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Adaptive Yoga is a Tool For Building Resilience

Sep 17, 2019 ● By Allison Mitch
by Allison Mitch

The examined health benefits of yoga are vast, from stress reduction and reduced fatigue to improved posture, balance, strength and joint health. More than 5,000 research articles have been published examining yoga in some way: yoga in general, healthy populations, yoga by specific populations (such as yoga and veterans and yoga and inmates) and yoga for alleviating specific diseases, conditions and symptoms, such as multiple sclerosis and cancer.

        Yoga’s efficacy is in part related to the relaxation response (lowered blood pressure and heart rate), interoception and proprioception (awareness of inner states and where we are in space), as well as mindfulness practices of nonjudgement and nonreactivity. These responses can change our relationship to external and internal stressors and create a sense of well-being, social connection and resilience.

        Resilience is the ability of a person, physically, mentally and/or spiritually to adapt to and accommodate stressors and challenging situations. Yoga can build resilience by helping an individual become aware of and relate to their environment and selves in new ways, such as improved self-regulation, improved social connection and pro-social behaviors, reappraisal of a situation  and improved self-compassion.

        Diana Carranza, age 37, from Streamwood, who utilizes yoga as a complementary and integrative healing modality, says, “When at the tender age of 29, I suffered a stroke, along with my mobility, I lost that playful essence present in any young lady. Through yoga and its poses, the life energy in me is moving once again and slowly I’m remembering what that lively essence felt like. Yoga has become for me such an integral component in my healing.”

        It is noteworthy that complementary health practices, yoga in particular, are known to be used at higher rates by individuals with chronic disease and differing abilities. Studies show that not only do individuals receive the general benefits of yoga, but for persons with chronic disease or ability challenges, yoga can create a sense of empowerment (and by extension, resilience), in part by providing them with tools of self-care.

        However, accessibility to an accommodating yoga class or a skilled teacher is challenging, and can be viewed as a social justice issue. This is where adaptive or therapeutic yoga can assist individuals with specific needs. Adaptive yoga is designed to adjust to the needs of the participants, whether that is providing yoga from a hospital bed or wheelchair or adjusting postures to accommodate people of larger body size, empowering all bodies, creating resilient people and improving health and well-being.

        Anneke Bender, a physical therapist and adaptive yoga instructor at the Shepherd Center, in Atlanta (, says, “In a very real sense, those of us who practice yoga all practice adapted yoga. We are all applying yogic principles to our personal mind/body situation with the intention of cultivating something—greater awareness and presence, ease in our bodies, whatever it may be—and we modify asanas based on our current physical capacity. There is nothing special about accommodating a unique physical or mental issue other than the creativity it requires. Those dealing with disability will require greater awareness of safety, specificity of prop placement, cueing, etc., but the subtle experience of any yoga pose can be found in any body.”

        And the benefits and resilience of yoga, subtle or not, specifically adaptive or not, can be found in any body, as well.

Dr. Allison Mitch, DPT, is a physical therapist and healing arts practitioner of yoga and reiki, part-time professor and faculty member of The Resiliency Institute. She sees clients individually for adaptive yoga, offers adaptive yoga group classes through NextSteps, teaches outdoor yoga classes and facilitates Wild Woman Project Circles for the Institute. For more information, visit See ad at

Adaptive Yoga Resources

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