Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Interview with Mary-Jo Fetterly on Adaptive Yoga

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

Mary-Jo: I teach adaptive yoga at my in-home private studio and at rehab centers, hospitals, and private physiotherapy centers. I also teach at the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Youth Without Limits – Cerebral Palsy Association British Columbia (BC), BC Wheelchair Sports Association, and Spinal Cord Injury BC. I also run Adaptive Yoga Teacher Training programs. I enjoy teaching in my home studio most of all because I have a lift and the equipment that is needed to make yoga truly accessible for all bodies.

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

Mary-Jo: Since becoming disabled, the experience of teaching and practicing yoga has been exaggerated, meaning that when I first was injured I had a very different sense of my body and who I was in my body, and as a result I needed the spiritual, non-physical tools of yoga in order to help me deal with those feelings and distortions. Once I had established myself physically in a more grounded and familiar place and I could teach to ‘the physical,’ I began to notice that teaching yoga to populations who had some form of trauma or physical challenge was quite different than teaching a group of ambulatory people. The concept of ‘body-betrayal’ exists overtly in this group and ‘covertly’ in able-bodies.

No matter who we are or what our physical incarnation is, we need to learn how to love, care, and most importantly, manage our physical bodies in our experience of being physical. This is crucial for both populations. Consequently, I changed the way I teach to my adaptive groups so that I can address the potential fragmentation between the body, mind and spirit in direct ways, thereby moving toward a more conscious and intentional acceptance. This slower, more conscious, intentional approach has made a huge difference with the ambulatory population in coming to terms with their own body/mind disconnect.

Accessible Yoga Blog: Does your adaptive yoga teaching affect how you teach “mainstream yoga?”

Mary-Jo: I find that teaching the special-needs population informs my teaching of the mainstream population more than the other way around. I find that concepts such as patience, acceptance, surrender and the ability to see oneself not just as a ‘physical’ being are more readily accepted and understood by many who have had the experience of adversity or trauma. I am continually humbled and inspired by those people who have to deal with a lot yet are still earnest and diligent in their desire to stay positive and attuned to their physical, mental and spiritual being.

I also became intimately aware when teaching people with special needs that there was a lot of ‘bracing’ in their bodies due to living with some form of a disability. Naturally their nervous systems are more sensitive so the use of sound and non-physical elements was fundamental in being able to create safety and support for their systems. What this taught me when teaching an able-bodied population was that bracing and trauma exists in many systems, however someone with all their physical capacities can easily hide or not even be aware of the fact that their system is in overload or fight/flight. They function well physically, but suffer from things like insomnia, anxiety and other related disorders. So what I started doing was teaching the able-bodied people to slow down more and to pay attention to the signals in order to calm the nervous system on a very deep level. They could still have a very physical practice, but the overarching intention was to create steadiness, internal strength and calm. This is something that a disabled body grapples with on a very real level externally every day.

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

Mary-Jo: Lately, I have been working on new projects that combine yoga and coaching in order to facilitate the change agent in places where it is needed. One is a concept called “Yoga-fit4disability,” which uses both cardio and yoga to help clients achieve better health and well-being. I am also very excited about the “Recovery Deck” project I created to implement yoga in hospital settings as best practices for newly-injured spinal cord, brain, stroke, and cancer patients. Finally, I am always excited about my Adaptive Yoga Training program and the students who are learning how to become adaptive yoga teachers.

Mary-Jo Fetterly has been teaching yoga for 30 years. She is a mom, a student of somatic and social work, a health coach and a yoga therapist. Her company, Trinity Yoga, in Vancouver offers Adaptive Yoga trainings and a line of adaptive yoga bolsters and products to help make the experience of yoga accessible to all.

This post was conducted and edited by Kathleen Kraft.

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