Yoga for People in Wheelchairs

Paralyzed at age 13, this yoga teacher shares how to make the practice more accessible to everyone.

Paralyzed at age 13, this yoga teacher shares how to make the practice more accessible to everyone

For people with physical limitations, how do they get started? Who instructs them?

Usually, going right into a standard yoga class is not only going to be emotionally challenging because you're not going to be able to do a lot of it, but it may not be safe. I would suggest finding a teacher, and then having a conversation with him to discuss the best way to proceed. A good teacher who doesn't know what to do will say so. Develop some sort of rapport and connection with a teacher, maybe start with a one-on-one session, and see where you might fall on that continuum.

There's such a spectrum of mobility for people sitting in wheelchairs. There's no one size fits all in how you teach it. You need a teacher who is willing to explore with you, and the reason why we have a nonprofit is to get more teachers out there who can meet a student in a wheelchair or an elderly person and know how to teach them.

You mentioned safety. Even if you meet with an instructor who meets this mold, should you still talk to a doctor first?

I never want to be teaching something that a medical doctor has said the student shouldn't do. Have a discussion with both the doctor and instructor. Ask: What are the things a doctor does and doesn't want me to do? So, you also need to find a teacher that isn't so into what they know that they're willing to take risks with you that they shouldn't.

It seems like finding the right teacher is key. Any advice for finding a keeper?

For people in wheelchairs, many teachers tend to only teach the part of their bodies that can move well. Just because you may be limited in how you move, that doesn't mean you can't live vibrantly in your whole body. There's a whole world of dynamic sensation that's available for someone in a wheelchair. It's not rocket science: If you feel more connected with your whole body, you're going to have a better life. The problem is that there isn't a lot of this training. But if you find a yoga teacher who's learned to listen and love yoga enough to explore how yoga works in your case, that's what you need.