Adaptive Yoga: Shannon's Story
For a very long time now, I have viewed my mild cerebral palsy as a characteristic of myself: I have blue eyes -- I have cerebral palsy -- the end. Although this “characteristic” does not define me any more than my blue eyes do, it does make the practice of yoga in my body somewhat frustrating. So when I made the decision to teach yoga I knew that I wanted my focus of study to be with special populations.
In the midst of my yoga teacher training, I began to attend chair yoga classes and found that they provided excellent modifications to traditional poses. Something was lacking, however, and I began to do some research. I stumbled upon Adaptive Yoga which is dedicated to individuals living with disabilities.
I began scouring the Youngstown-Warren area for Adaptive Yoga classes and discovered that the closest studio that offered such classes was seventy-five miles away in Lakewood, Ohio!
As an instructor, this perplexed me and as a yoga student with a disability, I found this to be unacceptable.
Some ask, why do I practice yoga at all? The benefits of yoga are well documented and many: a steady progression of flexibility, strength, balance and stability, grounding and expansion, mind-body awareness, and increased relaxation. These aspects alone are enough to draw millions to yoga studios every year! Wouldn’t these same aspects benefit disabled students as well?
So I contacted Arabelle, the adaptive yoga instructor and owner of Acenda Yoga in Lakewood. I began attending her Ambulatory Yoga classes on Sunday evenings and was impressed with the differences between traditional and adaptive yoga. First, each student is encouraged to bring a caregiver to help them in and out of the poses (if possible, the studio will provide a volunteer). Second, students have ample time to get in and out of the poses in a safe manner. This is possible because there are generally fewer poses in an adaptive practice. Third, and most important, students are guided toward the experience of the pose and not just what the pose is “supposed to” look like. This means that if a teacher has five students in her class and she is teaching Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog), each student will be guided differently to experience the basic fundamentals of the pose. Some will use a chair, some will use a wall and no student’s pose will look the same.
In yoga, we all know the importance of the classroom experience. If it wasn’t important everyone would get all their yoga information from places like YouTube and Pinterest and studios would not be popping up on every corner like Starbucks. The classroom experience provides guidance, support, and confidence, which in turn helps to develop a consistent practice.
My passion is this: Where special populations are concerned, how can we build a consistent practice and offer consistent classes in the first place? The answer is: through awareness.
Organizations such as Give Back Yoga Foundation, The Adaptive Yoga Project and Mind-Body Solutions, work tirelessly to bring yoga to those populations that continue to be underserved in the yoga community. They offer workshops year-round to yoga instructors and those in medical fields. It is through education that we build awareness and awareness that we build consistency.
In yoga we believe that “yoga is for every body”, “there is no competition in yoga”, and “there is no judgement in yoga”. It is my hope that within the next few years, Adaptive Yoga will be a staple in studios across the country. We will not only believe then in the statements we so freely pronounce, we will have proved them.