Gelli Fach

Gelli Fach

I'm a cell, I'm fragmented, I change my form;
I'm a repository of song, I'm a dynamic state.
I love a wooded slope and a snug shelter,
and a creative poet who doesn't buy his advancement.

Wyf kell, wyf dellt, wyf datweirllet;
wyf llogell kerd, wyf lle ynnyet.
Karaf-y gorwyd a goreil clyt,
a bard a bryt ny pryn y ret.

From: Legendary Poems from the Book of Taliesin, edited and translated by Marged Haycock

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Yoga for Disabled People

It was International Yoga Day about 2 weeks ago - so as usual I am writing a related post belatedly! But better late than never. I wanted to talk here about yoga for disabled people since I have been discovering the benefits of it. If you are not disabled yourself, please pass this on to anyone you think might benefit (including people bound to a office chair for most of the day!). Of course, this comes with the proviso that not all exercises are suitable for all people so please consult your yoga practitioner or health-care expert. For instance, I suspect that the twists and half-twists aren't good for my spine which is curved and now has arthritis so I am not doing these until I have consulted my osteopath later this month. I tend to go ahead with what feels right to me and ask her if I'm not sure but diving in isn't the right course for all kinds of disability or indeed everyone.

Some time ago I found a book in a charity shop called Yoga for the Disabled by Howard Kent. The book is out of print but there are a few second-hand copies available on-line. Reading the first few chapters I was inspired by what the author was saying. Basically, as it says in the Upanishads, "Breath is life and life is breath". So, as Howard Kent states: "If we are to seek to combat our difficulties, whether they be mental or physical - and, in fact, all difficulties are ultimately a combination of these factors - we must begin with the breath". Natural respiration provides the whole basis of the body's energy. "It balances oxygen and carbon dioxide, it ensures the effective combustion of oxygen with the food we eat to make the energy forms of proteins and other essential substances. It also controls the varied electrical impulses which are basic to the whole of our life and these monitor the functioning of all aspects of the body." If we are alive we breathe, even if we are disabled, and so by focusing on 'right' breathing, we can enhance our health.

This made sense to me - and I also had the intuition that the fire I was lacking, which I talked about HERE, might be encouraged and fed by focusing on my breathing.

Nevertheless, although inspired and 'getting' the message I found myself putting off the practice. The exercises he advocates are mainly done on the floor (some are suitable for people in wheelchairs however) and I have difficulty getting up and down from the floor. Then again there is the question of where there is a suitable bit of floor, big enough and not too draughty or dusty. I let these things put me off starting... until just after Imbolc or Brigit's Day this year when I began to feel a renewal after a year of being unwell and having to reorientate myself not so much from my direction in life as the way I was moving along it. I suddenly began to feel the urge to spend more time in practice rather than in my mind, and physical practice through yoga felt like an important part of this. For my birthday a few days later, a good friend sent me a book called Chair Yoga: Seated Exercises for Health and Wellbeing by Edeltraud Rohnfeld  (there is also a DVD I've just discovered). She'd ordered it unseen and wasn't sure how useful it would be but it is excellent and I was able to take to it easily.

So for 5 months I have been doing the exercises in it each morning, along with elements of my spiritual practice. I have occasionally missed a morning or two when very tired or rushing out without having left enough time but it has become a habit now. At first I was eager to do it each morning, then after a few weeks I found it was becoming a bit of a chore. Examining why I realised it was because I was finding some of the exercises rather hard work. I have a belief in hard work - which isn't very good for me -  but decided that if they were stopping me from doing any yoga perhaps I should cut down on the number of times I did those particular ones rather than not do any. So that is what I did and it has worked well. Some mornings I even do more of those particular ones.

There are exercises for all parts of the body including the finger and toes and eyes... if you can move any part of your body there will be an exercise for it - and if you can't, you can breathe. Focus on what you can rather than what you can't.

I had a sense that it would be good not to leave out my paralysed leg. There are one or two muscles in it that I can twitch slightly - though often not enough to be visible to the naked eye. So I have twitched those and made any tiny movements I can. I'm not sure if the twitches and movements are becoming any stronger, I think they are, though marginally so, but I am more in touch with my leg and find myself  'twitching' sometimes when sitting at my desk - like now. Any improvement in muscle tone will be beneficial in terms of blood circulation which will then benefit my general circulation. At any rate, from my state after Christmas when I could hardly stand because of pain in my un-paralysed foot, I'm now pain-free except when I really overdo it and get a reminder from my foot: "Think of me! I've been doing most of the work for 63 years, give me a rest and a massage." So I do. "Think with your body" the Buddha says.

Perhaps the most delightful change is that doing the yoga along with the time set aside for prayers and liturgy, affirmations and orientation for the day is bringing my awareness of self into that of body/mind/spirit instead of being mainly in my head and ignoring my body as too problematic. One of the things that contributes to this is that in everyday life my movements on crutches are difficult and ungainly whereas my yoga movements are full of grace, calm and a quiet intention. They feel more like an expression of my inner self.

This YouTube video gives you a taste of it:

Finally, to quote the Buddha again: Set your heart in one place and nothing is impossible to you.

Recommended Books

Yoga For The Disabled: A Practical Self-Help Guide to a Happier Life by Howard Kent, Sunrise Publications, 1996

Chair Yoga: Seated Exercises for Health and Wellbeing by Edeltraud Rohnfeld, Singing Dragon, 2012


There are quite a few videos on YouTube - search for Yoga for Disabled People. In particular I'd recommend Matthew Sanford who appears in the video at the head of this post. Search under his name or for his website:

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