Offering Hands-On Assists? Don’t Make These 5 Mistakes

After you’ve made sure your student wants to be touched, follow these hands-on assist upgrades.

As yoga teachers, we often default to providing hands-on assistance to guide students into more comfortable asana positioning. But despite our earnest efforts, we may sometimes cause more harm than good. As yoga teachers guided by the principle of ahimsa, staying informed and observant as we guide our students may be our highest expression of non-harming.

Read the full article on Yoga Journal!



You’ll Be Ready to Move After This Short Series of Spine Stretches

This was originally published in Yoga Journal. Read the original story and watch the video here.

Dr. Ingrid Yang, yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and YJ’s September/October cover model, shares a 4-minute practice to warm-up your spine.

It’s been said that you’re only as young as your spine is flexible, and there’s some truth to that. The spinal cord holds our lifeforce energy, so warming it up properly before any form of movement—including yoga—not only helps unleash that energy, but also supports your spine’s health (and yours).

In this short practice, Dr. Ingrid Yang—yoga teacher, yoga therapist, and YJ’s September/October cover model—guides us through stretches that move your spine in every direction, so you’ll be ready to flow.

This Doctor Pioneered a Breathing Technique for COVID-19 Patients

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal. Read the full article here.

There’s only one window in the hospital room. It doesn’t open, but it stretches nearly the entire length of the wall, from built-in bench to ceiling, inviting light into the otherwise stark space. A large treble clef sculpture centers a modest fountain in the courtyard outside. On one of San Diego’s classic unseasonably warm April mornings, the air catches and carries the dancing water droplets to the ground. Inside, an orchestral performance of a different sort unfolds.

Here, in the COVID unit of Sharp Memorial Hospital, mechanical whirring replaces the string section, pumping medical devices sub for the woodwinds, and a sharp, irregular intake of crackling breath establishes the bass rhythm. This last instrument belongs to Vernon, a man in his 60s who was diagnosed with COVID-19 two weeks prior. Tubes in his nostrils meet in a V under his chin where they flow to the oxygen tank sitting at his side. His eyes are closed, his maskless face relaxed, hospital sock–adorned feet planted evenly on the ground as he sits in front of the window, the treble clef fountain at his back.

Knee to knee with Vernon sits hospitalist-physician Ingrid Yang, MD. Her hands gracefully carve the space between her and Vernon, gesturing as she conducts a symphony of yoga therapy. “We’re going to inhale through the nose, three, two, one,” she says, drawing her hands slowly upward as together she and Vernon expand chest and belly. “Hold for a count of three, two, one. Exhale through pursed lips—try to depress, use the contraction of the diaphragm—that’s nice.”

There’s a musicality to Yang’s presence, from her bell-clear voice and cadence of speech to the rhythmic way she moves through the world. A trained Reiki healer, she’s a master of shifting energy—almost visibly sculpting it at all times, knowingly or not. She gestures continuously as she speaks, leading Vernon through a pranayama-based protocol she developed that’s so simple it could easily be dismissed. But when dealing with a virus that steals breath from those it infects, where the dominant prescription has been isolation, breathing together creates a life-changing connection for Yang and her patients.

Heart uncentered

After emigrating from Taiwan in the 1970s, Yang’s parents—Christine, an attorney, and James, a physician—settled in Newport Beach, California. As immigrants, they had to adjust their priorities, Yang says, replacing sentiment with success in order to survive—a way of life they instilled in Yang and her older brother as well. “Surviving means having job security, and a title so that you’re indispensable enough to not be marginalized,” Yang says.

Feelings were neither tolerated nor nurtured in her home, so Yang buried hers. She learned to play the role others expected of her as an Asian-American girl, to be “good” and “quiet”—but as a result, an internal disconnect grew: Intellectually, Yang understood her value as a motivated, high-achieving young woman, but she struggled to embody much beyond that emotionally.

At 18 years old, she found herself an anxious, type-A freshman at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City. She tried a few yoga classes at a friend’s recommendation, but struggled to connect to the practice.

And then, it happened: One day in class, Yang moved into Trikonasana (Triangle Pose). She turned her head to bring her gaze to the ceiling, breathed into the posture, and felt an unfamiliar lightness. A knowing spread throughout her, that she didn’t have to be anywhere or accomplish anything, that she could simply breathe.

“It was the heart expansion,” says Yang, who’s now E-RYT 500 and C-IAYT certified, and who co-authored the book Adaptive Yoga last year. “The actual physical space of my heart, then taking a breath as I expanded the heart and connecting that thought, physical space, and breath. It all suddenly came together.”

At the same time that Yang was exploring this new relationship with yoga, she also developed a bond with her Aunt Shiu-mei, who worked in a lab at Columbia. Shiu-mei brought her niece lunch and helped her with homework. When Yang needed a break from the city, she decamped to Shiu-mei’s New Jersey home for a weekend of cooking, eating, and talking. Where Yang’s parents had been all work and no play, Shiu-mei’s life was full of social outings and travel, of joy and independence. Shiu-mei gave Yang something she hadn’t before experienced—a soft, nurturing kind of love.

