My cerebral palsy is considered mild. However, that’s not how it feels to me! I have had such severe tightness in my hips and legs at times that I could not get up from a soft couch without assistance. My balance and posture are so poor I struggle to walk down a flight of stairs. Flexibility is non-existent. Pain is constant.
Over the years, I’ve tried various methodologies to improve my strength, balance and to relieve pain. Recently I’ve found a wonderful fitness routine that addresses many physical issues commonly found in people with cerebral palsy.
I’m talking about yoga. Specifically, Bikram yoga.
You might be thinking. Yoga? Come on, John, isn’t yoga just a bunch of people chanting in a circle while standing on their heads?
Oh, no, my friends. It’s a workout. A serious, 90-minute workout. As the Bikram Yoga of Tucson website www.bikramyogatucson.com states, “The series consists of 26 postures (asanas) and two breathing exercises, performed in a given order in a heated room. This series is designed to benefit every muscle, tendon, joint, ligament, organ, gland and cell in your body. It will detoxify you and improve the functioning of all bodily systems.”
Sounds intimidating but it’s not. Attendees bring a towel to spread out on the floor and a bottle of water for hydration. An instructor, located at the front of the room, calmly leads the class through a standing series of movements (postures), followed by a series conducted where your body is on the floor. Each posture is done in a given order and each exercise is done twice.
In Bikram yoga, they don’t start out by doing wild movements that are going to hurt your body. Each posture leads into the next. It’s a slow, steady progression. The stated benefits of doing Bikram are something that anyone with cerebral palsy would love to experience:
“…improves elasticity of the spine.”
“…good for hip and back pain.”
“…excellent for posture and balance.”
As someone with CP, I find the standing series to be the most challenging because those postures focus primarily on balance, posture and core strength – my body’s challenge areas. Because of weak leg muscles, it’s very hard for me to even stand with one foot off the ground. I have to use the balance bar in the back of the room for a bit of support for a few of the 26 postures, but that’s okay. I learned that the only expectation is that you do your best. There’s no place to get to, no competition with others. I’m not pressured into forcing my body to do something it cannot do. Diane Faircloth, the owner of Tucson studio where I practice says it best when she states, “Bikram yoga is about healing, not curing. It’s about coming to terms with the body you have and moving forward each day.” I like that.
Bikram yoga is different from other styles because of the heat. The studio is heated to 105 degrees. I am not kidding. It does take some getting used to, but to be honest, I really enjoy the fact that it’s hot inside the room. It allows for a safer, deeper stretch than someone who is practicing yoga in a cold, air-conditioned health club.
I also like the fact that there are no machines, rubber tubes or balance balls. Yoga uses one’s own body to heal itself. I feel the results of my efforts immediately. Unlike working out at the gym, where I always felt out of place, nobody laughs when I cannot do something. The instructors are very supportive and encouraging.
I’ve been taking Bikram yoga classes for 90 days now and the results have been fairly remarkable. My balance has improved to the point where I can step off a curb without fearing a fall. I’m more aligned when I stand and sit, since Bikram yoga has improved my posture by elongating my spine. Overall, my body is stronger and flexibility has returned to my hips. I can now reach down and touch my toes without pain. I can get in and out of a car with more ease, possibly a little grace even! Sure, my former routine at the gym did improve my strength, but the flexibility I’ve achieved with yoga is amazing. I still cannot do all the postures perfectly, but as the instructors constantly remind the class, you don’t try and do Bikram yoga, you practice it. I walk out of each class knowing that I accomplished something. It’s a great feeling.
Is Bikram for everyone? No, of course not. But, as someone with cerebral palsy, I find Bikram yoga to be exactly the type of exercise I need to help combat the challenges of everyday living.
John W. Quinn, RFTS Executive Board Member
Motivational Speaker and Author
Someone Like Me – An Unlikely Story of Challenge and Triumph Over Cerebral Palsy
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