With a rich history dating back more than 5,000 years, yoga is known as exercise for both the body and mind. It incorporates a series of breathing exercises, meditation and poses aimed at improving overall health and wellbeing.
While there are many different types of yoga, the practice of adaptive yoga is just kicking off in Australia. Adaptive yoga uses traditional yoga poses, which are then adapted to match the needs of each individual, and anyone can take part.
In adaptive yoga, the essence of a yoga pose is used to find a variation that fits with an individual’s body and their ability. Instructors also use items found in any traditional yoga studio such as props, bolsters, straps and chairs to assist during the class.
Currently studying the impacts of yoga on people with spinal cord injuries at the University of Sydney, Lisa Bidgood is a trained occupational therapist and adaptive yoga instructor. “Adaptive yoga is big in the U.S. and the U.K. but relatively new here in Australia,” she explains. “We want to change this and offer more opportunities for people with all abilities to experience the benefits of yoga and meditation.”
Lisa’s ambition to blend her passion for occupational therapy (OT) and yoga with working with people of different abilities, made adaptive yoga a perfect fit. After conducting extensive research, she travelled to the U.S. to work with specialist adaptive yoga mentor and teacher, Matthew Sandford.
Matthew experienced a spinal cord injury at a young age and later started Mind Body Solutions to teach yoga to people of all abilities. “Matthew is well-known as the pioneer of adaptive yoga,” says Lisa. “In my training, I learnt how to teach anybody yoga, no matter their injury, trauma or ability.”
When she returned from the U.S. Lisa started up Yogavana in Sydney and now runs NDIS funded adaptive yoga sessions at Royal Rehab twice a week. “I work with many different people with a range of disabilities or injuries,” she says.
“There is a perception out there that you need to be a certain body type or very flexible to do yoga, but absolutely anyone can practice.”
At Yogavana, Lisa works with people who have spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis (MS), mental illness and other disabilities as well as people who have had a stroke. She says that by listening to the messages in your own body, people can have incredible results and see real benefits.
“I work with a young man who comes regularly to the classes and has a spinal cord injury,” explains Lisa. “At the end of one of our meditation sessions, he was astounded that for the first time in seven years he felt sensation in his feet! It just shows that it is possible to find feeling again in the body through meditation, but it just might be on a different level than you had before.”
In addition to adaptive yoga classes, Lisa hosts teacher training sessions in Sydney each year. Current students attend the training sessions and share their stories on the day, providing valuable insights and the opportunity for new instructors to get first-hand experience in their new practice.
Soon, Lisa will publish her academic research and hopes to create more awareness in the community on the benefits of yoga and meditation practice for people with disabilities. To get involved or to find out more about adaptive yoga, visit yogavana.com.au
Benefits of yoga and meditation
- Stress relief
- Improved sleep
- Chronic pain relief
- Muscle strength and toning
- Reduces weight
- Balance and flexibility
- Mind-body connection