Yoga is meant as a universal practice for everyone. Although, in the Westernized world, is often reduced to an acrobatic physical practice reserved for the young, able-bodied, and wealthy.
Having access to practices like yoga, meditation, pranayama, and mindfulness has been proven to improve overall physical and mental health, hence the importance of making yoga accessible to all.
Wheelchair yoga is specially designed for those individuals who use a wheelchair, whether as a temporary assistive device or a permanent one.
Such specifically targeted classes like wheelchair yoga provide access to a part of the population that has been traditionally marginalized from the practice due to ableism and other biases in our society.
Yoga is not limited to the physical practice, hence yoga as a holistic practice, is in itself, accessible: for those who can’t or don’t want to move, there are other aspects of the yoga practice worth exploring.
In this article, we will share with you a bit more about the following:
- What is wheelchair yoga?
- Benefits of wheelchair yoga
- Wheelchair vs. Chair Yoga
- Adapting asana for wheelchair users
- Basic wheelchair yoga poses
- Wheelchair and adaptive yoga teachers to know
Keep reading to learn more!
What is wheelchair yoga?
Wheelchair yoga is not a style of yoga, but as the name suggests, it entails practicing yoga while using a wheelchair.
No matter what type of wheelchair the person uses, the teacher should be skilled and creative enough to provide different variations and modifications for all practitioners, regardless of physical limitations, range of motion, etc.Accessible and adaptive yoga utilizes a wide variety of techniques to mold the practice to each individual’s needs within the practice, providing space for everyone that is interested in reaping the benefits, to be able to access it.
Who is it For?
Wheelchair yoga is for those people who use a manual or electric wheelchair as an assistive mobility device and wish to practice yoga seated in their chair.
Here are some of the people that wheelchair yoga is designed for:
- For those with paralysis
- For those with reduced mobility
- For those with lower-extremity injuries
- For those with chronic illness and chronic pain
- For those with limb differences
- For adaptive athletes
- For seniors
Benefits of wheelchair yoga
Keep in mind that some people who use a wheelchair may want to get out of their chairs to practice since they spend long periods of time seated throughout the day.
They may want to practice yoga sitting on the floor or laying in bed, where they can be comfortable.
Just like for any other yoga practitioner, how a wheelchair user chooses to practice is ultimately up to them on any given day.
When a person who uses a wheelchair may want to remain seated in their mobility device to practice yoga is when wheelchair yoga comes in!
Practicing wheelchair yoga regularly has many benefits:
- Improve muscle tone
- Increase strength and flexibility
- Reduce stress and anxiety
- Help manage pain
- Boost your mood
- Regulates the nervous system
- Supports trauma recovery
- Cultivates self-compassion and self-love
Wheelchair vs. Chair Yoga
Chair yoga is a method of teaching yoga that as the name entails, is designed to be practiced by using a chair.
One of the main differences between chair and wheelchair yoga is that those who practice chair yoga may or may not use a wheelchair to ambulate, while those practicing wheelchair yoga are wheelchair users, whether full or part-time.
Chair yoga also involves using the chair as a prop while standing, wheelchair yoga, does not.
Adapting asana for wheelchair users
For those who use a wheelchair, bringing other props into the practice will make it more moldable to each individual’s needs.
Wheelchair yoga can be a safe space for disabled folks wanting to explore the practice.
Basic wheelchair yoga poses
Here we will share just a few of the basic wheelchair yoga poses.
Whether you’re a practitioner or a yoga teacher, we encourage you to get creative and explore other possibilities to enhance your personal practice.
When trying any wheelchair yoga poses, make sure that it feels sturdy and your wheels are locked!
Not all poses nor all variations will work for everyone, and it is important to stay curious and open to learning and growing both as teachers and as practitioners.
Here are some poses to try:
1# Upavistha Tadasana (seated mountain pose)
Mountain pose can be practiced from a wheelchair without much adaptation, simply seated instead of standing.