Dharma realized

Over time, yoga helped Yang reconnect with the heart she’d been discouraged from nourishing for so long. After completing her yoga teacher training in 2005, she started leading vinyasa classes—something she continued all the way through law school at Duke University and into her first year as a corporate lawyer back in New York City.

In 2005, Yang was 25 years old, making six figures, and killing it by her parents’ standards. But her gut wasn’t sold on this version of success. Then, while in Canada at teacher training, she got a call: Aunt Shiu-mei, who had recently developed idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis—a lung condition that makes breathing incredibly difficult—had suffered a stroke.

Immediately, Yang booked a flight to be at her aunt’s bedside. When Shiu-mei took her final breaths, her niece was there. “Her passing lit both a light bulb above my head and a fire under my ass,” Yang says. Hit by the quickness and fragility of life, she walked away from practicing law, which she’d never truly enjoyed, a few months later. She returned to North Carolina to open a yoga center. “For the first time in my life, I actually followed my instincts,” she says. Her parents looked on in fear, Yang says, believing their daughter was trading in her laudable career to become a gym teacher.

Blue Point Yoga opened directly across from Duke Medical Center in 2006 and was a fast success. The nurses, doctors, and specialists who filled Yang’s classes were curious, posing all sorts of questions about the mechanics of the practice that she didn’t feel equipped to answer. So she researched anatomy and kinesiology in her free time and discussed science in her instruction. Yang loved learning about the intrinsic relationship between yoga and science. She confided in an old friend, who was an oncologist at Duke, that if she could do it all again, she’d be a doctor. “What do you mean, do it all again?” the friend replied. “You’re 27! You still can.” It was all the encouragement Yang needed. In August 2011, Yang entered medical school at Rush Medical College in Chicago.

An inflamed response

The summer of 2020 passed in a haze of disconnect. Uncertainty sat on the shoulder of every decision made, colored by a draining combination of simultaneous information overload and asphyxiation as Yang, in her second year as an attending physician with Sharp-Rees Stealy Medical Group, and her fellow health care workers grasped for any bit of intel that could shift the wind.

Dozens of beds were filled in the COVID unit at Sharp Memorial, hidden behind two sets of doors that Yang could enter only after adorning herself in full PPE. Inside the unit, Yang would stand outside her patients’ doors before entering, watching them gasp for breath, even with the help of a machine. Looking through the door’s window, Yang realized she was mirroring her patients: She had stopped breathing.

Instinctively, her yoga training kicked in. Yang began taking a few breaths to ensure she was present before entering each patient’s room. “Taking this deep breath before I went in was an acknowledgement—that this is really hard, this is all really, really difficult—and then, in that process of caring for myself, being able to let it go and leave it at the door so I could really be there with my patients,” Yang says. It helped. Soon, she wondered whether simple breathing exercises could help her patients, too.

Breathing into Discomfort

COVID-19 starts as an infection in the respiratory system, a nexus that stretches from nose to lungs. Medical experts hypothesize that when your body detects the virus, it reacts with persistent inflammation—a self-healing response that simultaneously throws the body into a constant state of high alert, which in turn wreaks havoc on your organs and tissues, such as those your respiratory system relies on for oxygenation. But yoga practitioners like Yang know there’s a breadth of research to support a different solution.

“Yoga is uniquely suited to assist with COVID-19 recovery,” Yang says. “All the techniques we’re using in pulmonary rehab—comprehensive treatment program for people with acute lung injury—are yoga techniques. We’ve been doing pranayama, we just haven’t been calling it that

Yang is referring to the large body of research supported by the National Institutes of Health on the negative link between yoga and inflammation. A 2012 study, for instance, showed that people with more-regular yoga practices have lower levels of the chemical leptin, which encourages inflammation, and higher levels of adiponectin, which inhibits it. So, Yang hypothesized, yoga ought to be able to help treat the inflammation that causes COVID patients’ most damning symptoms.

When Yang first brought breathing exercises to her COVID-19 patients, she wasn’t intending to treat the virus specifically, but to help her patients feel better generally, to enjoy and benefit from some sense of connection (to Yang, to an activity, to their breath). But the more she incorporated pranayama into her rounds—encouraging her patients to take a mindful pause and a series of deep, diaphragmatic breaths—the more her lens shifted and the practice evolved from an exercise into a protocol. By applying a yogic scope to diaphragmatic breathing, Yang realized she would have two rich bodies of work to reference—her yoga training and her medical training—the marriage of which could guide others in working with COVID-19 long-haulers, as she writes about in the winter 2021 issue of Yoga Therapy Today.

“Diaphragmatic breathing exercises can work to strengthen weak respiratory muscles,” writes Yang about pulmonary complications. “After all, the diaphragm is a muscle, and people often experience global weakness post-COVID. Exercising and strengthening the diaphragm will benefit any postviral syndrome or inflamed physiology. … The primary goal is to strengthen the lungs and their supporting musculature; the secondary benefit is relaxation and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.”

More recently, Yang has been meeting with the hospital’s physical therapists to discuss how to implement the breathing practice more widely, and regularly lectures via webinars to help educate yoga therapists when it comes to aiding their patients with recovery.

