Disability Health: Yoga For Disabilities

Yoga is an ancient Indian practice involving the training of mind and body to achieve balance and well being, which enables the individual to be healthy, both physically and mentally to reach his or her highest potential as a person. Various yoga poses trains the body and mind for meditation through different breathing and physical exercises and also through different postures or asanas, which help to tone up and strengthen the muscles and increase the flexibility. It not only stimulates the internal organs as well as the organ system and glands, to promote a healthy circulation in the body, but also enhances the lifestyle and overall health and prevents or reverses the impending disease processes.

It is a well known fact that yoga is beneficial for individuals with disabilities and other chronic health conditions where the postures or asanas are modified or adapted to meet the needs of the disabled individual. Also, the yoga asanas as can be easily performed while seated in a wheelchair, like for example, the chair yoga involving the sitting mountain series was developed for people with multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, Arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and many more chronic debilitating disorders. Sudarshan kriya is a sequence of specific breathing techniques which allows the body to get rid of anxiety, depression, stress and stress related ailments.

Stretching is always helpful for the body.  Yoga is a great way to calm your body, stretch your muscles. It is used to complement an individual’s already established medical care therapy program.

Yoga Helps All Disabilities

The gentle stretching of yoga and its centered-breathing discipline can benefit people who may have arthritis, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s disease, or osteoporosis as well as those who have had a stroke. The “asanas,” or poses that make up a yoga practice can also help with balance and strength while helping you find a calming emotional space that helps not only with healing, but also with the day-to-day challenges of life.

In addition, notes the National Center on Physical Activity and Disability (NCPAD), yoga aids your:

  • Digestive system, as the bending and stretching poses stimulate the digestive system
  • Cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary systems (also known as your heart and lungs), as the more active poses increase heart rate and lung capacity through aerobic activity.
  • Lymphatic system (essentially, the primary component of your immune system), which needs strong muscles and active interaction among the lungs, diaphragm, and thorax to stay strong.
  • It improves the flexibility, strength, balance, stamina, reduces anxiety and stress and helps the patient to sleep better.
  • Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis in older adults. It causes functional limitation of the activities of the daily living and is a leading cause of the long term disability among patients. “Chair yoga” is an effective way to reduce pain and improve the quality of life without the adverse events of the pharmacological treatment. It is practiced sitting in a chair or standing while holding the chair for support and it rectifies the physical and psychosocial functions and decrease the pain of the elderly individuals suffering from osteoarthritis.
  • Skeletal and muscular systems, which benefit from yoga’s focus on proper alignment, flexibility, and muscle-strengthening.
  • The different yoga poses for Parkinson’s disease include “mountain pose” or the upward salute which encourages good posture and balance and attenuates the anxiety caused by decreased motor control. Other exercises such as trunk circles relieves stiffness in the hips and side body. Standing forward bend stretches the hamstrings and quiets the body. Warrior 2 position improves the balance and strengthens the legs. Reclining bound Angle pose relieves lower body stiffness and combats fatigue. The American Parkinson Disease Association  (APDA) maintains the list of supporting groups and yoga instructors across the United States.

Yoga Improves Activities of Daily Living

Besides leaving students with improved virtues such as confidence and patience, yoga has practical applications for everyday living. In his book, Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence (Rodale, 2008), Matthew Sanford mentions one of his students who has cerebral palsy, which caused the man to have frequent falls and resulting injuries. After becoming a regular student in Sanford’s yoga classes, the man fell in the shower one day but was able to use his improved body control to land in a way that spared him from injury.

Sanford said that in his own life, yoga has given him the strength to easily transfer in and out of different wheelchairs, as well as produced noticeable improvements in balance and flexibility.

For individuals with cerebral palsy, the yoga instructors will instruct them to move their arms and legs to help them relax. They will also ask the patients to touch their feet to the floor or lift their heads for a few seconds. These activities are not only designed for individuals with cerebral palsy but also for other individuals with disabilities such as down syndrome, Autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities. They help the patient to slow down and increase the attention and focus. The instructor uses typical yoga poses such as the “Downward Dog” or “Cobra Pose” and each one is adapted for people with specific needs.

Learning More About Yoga for People with Disabilities

One of the best free sources of information regarding yoga and its benefits is the NCPAD’s website section, “Yoga for Individuals with Disabilities.”

Included among its overviews, articles, videos, and online demonstrations are information about yoga’s benefits, yoga equipment, what to expect in a yoga session, demonstrations of specific exercises, a resource list, a directory of yoga organizations (definitely needs updating/expanding), and a relatively current (2005 is most recent publication date) list of books and articles about yoga for various conditions.

However certain safety precautions must be kept in mind, like if the patient has a disability associated medical condition, he might want to consult with his physician before beginning any fitness program. Also, while practicing the Yoga, whenever possible, the patient must have an instructed or the caregiver partner present on the site. It must also be kept in mind that while stretching, the patient must stretch to the point of mild tension and not to the point where he or she experiences pain.

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