Feb. 17, 2021 — The typical yoga class might look like a roomful of people bending and twisting themselves into various positions, but yoga is more than a series of pretzel-like poses. It’s a whole-body practice that uses movement, deep breathing, and relaxation.
You don’t have to be athletic, or even very mobile, to benefit. “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-limiting conditions like multiple sclerosis, arthritis, or spinal cord injuries.
What Is Adaptive Yoga?
Instead of trying to force your body into one-size-fits-all poses, adaptive yoga fits the movements to what you’re able to do. It uses props like blankets, straps, and chairs to make the poses open to more people, and it recognizes 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 practice, but they’re only one piece of the practice. It’s not just what you do in a yoga practice, but how you do it that matters.”
Matthew Sanford, a yoga teacher, author, and founder of the nonprofit organization Mind Body Solutions, has students who are quadriplegic. “They can’t move their limbs, but they still get a lot out of it,” he says.
Rather than work through a series of standard yoga moves, Sanford has his students get to the heart of each pose and move “from the inside out.”
“We try to help the yoga student see the way it really works, without it being dependent on achieving the outside-looking pose,” he says. For example, “If I sit down through my sitting bones, lift up through my chest, broaden across 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 age 13, practicing yoga has been life-changing. “I have more sensation than I knew was possible,” he says.
Adaptive yoga has helped him form a deeper sense …….