Yoga therapeutics for COVID-19 go beyond breathing-related manifestations, Yang says. Movement helps ease vascular blood clots caused by virus-caused tissue damage and inflammation; the lung expansion that comes with Salabhasana (Locust Pose, also called “proning” in the medical field, and a favorite recommendation of Yang’s) soothes musculoskeletal complications; and mindfulness meditation or yoga nidra serves as a powerful therapy for the emotional trauma and disconnect that COVID-19 leaves in its wake.

Underlying each therapy, no matter the symptom or cause, is connection, and in this way, yoga serves one of our most basic human needs.

“In some ways, it’s my job to save lives, which is a little hyperbolic—most days I’m just helping people get through their chronic medical issues. But if I can give them a piece of what saved my life, my self-worth, my heart…” Yang trails off. “We underestimate the degree to which connection and heartfelt love and permission to feel can affect people’s healing, and yoga gave me that permission.”

Not Just a Pain in the Brain: Yoga Therapy and Headache Disorders

Originally published in Yoga Therapy Today, a publication of the International Association of Yoga Therapists ( Shared with permission.

Headaches are a universal human experience. According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2016 Fact Sheet on Headache Disorders, 50%–75% of people over 18 suffered from a headache within the previous year. Of the people reporting, 30% described their headaches as migraines—and migraines rank sixth in the world for losses due to disability, from productivity and wages to quality of life. More painful to note: As many as 4% of people worldwide are estimated to have 15 or more “headache days” per month. Finding relief for patients suffering headaches has been the goal for Western medicine as well as holistic care. 

Headache Types and Pathologies 

The limbic system is involved in the emotional, behavioral, memo ry-storage, and fear responses to pain. The ventrobasal (front-lower) portion of the thalamus sends projections to the somatosensory cor tex, where pain discrimination (sensing of contrasts) and localiza tion are thought to occur. The medial (closer to the center) thalamus projects to the frontal cortex, where the affective and motivational responses to pain are believed to be mediated. In addition, evidence from positron emission tomography (PET) scans shows that the medial thalamus may participate in the transmission of both dis criminative and affective components of pain.1 This complex network demonstrates the importance of the thalamus in the prop agation of headache pain. Nonetheless, there are many causes of headache pain that should be understood by the yoga therapist—I will delineate below based on the type of headache. 

Headaches fall into two cate gories, primary and secondary, with the assigned category relating to the underlying pathology. By definition, pri mary headaches are not associ ated with any type of preexist ing medical condition and comprise the overwhelming majority of recurring head aches. Given their high preva lence, this article will focus on primary headaches. There are three main types of primary headaches: migraines, tension type headaches (TTH), and cluster headaches. 

Particularly in primary headaches, meditation has been found to decrease headache intensity and frequency with no associated side-effects. 

Under normal physiological conditions, the brain itself is large ly insensate. Head pain occurs when nociceptive nerves (inflamma tion/chemical damage receptors) within the trigeminal, vagus, and glossopharyngeal cranial nerves (three of the cranial nerves) or the upper cervical roots are stimulated.1 To describe this phenomenon in scientific terms, from the trigeminal nucleus (the cell origin of the largest cranial nerve), nerve fibers transmit information that projects into deeper brain sites and further into the brainstem and thalamus (the sensory-system “hub” of our brains). From the brainstem and thalamus, information carrying pain sensations from the body is transmitted to other areas of the brain, such as limbic areas. 

For most people, migraines arise from a complex genetic disor der with susceptibility that depends on specific genetic variants. The details of these genetic predispositions for migraine disorders are not entirely understood. What we do know is that, with migraines, cere brovascular (the blood vessels in the brain) and meningeal (the membrane that protects the brain and houses a vast network of nerves) pain stimulation may predominate. 

Traditional theories of the cause of migraines fall into two cat egories: vasogenic (blood-supply based) and neurogenic (nerve based). With vasogenic migraines, the theory is that intracranial vasoconstriction (reactionary narrowing of the blood vessels within the brain resulting in a change of blood flow) is responsible for the aura portion of migraines, and the subsequent headache results from rebound blood-vessel dilation, distention of vessels within the brain, and inflammation of the sensory neurons that line these 

hyperexcitation of the neurons moves across the brain’s cortex after chemical or mechanical disturbances. This hyperexcitation then causes a series of reactions that result in meningeal irritation and changes in the intracranial blood flow, precipitating migraines. 

Tension-Type Headaches 

Tension-type headaches are the least understood in headache pathology. These are the most common of primary headache disor ders, yet TTHs continue to defy a single pathophysiological expla nation. The importance of muscular and myofascial structures is acknowledged in many, but not all, cases of this type of headache. Given the focus on muscular and myofascial input in TTH, it is helpful to understand that myofascial stretching with yoga can help in this condition, as discussed below. 

Cluster Headaches 

Historically, little was known about the cause of cluster headaches. New speculation suggests that cluster headaches are caused by pathophysiological events that activate the trigeminal-vascular sys tem. (The trigeminal, cranial nerve V, is the largest cranial nerve, with projections through the face, head, and neck.) In this syndrome, pain is manifested in the first and second trigeminal division, causing sympathetic activation (usually represented as sweating of the forehead and face), sympathetic dysfunction (Horner’s syndrome, which is a droopy eyelid and constricted pupil on one side), and parasympathetic activation (tearing and nasal congestion). This array of symptoms is thought to be due to abnor malities at the point where the ophthalmic and maxillary trigeminal nerves converge. 

