Chair Yoga for Special Adults

An interview with Jodie, advanced special yoga practitioner and teacher trainer. Founder of Remedi Yoga in Ruislip, SW london.

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Maria: Welcome everybody on the chair. Yoga podcast in today’s live we are talking to Jodie from remedy yoga therapy, London. She’s a senior special yoga practitioner. And that is where I initially met Jodie in my special yoga for special adults training. She was presenting mental illness amongst those with special needs. Currently Jodie is working with people with learning disabilities, autism, elderly, and those who may be more isolated within the society, particularly attending to mental and emotional health and does chair yoga within those groups. So welcome Jodie is really lovely to have you here. Tell us a little bit about you, so that our audience can know more about what you do and what brought you into this space.

Jodie: Hi. Nice to connect with you again on here. It’s so hot. I think my brain is melting as well, so I dunno what words will end up coming up my mouth.
Um, so yeah, I, I took a career shift must be about 10 years ago and wanted to work in the space of working with people with special and additional needs, really. But at the same time, I always had my own practice of yoga since age of around sort of 14, since my teen. And to bring the two together was like a dream and through finding the organization Special Yoga I was able to bring those two things together.
So I have spent the last 10 years training to be a yoga therapist, but also with special yoga learning, all the tools and methodology to work with these special adults. And at the same time, working and managing an adult day service where I live. So the two have run alongside each other and then keep meeting.

Maria: It’s perfect. And I really love what special yoga does within the community of special adults and special children and all the work that Jyoti and Karuna and Richard do as well. Tell me three things that you learned from your work with the special adults, either within special yoga as a trainer almost or within your own work with those populations.

Jodie: I think the two work areas really compliment each other. I think the first thing is that these guys these people, they teach us more than anything. And I think most yoga teachers generally would say that about their students. That’s where you learn the most when you are on the floor teaching and sharing. I would say that the beauty of yoga really goes beyond any physical ability, any mental or emotional ability. It consumes a far greater space than. So there aren’t really any boundaries. There’s only the boundaries in your mind or what you expect everything else is possible. And the guys have really just taught me what humility is. Being honest cause this, these group of people that we’re discussing really show you how it is. They will not be scared necessarily to tell you that and will be a good mirror for reflecting back in you where areas you need to work on yourself. In a very beautiful, often a very funny, hilarious way is never a dull moment ever.

Maria: There is a childlike quality to some of the things I have seen within those populations. But at the same time, this honesty, the no filter, is a nice clean mirror because they can see right through you. So I agree entirely with you.

Jodie: Yeah, absolutely. We talk a lot in the trainings how our state matters and where we have to be. But like you were what you were saying a moment ago that sort of childlike no filter it. it then gives you such great opportunity to access and share yoga from that place and that is actually where the depth of the yoga practice is. It’s not in your range of motion or your technical skills or being upside down on your head. The depth of yoga is in your heart and that’s where we’re working from with people. Beyond the labels, beyond our restrictions we put on our society puts on disabling someone.

Maria: I don’t think it is a disability. It’s different abled. I read an article recently where a person with different abilities was saying that she doesn’t mind being called disabled, but at the same time she believes that it isn’t her disability that makes her that it’s society that takes that label and attaches it. Because of society’s disability to accommodate the needs of those special people, different-abled people. I really resonated with that because as you already know, probably I am chronically ill. I live with systemic lupus and I can see that society does not conform to the ups and downs of any chronic disease, to be honest it doesn’t seem to accommodate the needs of those who have additional needs and we have to make the space for that. I think, as yoga teachers and meet them where they are. So, yes, I agree entirely with you. In your work with those populations, can you share approaches that have been beneficial in the populations that you teach and in the practices that you do with them?

Jodie: Yeah, there are many, but I think the one that came to mind, first of all, when you said that was letting go of what you think a yoga sessions should look like. Letting go of expectations, not only that you have of your students, but of what you have on yourself and really let the people in front of you guide you through that class.
It’s not about doing a certain number of postures and it’s really about, I suppose, this goes into a bit of a next point. That less is more. Often. People that come on, these courses, especially feel they need to get this done, this, done, this, done this done. And then that’s a class, that’s the session. But you might end up only doing a couple of postures in a session. What I was saying before, the depth of the yoga practice, isn’t in the range of motion movement. It isn’t in the range of the postures that you teach. It’s in that depth and that connection that you have with someone and offering that space for them to reach their potential in whichever way. it looks like and feels like for them . And then again, what I said before about really connecting with the person in front of you or the people in front of you and not to underestimate the value of that connection. Not to underestimate if you’re working in the group, especially the value of just people sat together. On chairs together, that social interaction is so valuable, so valuable for our nervous systems, for our learning, for our sense of safety, which are really cool things. And often in this population they can feel far more isolated, far less connected with their bodies. Or have less ways of processing and expressing emotions or mental thoughts, which it can be very easy to take that for granted. I can go into a therapy room and splurt out whatever is going on for me. But you might not have that ability.
You might have other ways of communicating. And seeing yoga as that kind of way of communicating through the body through subtle awareness and movement creates a very special space. I think.

