February 17, 2021 – The typical yoga class might look like a room full of people bending over and twisting into different positions, but yoga is more than a series of pretzel-like poses. It is a full body exercise that uses movement, deep breathing, and relaxation.
You don’t have to be athletic or even very mobile to benefit from it. “If you can breathe, you can practice yoga,” says Carol Krucoff, certified yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine.
A variant known as adaptive yoga is intended to open the practice to everyone – including people with diseases that limit movement such as multiple sclerosis, arthritis or spinal cord injuries.
What is adaptive yoga?
Instead of trying to force your body into a unified pose, adaptive yoga adjusts the movements to what you can do. It uses props like blankets, straps, and chairs to make the poses open to more people, and it realizes that poses aren’t everything.
“Yoga is a journey inward to connect with your deepest, truest self,” says Krucoff. “Poses are a very important part of the exercise, but they’re only part of the exercise. It doesn’t just matter what you do in a yoga exercise, but how you do it.”
Matthew Sanford, yoga teacher, author, and founder of the nonprofit Mind Body Solutions, has paraplegic students. “You can’t move your limbs, but you still get a lot of it,” he says.
Rather than working through a series of standard yoga movements, Sanford gets his students to get to the heart of each pose and move “inside out”.
“We’re trying to show the yoga student how it really works without the need to achieve the outward-facing pose,” he says. For example, “If I sit through my sit bones, lift myself up through my chest, stretch over my shoulders and take a breath, I have what would happen in a standing pose.”
For Sanford, who was paralyzed from the chest down in a car accident at the age of 13, the practice of yoga changed life. “I have more sensation than I thought possible,” he says.
Adaptive yoga has helped him develop a deeper sense of connection with his body. “It has helped me pay attention to the parts of my mind-body relationship that I normally wouldn’t have,” he says. He compares it to someone who has lost sight and has a keener 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 help with fatigue. His deep breathing will help you relax.
The practice is also good for relieving rigid muscles from conditions like MS and Parkinson’s. “Our students tell me, number one, that they move better when they leave yoga class,” says Mindy Eisenberg, a yoga therapist who teaches people with MS and Parkinson’s.
Yoga also promotes a feeling of independence. Everyone – regardless of their skill level – can do this for themselves. “That’s empowerment,” she says.
Customize your practice
“Many yoga classes are taught like an exercise class where you have to keep up with the teacher. This is not suitable for older adults and for people with health problems, ”says Krucoff, who co-authorizes the book Relax Into Yoga for Seniors and teaches yoga to older adults.
Her students suffer from conditions such as osteoporosis, arthritis, and heart disease that would make it difficult for them to safely follow a traditional yoga class.
Adaptive yoga classes meet people where they are. Eisenberg adapts her program to the individual needs of her students.
“Ideally, we meet with them before we go to a group class and develop a plan for them,” says Eisenberg, who is also the 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, a forward bend with straight legs puts stress on the back, which is not good for people with back pain. To achieve the same stretch, Krucoff places her students on their backs and bends one or both knees into their chests.
The downward facing dog, where you place your hands and feet on the floor in a V-shape, centers a majority of your body weight on your shoulders and wrists. The pressure can 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 walk back,” suggests Krucoff. You can modify a plank that also puts strain on your wrists by placing your knees on the floor.
Adaptive yoga uses a number of props, including a chair, blanket, belt, or block to help you move and hold poses. A blanket or folded towel under your neck will keep your head in the correct orientation when you are on your back. Rolled up and placed under your knees, it supports your back.
A harness is useful for pulling your leg towards your body for a deeper stretch. Blocks are helpful when you can’t get your hand all the way to the mat.
A chair will keep you still when you get up from a sitting or lying position. This can also be useful when moving into positions where balance is a concern, such as walking on the floor. B. Tree Pose, where you usually stand on one leg and press the other foot onto your inner thigh. Instead, Eisenberg has her students sit in a chair with one foot on the opposite thigh.
Props 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 acts as a strap, while a book is a perfectly acceptable yoga block.
Where can I find a class?
Adaptive yoga is usually taught in small groups. Some classes are designed for people with a single medical condition such as MS, breast cancer, or Parkinson’s.
Another option is to practice one on one with a yoga therapist who is specially trained to work with people with medical conditions. The International Association of Yoga Therapists provides a directory to help you find a yoga therapist in your area.
Some elements of yoga do not require instruction at all. “These are everyday movements,” says Eisenberg. You can do Mountain Pose anywhere. Just stand up straight with your feet together and arms by your sides. She also emphasizes the importance of breathing deeply for a few minutes a day.
How to pay
Expenses can be a big problem when you have a steady income. Medicare and private insurance often don’t pay for adaptive yoga classes unless your coverage includes membership in a gym that offers it.
According to Eisenberg, yoga therapists charge around $ 100 for a private session. Group lessons are often cheaper. Some studios are trying to make their classes accessible to everyone by asking for a recommended donation which is $ 10 per class for Eisenberg’s program.
The first thing to do when considering a new exercise routine is to take stock of your health, especially if you have a chronic condition. Ask your doctor if yoga is safe for you.
Also, make sure that your yoga teacher is well trained. Ideally, the person should have experience working with people in the same condition as you, says Krucoff. She emphasizes the importance of finding a teacher who will respect your skills rather than expecting you to imitate their moves.
Listen to your body throughout your practice and honor what you feel. Change poses as needed. And never push yourself to the point where it hurts, says Eisenberg.
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