Medical Management of Headaches 

Headaches have traditionally been managed with medications. With that in mind, it is important to note that only half of people with headache disorders actually obtain relief with medications. Furthermore, those treated with medications often discontinue their treatment because of unwanted side-effects. Even worse, over use of medications in an attempt to manage headaches can often lead to a phenomenon called “medication-overuse headaches,” in which the quality and duration of headaches actually worsen. Another unfortunate paradox of headache management is that discontinuing medications after regular and frequent use may lead to rebound headaches. Because of these poor outcomes, side-effects, and sequelae due to medication use, complementary and alternative medicine has become common practice in headache management.2 

Yoga Therapy for Headache Management 

Yoga has been reported as a safe and cost-effective intervention for managing headache pain.3 A growing body of evidence supports the belief that yoga benefits both physical and psychosocial health through the mechanisms of downregulation of the sympathetic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis.4 As a result, yoga can play a vital role in reducing sympathetic activity, increasing parasympathetic activity, improving the quality of life, and decreasing pain levels when managing headaches.5 

To support headache sufferers with yoga therapy, the practi tioner must start with a specific and detailed client history. This his tory needs to contain information about the client’s headaches, including frequency; duration; character; severity; location; quality; and the factors that trigger, aggravate, or alleviate the symptoms. With yoga therapy, a significant change in the nervous system demonstrating improved vagal tone and reduced sympathetic (fight or-flight) activity has been observed.6 This further resulted in improved cardiac autonomic balance. These findings indicate that adjuvant yoga therapy may be effective for people with migraines. 

When recording the history, it is important to ask about specific lifestyle habits, such as diet, caffeine use, sleep habits, work, or personal stress. Any contributing factors should also be uncovered during history taking such as associated sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, and/or other underlying medical disorders. If any contributing factors are revealed at this time, consider referral to a qualified medical professional for further workup and evaluation of these underlying conditions. Be sure to also ask about relevant family history because, as mentioned above, some individuals have a genetic 

Science for the Yoga Therapist 

vessels, may help in reducing migraine attacks.8 NO plays a key role in regulating brain metabolism, cerebral circulation, and blood vessel function. It is one of the factors for modulating cerebral blood flow in response to changes in oxygen and carbon dioxide levels within the blood vessels. Repeated exercises that increase NO and sustain its levels within the blood have been demonstrated to decrease migraine frequency, severity, and duration.9 Thus, pranaya ma may be particularly beneficial for headaches, and in particular, for migraines, because studies have shown the improvement of NO levels due to pranayama practices.8 


The conscious breathing of pranayama is known to have a calming effect on the nervous system and emotions, such as reduced fear and anxiety.10 Pranayama may further help to diminish tensions that have accumulated around the forehead, temples, neck, and shoul ders.11 Studies have shown that pranayama can lead to more oxygen delivery to the whole body, including to the heart and brain.12 As a lowered blood oxygen level is one of the risk factors of migraine, learning to efficiently use oxygen with pranayama can be a potential solution. Pranayama has been offered as a method for balancing the autonomic nervous system and has a powerful influence on stress release, as stress is a significant risk factor for vascular dysfunctions.11 

I will not be so bold as to offer specific pranayama techniques for relief of migraines; the choices of technique will largely depend on the individual and on your history-taking, as stated above. I will note, however, that one specific study mentioned using kapalabhati (skull-shining breath or breath of fire) and demonstrated improve ment in NO levels and lessening of migraine severity with this technique.8 

Mechanical Stretches of Muscles and Fascia 

If done correctly, yoga can significantly release tensions accumulat ed around the areas of pain (often the forehead, temples, neck, and/or shoulders).9 For headaches specifically, yoga postures can tar get stretching of the neck, shoulder, and back muscles, followed by relaxation. Teaching correct posture (ergonomically speaking) and the stretching of cervical spine muscles can also be helpful, especial ly for TTH.13,14 As tight muscles can trigger headaches, yoga could potentially assist in alleviating symptoms of TTH. 

predisposition for migraines.7 Above all, as always, yoga therapists must remember to stay within their scope of practice and refer patients to qualified medical professionals for support with any issues that will not or should not be addressed by yoga therapy. 

The Role of Nitric Oxide 

It is thought that the practice of yoga may increase nitric oxide (NO) levels in the cardiovascular system and even in specific parts of the body (see “Nitric Oxide & Mouth Breathing: Physiology You Want to Understand,” by Heidi Dickerson, DDS, at ). 

The theory behind this is that NO, a crucial and global signal ing chemical made in and excreted from the lining of the blood. Studies also demonstrate that specific stretches and manual therapies for the neck can be helpful in headache relief.15 

Again, I will not opine upon exact postures to practice with clients, as every individual’s anatomy will be different, and again, your history-taking may reveal contraindications to head and neck stretching to end ranges. As always, working with clients one to one to determine appropriate practices will be the key to efficacy and safety.

