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Mind & Body Workouts

Reprinted from SNS November 2018

Wheelchair yoga and tia chi provide adaptive athletes with spiritual and physical benefits

While dedicated wheelchair athletes are demonstrating their grit with myriad high-impact sports, studies show low-impact, mind-body training such as tai chi and yoga provide benefits to high-performance athletes and everyday people alike.

“The most core fundamental of yoga applies across the board, and that is breathing. Controlling breath can control your whole body functionality,” says Matthew Castelluccio, community relations specialist and patient-mentor coordinator at Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y. “As an SCI [spinal-cord injury] survivor, I recognize the importance of throwing a lot of different techniques and styles of movement at your body to get the most out of your recovery. Yoga is a great approach.”

Balanced Exercises

In the West, ancient Eastern practices, including yoga and tai chi are often misunderstood. Experts say the practices offer balanced exercises that improve strength, flexibility, trunk control and increased cardiovascular health, all of which can ultimately lead to improved performance of daily activities, pain reduction and increased general wellness.

“We’ve found yoga increases strength and flexibility but also reduces anxiety and the constant daily pain if done daily or several times per week,” says Aleksandra Gebska, exercise physiologist and adaptive fitness class coordinator at Shirley Ryan Ability Lab in Chicago.

Yoga, which originated in India, focuses on maintaining static poses that develop strength and flexibility. Poses may vary in intensity from shavasana, the “corpse pose” of lying on one’s back, to vrischikasana, the “scorpion pose” that involves a forearm stand with the back arched and feet pointing to the wall or floor. Some practitioners focus on feeling the stretch, or even the burn, while others focus on mindful breathing, relaxation and balance.

“Yoga does not have to be standing on your head or making your body into pretzels. At the root and core of it, it’s about returning to our true nature of peace inside,” says Denver-based yoga therapist Sarah Adleman. “If you can breathe, you can do yoga. It meets you where you are.”

Tai chi, which originated in China, may be thought of as yoga in motion. Its practitioners focus on the taiji, or yin and yang, a constant balance.

“Tai chi is a slow movement, graceful and slow. When you do ballistic movements, like swimming, you use fast-twitch muscles. When you do tai chi, you use slow-twitch. You extend your arms like a cloud, extend fully from one side to another. When done properly for an hour at a time, that can be a lot of exercise. I’ve been practicing for more than 20 years, and I still feel it a lot,” says Yong Tai Wang, endowed professor and dean of the College of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Texas at Tyler.

Tai chi’s motions can be excruciatingly slow in today’s fast-paced world, but what the practice lacks in speed it makes up for in focus.

“It’s always balance. If you have an arm on top, you have the other on the bottom. If you move one forward, the other must move backward, all while working on diaphragmatic breathing that’s good for lung function, for the cardiovascular system as a whole as you take more oxygen into your entire body,” Wang says.


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Mind & Body Workouts


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