Yoga, an ancient Indian practice which involves moving the body and training the mind to achieve balance and well-being, can be beneficial for individuals with disabilities or chronic health conditions through both physical postures, meditative visualizations and breathwork. It is an Eastern form of relaxation and exercise that has become increasingly popular in various forms here in the West.
If you are not comfortable with yoga, explore other mind and body-linked practices such as meditation or Tai Chi. The most important thing is to begin connecting your mind and body in whatever way works best for you and your disability's challenges.
As for yoga, each pose can be modified or adapted to meet the needs of the student. Yoga postures can be performed while seated in a chair or wheelchair. Look up yoga studios and practitioners in your area, as well as call your rehabilitation centers to see if they incorporate yoga in their work. You might be surprised what's out there for you.
Having mentioned the benefits of yoga practice, it should be noted that yoga is used to complement an individual's already established medical care, therapy program and exercise regime. Yoga should not be a replacement for any of these things and a doctor should be consulted before pursuing a yoga practice.
The overall health perks that can be gained include:
•Digestive system - Bending and stretching poses help move and stimulate the digestive system
•Cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems - Specific types of yoga can be a good form of aerobic exercise that increases one's heart rate. The practice of pranayama helps expand lung capacity and heart strength.
•Lymphatic system - This is a primary component of an individual's immune system. It relies on muscle activity and body movement for circulation.
Physical activity and stretching develops strong muscles that continually encourage lymph movement. Regular practice stimulates the lungs, diaphragm, and thorax.
•Skeletal system and muscular systems - Various postures encourage the individual to keep his or her body in proper alignment. Regular yoga practice strengthens the muscles and increases flexibility.
There are also various developmental benefits as well. They may include:
•Developmental milestones being are reached.
•Enhanced motor skills.
•Increased body awareness and orientation.
•Sharper focus and concentration.
•Encouragement of learning, creativity and imagination.
A welcome advantage to yoga practice is that it does not require any fancy equipment. Yoga can be practiced indoors, outdoors on the grass, or even on sand at the beach. Typically, a yoga mat or rug is used. Latex-free and eco-friendly mats are also available for folks like myself who have spina bifida and are more sensitive to latex. Yoga props such as blocks and straps aid in practicing postures safely, as well as help the individual go deeper into a pose. An eye pillow and a light blanket can be used during deep relaxation.
Your development as a self-aware individual with a disability and the growth of your caregiver (both professional and personal) are intertwined on a very deep level. Mind-body work such as yoga promotes the best outcomes for everyone involved. Yoga practice emphasizes the role of both the individual with a disability or chronic illness and the caregiver or loved one in the healing process. Also, it enhances your bond and mission to working together for one purpose -- your overall well-being.
Yoga creates an inner capacity for survival, grace, and acceptance, no matter the circumstance of your disability or chronic illness. Whether you are new to your disability as an injured veteran, born with your disability or are a parent wanting to establish a deeper relationship with your child who has special needs, yoga goes beyond the body to the heart and spirit's connections to each other forming the whole person. The practice, when kept constant, builds discipline, stamina, focus and patience in those who take on this mode of mind-body connection.