Welcome to the Yoga for Arthritis monthly blog series that features our YFA members hard work, dedication, & passion. Without the ongoing efforts of these standout members, we would not be where we are today.
Please tell us about yourself and your journey to yoga?
I’m a social worker with a background in mental health, and I was diagnosed with Spondyloarthritis (SpA) in 2015. After several years working in busy social work settings, where I had to spend a lot of time sitting and doing paperwork, I decided to pursue yoga teacher training. My back pain is made worse by sitting and improves with movement and stretching, so teaching yoga seemed like the perfect way to make my lifestyle a better fit for my condition. I currently teach yoga at Harlem Yoga Studio and with SpondyStrong, a program I co-founded that provides online yoga and fitness classes for people with SpA/AS. I’m thankful that I can now pursue both social work and yoga part time, which I think will be a much better balance for my body (and mind!)
How has yoga impacted your life?
I’ve always loved yoga, which I first tried in elementary school and then practiced more regularly during and after college. But yoga took on more significance for me when I was diagnosed with SpA, when I discovered that stretching and yoga were extremely helpful for reducing my pain. Exercise is considered to be one of the most important parts of managing SpA/AS, and yoga is wonderful for maintaining flexibility and mobility, as well as for managing stress. Now that I’ve replaced some of my seated work with yoga teaching, I have less back pain, and I continue to be amazed by the calming and centering effects of mindfulness and breathing practices. It’s also comforting to know that I have this practice that I enjoy and that is beneficial for my condition, which I can continue to do for the rest of my life.
How did you find YFA? How has YFA helped you?
I believe I first learned of YFA from Nancy O’Brien, who has been a wonderful mentor to me as I’ve explored yoga therapy and using yoga for chronic pain. Although my 200-hour training did cover some of the ideas that are emphasized in YFA, like accessibility and non-hierarchical language, after doing YFA training, I felt much better-equipped to work with people with SpA and other types of arthritis. I feel proud to list my YFA training as a credential, and the online community has been a wonderful resource when I’ve had questions!
Tell us about your YFA training?
I completed Level 1 of YFA training in June 2021 online with the Integral Yoga Institute. My wonderful teachers were Nancy O’Brien, Peter Karow, and Livvie Mann.
Is there anything else you'd like to say about Yoga for Arthritis?
I really appreciate the YFA focus on non-hierarchical language and making yoga as accessible and welcoming as possible. I think these concepts are important to incorporate into all yoga classes, whether arthritis-focused or not!
Let us know when and where we can find your classes?
I teach a few classes per week online with SpondyStrong: Gentle/Chair Yoga on Tuesdays at 12pm, Open Level Yoga on Thursdays at 8pm, and Mat Yoga on Fridays at 11am (all Eastern time). I also teach a hybrid in person/Zoom Yoga Basics class with Harlem Yoga Studio on Wednesdays at 6pm, which isn’t explicitly a YFA class, but is definitely informed by YFA principles, and is often attended by somewhat older students with arthritis.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I also lead the NYC support group for the Spondylitis Association of America. If you’re not familiar with them, they are a wonderful resource for people living with Spondyloarthritis/Ankylosing Spondylitis and related conditions!
Where can people connect with you?
Sandra Voss, RYT-200