Can yoga really be practiced by anyone? Even those who need to practice completely in a chair due to age, ability, inflexibility or injury? Well, the answer is yes!
When yoga comes to mind, the thought of a completely able-bodied individual twisting into a pretzel may come into mind. But, yoga doesn’t always need to be like that. In fact, postures, or asana in Sanskrit, is just one part of yoga.
The traditional practice of yoga actually involves many elements such as mindfulness, breathing, and so much more. Over the years it has been celebrated for its positive influence in different areas of life such as overall health, pain relief, stress relief, and relaxation. For these reasons, practitioners of all kinds of body types, fitness levels, abilities, genders, and races have come to yoga.
Because yoga is meant to be a unique experience for each individual, it can be easily adapted for anyone! One way yoga has been adapted is for those who use a wheelchair. Wheelchair yoga comes with many health benefits, as there are many postures to choose from and many modifications from those postures can be made to accommodate anyone. These postures can be used on their own or incorporated into any physical therapy routine.
As with any exercise, diet, or lifestyle change, be sure to consult with your physician and professional healthcare team before starting.
Here are a few common adapted yoga postures you can do in a wheelchair, desk chair, or seated on a yoga mat:
Seated Cat Cow
This pose may be done seated on the floor or on a chair. Rest your hands on your knees. Take a slow breath in and draw your shoulders and chest forward slightly arching the upper back. Slowly exhale and pull your belly toward your spine and direct your shoulders forward, rounding up the upper back. Continue the motion for 5-10 breaths. Keep the neck relaxed and shoulders lowered away from your ears.
Sitting comfortably, draw the belly button in and extend your arms straight in front of you palms facing down. Cross your right arm over your left and bend the elbows. Leading with your left pinky finger, reach the base of the right thumb. Bring the palms closer together if possible. Hold the arm twist here or continue to slowly lift the elbows up toward eye level for more of a stretch. Hold for 5-10 calm breaths, relaxing any facial or shoulder tension. Switch arms and repeat on other side with your left arm reaching over the right.
Sitting with spine neutral if you can, bring your left hand down, gripping the side of the chair, a handle, or rested on the floor next to the left hip if you are seated on the floor. Inhale as you lift the right arm up, fingers reaching toward the sky or ceiling. Take one inhale here, and exhale reaching the fingers toward the left. Try to keep the right arm close to your right ear. You may even feel yourself bending over. Find a spot that brings a gentle lightning to the right side body. Hold here for 5-10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Sitting in your chair or cross legged on the floor, reach your left arm to the floor or the side of the chair. You may also reach for the edge of the chair backing. Inhale and reach toward your left knee with the right hand and exhale, turn the head to look behind your left shoulder. If holding the chair backing, feel free to use that as support to go deeper into the twist. Inhale again as you lengthen your body and exhale and engage in the twist a bit more. Find a spot that is comfortable but still brings a twisting sensation to the neck and torso and breath for 5-10 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Simple Neck Stretch
Sitting comfortably with the spine neutral if you can, relax the shoulders. Start to drop the head to the right keeping both shoulders actively pressing downwards. Keep pressing down with the left shoulder to intensify the sensations. Hold here for 10 breaths, relaxing into each exhale. No fighting or forcing here! Relax into it. Switch to the other side, now actively pressing the right armpit toward the ground.
Wrist Opener (Finklestein stretch)
If you can, sit with your spine lengthened and neutral. Raise both arms in front of you with your thumbs facing upward, palms facing inwards. Reach your thumbs inward as your four other fingers wrap around it. Slowly, with arms still extended, pull the thumb forward moving bending at the wrists. It should be as if you are trying to direct your knuckles toward the ground. This motion results in an elongation from the top of the thumb across the wrist and up the forearm. Breath here. Hold for 5 breaths, shake your hands out, and repeat one more time for five breaths.