In the mass market of yoga today, it can be easy to make the assumption that yoga is just for the young, lithe and able. We found this great article series from US News that shares stories of individuals who are “changing the face of yoga”. Here is an excerpt from a couple of the pieces featuring a young man with Cerebral Palsy and another, Ryan, who is a little person:
Ryan McGraw is a 30-year-old yoga teacher who grew up in Detroit and now lives in Chicago. He also has cerebral palsy. While the symptoms of the group of disorders can vary significantly from one person to the next, cerebral palsy often impairs movement and coordination—two skills we often think of as crucial for practicing yoga. But, as we learned while researching yoga for people in wheelchairs, the principals of yoga don’t discriminate. It’s true that McGraw doesn’t quite look like the yogis in most fitness magazines, and he doesn’t anticipate sweating through a session of power yoga anytime soon. He doesn’t fit the mold, which is fine, because he’s molding yoga routines to fit his needs. Below, McGraw tells U.S. News about his yoga experience. His responses have been edited.
What’s been your biggest challenge with yoga?
When I started with yoga, I wanted to go through the whole expression of the poses, and about my sophomore or junior year in college, my yoga teacher taught me that you need to adapt the poses to meet the needs of your body. So once I discovered that, I didn’t have many other challenges. I realize that power yoga is never going to be for me, and I’m OK with that. And I haven’t had any challenges with discrimination in the yoga community because it’s very accepting of all people, including people with disabilities.
Do you have any advice for beginner yogis with disabilities?
I think if you’re in a chair, or with any disability, it’s key to know that poses can be adapted to meet your body, and you need to find the right thing for you. Do not get discouraged by what we see in magazines; yoga can be inclusive to people with all abilities with the use of props. There are adaptations are out there, and adaptations don’t mean that you’re doing any less. You’re still doing the pose, and you’re still getting the benefits of it.
I really want to be clear that yoga is for everybody. And anyone can find their place in yoga, even if it’s breathing exercises and meditation, because those are to key elements of yoga.
What’s been your biggest challenge with yoga?
Honestly, my biggest challenge is getting to class on time. I guess certain poses that require a lot of bending in the legs and knees are challenging. Anything that simulates sitting cross-legged is very difficult for me because I can’t do that. But, I just do them as much as I can and kind of work on them as it goes. One thing I was never able to do before yoga is stretch my leg behind my back—like how a soccer player would lift his knee up and pull his foot from behind to stretch the quads. Before yoga, I could never do that. Then all of a sudden, I got more flexible, and one day I tried it and was like, “Oh!”
It sounds like you’ve really advanced with yoga. What advice do you have for beginner yogis?
My advice, especially for little people, is to just show up, and bring a positive attitude and open mind. I think it’s easy to get frustrated and say, “Yoga isn’t meant for little people.” Some people might talk themselves out of it before they even get to class and say, “Oh, that’s not something I can do.” But as I’ve explained, after a few times, you get more and more flexible, and things start to click. And based on personal experience, even if you did half the poses, you’d feel better than when you had showed up. Also, if you start doing something, especially in a class environment like yoga, it gives you something to talk about. And then you get to build friendships and camaraderie, which are the keys to the longevity of an active lifestyle. So, keep showing up and embrace it. I also feel like yoga is a good entry level into athletics, especially for little people.
Read the full article and follow the rest of the series here!
This week’s events in Boston have been tragically difficult and saddening. It is in trying times such as these that yoga can truly offer a peace, light and healing. We spotted this sequence for times of crisis over on the Facebook Page of Patricia Walden Yoga and wanted to share with the IYISF community. This was a specific practice given by Guruji several years ago (Please refer to BKS Iyengar, Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health, (revised edition, 2008), DK Publishing, for supported versions of the asanas)—thank you to Patricia, Jarvis and Nancy for sharing with our community.
1. The emotional strength in these students need to be built up and that is what we need to work [on].
2. No standing poses. No backbends.
3. All poses should be done with eyes open (including savasana). [Students] can focus their eyes at any point in front or on the ceiling.
4. Ask the students to imagine [that] their eyes are located at the temples and ask them to “open” these eyes.
5. Do not insist on a perfect pose in the current situation.
While breathing in any asana (especialy supine) — ask [students] to breathe in such a manner that the breath touches the lateral side of the chest during inhalation.
Here is the sequence:
1. Savasana (corpse pose; can be done supported on a bolster or blankets)
2. Supta baddha konasana (reclining bound angle pose; can be done supported on a bolster or blankets)
3. Supta virasana (reclining hero pose; can be done supported on a bolster or blankets)
4. Prasarita padottanasana (with head support; wide-leg standing forward bend pose)
5. Uttanasana (with head support and legs spread apart; standing forward bend pose)
6. Adho mukha svanasana (with head support; downward facing dog pose)
7. Viparita dandasana supported by a chair (with head support; inverted staff pose)
8. Sirsasana – viparita karani (headstand; if you’re unfamiliar with the viparita karani version of this pose, do regular sirsasana)
9. Setu bandha sarvangasana (supported bridge pose)
10. Sarvangasana- viparita karani (shoulderstand; can be done supported on a chair; if you’re unfamiliar with the viparita karani version of this pose, do regular sarvangasana)
11. Pranayama: Antara kumbhaka with a very short kumbhaka on the inhalation
We hope that in this sequence you find peace amidst the chaos. Sending love and light to Boston and those affected by this week’s events throughout the world.