Yoga for Times of Change: Nina Zolotow Shares Wisdom
YogaUOnline: Tell us a little bit about your yoga background for readers who might not be familiar with your work.
Nina: I’ve been seriously practicing Iyengar-style yoga for over 25 years, and I’m a certified 500-hour yoga teacher in that style, specializing in teaching yoga for emotional well-being. I’ve also been writing about yoga for more than 20 years. In addition to my latest book, Yoga for Times of Change, which I wrote by myself, I’m the co-author of Yoga for Healthy Aging with Baxter Bell and Moving Toward Balance and Yoga: The Poetry of the Body with Rodney Yee. I’ve been editor-in-chief and one of the main writers for the Yoga for Healthy Aging blog for over ten years.
YogaUOnline: We were surprised to learn that you actually started writing this book before the pandemic. What was your original inspiration?
Nina: My original inspiration came from thinking about how my long-time yoga practice helped me develop more equanimity in the way that I can weather the ups and downs of life—which basically means all the changes that life brings us, both good and bad. Even without a major change like a pandemic, as the yogis say, life is ever-changing.
YogaUOnline: Writing much of the book during the pandemic must have been interesting. How did it impact your thinking?
Nina: While I had originally been thinking about the changes we all experience as personal ones, such as moving, changing jobs, getting married or divorced, having children, losing loved ones—what I refer to as the Rocky Road ice cream of life—I quickly realized that cultural, societal, and global changes also have a huge effect on our wellbeing.
For example, during the year I wrote the book, we were not only dealing with the COVID pandemic but also facing political and cultural upheaval and serious problems caused by global warming (my whole state of California was literally on fire). And people were reacting to all those changes with lots of challenging emotions, including anxiety and fear, anger, depression, grief, and so on. So it’s very important to recognize and acknowledge that when we talk about change. I incorporated all that into the book, discussing how to tell when your emotions are prompting you to take action, whether in your personal life or via social activism and when taking action is not the right thing for you.
YogaUOnline: What’s been your personal experience about how yoga has helped you to move through challenging transitions? How did that influence the content of the book?
Nina: Over the years, I’ve developed a set of practices that I personally rely on when things get bumpy, including practices to reduce stress, to promote better sleep, prevent anxiety from developing, and cultivate equanimity overall. I can’t imagine what my life would be without these techniques! And these practices have helped me so much that I wanted to share what I’ve learned with as many people as in the hopes that they, too, will find practices that will help them as well. But because I know that everyone is different, the book includes a wide range of options for readers to choose from, not just the ones I practice.
YogaUOnline: How did you choose what poses and practices to include in the book?
Nina: I tried to make the poses and practices as accessible as possible. So I chose very simple poses and practices and created very short sequences. And the photos show versions of the poses that use props so that people who are newer to yoga can do them easily. In addition, I have a whole chapter for people with various limitations or who are experiencing physical changes that affect their practice that provides tips on how to modify the poses. Using the techniques in that chapter—such as changing the orientation of a yoga pose—can help almost anyone find a way to do the basic poses in the book
YogaUOnline: Why do you think Yoga for Times of Change is an essential read for yoga students and teachers?
Nina: Although many books cover different aspects of using yoga for emotional well-being, such as yoga for anxiety or grief, this book includes all the basics under one cover. The book also covers the general topic of yoga for stress because chronic stress often causes anxiety, anger, and depression. Reducing stress will help with those conditions and improve your physical health. Finally, the book provides a general philosophical approach to life and yogic tools that you can use to cultivate equanimity when facing changes of all kinds, which will help future problems like anxiety develop. This is key because having tools to prevent episodes from occurring improves your life.
YogaUOnline: In a few words, what’s the biggest takeaway message from Yoga for Times of Change you hope your readers will come away with?
Nina: When it comes to using yoga to help you weather the ups and downs of life, there is no simple prescription that applies to everyone. It would be nice if there was. But we’re all different from one another, and our life circumstances are also different.
For example, some people find restorative yoga very relaxing, while others find that lying still for long periods just makes them feel worse. So my basic message is that you must explore and experiment with various tools and techniques to see what works for you and trust your intuition. That’s why I provide many different suggestions for each situation you might find yourself in, rather than providing a single sequence of poses or techniques for each one. I hope that everyone will be able to find one or two things that really work for them. That alone can be life-changing.
YogaUOnline: We’d love to hear more about your upcoming course, “Finding Your Center of Calm: Essential Yoga Self-Care Tools for Anxiety,” which is based on information in your book Yoga for Times of Change. What are the basic elements of your approach to yoga for anxiety? What will people learn in the course?
Nina: I put a lot of time and effort into designing this course because I want to help people with anxiety and teachers who are helping students with anxiety in the way that I’ve been helped over the years.
So, for the first presentation, I focused on what people can do when they are experiencing anxiety, both with quick, simple poses and practices they can do at the moment to reduce anxiety and then longer sequences and practices they can do to help heal from anxiety. And in the second presentation, I focused on what people can do to prevent future bouts of anxiety and learn to weather life’s ups and downs with more equanimity.
And I’m so pleased that my friend Barrie Risman will present the course and teach the sequences! She’s a wonderful, long-time yoga teacher with a lot of experience presenting online and understands my approach to teaching yoga for anxiety.
YogaUOnline: What are some of the most common misconceptions people have about using yoga to manage symptoms of anxiety that you address in the course?
Nina: I think the biggest misconception some people have is that all yoga is relaxing and calming when in fact, many poses and practices are actually stimulating or counterproductive. For example, challenging backbends and fast flow sequences can be too much when you feel stressed, anxious, or angry. Some breath practices are quite stimulating, and they should be avoided when you’re feeling keyed up. And even meditation can be counterproductive if being alone with your thoughts sends you into a downward spiral. In addition, even so-called relaxing poses, such as restorative poses, don’t necessarily work for everyone. That’s why it is so important for everyone to explore and experiment to see what works best for them.
YogaUOnline: Why is yoga for anxiety such an important topic for all yoga teachers and practitioners to know about?
Nina: Anxiety is normally a very common problem for many people due to the stresses of life in the modern world. But anxiety has been surging in recent years due to the pandemic and all the upheaval it caused—and is still causing. And even now that people are getting back to a more normal lifestyle after all the lockdowns, etc., there is still a tremendous amount of anxiety, probably both because there are still a lot of unknowns about our futures and because also the chronic stress of the last couple of years doesn’t just switch off suddenly when your life starts looking better. So learning how to reduce our chronic stress and the anxiety that stress can cause is more important now than ever.