Have you been thinking about trying yoga as an amputee? Yoga is now practiced by nearly 36 million people in the United States. With over 2 million amputees in the U.S. alone, there is much opportunity to add yoga to your health and wellness routine.
You don’t have to be an athlete to practice yoga. In fact, you don’t even have to have limbs! All you need is you, your breath, and curiosity to receive its benefits.
Yoga is thousands of years old, and yet it is a timeless approach to wellness. It incorporates stretches, breathing techniques
and specific poses to strengthen, balance and revive suppleness and health in the body, as well as activities to reduce your stress, relax your mind, heal your pain and increase your vitality. Yoga helps you restore your sense of you after limb loss by integrating tools to clear the mind of unhealthy thought patterns, build a compassionate relationship with yourself and reclaim your true essence.
A typical yoga practice involves centering, tuning in to your inner world, with meditation and breathing that aligns the mind and body together. After centering, the practice continues with deep, abdominal breathing that increases circulation and respiratory function while also invigorating and energizing the body and the mind. From breathing, we move into warm-ups to prepare the body for
the movements and poses to follow. Then come the poses. Each pose has a purpose, from learning how to balance on one leg in Tree pose, for example, to bending forward in Standing Forward Bend to release tight hamstrings and relax the central nervous system. Every yoga session ends with relaxation, a time to absorb what you have practiced. What I find most special about yoga is its attention to the sacredness of every moment, a reminder that we are all part of something bigger and more beautiful than we could ever imagine.
Yoga can be practiced at home, a fitness center or a yoga studio. Many amputees prefer to take some private yoga online or in person with a yoga professional before attending a group class, in order to feel safer and more confident about yoga for their type of amputation and prosthesis. When practicing at home, there are many options: yoga books, downloads and online videos are great resources. In a studio, it is better for amputees to learn from an experienced yoga teacher, especially someone who is knowledgeable about adaptive yoga.
Some amputees wear their prosthesis the entire time. Some take it on and off, while some wear no prosthesis at all, using crutches or a wheelchair instead. Many amputees wear non-skid shoes, like sneakers, for stabilization.
While some amputees enjoy hot or vinyasa (flow) yoga, I recommend taking a room temperature class that is hatha yoga-based. Hot yoga can damage prostheses, make yoga mats slippery and increase bacteria on the residual limb. Vinyasa yoga is very fast-paced, making good alignment and body awareness harder to maintain for amputees. Amputees do best when they have access to yoga props like a wall, a folding chair, yoga blocks, yoga straps, bolsters and a folded blanket.
Traditionally, yoga was done before sunrise as a form of prayer that set the tone for the entire day. Additionally, the best times for yoga can relate to your body type. Lighter, skinnier bodies do better with a yoga practice between 6-10am/pm. Muscular bodies do best between 10-2am/pm, while more fleshy bodies do best between 2-6am/pm.
Warm Up: Exhale. Round your spine, chin dipping to your chest.
Yoga is often represented as a form of exercise to lose weight, gain balance and build muscle. While those are nice side benefits, yoga, at its heart, is a therapeutic medicine, designed to heal the body, mind and spirit at the deepest levels. Yoga’s main component is the breath, and its positive effects are far-reaching. Good breathing not only soothes the cells of the body, it also stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which regulates our ability to cope with stress. It restores harmony in our organs, stretches our muscles to reduce tension and increases our mental capacities. The more relaxed our brain and body are, the better able we are to adapt to change – quite useful for amputees!
Yoga’s focus on mindful action, taking the time to be present in each moment, has been found to reduce pain (essential for amputees struggling with phantom pain) and increase creative adaptability. Yoga positively affects the deepest tissues of the body, healing us
from the inside out. Finally, yoga offers us, as amputees, a chance to embrace the wholeness of our bodies, the beauty of our relentless spirits and the power of our determined minds. For me, personally, as a cancer survivor, amputee, and kidney transplant recipient, yoga has saved me many times since my amputation in 1976.
Try this short yoga routine:
1. Check in. How are you feeling in mind, body and spirit?
2. Sit comfortably.
3. Breathe. Inhale. Lengthen your spine. Exhale. Relax. Do this three times.
4. Warm Up. Inhale. Exhale. Twist your navel to the right. Allow the head to follow. Repeat to the left. Inhale and arch your chest forward. Exhale, round your spine, chin dipping to your chest.
5. Mountain Pose.
(A) Imagine that your inner body, from your hips to the crown of your head, is a mountain. Inhale. Lengthen your
spine. (B) Exhale as you relax your outer body over this “inner mountain.” Inhale and exhale three times.
(C) Focus your eyes on a spot 8-10 feet in front of you. Stay in the moment.
6. Relax. Close your eyes. Loosen your body and let go a little bit.
7. Open your eyes. Do another check-in. How do you feel now in mind, body and spirit?
Congratulations. You have just practiced yoga!