Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Interview with Liz Oppedijk: Chair Yoga for All

Accessible Yoga Blog: Where do you teach? Who is the population?

Liz: I live in the city of St. Albans in the UK, and I teach mainly in and around the county of Hertfordshire, as well as in North London (St Albans is located about 20 miles north of London). In my regular outreach class at a local YMCA, my students range from 35 to 80 years old, and most have one or more conditions: Parkinson’s, MS, stroke, arthritis, amputated limbs, diabetes, back problems, knee issues. I also teach weekly classes in local nursing and retirement homes (called residential care homes in the UK), where my students are mostly elderly (60s to 100+ years old) and are either wheelchair bound or use some form of assistance to get around.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Can you share an experience that stands out?

Liz: My specialty is chair yoga, which many people are not familiar with, and I recently had a video made to show what chair yoga is all about. My YMCA class kindly agreed to take part, and I was astounded by the comments they made when being interviewed by the videographer. Although they often tell me that they enjoy the classes, it was amazing to hear how much chair yoga has actually helped them, in particular with mobility issues. This is truly gratifying to me as a teacher. Just to give an example, one student who had a stroke and was in hospital for a number of months, thought she would never move her arm again, but now she can move her hand, elbow, and arm and is able to do what she wants in her daily life, and she participates fully in every yoga class at her own level of flexibility. Just this week, a new student with asthma and thyroid issues told me that she loves the chair yoga: her whole body feels aglow with warmth at the end of class. It’s a real privilege to bring the healing power of yoga to my students.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Why do you teach this group or this population? What made you choose this specific group?

Liz: My journey to teaching people with various conditions and disabilities has been a long one. It began when I became very ill at the age of 50, diagnosed with cancer and other serious health problems. These illnesses were shocking and traumatic, and they changed the course of my life. I’m very fortunate that I’m in full remission, thanks in no small part to my discovery of yoga. In many ways, my journey to recovery continues as I still live with osteoporosis: I remain in danger of broken bones and heart problems. At no point, however, have I seen myself as someone who is incapable or unable to fulfill my dream: to bring yoga to people of all abilities, especially those with serious physical and mental challenges. The fact is that most of my students had never tried yoga before and believed that it wasn’t for them, put off by the mat, the media image of yoga, or other preconceived notions. Through chair yoga, I am proud to be able to bring yoga and its myriad benefits to those who might not otherwise dare to try it. I am grateful every day to see in my students’ faces and bodies, and hear in their words, the positive effects of yoga on their lives: they are all true yogis!

Accessible Yoga Blog: What are you excited to do next with your students?

Liz: I have several yoga projects on the go at the moment. I am now training others to teach chair yoga, so that my teachers can bring this fully accessible yoga to even more people. As part of my own ongoing training, I am completing a special course on back care and yoga, and I am adapting the Healthy Back Programme to the chair. In addition, I am developing a series of chair yoga classes to be run with a local outreach dementia group, for those with dementia and their carers. One of my other dreams is to bring more yoga to carers, empowering them to take the time to care for themselves and therefore helping them to better care for others. Long may the “yoga for all” journey continue!

Liz Oppedijk (RYT-500, E-LVCTT, MSc) came to yoga in her fifties, following serious illness and injury. Through yoga, her recovery became a transformation. But she was left with a question: how to bring the practice of yoga to people for whom the mat is a barrier? She found her answer in Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga. Since training with Lakshmi, Liz has taught chair yoga to people with varied abilities, including those with Parkinson’s, MS, stroke, and cancer, as well as those with dementia, learning disabilities and their carers. Her commitment to accessible yoga led her to establish Accessible Chair Yoga CIC (ACY), a non-profit social enterprise. ACY is dedicated to bringing yoga to everyone, regardless of age, ability, or physical or mental condition, in particular to UK nursing homes, by training others to teach chair yoga and by sponsoring research into yoga’s effectiveness in the social care sector.

This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, co-editor of the Accessible Yoga Blog and a member of Accessible Yoga’s Board of Directors.

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