“Yoga does not discriminate, yoga poses do” – Matthew Sanford

When I think about my disability due to a spinal cord injury, I tend to split my body in two; the working and the not working. There was so much I thought I couldn’t do because of the physical limitations of being in a wheelchair.

Volunteering at the QASA offices in Gillitts, KZN, I had the opportunity to meet Dale Guthrie, a MSc occupational therapist in neuroscience, certified yoga and adaptive yoga instructor and founder of Holism Health. She explained her aim of providing adaptive yoga, the focus being on inclusivity in her classes so that anyone using a wheelchair, crutch or walker can feel welcome. Dale had developed a teacher training course that ran over 10 weeks and I was honoured to be invited as her assistant to participate in the 7th week, when she was covering adaptive yoga.

When I arrived at Dales studio in Randburg, JHB, I initially thought I was coming to help future practicing yoga teachers how to approach a person with disability.

Little did I know how beneficial this would be to my own recovery.

I had said “goodbye” to yoga because I couldn’t imagine arriving at a yoga class in my wheelchair and expect the instructor to understand my limits. I feel there’s so much concentration on what you’ve lost post injury and negative emotions towards your now different body. Yoga, unlike my other therapies, focuses on the whole being, connecting the mind to the rest of the body to create physical and mental awareness.

Dale demonstrated basic adapted poses that could be done while sitting in a wheelchair or on the floor. For example, the warrior pose was introduced and modified for my ability as I sat in my chair and stretched my arms out to the sides. I had to focus on my balance or lack thereof and bring attention to breathing and posture.

The meaning of yoga is the union of mind and body. The practice of yoga is to connect, join and balance the body; it’s not just focused on the poses, which I thought, and was afraid I couldn’t do. I learnt the essence of yoga lies within gaining mastery of your thoughts and bringing attention to your inner body. This is an advantage for those who feel no longer connected to their body because it’s a way of unravelling issues and acknowledging difficulties. Gaining control over emotions and working through trauma is important for moving forward and often neglected because there’s so much emphasis on the physical.

I didn’t realise how much this yoga experience was going to help me. I had underestimated yoga and it’s value for a physically challenged person like myself. This opportunity allowed me to feel liberated. The assumptions I had put on yoga were holding me back from realising that I am not what i can’t do. Rather, the power lies in trying. Its wonderful to know that there are people like Dale, who make it their life’s mission to help those who are physically challenged achieve more.

20 May 2019

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