Maria: I agree. One of the last trainings that I did was about yoga for dementia and love move, which was chair based exercise for people with dementia. And we were talking about inclusion and how inclusion is an actual socio psychological need that. It is actually built in our nervous system. Making somebody feel included through connection, eye contact, knowing their name, asking about them and all those things that come with connecting with someone, not just words, but our energy as well, makes them feel calm and safe and comfortable. And comfort in itself has got connotations of survival, which are built in our innate nervous system, which I didn’t know about who I was sitting there, reading psychology books about it. And it makes perfect sense, but it is also scientifically proven to do that. So this is amazing to hear. What do you think is the role of the chair yoga beyond creating this connection and community that you talked about and creating that space for them to be.

Jodie: I think from my experience teaching the sort of the chair classes that I do, um, I teach at the moment a chair class for carers. Who is sort of tend to be a more elderly group that’s who’s showing up at the moment and a group for people mild learning disabilities are a bit more able, or again, people are more socially isolated.
What I see a lot is a development of their own confidence. Is quite profound, quite significant. People come in with a lot of apprehension. A lot of doubt. Often some people will just sit away from the class and just watch for a few weeks. Cause they don’t think they can do it. Or I’m not doing this right or this is gonna hurt. They have this preempt of pain’s gonna happen. But I think bringing this very mundane household object in of the chair, Blocking it in the room. It offers you that familiarity straight away as an object it’s secure for them to sit on, so they feel stable. So there’s no thinking of getting up and down off the floor or it gives a bit of a boundary in itself to feel a bit safer. And from that chair, they can move into whatever position, whatever options you’re giving them. I suppose that’s the other thing, giving people plenty of options. If you’re a teacher and working from the sort of the general baseline first, they’re not going straight to the most sort of challenging position. But yeah, seeing their confidence grow from week on, week on. When they might not have attempted one move before and then they’re like, oh look, Jo, do they? I’m putting my arm there. Look, oh, now I can see my hand there.

Maria: Was a discussion I was having last week with Kate, uh, who was working with someone who was older and she couldn’t do, uh, her necklace behind her neck. And these are things that we do not think that we have to do or reach up or down because it’s natural. We just do them. Have you found, because I have, I’m just asking if you have seen it also, that the people that come to the classes sometimes move on to do more active things after they have attended a few chair, yoga classes. Have you seen that in your audience?

Jodie: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the practices I teach within the chair class are often more designed for helping you with daily life and living. So we do practices of getting in and out of the chair or practices with balancing, almost doing that step walking, balancing. And this woman was like, “you’ve changed my life! My whole life”, because she could now get up in and out of her chair, which she does 50 times a day. And yeah, I’ve seen people then this particular class I teach on a Friday, they have other classes throughout the day and now these people, they stay on for those. They stay on to be in that community of people that have joined.

Maria: You opened the door for them it’s amazing, and it’s nice to see. We started with Ms. Society five years ago. I knew at least three of the students that were not attending any of the exercises or any of the classes that were going on in the community center then, and then they started going to the yoga, of course, then exercise.
Then they decided that they should do techno gym or whatever else was happening in the community center. And sometimes I think it’s just holding space to remove those mindset limitations that people have about what they should and should not be doing. Cause there is some sort of prejudice almost in the community maybe, or they think there is. And we, with our presence can remove that. Can address that mindset in a gentler way and remove the barriers.

Jodie: It’s a lot, a lot to cover on this subject.

Maria: It is a lot to cover and there is shared experience in this, and I find it incredibly comforting, just amazing. So what do you think is the biggest takeaway from the discussion that we have just had.

Jodie: I think it’s just been really nice to reflect back with you that there’s similar experiences, which just tells me it is not me on my own, having a fluke reaction or with the people I work with. These are really cool, fundamental practices that have an impact on people’s lives, which should not be underestimated .