
  7. Mountain pose
    • Find a space to stand
    • Engage abs, legs, and arms
    • Feel the strength in your stance, closing the eyes
    • Inhale, exhale for 2-3 breath count
  8. Lunges
    • Using the aisles, do small lunges up and down the aisle
  9. Seated meditation
    • Sit with your feet flat on the ground
    • Close your eyes
    • Notice your breath
    • Inhale/Exhale deeply


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Yoga as Pain Treatment

Opioids are all over the news these days. Whether talking about them in an addiction context or as a form of pain treatment, medications are constantly being discussed and debated. Should we be using opioids for pain? What is the risk of addiction? How can we stop addiction from happening? Are there alternatives to drugs for pain?

While I’m not a medical physician, I have a great deal of personal experience with pain and know for a fact that yoga has helped me not only deal with the pain, but even alleviate it.

The first step, for me, was becoming aware of the pain and exactly where it was located. Simply taking a deep breath and focusing on where I was feeling the pain, what kind of pain it was, and determining whether I had to deal with it or if I could live with it. From there, I found yoga poses that targeted that specific spot, for me it was the lower back. After a few months, I noticed my pain steadily decrease. After a few more months, I even noticed I rarely felt the pain at all.

It takes some time and effort, but yoga does work. Recent studies and articles have shown that yoga can not only supplement a tradition pain treatment regimen which involved medications, but in some cases it can actually replace that regimen.

For specific poses, see a previous post: Yoga for Chronic Pain

*Please see a medical physician before starting any regimen for pain treatment.


Pose Breakdown: Badha Konasana (Cobbler Pose)

Towards the end of a yoga sequence, relaxation poses are incorporated to help the body start to cool down, allowing the muscles to begin to let go of any tension caused by some of the more active poses. Badha Konasana (literally meaning “bound angle pose) is a relaxation pose often incorporated towards the end of yoga sequences. This pose is most often called cobbler pose or butterfly pose.

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Pose Breakdown:
-Begin seated with your legs straight out on the mat or ground, keeping your back straight.
-Bend your knees and slowly drop your knees out to the sides, like a book, bringing the soles of your feet to touch.
-Take both hands and wrap them around the feet.
-Sit straight and tall, focusing on the posture and breath. You can also slowing pull your upper body towards the feet, incorporating a forward fold.
-Supta Badha Konasana is a modification where you are laying on your back with your legs/feet in the same position.
-Start laying on your back with both legs straight out in front of you.
-Follow the same directions with the legs as seated badha konasana.
-Take your feet further forward, away from your body, to ease any discomfort in your knees or hips. Using support items, such as blocks or blankets, under the knees can also assist with discomfort.
-Take one hand to the chest and one to the belly.
-Lay still, focusing on the breath.
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-Relieves menstrual cramps.
-Reduces symptoms of depression.
-Improve energy levels.
-Reduce symptoms of anxiety.
Enjoy this wonderfully relaxing posture!

Yoga for Chronic Pain

Recent studies have been coming forward suggesting that yoga and mindfulness meditation can help alleviate chronic pain. In some cases, studies have shown that these practices may be more effective than prescription pain killers.

Here are a few poses that may be helpful in alleviating chronic pain. Note: Please follow any advise by a licensed physician when dealing with chronic pain.

Deep Breathing

Place hands on belly and feel the physical sensation of the breath as it fills your stomach, lungs, and chest. Focus on any physical and emotional sensations that arise.

Mindfulness Meditation

Sit in a comfortable position. Maintain good posture with your back straight, shoulders rolled back and away from your neck. Begin breathing deeply and intentionally. Maintain focus on the breath. As thoughts or emotions arise, meet them where they are at without judgment. Give them minimal attention, then let them go, returning focus on the breath.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Lay on your back. Tense muscle groups throughout your body, starting with the feet. Hold the tension, focusing on that tension and the physical sensations that arise with the tension. Release the tension in that muscle group before proceeding to the next muscle group. Being with the feet and slowing move up the body, ending in the face/head. The last activity is to tense all muscles in the body, holding the tension, then releasing all muscles in the body. (Guided video Progressive Muscle Relaxation Meditation)

Seated Side Bends

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Seated Spinal Twists

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Child’s Pose

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Downward Facing Dog

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Mountain Pose

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Standing Side Stretches

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Warrior One

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Warrior Two

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Locus Pose

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Seated Forward Fold

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Supported Bridge Pose

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Legs Up the Wall

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Supine Twist

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Why Doctors Are Endorsing Yoga Instead of Opioids for Lower Back Pain

Yoga and Chronic Pain Have Opposite Effects on Brain Gray Matter

How Does Yoga Relieve Chronic Pain?


*All images from Google Images

National Yoga Month

As we say goodbye to September, I’d like to note that September is actually National Yoga Month! To honor it, I’d like to present a few health benefits you can get from yoga:

1. Increases Flexibility

As you stretch and move through the yoga sequences, you’ll notice that over time, your body becomes more and more flexible. You’ll notice one day you were only able to touch your fingers to your shins, then a few weeks later your fingers grace your toes. Maybe after a few more weeks you can touch your toes to your knees!

