How I Found Yoga As A Quadriplegic
At the age of 16, I became a quadriplegic (paralyzed from the neck down). Formerly a very athletic individual, one of the hardest things was coming to terms with the fact that I would not be engaged in significant physical activity anymore. I couldn’t move from my chest down and I needed help with everything. It hurt when I watched my friends go out and jog or participate in an athletic event. Over time, I realized that this was not productive, and I became a huge spectator. I enjoy watching sports on TV and I even yell at the TV as if the players and coaches can hear me, and I’m a season ticket holder with my husband to Georgetown University’s men’s basketball games.
I Can’t Breathe
Because of my spinal cord injury, half of my diaphragm is paralyzed. Therefore, I am always significantly at risk for breathing difficulties. Approximately 8 years ago, I had surgery on two wounds and because of complications wound up in the ICU on a ventilator. I was not strong enough to wean off of the ventilator without a tracheostomy that I still have. I returned home after 8 months with oxygen and breathing trouble. I did not want to be on the ventilator, and it was frustrating not to be able to have a strong voice given that I am a lawyer and speaking loudly and clearly was always one of my greatest strengths.
My sister is a big fan of yoga and approached me many times about trying yoga to see if I could strengthen my diaphragm through yoga breathing. I kept resisting and then she gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. A woman in her yoga class and was working on her Master’s certificate, she needed to get her hours and was required to work one-on-one with a client. My sister suggested me and the match was made. The instructor came to my home every Sunday and we did yoga breathing and other exercises. When I went to the pulmonary doctor and he saw my breathing results he almost fell over. He said, “What are you doing differently?” I replied, “Yoga.” He replied, “Whatever it is, just keep doing it!” I was sold.
I Love Yoga
To my great surprise, yoga has been beneficial to me in many ways. My breathing has improved tremendously. I am much more flexible and stronger in my upper body. I can move my arms, body, and abdomen in ways that I never imagined that I could. And I feel so much better, more centered, and mindful.
My Yoga Method
I began taking classes a studio. First one-on-one classes and then I joined a group class. One class was a relaxation class. The second class was slow Flow Yoga, but it involved movement. I figured I had nothing to lose and the instructor knew me and knew that I could come up with my own moves when I couldn’t do something in the class. The other members of the class got used to my doing my own thing and were not distracted by my going outside of the box.
So, you may wonder how I do it. If it is breathing or arm movement it is not difficult. But when poses come into play and legs start being used I just substitute. For me, when the instructor says to move the right leg, I use my right arm. The same with the left. When there are stretches for downward dog, I use my arms and neck to get a good stretch. And if there are leg and hip circles I use my arm again. I get a good stretch, fantastic workout, and build my core. I just started a new yoga class with an instructor that never met me. I told her at the beginning of the class not to worry or let me distract her or the class. As before, I told her I would do my own thing if there was something that I could not do. Again, I used my arm instead of my leg and many of the moves were easier then I expected.
After the class, the instructor came up to me and told me that she couldn’t believe how much I could do. I felt so good. Not only because it was great to get back to yoga (after having been away from it for about six months; but that’s another story!), but that my unique tactics for substitution worked for me and were impressive to the teacher. Shame on me that I resisted for so long. I may be restricted in moving my body, but that doesn’t mean that a little creativity and thinking outside the box won’t make yoga feasible and a great part of my weekly routine!
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