Yoga as Exercise 

The use of exercise as a prophylactic treatment for headaches has been researched and is recommended by clinicians more regularly for headache prevention. Studies have shown that exercise has a therapeutic effect on migraines by increasing blood levels of endor phins and pain-relieving hormones. However, it is important to note that intense exercise also paradoxically triggers increased calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and lactate levels, which may be a sign of increased inflammation,14 and thus sustain an environment to induce headaches. Therefore, although exercise may be indicated to increase pain-relieving hormones, a balance must be struck regard ing the intensity and duration of exercise. 

This is where yoga may play a particularly helpful role in headache relief. Because yogic postures can be performed slowly and mindfully, along with breathing and relaxation exercises and pranayama, this type of physical activity may prevent an increase in CGRP and lactate levels. Thus, yoga, as a measured form of exercise with individualized pacing, may be particularly well-suited for headache prevention, with performance causing the release of pain relieving hormones and neurotransmitters while avoiding the release of potentially pain-inducing substances. 


Meditation is known to reduce headache duration and disability while increasing self-efficacy and mindfulness. Particularly in pri mary headaches, meditation has been found to decrease headache intensity and frequency with no associated side-effects.16 Moreover, meditation has been shown to significantly improve self-efficacy,

which is the ability to motivate, follow through, and complete tasks unaided. When self-efficacy is elevated, people have a better quality of life. The studies are varied regarding meditation techniques; cur rent guidance is simply to incorporate mindfulness-based exercises into yoga therapy for headaches.17 Similarly, positive effects of headache reduction have been found in other relaxation exercises, such as Yoga Nidra and guided relaxation. 

A Case for Yoga Nidra 

Although there is currently no specific published research 

Yoga nidra meditation has been associated with increased endogenous dopamine release in the brain.21 (Dopamine is current ly seen as a neurotransmitter closely tied to our ability to think, plan, act, and experience pleasure.) As practitioners ourselves, we know that Yoga Nidra can cause us to feel ease and pleasure by decreasing our overall feelings of stress. And if generalized stress reduction can decrease headaches symptoms in clients, it is always worth a try. 

Yoga Therapy—A Frontier in Headache Treatment? 

As yoga therapists have long known, a sustained and continued yoga practice can contribute to a state of calm alertness and an increase in parasympathetic activation.22 This tones the stress-response systems and releases hormones that improve feelings of happiness and well being. In addition, yoga asana also improves physical and mental processes and helps relieve stress and anxiety, factors known to intensify migraine onset, severity, and frequency. 

The system of yoga is a powerful tool that helps to build a com prehensive skillset of synergistic processes to improve function and quality of life. Within these processes, headache symptoms can be alleviated, lessened, or prevented. Yogic practices facilitate bidirec tional feedback and integration between high- and low-level brain networks. This makes yoga a unique therapy for balancing the auto nomic nervous system and influencing physical, psychological, and stress-related disorders, such as headaches. Introducing yogic tech niques to clients with chronic conditions of all kinds could mean symptom relief, and helping them to keep an open mind could be life-changing. YTT 



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The Mindful Yoga Journey of Dr. Ingrid Yang

This article was originally published in LA Yoga – read here.

Sharing a Mindful Yoga Journey as a Mindful Life Journey

The path to a meaningful life is far from straight and narrow. My professional career began as a stressed-out prelaw student-then-attorney, before I made the career leap to yoga teacher/studio owner in my mindful yoga journey.

While stepping away from law was a difficult decision, I realized that practicing medicine was my true calling, and the place where I could contribute most to the world. Even before I entered medical school, I knew in my heart that incorporating yoga could, and would be, beneficial and integral to how I would practice medicine.

Today, in my practice, I meld the wisdom and therapeutics of yoga with rigorous scientific investigation, creating the space for deeper healing and wellness.

Now, I am a physician and yoga therapist and two-time author. I use my skills as a former attorney to advocate for my patients. I am also an advisor for the tech wellness company obVus Solutions, where I design the breathing exercises featured in the award-winning minder® posture corrector + breathing coach app, lead health coaching, and host continuing education webinars for health professionals. It is an honor and a thrill to contribute to the world in such a unique and exciting way. And I have to say, gratefully, that I love my life. But a mindful yoga journey, or any journey, was not an easy path… It never is, is it?

The Path to Living my Purpose

Having participated in a few different careers, I feel I am truly living my purpose as a physician, advising and educating people on their health. I started practicing yoga because I needed it on a very personal level. Along this path, I had to ask myself really hard questions at times when the “right” answer seemed impossible to find.

In college, I was a type-A go-getter in New York City, full of ambition and energy. Yet, the stress and pressure I put on myself felt suffocating. I was anxious and rigid, both physically and spiritually. Luckily, a friend recommended yoga to help ease my emotional inflexibility. Yoga taught me that I could just breathe in each moment: I did not have to prove or accomplish anything. I could just breathe and exist. I had never felt so relieved.

In my medical practice, I have found that a blend of ancient and modern healing methods have proven to be highly effective as the Covid-19 pandemic crisis unfolded in 2020. As a frontline healthcare professional, my patients benefit from a unique blend of mindfulness, breathwork (pranayama), and yoga asana in ways that counter their unique challenges. I find that these techniques greatly benefit those who are suffering and recovering from the alarming effects of the virus and help create a deeper sense of calm, which facilitates healing.