2# Upavistha Utthita Tadasana (seated five-pointed star pose)
To stretch through the upper body and arms, try a five-pointed star seated on a chair.
3# Parsva Sukhasana (seated side stretch)
Place your hand on the side of your chair, or utilize a block and take your hand there to make the side stretch a bit deeper.
4# Upavistha Bitilasana Marjaryasana (seated cat/cow pose)
Cat-cow can be performed in a wheelchair; place your hands on your lap or knees to find more stability as you flow from one posture to the other.
5# Upavistha Uttanasana (seated forward fold)
Take your hands down to blocks or the floor and let your head relax down.
6# Parvritta Sukhasana (seated twist)
Use the frame or the wheels of your chair to leverage the intensity of your seated twist.
7# Upavistha Ardha Pawanmuktasana (seated half wind relieving posture)
A great posture to relieve gas, it can substitute some lunges for those with reduced lower body mobility.
8# Upavistha Vrksasana (seated tree pose)
Seated tree pose can be done with a block under the foot and is a great way to explore this posture with less emphasis on the balancing aspect.
9# Virabadhrasana II (seated warrior II pose)
10# Viparita Virabhadrasana (seated reverse warrior)
11# Upavistha Utthita Parsvakonasana (seated extended side angle pose)
12# Upavistha Utkata Konasana (seated goddess pose)
A great hip opener, place blocks under the feet to explore Goddess pose from your chair.
13# Upavistha Kapotasana (seated pigeon pose)
Cross your ankle over a block or over your thigh, depending on how much intensity you want.
14# Upavistha Badha Konasana (seated bound angle pose)
Use blocks under your feet to open up your hips.
15# Upavistha Garudasana (seated eagle pose)
Feel the balancing properties in this posture while seated.
16# Parivrtta Utkatasana (seated revolved chair pose)
A nice massage for the internal organs can be easily adapted from a wheelchair.
17# Upavistha Balasana (seated child’s pose)
A pose to help you relax and get grounded can be practiced from a wheelchair by bringing another chair in front of you and using bolsters and other props to make a pile to lean over and relax.
There are many other ways to adapt yoga postures to practitioners of wheelchair yoga, and these are just meant to inspire you to continue to explore the possibilities of the practice.
Wheelchair and adaptive yoga teachers to know
Although accessible practices like wheelchair yoga and adaptive yoga continue to be seen as a niche, there are more and more teachers bringing awareness, and continuing to create spaces and practices where wheelchair users, chair yoga practitioners, as well as those practicing with other props, can come together and reap the many benefits of the asana practice.
Here are some of the wheelchair yoga teachers as well as accessible and adaptive yoga teachers that we think we should know, and have free classes for you to try online.
1# Matthew Sanford
One of the pioneers of accessible and adaptive yoga in the USA and North America, Matthew Sanford is a wheelchair user himself.
In this class, you can observe Matthew skillfully teach a multilevel class with students with different degrees of mobility and needs.
2# Nina Boswell Brown
Founder of Sitting Fit Yoga, Nina is a UK-based yoga teacher with a spinal cord injury who focuses on creating classes for this demographic as well as training yoga teachers.
3# Jivana Heyman
Founder of the Accessible Yoga Association and author of several books and articles on how to make yoga more accessible, Jivana Heyman is one of the most mainstream yoga teachers advocating for accessible, adaptive, and inclusive yoga, which of course encompasses wheelchair yoga.
4# Rodrigo Souza
Try this class with Rodrigo, who also has great content for wheelchair yoga practitioners on his Instagram.
5# Ben Clark
A relaxing class for beginners.
6# Natalie Morales
Teaching from the fully-wheelchair accessible catamaran, The Impossible Dream.
7# Molly Schnider
Here is an adaptive class with Molly Schnider to inspire your wheelchair yoga practice!
Wheelchair users and those with visible and invisible disabilities should be included in all yoga spaces.
Making sure that as teachers we develop skills beyond what serves students with normative bodies is imperative to continue to make the practices of yoga more accessible to everyone.
To learn more about chair yoga, read this article next.