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The Magic of Wheelchair Yoga

May 21, 2015 11:47AM ● Published by David Norby

Photo courtesy All Ability Yoga

Funny thing about yoga 

... gently and gradually your body and mind transform until one day you look in the mirror and notice a glow in your skin, your spine more erect and your shoulders back.  You feel healthier, seem to have more balance or control over your life and have a lot more patience with the people around you. You are more conscious of how everything makes you feel and consider how certain foods or negative events affect you. 

Yoga is adaptive and it heals! Sitting in a wheelchair every day wreaks havoc on your body. Yoga is restorative and can help bring your body back to balance and alignment if you have bad posture or scoliosis. Your body fluids are less constricted and have an opportunity to flow as they should, thus to lessen edema and enhance oxygenation and blood flow to build up your body’s defense against infection.

Many of the poses in yoga are designed to help your body function better. Twisting poses help your digestion. Other poses move your body organs around so they function better too. Stretching and expansive poses help open up areas in your body that have become contracted from lack of movement.

Being able to adhere to a yoga practice is important in order to be rewarded with the results. Finding an appropriate class that is accessible, located close to you and offered on a continuing basis are important factors.

Want to do yoga at home? 

Adaptive yoga DVDs, YouTube videos and several resources are available online. is a website resource providing information, images of adapted poses, uses of props and videos of yoga sessions for you to follow along.

While the support and energy of a class are more stimulating than following a screen at home, you may find yourself doing both. The videos provide you with instruction and ideas about how you can adapt poses so you can join in an Inclusive Yoga class with others who may not have disabilities.

The mind-body-connection is accessible to all, albeit in different degrees. Just as a fully functioning person might, a C2 quadriplegic can connect with his or her whole body through Yoga Nidra, a guided body scan meditation that wakes up the comatose state of unused body regions to experience the resonation of the wholeness of their distant limbs.

If you can breathe, you can do yoga! 

Yoga is so much more than the elegant alignment of a yogi perched on one leg with arms raised towards the sun. Physical posturing is only one of the “Eight Limbs of Yoga” that unite spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physical components.

The way you breathe is the bridge that connects the components of yoga and nourishes you with oxygen, your life force. Diaphragmatic breath work, known as pranayama, offers different healing effects, some energizing and some relaxing. It strengthens your diaphragm, increases the life-giving force of oxygen into your body and may just prevent you from dying from a respiratory infection, the leading cause of death for somebody with a spinal cord injury. Deep breathing also improves your posture because it activates the intercostal muscles lining your ribs and abdominal wall.

Experience Yoga!

OK, you’ve heard all about the benefits of yoga. Breathe! Stretch! Yoga feels so good. A simple movement can change your day. Here’s some guidance to get you started on your yoga journey.

1. Download a yoga nidra recording. There are many available via Internet; try Enjoy the melting sensation and complete body relaxation. Yoga Nidra is a waking sleep, but so relaxing one can use it as a cure for insomnia. 

2. Download a Pranayama app. A favorite free app is Pranayama Lite by Saagara. Build up your lung capacity and breathe in delicious oxygen. According to Jumpstart Your Metabolism, How To Lose Weight By Changing the Way You Breathe, by Pam Grout, oxygen is the secret to losing weight, not diets!

3. Download meditation recordings to listen to in the morning or before you go to sleep. Meditation has proven to be relaxing, healing, transforming and a means to increase your brain power. Choosing one is personal and will depend on the quality of the content, the speaker’s voice or the message of the meditation.

4. Visit and see how to adapt yoga poses to accommodate your disability. Try out some yoga at home with some of the videos on the web site.

5. Understand your physical limitations and consult your health professional for advice to prevent yourself from injury.

6. Find a yoga class and join in!

Adaptive yoga classes have yoga instructors that will lead you through poses modified for your disability and introduce you to props that might help you with support or stability. These classes are mostly found at rehabilitation centers, community colleges or community centers. 

Wheelchair yoga classes would be the best for starting out if you use a wheelchair; there are significant differences between adaptive poses for people with disabilities who are able to stand. Also, many of the adaptive yoga classes require the student to transfer onto a mat on the ground and, if needed, require an assistant be brought along to help the student into the poses.

Chair yoga classes are being featured in many yoga studios and popular among the senior community. Most of the people are able to stand. They use the chair for support and as a prop for standing poses. Usually the first half is spent sitting in a chair working on the upper torso. The second half is standing using the chair as support for various poses. For the standing poses, you can create your adaptive poses and continue to participate while the rest of the class while they are upright.

Inclusive yoga classes include a diversity of students, those with and those without disabilities. This is a new concept that All Ability Yoga strongly promotes so classes, especially in less populated areas can be offered to people with disabilities. 

At this stage of development, finding an inclusive yoga class may depend on your advocacy to a local studio to offer such a class. Introduce the instructor to the concept of yoga for all. Help the instructor feel comfortable with your disability. Yoga professionals may be intimidated because they are not medically trained to understand your disability and any contraindications that may result from different yoga practices. Both you and your instructor could visit the website for resources and inclusive yoga certification training.

Being inclusive requires responsibility on the student with a disability to follow the yoga studio’s rules of etiquette and be prepared to do their adapted poses in sync with the standing students to keep the flow of the class.

Yoga transformed my life after 30 years of self-inflicted mental, physical and emotional abuse. It can change your life too. Enjoy your yoga journey.

Article by Tami Ridley © The Hub SoCal Magazine published by Style Media Group. 
Photo courtesy All Ability Yoga. 
Article appears in the May/June 2015 Issue of The Hub So Cal Magazine.

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