Downward dog for all

Adaptive yoga, wheelchair yoga, exercise

For many people (especially for wheelchair users), it may seem impossible to access and enjoy the many benefits of yoga.

This is because modern society portrays yoga as the ability to twist your body into challenging positions, which most people could never dream of doing. As Matthew Sanford, founder of the non-profit organisation (NGO) Mind Body Solutions, says: “The principles of yoga do not discriminate. Yoga poses do.”

Adaptive yoga (also known as wheelchair yoga) is an approach that teaches universal principles inherent to yoga poses that are accessible to all students – regardless of their level of ability.

Yoga is actually less about the poses themselves and more about the breathing, connection and meditative aspects of the practice. It should emphasise the mind-body connection rather than the final physical result. With this principle in mind, yoga can be customised for every individual to suit their needs and limitations. Unfortunately, traditional yoga classes may not always cater for these unique requirements.

Adaptive yoga, wheelchair yoga, exercise

Dale Guthrie, an occupational therapist who is passionate about neurological and spinal cord-injury rehabilitation, aims to make yoga accessible to everyone in South Africa – no matter what their level of mobility. She hopes to ease physical impairments, enhance functional ability, facilitate community participation and ultimately boost the quality of life of people with a disability.

She developed this idea when she travelled through India to gain a deeper understanding of yoga philosophy. Upon her return, she knew that her medical background gave her an extra dimension, and realised that she could develop yoga into something that could enhance the lives of individuals with neurological injury.

Dale travelled to Minnesota in 2017 to train with Sanford himself, and afterwards brought his technique back to South Africa, founding Holism Health, an adaptive yoga studio in Blairgowrie, Randburg, Gauteng. She is currently offering private adaptive yoga sessions for persons with disability, and is planning to run small adaptive yoga groups to reduce costs and to provide services to a greater number of people.

Adaptive yoga, wheelchair yoga, exercise

Yoga has many practical benefits, including increased strength, flexibility and balance; better posture; a decrease in pain; increased self-confidence; a stronger mind-body connection; better stress management; improved mood; and a deepened sense of connection with others.

Any person with an injury or physical disability (walking with/without assistance or using a wheelchair) who would like to take up yoga as part of their health regime (complementary health) or as a recreational activity can participate. It is designed to help individuals dealing with conditions such as spinal cord injury, stroke or brain injury, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

This list is not exhaustive. If you are interested in learning more about adaptive yoga, please contact Dale Guthrie at or 084 222 1192.

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