5 Basic Principles of Adaptive Yoga

May 21, 2013
Tagged with: 5 Basic Principles of Adaptive Yoga

Yoga may have been around for thousands of years, but an exciting new branch of yoga has emerged—adaptive yoga—thanks to adaptive yoga pioneer, Matt Sanford. Also known as wheelchair yoga, universal yoga, yoga for non-traditional students, yoga is here and it’s doing some amazing things for people with disabilities.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tiffiny Carlson, a fellow writer for The Mobility Resource, to better understand the foundations of adaptive yoga.

Adaptive yoga is all about creating a mind-body connection in the bodies of people with disabilities. By doing this, it’s helping all people with disabilities connect with their bodies. There are many people who don’t get this that often—yet every human alive still needs it.

From the adapted poses and the physicality of yoga to the just as important cerebral side of things, here are the five basic principles of adapted yoga.

1) Breath in to breathe out.

When a lot of people think of yoga, they think of intense poses that make you wince just looking at them, but breathing is just as an important part of yoga for all who participate. Our breath controls our whole body, so when people with ambulatory disabilities do yoga, their active breathing is very critical.

Whenever possible, try to breathe out of your nose, and the big one, breathe to breathe out.  What this means is to be aware of your breath, the “in” of the “out” of it, the entire time you’re doing yoga.  Breathe slowly, deeply and always honor your breath.  The connection you can get from this is astounding.

2) Passive movement is just as good.

Many adaptive yoga classes have volunteers to help with the transferring and posing of students. Once on the mat, many students need help moving their legs, bodies and even arms into poses, and volunteers are available to assist. For a person with quadriplegia for example with no triceps movement, a volunteer can assist helping lift their arms fully over their heads, or sit back to back with them on the mat to help them keep their balance.

And just because another person is assisting, doesn’t take away from the good that comes from this pose. The alignment that you can get from a good pose, even with assistance, can do wonders for the mind-body connection.

3) All energy flows up the spine.

When doing yoga, it’s important to remember the pathway for energy in the body is the spine, which is rather ironic when many adaptive students have spinal injuries.  Every yoga pose is more or less connected to the spine so when doing adapted poses, you’ll find that many may be subtle, but they can still greatly help the energy in your spine flow upward; and upward is key. Imagine the energy flowing up your spine and bursting out of your skull as you hold a pose (remembering this throughout the day can even help you sit straighter in your chair).

4) Yes, you can pose from your chair.

Doing yoga in your wheelchair is not only possible, but awesome! You can use props such as a chair placed in front of you to put your legs up, or you can turn the chair around and use the back to lean on for certain poses (to help keep your balance). If you’ve never tried adaptive yoga before, a good place to start is by doing a simple seated pose (tadasana) in your chair. Make sure your legs are aligned on your foot plate, your sit-bones are aligned, hold your shoulders back and down, bring your sternum up and bring your chin downward.

5) Accept your limits.

As you start your adaptive yoga practice, remember to respect your body’s limits. If you have been inactive for a while, getting on the mat and throwing your legs into extreme poses may not be the best idea. Treat your body gently. You don’t want to end up with a broken bone, which has been known to happen. Remember, even the smallest pose can make a huge impact.

Adaptive yoga is growing at a lightning speed. Matt Sanford’s adaptive yoga studio, Mind Body Solutions, are popping up across the country: Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Alaska, Texas, and more. You can even find yoga now offered at rehab hospitals like Walter Reed Medical Center.

Medical doctors might not always know everything, but adaptive yoga is without question doing some wonderful things. Namaste.


– Mind Body Solutions http://www.mindbodysolutions.org/content/our-approach

– Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation: Adaptive yoga videos http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDCDF5A650A35413C

Author: Chris Miller