The Best Yoga Poses for People with Disabilities
There are many challenges that people face when living with disabilities. Whether you need a handicap parking permit to make getting around easier, or need special accommodations from your doctor, it can feel like you have some limitations in your daily life. However, living with a disability doesn’t mean that you have to forget about fitness. There are ways that you can exercise without pushing yourself too much. One of the best ways to accomplish a healthier lifestyle is to practice yoga.
Yoga doesn’t have to be about completing difficult poses or becoming a master of flexibility. Rather, it can be a way for you to feel good in your body while becoming a little more active. There are tons of benefits to practicing yoga, including increased strength, more balance and flexibility, reduced stress and anxiety, less tension, improved mental focus, better sleep, and an overall improved sense of wellbeing (just to mention a few!).
Once you’ve created a yoga routine for yourself, you might even notice a decrease in your mobility issues. It could be easier for you to reach down to tie your shoes or to pick something up. Improved proprioception (or knowing where your body is in space) means you might have better coordination (which could result in greater control and less falls). But, besides physical improvements, the mental/emotional advantages of yoga are even more significant. People who do yoga often report feeling calmer and more relaxed, and those who work with meditation and breathing poses find they can cope better with stress and are better able to manage their pain.
Just make sure that you always talk to your doctor before starting a new fitness regime. And remember that you should be stretching to the point of mild tension – none of these poses should ever feel painful. Read on for suggestions for the best yoga poses for people with disabilities.
1. Floor crocodile
Lie on your stomach (if you’re able) on the floor or on your bed. Fold your arms so that your hands are inside your elbows. Lift up your chest a little, while keeping your abdomen on the floor. You can rest your forehead on your arms. Make sure your legs are relaxed (either together or apart). On the in breath, feel your abdomen pressing on the floor. On the exhale, feel the abdomen release towards your spine. You should feel your lower back and the sides of your ribcage expand as well. Release any muscle tension in your back with each breath. Stay in this position for about three to five minutes. Keep your focus on the easy movement of your breath in and out. Then, come out of the pose slowly.
2. Seated crocodile
If you’re unable to lie on your stomach, this version of the above is one of the best yoga poses that can be done seated (which is great if you’re in a wheelchair). If you can, sit with your back a little away from the chair. You can put a folded towel behind your back to help with this pose as well. Make sure your back is straight, and your feet are on the floor. Place one hand on your belly, and focus on your breath. Allow your abdomen to move outward with each in breath, and try to press your abdominal muscles back towards your spine. This initiates the ribcage to expand as you engage your diaphragm. Practice this for about three to five minutes.
3. Standing side stretch
If you’re able to stand, stand with your feet together about hip-distance apart with your arms at your side. Breathe in, and raise your right arm to shoulder level with the palm of your hand up – continue to lift until your arm is overhead. Make sure to draw your right shoulder blade down as you lift, and lift your chest up slightly. When you breathe out, lengthen the right side through your fingertips. Be careful not to tilt forward or backward. Let your left arm slide down towards your left leg. You can also use this arm to help support you if needed. When you exhale, release your arm back to shoulder level, and turn the palm downward. Repeat these steps by switching to your left side. If you are able, do this pose two times on each side.
To add a little variety to the pose, you can interlace your fingers when you place them overhead with your index fingers straight up. Stay there for about three to five breaths. This is one of the best yoga poses to pay attention to your breathing and the sensations you’re experiencing in your body.
4. Seated side stretch
Again, if you’re unable to stand, the above pose can be modified into a seated version. Sit in a comfortable position (add a towel or blanket behind your back for additional support). Go through the same motions as the pose listed above. The arm that is sliding down the leg can reach towards the floor (or can hold onto the bottom of the chair for an easier stretch). You can also try the pose with interlaced fingers as well.
5. Chair sun salutations
This is one of the best yoga poses for those who have mobility issues because it can be done from a chair. (Side note: it’s also great for people who are often stuck at a desk.) Sit comfortably in your chair with a straight back and your thighs parallel to the floor. Roll your shoulders back a few times, and relax your facial muscles as much as possible. Then, place your hands on your chest and take a few deep breaths in and out. On the in breath, reach your arms up towards the ceiling and arch your back gently to feel your spine lift upwards. As you exhale, slowly bend forwards, bringing your chest to your knees. Let your arms hang down, so your hands are as close to your feet as possible. On the next in breath, sit up and arch your back. Bring your left knee up to your chest while looking up at the ceiling. When you exhale, round your back forward with your head down by your knee. Then, flex your back forward, and bring your leg back down with your foot back on the floor. Let your arms hang by your sides, with your hands as close to your feet as possible as you breathe out slowly. Complete these steps with your right leg. Make sure to pay attention to your breathing throughout these steps.
Try out these basic yoga poses to see some physical improvements as well as some peace of mind. Once you’ve mastered these poses, check out online videos for more advanced versions of the best yoga poses for people with disabilities. Namaste!