We all have challenges to face as we age such as maintaining posture to avoid injury and discomfort; maintaining mobility for healthy joints, circulation, and strength; adapting to changes in hormonal levels, digestion and metabolic rate that affect weight, mood, sleep, and energy levels; changes in muscle strength, tone, and tightness; cognitive changes affecting concentration, balance, processing, and coordination. And so on.
The good news is that yoga can address and help many of these factors as we age. This goes for people with physical disabilities too. As a wheelchair user, I am very aware that many of the ageing processes will particularly affect my mobility and independence to a greater extent than someone with no disability due to the extra demands of having a disability. As I reached my forties I realised that it was important to put a little more focus into addressing some of these issues to maintain my health, well-being, and independence over the next few decades. So often disabled people find accessing health, wellbeing, and fitness services challenging and yet it is equally important, and even perhaps more so, since all these ageing factors may be compounded by having a disability.
I came to yoga primarily to address physical needs; I wanted to maintain flexibility and strength to help my posture and mobility in the long-term. I use a manual wheelchair so need to have healthy arms and shoulders to self-propel, and I need the strength and flexibility to transfer in and out of my wheelchair, to dress, and to carry out daily activities. I also need to look after my lower body –– the paralysed part –– to prevent the joints from getting tighter and tighter as I age and to counteract circulation issues causing swelling and discomfort.
Once I began exploring yoga it was the physical aspect I really enjoyed and was surprised by how much was still achievable as a wheelchair user but I also discovered the importance of the breath –– how we breathe and the incredible impact it has on the body and mind, bringing calm, connection, myriad health benefits to counteract strain on the body and mind that stress and tension bring.
Yoga is a way for me to take some control over my health and how I age, without having to rely on the medical establishment. I can practise yoga to my own limitations, making it work for me. My focus, learning, and practise have been very much on the movement and breath aspects of yoga and so this is what I currently focus on when I teach other wheelchair users and those with mobility disabilities.
Making yoga more inclusive to those with a disability is so important. It is a safe, gentle, effective, and adaptable way to engage the mind, body, and spirit –– all so vital to long-term well-being. Being able to access a class whether in a studio, community hall, or online brings people together with a sense of community, creates a motivational environment, and makes addressing your well-being more enjoyable and sustainable. There are so many types of yoga and styles of teaching and for a non-disabled person this provides opportunity to find the style, class, and teacher that suits you –– the aspect of yoga that addresses your needs, perhaps that is an all-encompassing yoga class, or a specific asana-focused class. With the help of Accessible Yoga and all the yoga teachers that are taking the time to learn how to make their classes more inclusive, this choice will hopefully one day be available to people with disabilities too.
Nina is paraplegic, following a car accident over 30 years ago and uses her own knowledge and experience to ensure her yoga classes are disability friendly. She teaches Yoga to wheelchair users and those with mobility disabilities in her local area and online, has produced some short Yoga videos for Wheelpower UK and is currently studying a Health Coach Diploma to bring in other elements of health and well-being into her work.
This post was edited by Patrice Priya Wagner, Managing Editor of Accessible Yoga blog and member of the Board of Directors.
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