‘Adaptive’ Yoga Opens This Practice to Everyone

February 17, 2021 – The typical yoga class may look like a room full of people bending and twisting in various positions, but yoga is more than a series of pretzel poses. It is a whole body practice that uses movement, deep breathing, and relaxation.

You don’t have to be athletic, or even very mobile, to enjoy it. “If you can breathe, you can practice yoga,” says Carol Krucoff, a certified yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine.

But a variation, called adaptive yoga, is designed to open up the practice to everyone – including people with movement disorders like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or spinal cord injury.

What is adaptive yoga?

Instead of trying to force your body into one-size-fits-all postures, adaptive yoga adapts the movements to what you are able to do. He uses props like blankets, straps, and chairs to make poses open to more people, and he recognizes that poses aren’t everything.

“Yoga is an inward journey to connect with your deepest, truest self,” says Krucoff. “The poses are a very important part of the practice, but they are only a part of the practice. It’s not just What you do in a yoga practice, but How? ‘Or’ What you do what matters. “

Matthew Sanford, yoga teacher, author and founder of the nonprofit Mind Body Solutions, has quadriplegic students. “They can’t move their limbs, but they’re still getting a lot of it,” he says.

Rather than working on a series of standard yoga moves, Sanford asks his students to immerse themselves in each pose and move “from the inside out.”

“We are trying to help the student of yoga to see how it really works, without it depending on the achievement of the outer posture,” he says. For example, “If I sit through my seated bones, lift up through my chest, expand onto my shoulders, and breathe, I have what would happen in a standing posture.”

Body-mind connection

For Sanford, who was paralyzed in his chest in a car crash at the age of 13, the practice of yoga has changed his life. “I have more sensations than I thought possible,” he says.

Adaptive yoga has helped him develop a deeper sense of connection with his body. “It helped me pay attention to the parts of my body-mind relationship that I wouldn’t normally have,” he says. He compares him to someone who has lost their eyesight and who has acquired a more acute sense of taste, smell and touch. “The benefits are much more holistic and deeper than physical practice.”

Adaptive yoga also has practical health benefits. It can make you stronger and more flexible, improve your balance and relieve fatigue. His deep breathing helps you relax.

The practice is also good for relieving stiff muscles from conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s disease. “Our students tell me, first of all, that when they leave yoga class they move better,” says Mindy Eisenberg, a yoga therapist who teaches people with MS and Parkinson’s.

Yoga also promotes a sense of independence. Anyone – regardless of their skill level – can do it on their own. “It’s empowerment,” she says.

Adapt your practice

“A lot of yoga classes are taught as exercise classes, where you have to follow the teacher. It is not suitable for the elderly and people with health problems, ”says Krucoff, co-author of the book Relax in yoga for seniors and teaches yoga to the elderly.

Her students have health issues, including osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease, that would prevent them from safely taking a traditional yoga class.

Adaptive yoga classes meet people where they are. Eisenberg tailors its program to the unique needs of each of its students.

“Ideally, we meet with them before entering a group class and we make a plan for them,” says Eisenberg, also founder and director of Yoga Moves MS, and author of Adaptive Moves Yoga Any Body.

Some seemingly simple yoga poses can be difficult for people with chronic illnesses. For example, standing forward bend with straight legs puts pressure on the back, which is not good for people with back pain. To achieve the same stretch, Krucoff asks his students to lie on their backs and bend one or both knees against their chest.

Downward-facing dog, where you place your hands and feet in a V-shape on the floor, centers much of your body weight on your shoulders and wrists. The pressure may be too high if you have arthritis, shoulder injuries, or osteoporosis. “Instead of putting your hands on the floor, you could put your hands on the wall and step back,” suggests Krucoff. You can modify a board, which is also hard on the wrists, by resting your knees on the floor.

Add accessories

Adaptive yoga uses a number of props, including a chair, blanket, strap, or block, to help you move around and hold poses. A blanket or towel folded under your neck keeps your head in the correct alignment as you lie on your back. Rolled up and placed under your knees, it supports your back.

A strap is helpful in pulling your leg towards your body for a deeper stretch. Blocks are useful when you can’t reach your hand to the mat.

A chair keeps you stable when getting up from a sitting or lying position. It can also be helpful when moving into positions that involve balance, like Tree Pose, where you normally stand on one leg with the other foot pressed against the inner thigh. Eisenberg asks his students to sit in a chair and place one foot on their opposite thigh.

Accessories don’t have to be fancy or expensive, says Krucoff. “Just use what you have in your house.” The belt of a robe or scarf works like a strap, while a book is a perfectly acceptable yoga block.

Where to find a class

Adaptive yoga is usually taught in small groups. Some classes are designed for people with a single disease, such as MS, breast cancer or Parkinson’s disease.

Another option is to practice one-on-one with a yoga therapist specially trained to work with people with health issues. The International Association of Yoga Therapists has a directory to help you find a yoga therapist near you.

Some elements of yoga do not require classes at all. “These are everyday movements,” says Eisenberg. You can do Mountain Pose anywhere. Just stand up straight with your feet together and your arms at your sides. She also stresses the importance of practicing deep breathing for a few minutes a day.

How to pay

The cost can be a big issue if you are on a fixed income. Medicare and private insurance often won’t pay for adaptive yoga classes, unless your coverage includes membership at a gym that offers it.

Eisenberg says yoga therapists charge around $ 100 for a private session. Group lessons are often cheaper. Some studios try to make their classes open to everyone by asking for a suggested donation, which for Eisenberg’s program is $ 10 per class.

To start

Whenever you are considering a new exercise routine, start by taking stock of your health, especially if you have a chronic illness. Ask your doctor if yoga is safe for you.

Also, make sure that your yoga teacher has been well trained. Ideally, the person should have experience working with people who have the same illness as you, Krucoff says. She stresses the importance of finding a teacher who will respect your abilities, rather than expecting you to emulate their movements.

As you practice, listen to your body and honor how you feel. Change the poses as needed. And never push yourself to the point where it hurts, Eisenberg says.

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