As your muscles stretch and become more flexible, you may notice a decrease in pain in certain areas of your body too. Stretching and strengthening areas of your body, like your core, can help protect and reverse pain in other areas, such as your lower back!

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2. Builds Muscle

With flexibility also comes strength. Throughout your practice, especially those chatarungas, you’ll notice certain muscle groups become stronger. As those muscle groups become stronger, they’ll work to protect other parts of your body. Strengthening your thigh and calf muscles can help to protect your knees, for example.

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3. Improves Posture

This ebb and flow of strength and flexibility create a natural stacking in your spine and bones. Your alignment and posture naturally improve because each posture feels better when it is in proper alignment. Tuning into your body and really noticing how it feels in certain poses will help to improve your posture and protect your body from injuries and strain.

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4. Improves Breathing

The breath is one of the most basic and yet key aspects of the yoga practice, and of life! Through the melding of the breath and movement in each yoga pose, the practice opens your awareness allowing you to notice how you are breathing. This allows you to not only maintain but also improve your lung capacity. The longer you practice pranayama as well as the asana of yoga (that is, the breath and poses), the more you will notice you can breathe in for longer counts and exhale completely. This will help increase the amount of oxygen in your body.

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5. Strengthens Bones

Certain poses, such as chatarunga and headstands, help the strengthen your bones. These poses are weight-bearing poses which force the bones, as well as the muscles, to really work to hold up the body. Plank is a good pose not only to help improve bone strength but also to strengthen the core muscles.

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6. Improves Joint Health

Like Tai Chi, yoga can help with joint pain. The flow through the yoga asanas really help lubricate the joints by stimulating synovial fluid. This fluid helps in the movement of your joints, so you don’t get bone to bone friction.

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These are just a few of the health benefits of yoga. Yoga not only helps the body physically, but it helps the mind too. By allowing the mind to be more present, the practitioner, or yogi, can really observe their body through the yoga sequence.

Yoga is ultimately a holistic practice, truly helping improve mind, body and spirit.

So Happy National Yoga Month to you all! I hope you continue to choose your own yoga adventure!

*All images from Google Images


Yoga for Back Pain

Chronic back pain is a common issue attended to by many physicians. While there are many medications available to manage pain, there are also very simple, low impact exercises that can reduce or even eliminate mild back pain all together.

Yoga is a great form of exercise that can ease pain and discomfort throughout the body. The great thing about yoga is that it allows one to focus on specific areas of the body if needed. There are many yoga poses that focus on stretching out the back muscles, thus potentially easing or eliminating back pain.

Here are some poses that can ease and reduce back pain (images from Google images):


Start on your hands and knees with your spine neutral (think of your back as a table top). Use your breath to move between the two poses, breathing in during cow pose and out during cat pose. Move slowly and with intention.

Benefits of cat-cow:

  • Improves balance and coordination
  • Strengthens and stretches the spine and neck
  • Stretches the hips, abdomen and back
  • Massages and stimulates the kidneys and adrenal glands
  • Relieves stress and calms the mind

Downward facing dog

Press equally between your hands and feet. Press back, pulling your chest towards your thighs. Bend the knees and elbows to reduce pressure in the shoulders. Pull your heels towards the mat or floor (it is not required for your heels to touch the mat/floor).

Benefits of downward facing dog:

  • Calms the brain, relieves stress
  • Energizes the body
  • Stretches the shoulders, hamstrings, calves, arches, and hands
  • Strengthens the arms and legs

Half Pigeon (do pose on each side)

From downward facing dog take your right leg towards your arms and bring the leg down flat with your foot on the outer edge, facing the left hand. Square your hips and bend your right knee as much as is comfortable. Keep your torso up or fold it to the ground, being sure to listen to your body and making sure that your body isn’t feeling any pain. Repeat this pose with the left leg.

Benefits of half pigeon:

  • Stretches out hip rotators and flexors
  • Stretches out lower back and spine
  • Relieves tension

Standing forward fold

Stand with your feet together or slightly apart (about two fists distance), whichever feels more balanced. Gently fold from your hips, bending your knees as much as feels good. Take your hands to the floor or hold opposite elbows, using your arms to frame your head. Sway from side to side, slightly twisting at the waist. Settle into the forward fold, allowing gravity to pull your head and spine towards the ground. Stand in this pose as long as feels good. Roll your spine up slowly, one vertebrae at a time, coming into mountain pose (tadasana).

Benefits of forward fold:

  • Helps relieve stress
  • Stimulates the liver and kidneys
  • Stretches the hamstrings, calves, and hips
  • Strengthens the thighs and knees
  • Reduces anxiety

Supine twist (do pose on each side)

Lay flat on your back. Keep your left leg straight, take your right knee into your torso, and use your left arm to pull your knee to the left side. Take your right arm out to the right side, keeping your right shoulder blade to the floor, turning your head towards the right. You can take both knees bent together and twist them as well, whichever feels better for your lower back. Repeat this pose with the left leg.

Benefits of supine twist:

  • Helps release the lower back
  • Opens tight shoulders
  • Elongates spinal muscles
  • Calms the mind

Ease into each pose and create your own flow. Take time in each pose. Be sure to breathe deeply into each pose and if there is any pain adjust or come out of the pose.

Be sure to get professional medical advise before using these poses to treat any chronic or severe back pain.