Yoga & SCI
After a spinal cord injury, you may feel out of sync or disconnected from your body. Yoga & Mindfulness promotes mind-body awareness and self-acceptance, which makes it ideal for patients who are struggling to cope with spinal cord injury.
How yoga uses deep breathing, meditation, and physical postures to enhance spinal cord injury rehabilitation.
Deep breathing contributes to the rehabilitation after spinal cord injury through several mechanisms, including increasing oxygen intake. This is important because oxygen in the blood is essential for fueling any activity that occurs in the body. When the blood is fully oxygenated, the body is more efficient and absorbs essential nutrients more quickly.
Taking short, quick breaths can trigger your body’s stress response. In contrast, deep, steady breaths will activate your body’s relaxation response, which is responsible for:
lowering blood pressure
increasing metabolic rate for better digestion
stabilizes heart rate
increasing endorphin levels in the brain to reduce pain and increase energy
As a result, deep breathing can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress after a spinal cord injury.
Deep breathing techniques can also help patients with respiratory problems after SCI. Higher-level spinal cord injuries cause limitations in crucial respiratory muscles like the diaphragm, intercostal muscles, and abdominals. Practicing deep breathing exercises can help strengthen them and expand your lung capacity to breathe in more oxygen.
Meditation is another important component of yoga for spinal cord injury patients is the practice of meditation.
Meditation is a mental component of yoga that focuses on strengthening the mind and enhancing ownership of the body. Individuals with severe spinal cord injuries may not be able to perform the various yoga positions, but they can practice meditation to improve their mental health.
It can be common to feel overwhelmed by lifestyle changes after SCI. Meditation can improve this by helping you to organize your thoughts and prioritize your recovery goals.
Guided yoga meditations emphasize:
Respect for all living things
Recognizing the blessings in everyday life
Purity of the mind, body, and speech
Non-possessiveness and detachment from your “image”
Acceptance and embracing the present
By continuously meditating on these values, patients may find it easier to let go of the past and focus on their spinal cord rehabilitation. In fact, individuals who meditate regularly report improved feelings of belonging, sense of purpose, connectedness, and self-acceptance.
Yoga involves moving the body in various postures that can help lengthen tight muscles, improve the range of motion in the joints, and build strength.
The goal of spinal cord injury recovery is to reteach your spinal cord, brain, and muscles how to work in sync again by consistently moving weakened areas of the body.
The postures practiced in yoga provide opportunities to repetitively move the trunk and limbs in a variety of ways. This helps prevent stiffness and stimulates the spinal cord. Likewise, consistent stretching and movement will help decrease the excitability of hyperactive muscles, which can help reduce the occurrence of spasms and pain.
Some may worry about not being able to do the poses or hurting themselves, especially if they’ve suffered a spinal cord injury. However, many yoga poses can be modified to be safe and effective for most individuals during their recovery. Because the outcomes of each spinal cord injury are different, it’s essential to work with an instructor that can guide you through the exercises and suggest safe modifications for your specific abilities.
Often, poses will be modified so that they can be performed while seated in your wheelchair.
Benefits of Yoga & Mindfulness for spinal cord injury patients include:
Improved mental health
Improved flexibility and range of motion
Increased metabolic rate
Improved standing balance
Improved respiratory function
Greater body awareness
Improved sleep quality
After a spinal cord injury, you may feel like you’re in a completely different body.
Yoga can help you learn self-acceptance, cultivate mind-body awareness, and prioritize self-care.
Yoga is a safe and supportive mind-body practice that may simultaneously attenuate some of the negative psychological impacts of SCI, while also bolstering inner resources.
In a recent study, researchers found that individuals with a spinal cord injury who began practicing yoga had some emotional and mental improvements. For example, they reported fewer incidents of depression as well as more self-compassion and mindfulness. Participants in this study saw these positive changes after only 6 weeks of twice-weekly yoga sessions.
If you’ve been having difficulties coping after a spinal cord injury, consider practicing yoga. It’s relatively low-risk, and its emotional, psychological, and physical benefits make it worth trying.
I am so happy I came across Rodrigo’s Instagram page. I was scrolling on Instagram and saw this guy in a wheelchair like me and he was holding his footrest with one hand while the other hand was above his head reaching gracefully for the sun. I thought man I wanna be able to do that. I looked at his page and read he taught yoga and that he wanted to teach yoga to people with disabilities like me. I signed up for an introduction one-on-one class over zoom, and I was hooked.
I have been working with Rodrigo for a few months now and I already notice major improvements in my health and well-being. My breathing has improved greatly. My injury damaged my lungs and I was on a ventilator. I had to relearn how to breathe and I’ve never fully recovered. In my yoga practice with Rodrigo, we work on synchronizing each movement with a breath. It’s very difficult but it’s so rewarding. I can actually relax when I exhale now for probably the first time since my accident 25 years ago.
I’ve noticed changes in my core strength and posture. The range of motion in my arms through my chest has improved. My yoga practice has also given me the confidence I was lacking. Mainly though I just love doing it. I enjoy my zoom sessions and look forward to them each week. How lucky can you be to spend a morning in gratitude practicing yoga with a guy on the other side of the globe.
Rodrigo knows his stuff. I trust him. He knows what it’s like to have a spinal cord injury so I know I’m in safe hands. He is considerate and patient with me, and he takes the time to learn about me. I wish everyone who has a disability could practice with Rodrigo.
David Corbin, C5-6 quadriplegic from Rochester, New York.