A Mindful Yoga Journey Includes Breathwork

I believe that all my patients benefit from the inclusion of mindfulness and breathwork, and have observed that people generally experience more ease in recovery, both during their hospital stay and after they are discharged home. My hope is to see more of this type of awareness introduced to the general public, which is why I’ve taken on the role of advising tech-wellness company obVus Solutionson the breathing exercises featured on the minder app. It brings awareness to the general public on the importance of better posture and breathing, two components which are crucial to helping improve overall health. My mission is mindfulness, not just in fields of medicine and yoga, but for the wellbeing of our entire population.

My path as a physician and yoga therapist has allowed me to witness how a dedicated yoga practice, when made accessible to everybody, can truly change one’s path to wellness. My latest book, Adaptive Yoga, highlights a variety of physical and physiological conditions in populations who have historically felt that their disabilities precluded them from practicing physical yoga. The book illustrates variations and adaptations to poses, which provide therapeutic comfort and increased confidence to all yogis.

To that end, I teach weekend-long trainings on Adaptive Yoga, including at Prana Yoga Center in La Jolla, for both yoga and medical professionals. A highlight of the training is that it outlines the biomechanics of altered anatomy and physiology of numerous conditions and shows how best to adapt poses for these populations. The training also provides trauma informed mind-body principles and practices, which have been shown to help those with students lead healthier, fuller lives.  I am also presenting at the Global Yoga Therapy Conference, virtually, in August.

Cultivating Work/Life Balance

Despite all my responsibilities, I hold a healthy home/work balance high on my wellness checklist. As a yoga therapist, I understand first-hand how important a personal yoga practice is in helping to maintain this sometimes precarious balance. I like to get away to the LA retreat staple, Terranea, to practice yoga on the beach, commune with nature, and get away for quiet meditation while listening to the ocean waves. In my free time, I also turn to surfing, where I find solace in the mindfulness and presence of riding the waves.

“Surfing is simply another form of yoga practice, and the uncertainties and challenges of wave-riding mimic those experienced in everyday life; we breathe and flow in each moment, and as life presents itself to us and we allow ourselves the time and space to be aware, we can see that we flow in sync with nature’s intentions.”

In all of my years working with people on yoga mats and in hospital beds, I have seen firsthand that burnout and exhaustion are one of the major causes of physical illness and disease. I believe in the restorative power of stepping away from the chaos of our daily lives and the power of mindfully setting the intention of self-care; on a physical, mental and spiritual level.

Retreats with Dr Ingrid Yang

Over the past few years, I’ve led yoga and meditation retreats in various destinations, incorporating wellness and healthy living practices on all levels. I hope LA Yoga readers will join me for either or both of two upcoming destination retreats currently scheduled: One in Portugal, September 2021, and one in April 2022 located in beautiful Playa del Carmen, Mexico.

If there is one thing that makes us feel more alive, it is travel. I find travel takes me out of my comfort zone and helps me connect with nature, as well as old and new friends. I love to experience different cultures, which is why I lead yoga retreats in different countries around the world.


Yoga Is the Best Way to Feel Less Stress From Work

This article was originally published by VeryWellMind – view here.

Feeling stressed out about work? You might want to find some time to spend on a yoga mat. New research has found that yoga is particularly effective at reducing work-related stress.

A report published this month in the Journal of Occupational Health reviewed the findings of 15 trials on healthcare workers that involved various types of physical relaxation for stress relief. The analysis showed that while all physical relaxation techniques reduced work-related stress, yoga seemed to provide better results than other methods.1

Here’s a closer look at the findings, along with ways you can use yoga to relieve stress from your job.

Understanding Yoga and Stress Management

For the study, researchers from Nevada and Florida reviewed 15 randomized controlled trials that explored the use of physical relaxation methods for work-related stress among healthcare workers. The techniques studied in these trials included yoga or yoga-like exercises (tai chi and qigong), massage therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and stretching exercises.

The trials involved a total of 688 healthcare workers, including mental health professionals, nurses, and staff at a Department of Veterans Affairs hospital. While not all studies included data on gender, those that did involved a majority of women participants.

The results showed that healthcare workers who tried any of the physical relaxation techniques experienced a significant reduction in occupational stress compared with control groups.

The researchers also conducted a network meta-analysis (a research technique used to compare multiple treatments in randomized controlled trials at the same time) to see which relaxation method was the most effective at easing work stress. They found that yoga was probably the best for stress relief, followed by massage therapy, progressive muscle relaxation, and stretching exercises.1

“This study reinforces the previous findings that yoga is a highly effective stress management practice for improving tolerance and resilience to stress and prevention of burnout,” says Sat Bir Singh Khalsa, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and director of research at Yoga Alliance.

This study reinforces the previous findings that yoga is a highly effective stress management practice for improving tolerance and resilience to stress and prevention of burnout.

