Yoga can be adapted for those with limited mobility!

Yoga improves digestion, flexibility, circulation

Shamona Harnett

With a foam block lodged under the front of his wheelchair to keep it from rolling, Regan Block leaned forward to stretch himself carefully.

For a fleeting second, he imagined that he might fall out of his chair.  He knew that in reality, however, that he was safe.

“I didn’t feel like I could hurt myself,” says the 43-year-old Winnipegger.  “[Instructors] were always there when I needed it.  You can’t go into yoga if you’re by yourself, on an island.”

For years, Block longed to try yoga but never thought that was feasible.  The St.James resident has been in a wheelchair for 22 years following a spinal-cord injury.

Recently, his yoga dream came to life when his massage therapist handed him a brochure promoting something called “adapted yoga”–a type of yoga designed for people with mobility issues, including those in wheelchairs.  Block was thrilled.

He’s tried about six classes so far and describes them as busy.  “It’s exhausting.  After a few minutes of stretching, going from one side to the other side and then holding it and looking ahead to see what the next pose is, it’s confusing to someone who’s never tried it,” says Block.

” But by the third or fourth class I was moving along pretty fast and could tell that things were changing for me.”

Among Block’s health improvements: the muscle spasms in his legs–a result of his spinal-cord injury–have lessened.  “They don’t jump as much,’ he says.  “I take less medication 

Block a rehabilitation cousellor who spends a lot of time working at a desk, says he also noticed that following classes he felt more relaxed and limber.

His class instructors assisted him constantly and even used a special cord to help him raise and bend his legs.  His digestion improved, he says, thanks to moving and stretching his torso–something he never did before.

Adapted yoga is the brainchild of Winnipeg occuipational therapist, Marnie Courage, who launcher the program in April 2010.  Courage, 36, owns Enabling Access (, a business through which she rehabilitates Winnipegers using movement.

After taking some yoga classes herself for the first time, Courage realized that her clients–particularly the ones with mobility issues–could truly benefit form them as well.

“I did a bid of research and there wasn’t, really, anything out there that I could find in terms of a class for people who couldn’t get down to the floor,” says Courage.

She says that yoga not only improves flexibility, but also helps digestion, blood circulation, increases lymphatic-system flow and creates positive thinking.  She says people with limited mobility often have problems in these areas.

Courage hired a yoga instructor and the pair examined traditional yoga postural poses.

“We adapted each one for poeple suffering disabilities.  So I would say, “if someone was in a wheelchair, how could they get the benefits of this pose?”

Courage says her adapted yoga classes are perfect for people with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and other conditions in which mobility is limited.

“A lot of poeple who are spinal injuries, even MS, have alot of trouble using their muscles to expand their lunmgs and get in as much oxygen as they need, says Courage, who teachers all her yoga participants the importance of breathing properly.

Don’t have a mobility issue? Courage syas her adpated yoga can even help people who aren’t as flexibile as they wish–those who need extra help in a pose and maintaining yoga positions.

“It’s nice to see a class where you can see a whole variety of different abilities”, says Courage, who plans to offer classes at assisted-living facilities around as well as in community centres.

Canwest News Service


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