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Can Yoga Be For The Disabled Too?

Updated on August 04, 2015

As someone who suffers from a chronic, degenerative spine disability, I can understand how listening to people speak of Yoga as the best thing they've ever experienced would make you want to scream and break things. For years, I thought of Yoga as the "rich, pseudo-spiritual method of keeping inhuman positions or twisting oneself into a pretzel to relieve stress, much like the way the Quakers used to lock themselves up in the barn to shake themselves on the floor in order to get their imaginary demons out".

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Just looking at some of the poses people who do Yoga get themselves into -even the starting ones like downward dog- would make me cringe in terror at the amount of pain I'd be in if I attempted it. Still, I was curious. A heard a great many people say it really is amazing, both for their sense of peace and muscle tension, so I was determined to make it work for me somehow. I got cheap books on Yoga in it's different forms, looked up instructional videos on youtube and tried imitating the poses. What happened? Yup, you guessed it- pain. Lots and lots of pain; and in one instance, it took me twenty minutes to get up off the floor. Thank heaven I was alone.

"They're probably sour anyway..."
"They're probably sour anyway..." | Source

So in true sour grapes fashion, I dismissed it as yet another luxury my disability wouldn't allow me to enjoy. This is a terrible headspace to be in. It was akin to a rejection somehow, and I became bitter. Then a few months ago, I was finally presented the free time on a Wednesday to attend the meditation orientation class at the Zen Center near my house. Even sitting up in a chair with a cushion behind my back, I couldn't sit still. The pain was unbearable and I couldn't keep even breaths. When we tried the slow walking part, I tripped and almost fell into the poor woman in front of me. After that, I admitted defeat, pulled the monk off to the side, explained why I had to leave and ran off in tears. It was awful and humiliating. I never found the courage to try again.
It seemed as though this illness would act as a permanent blockade against these things that so many others were free to enjoy and reap the benefits of, and I was left holed up in bed with my ice packs and my arsenal of prescription painkillers and muscle relaxants.

What has been your experience with Yoga?

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"What You Resist Persists." -Teal Swan

I began seeing references to yoga and meditation everywhere I looked, it was all around me. Maybe my subconscious was drawing me back to it, maybe the universe was throwing it back in my face until I gave it another go. Whatever the case, it wouldn't leave me the hell alone.

Finally, I would get my second chance, in the least likely of places.

The Main Street Festival in Downtown New Rochelle, while I was trying to admire antique cars and get my soul food grub on. Can you imagine?

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When In Doubt, Go 1-On-1

In the midst of all the games, food and crafts tables, the Body & Brain Center had a table where they were signing people up for private yoga sessions. I don't know why I stopped, or paid $10 for my first lesson, but there I was later that week, shoeless and clad in loose-fitting sweats for what was doubtlessly going to be a half hour of torture and humiliation.

The instructor was soft-spoken and patient with me. She was made well-aware of my difficulties, so she started off slow and dirt simple. As expected, there were certain poses I wasn't able to do, but for the most part, it wasn't as toilsome as I imagined it would be.

The Basics

Used with permission.
Used with permission. | Source

We didn't do the downward dog, but we did stretch and shake out a whole lot. Sadly, the typical lotus position (sitting cross-legged) is very difficult for me to maintain for more than 10 seconds, so we switched quite often. I don't recall all the positions we did, but I do remember the Dwi Pada Pavada Muktasana. She had me take that position and roll my lower back around in circles along the floor as though I were using it to massage myself. I panicked, thinking it would damn near kill me, but it was actually really helpful. (It only works on hard wood floor, fyi)

Bottom line, it didn't kill me, I was able to do about 75% of what she asked of me without any lasting soreness, and my walk home was enlightening. I found myself looser and feeling better than I had in ages, so there was definitely something to this Yoga stuff.

Matthew Sanford, Hero

The Verdict:

Is Yoga for people with disabilities?

Of course it is. In fact, I included a video to illustrate that not only is it for people like me, it has significantly improved the lives of folks who've got it way worse than me. Meet Matthew Sanford, who was in a devastating car accident which took half his family and half his own body with it. He's overcome his crushing diagnosis and is currently helping accident victims, war veterans and the like to connect in a mindful way with their bodies like they never would with traditional medicine alone.

This video gives me hope on so many levels.

Just Try It For Yourself.

Many major cities have free yoga events or meetups where you can meet a seasoned instructor and learn the basics. If you google, "yoga for the disabled", lots of amazing links and resources pop up. It looks like even modern medicine is catching up to what I'm just now discovering. I hope you can gain flexibility and experience some relief from your pain through yoga in ways you never thought possible. If you have any thoughts or suggestions for something new I can try, don't hesitate to message me. (As long as you're nice) I'm always glad to be a ginnea pig if it means helping others.

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