Overall, this study offers a jumping-off point for further study on the potential for yoga to treat stress in people’s lives. Future research could help determine if one type of yoga is more beneficial than others, suggests Cheryl Albright, OTR/L, C-IAYT, an occupational therapist, yoga therapist, and owner of Soul to Soul Yoga in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

“The analysis did not state which type of yoga was performed. The physical postures are only one limb of yoga—there are seven others, including breathing, singing mantra, meditation, and guided relaxation,” she says. “We have got to get out of the mindset that yoga is only physical postures.”

It could also be interesting to look at how yoga compares to primarily physical practices, such as aerobic exercise and dance, adds Dr. Khalsa.

Benefits of Yoga for Healthcare Workers

The findings of this study come at a particularly important time, considering the extraordinary amount of stress the pandemic has placed on healthcare workers. Research from May 2021 shows that nearly half of healthcare workers in the U.S. were experiencing burnout.2 Yoga could become a key part of a larger intervention aimed at providing relief to healthcare workers.

“As physicians, we have been trained to cure illnesses and heal our patients’ maladies. When it came to this novel disease, we felt completely helpless and loss of control over what we used to be able to offer remedies for,” explains Ingrid Yang, MD, JD, a physician, certified yoga therapist, and medical advisory board member to the wellness tech company obVus Solutions.

She continues, “Yoga is unique in that it allows us to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty and helplessness. Yoga’s connection with the breath and yoga’s underlying philosophy of being in the present moment allows us to let go of a predictable outcome and be open and ready for whatever any outcome, whether it is welcome or not.”

Furthermore, yoga can be a source of connection for healthcare workers who have felt isolated from colleagues, patients, and loved ones over the last year.

“Yoga, on its most basic level, is about connection. The actual translation of the word yoga in Sanskrit is ‘union,’” says Dr. Yang. “Union is our connection to all—to our breath, to our hearts, to nature, and to others. Yoga brings us back into connection when we feel lonely and disconnected.”

While this study was conducted on healthcare workers, experts believe that yoga can be beneficial for people in just about any other field, as well.

“There are many studies demonstrating the effectiveness of yoga on reducing stress for workers and people living with health conditions or chronic pain,” says Michelle R. Zechner, PhD, assistant professor in the department of psychiatric rehabilitation and counseling professionals at Rutgers School of Health Professions. “Yoga offers an integrated strategy to address stress that includes other physical relaxation techniques, including stretching, slowing down the breath, and relaxation practices.”

Getting Started With Yoga

The accessibility of yoga makes it a viable form of stress relief for people across the country. Data from the industry research group IBISWorld shows that there are more than 42,000 Pilates and yoga studios in the U.S.3

“It is usually best to take in-person yoga classes with an appropriately trained and qualified yoga instructor to ensure safe and effective yoga practice,” advises Dr. Khalsa. “Because there are many different styles, schools, and traditions of yoga practice, beginners should take some time to identify a yoga style and yoga teacher that are appropriate for their goals, interests, and personal life circumstances and limitations.”

Yoga is unique in that it allows us to sit with the discomfort of uncertainty and helplessness. Yoga’s connection with the breath and yoga’s underlying philosophy of being in the present moment allows us to let go of a predictable outcome and be open and ready for whatever any outcome, whether it is welcome or not.

If you’re not near a studio, can’t afford to pay for a class, or simply prefer practicing at home, you can also learn yoga through free videos online, such as those from Yoga With Adriene.

Experts say it’s important to keep in mind that yoga doesn’t require you to be flexible, or engage in any movement at all. Tapping into different parts of a yoga practice can allow you to access its benefits in whatever way works for your body and preferences.

“Even if you cannot perform the physical movements, most people can benefit from yogic breathing for anxiety or stress relief,” says Dr. Zechner.

With all the changes the pandemic has brought to the workplace and our lives, many people are facing high levels of stress right now. Yoga may provide some relief, but if the stress feels overwhelming, it can also be helpful to connect with a mental health professional for additional support.

What This Means For You

If work has become increasingly stressful during the pandemic, consider starting a yoga practice. New research shows that yoga is better than other relaxation techniques at relieving work-related stress.

You can get started with yoga through an in-person class at a local studio or at home with a free online video. Even if you can’t or don’t want to participate do yoga poses, you may be able to reduce stress through other elements of yoga, such as breathing exercises and meditation.

Anti-Asian Racism Exists in Yoga Spaces. Here’s How to Dismantle It.

This article was originally published in Yoga Journal – view here.

In 2006, I opened a yoga center in Durham, North Carolina. One afternoon, I was sitting at the front desk when a  middle-aged man walked in the door with a smile on his face. He approached me, put his hands on the desk, and leaned forward, and asked, “Do y’all have free trial classes?” I politely responded that we did not, but offered him a discounted intro package.

He persisted, saying that he was a successful businessman and that he could show me how to run my studio better. I could feel his hot breath on my face.  I tried to quietly move my chair back to combat the onslaught of his dominating insistence. As I continued to politely decline, the class in the next room began to end. Through the glass door he could see students rolling up their mats. Before he stalked off, he made eye contact with me and muttered, “F–king chink, don’t know how to run a business.”

This is the first time I am recounting that story. I am not sure why I’ve never told anyone before. Perhaps I wanted to pretend it didn’t happen. Perhaps I was in disbelief that he was so comfortable brazenly threatening me with a racial slur. More likely, though, is that I was ashamed the situation was a reflection of my own weakness because I had just—let it happen.

