Every Tuesday morning I take the 22 bus to Heaton Moor where I visit a large Victorian house that is the home of the Stockport Cerebral Palsy Centre. For the last few years I have been teaching a weekly one-hour yoga class to a group of about 13 men and women, of various ages, who have Cerebral Palsy, or other forms of disability. We form a small circle, with most students sitting in their wheelchairs. I light some incense, play some relaxing music and over the next hour we explore gentle movement in our bodies, trying to find a sense of space and relaxation in our experience. One of the effects of Cerebral Palsy is that muscles can become tight and constricted, so any opportunity to help relax tense muscles, strengthen muscles and keep joints flexible can be a huge help.
We explore a number of modified postures including seated sun salutes, where we make the opening movement of Surya Namaskar with our arms while we sing “Sun” together, imagining the warm rays of the sun entering our hearts. Chanting and voice work is also a important part of our time together – with fists banging on our chest we let out our Tarzan call followed by a journey into the depths of the jungle where we meet the King of the animals, the Lion. We then practise Simhasana (Lion pose) sticking out our tongues and letting out our lion’s roar which can leave staff and students smiling and laughing.
Brian, who is a very committed student and has been coming to the class for several years now, has a tendency to fall asleep. So Brian and myself have this playful exchange where he falls asleep (when he thinks nobody is looking) and I call out saying “Brian are you still with us?”. Having been caught out he often opens his eyes and looks at me with a wry smile on his face. Brian will never practise downward-facing dog, or a lot of the traditional postures we may be familiar with, but in modified forms he and the other students explore movement that is avalible to them in their body.
As I ring my cymbals to mark the end of the class and the students come out of Savasana (Corse pose), a strong sense of relaxation often fills the room. My weekly visits to the Cerebral Palsy centre remind me again and again that yoga is adaptable, and can be modified to suit every person’s body type, health or age.
“It’s also helpful to realize that this very body that we have, that’s sitting right here right now… with its aches and it pleasures… is exactly what we need to be fully human, fully awake, fully alive.”