Yoga in a Wheelchair

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Question

I have a student at the high school who is in a wheelchair and has only use of the top part of her body — from hips up with limited range of motion (due also to lack of exercise).

I would like to offer some yoga poses and pranayama for her — any good sources of information that you have found helpful?

Answers

Lisa Powers
Ananda Village, California

Without going into a lot of detail, sit in a chair yourself and do all of the upper body positions for the asanas that you teach. Remember any modification for arm positions if she tires and offer those.

We had a student in Yoga Teacher Training several years ago who was paralyzed from the mid-thoracic (mid-back) to her toes. She would reach down and place her legs in positions imitating those who were standing or sitting, such as crossing her ankle over her thigh for Vrikasana.

Experiment yourself and you’ll feel confident in offering her postures. She’s a good case in point for the other students that asana isn’t only about body position, it’s about inner awareness, energy flows, states of consciousness and how it changes your response to life for the better.

She can do the deeper work without getting caught up in physical asana! Go deep with the affirmations. Example: she can hold the upper body position for Virabhadrasana. She doesn’t need to try to get her legs to do anything, but use the affirmation, feel the joyful power you have within you to be strong in who you are, to overcome attitudes that hold you back from becoming who you want to be, smile with your mouth and eyes and become the spiritual warrior with a courageous heart willing to meet all of life’s circumstances that come to you.

Pranayama would be very good for her. She can place her hand(s) on her rib cage to feel the breath expanding her lungs. This may help her breathe more consciously. And during asana and pranayama practice, use visualization. She can really tune in to visualizing energy flows, the breath as energy and light, feeling the temperature differences.

Jacqui Farless
Selma, Oregon

I started teaching yoga at a senior citizens’ center where we initially did everything in chairs. Moving the arms with a full yogic breath, concentrating on lifting the heart on the inhalation and keeping the heart up while sliding the shoulder blades down the ribcage on exhalation.

Ardha Chandrasana is another pose that adapts to a chair quite well. Forward bends with a neutral spine, the heart leading and backward bends can follow.

Ardha Matsyendrasana can be done with one hand on the opposite knee and the other on the back of the chair seat, or varying it by sitting sideways on the chair with both hands on the back of the chair.

Camel Pose and Child Pose are also easy. In the beginning I simply tried every pose I knew while seated and lots of breathing exercises. Working with folks with limitations is still the most rewarding teaching there is for me. You'll love it.

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