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This article was published 29/11/2009 (3121 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
With a foam block lodged under the front of his wheelchair to keep it from rolling, Regan Block leaned forward to stretch himself carefully.
For a fleeting second, he imagined that he might fall out of his chair. He knew that in reality, however, that he was safe.
"I didn't feel like I could hurt myself," says the 43-year-old Winnipegger. "(Instructors) were always there to give me a hand when I needed it. You can't go into yoga if you're by yourself, on an island."
For years, Block longed to try yoga but never thought that was feasible. The St. James resident has been in a wheelchair for 22 years following a spinal-cord injury.
Recently, his yoga dream came to life when his massage therapist handed him a brochure promoting something called adapted yoga — a type of yoga designed for people with mobility issues, including those in wheelchairs. Block was thrilled.
He's tried about six classes so far and describes them as busy.
"It's exhausting. After a few minutes of stretching, going from one side to the other side and then holding it and looking ahead to see what the next pose is, it's confusing to someone who's never tried it," says Block.
"But by the third or fourth class I was moving along pretty fast and I could tell that things were changing for me."
Among Block's health improvements: the muscle spasms in his legs — a result of his spinal-cord injury — have lessened. "They don't jump as much," he says. "I take less medication."
Block, a rehabilitation counsellor who spends a lot of time working at a desk, says he also noticed that following classes he felt more relaxed and limber.
His class instructors assisted him constantly and even used a special cord to help him raise and bend his legs. His digestion improved, he says, thanks to the moving and stretching his torso — something he never did before.
Adapted yoga is the brainchild of Winnipeg occupational therapist Marnie Courage, who launched the program in April. Courage, 36, owns Enabling Access (www.ea-solutions.ca), a business through which she rehabilitates Winnipeggers using movement.
After taking some yoga classes herself for the first time, Courage realized that her clients — particularly the ones with mobility issues — could truly benefit from them as well.
"I did a bit of research and there wasn't really anything out there that I could find in terms of a class for people who couldn't get down to the floor," says Courage.
She says that yoga not only improves flexibility, but also helps digestion, boosts circulation, increases lymphatic-system flow and creates positive thinking. She says people with limited mobility often have problems in these areas.
Courage hired a yoga instructor and the pair examined traditional yoga pose by pose.
"We adapted each one for people of differing abilities. So I would say, 'If someone was in a wheelchair, how could we get the benefits of this pose?'"
Courage says her adapted yoga classes are perfect for people with multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia and other conditions in which mobility is limited.
"A lot of people who have spinal-cord injuries, even MS, have a lot of trouble using their muscles to expand their lungs and get in as much oxygen as they can," says Courage, who teaches her adapted yoga participants the importance of breathing properly.
Don't have a mobility issue? Courage says her adapted yoga can even benefit people who aren't as flexible as they'd like — those who need extra help in achieving and maintaining yoga positions.
"It's nice to see a class where you've got a whole variety of different abilities in it," says Courage, who plans to offer classes at assisted-living facilities around town, as well as in community centres.
Adapted yoga costs approximately $12 per session.
Courage says she also plans to contact local neurologists, who can monitor the effects of adapted yoga on their patients.
Prior to an adapted yoga class at Concordia Village, a seniors' residence in northeast Winnipeg, three eager participants take their seats and wait for their class to start.
William Giesbrecht, 92, knew nothing about yoga before he signed on for the class. Now he loves it and has since taken eight or so sessions.
"I think it's great. You find muscles you never knew existed," says the retired mail carrier, noting that he is less reliant on his walker since he started adapted yoga.
Shirley, 86, says that yoga never crossed her mind much before.
"I never really ever thought about it. I saw the girls doing it, thinking they looked great," says the senior, who is now a big fan of adapted yoga.
"We just do the sitting one anyway. If we had to roll on the floor we couldn't. We're too old," she says, laughing
Anna Andres, 88, says since she signed on for adapted yoga a few weeks ago, the arthritis pain in her neck is diminished. She first heard about yoga from her grandchildren who happen to take yoga. Now, though yoga, she feels more connected to them.
"It makes me feel very good."
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