I wish that yogis didn’t face these experiences, that we could come to our mats without intrinsic biases and racially charged experiences. But as a community that is becoming increasingly racially and culturally diverse, we inevitably experience circumstances that cause us to feel shame because of our racial backgrounds.

Acknowledging this hurt isn’t enough. We also have to examine ways in which our own biases hurt others and, especially, how they hurt ourselves.

Feeling my “otherness”

Growing up in the ’80s, mine was one of the few families of Asian descent in my hometown of Newport Beach, California. I was the only Asian American kid in my grade school. I was ashamed of my dark hair and darker-toned skin and wanted so badly to be blonde-haired and blue-eyed like the children surrounding me. I felt like an ugly witch from a Disney movie.  

Sequence for Strengthening the Lungs and Boosting Respiratory Health – Dr. Yang’s Feature in Yoga Journal

Article originally published via Yoga Journal – view here.

These pranayama and asana practices, designed by Yang, can help ease the lingering pulmonary, cardiac, and neurological symptoms of COVID-19. They are also beneficial for anyone working through illness, stress, and difficulty breathing. Find a quiet, comfortable space and relax into breath and movement.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

After illness, your breathing may be altered. You might experience reduced diaphragmatic movement and compensate by using more of your neck and shoulder muscles. This results in exacerbated shallow breathing, increased fatigue, and higher energy expenditure. The breathwork described below aims to increase the efficiency of your respiratory muscles (including the diaphragm), helping you to boost energy and find comfort in your breath.

When working with a COVID recoveree, teach or practice diaphragmatic breathing a bit differently than traditional technique. You’ll add a breath hold at the end of your inhalation to improve oxygen exchange in the alveoli (the tiny air sacs at the end of your respiratory tract that enable oxygen and CO2 exchange) and exhale through pursed lips, in order to create more resistance and strength. Adding active abdominal muscle contractions at the end of your exhalations will increase abdominal pressure and push your diaphragm up to improve elasticity and strength.

  1. Sit with your back against a wall. Let the back of your head also gently touch the wall.
  2. Place your right hand on your belly and left hand on your chest.
  3. Breathe in slowly through your nose at a measured pace, so that the flow of air is even throughout the entire length of your breath.
  4. As you inhale, feel the right hand move as your belly expands with the inhale. The hand on your chest should remain as still as possible.
  5. Hold in the breath at the top of your inhalation for 2-5 seconds.
  6. Exhale slowly out through pursed lips, contracting your abdominal muscles up and in while releasing the air with the same cadence as your inhalation.
  7. Repeat this cycle of inhaling through the nose, holding, and exhaling through pursed lips for 5-10 breath cycles, or more if you can tolerate it. As you practice this technique, feel your entire thorax expanding in all directions, including into the wall, as that will give you sensory feedback on your skin that you are really taking in a deep breath.
  8. As you progress, you can also coordinate the breath with lifting the arms during your inhalations, and relaxing your arms down with the exhalations.

Yoga Postures

Salabhasana (Locust Pose)

Salabhasana reproduces the “proning position” that we recommend for COVID patients. Proning helps to recruit collapsed or poorly utilized alveoli that may not otherwise facilitate adequate oxygen exchange due to poor positioning and gravity. This technique works especially well for those who have been bed-ridden for several days or weeks.

Start prone with your forehead on the mat and your arms alongside your body. On an Inhalation, life your arms, shoulders, chest, and head. On an exhalation release your upper body down. Cycle through this 5-8 times. To rest, stack your hands under your forehead.

Bonus: add the legs to strengthen the lower body!

Anantasana (Vishnu’s Couch)

Anantasana is helpful for COVID long-haulers for the same reasons that Salabhasana is, but from a different orientation When practicing Anantasana for post-COVID recovery, the goal is not to get your top leg up high, but to balance on your side while taking in a deep breath. Feel free to step your top foot in front of the bottom knee to maintain balance. Take several breaths here.

Marjaryasana and Bitilasana (Cat and Cow Poses)

Cat and Cow Poses are particularly helpful for COVID long-haulers because they reprogram the kinesthetic connection between breath and movement. They also stretch many of the back and chest muscles that may have become tight while being sedentary. Cat and Cow also stretch your intercostal muscles (important accessory muscles for breathing) and tone your core muscles (also important to improve diaphragmatic control).

Start with Cow so you stretch the front of your chest and reverse the kyphotic thoracic curve that may have become more exaggerated while laying in bed or sitting for prolonged periods of time. Cycle through the movements with your breath. If you prefer to practice in a chair, hold onto your knees with your hands and move your spine with the breath. Cycle through 5-8 times.

Dandasana (Staff Pose)

This posture teaches us to sit and stand up straight and use our core muscles. Posture plays an important role in respiratory function, and studies on COVID-19 recovery encourage patients to try to sit up tall.

Sit on a bolster or block and roll a blanket under your knees to take pressure off your low back. Place your hands on the mat or on low blocks next to your hips to assist in finding an upright posture. Focus on gently dorsiflexing the feet (especially the big toes) by pressing the heels out and away from you.