Adaptive Yoga

"The Principles of Yoga do not discriminate. Yoga poses do!"

- Matthew Sanford, founder of the non-profit organisation Mind Body Solutions

Adaptive yoga (also known as wheelchair yoga, universal yoga or yoga for non-traditional students) is an approach that teaches universal principles inherent to yoga poses that are accessible to all students, regardless of their level of ability. However, for many people, gaining the many benefits of yoga may seem impossible. This is because modern society portrays yoga as the ability to twist your body into challenging position that most people never dream of achieving.  Like Matthew Sanford states, yoga is less about the poses themselves and more about the breath, connection and meditative aspects of the practice. Yoga should emphasise the mind-body connection rather than the final physical product. Keeping this in mind, yoga can be customised for every individual to suit their needs and limitations. 

Dale Guthrie, an Occupational Therapist (MSc: Neurosciences) passionate about neurological and spinal cord injury rehabilitation, aims to make yoga accessible to all people, despite (dis)ability, in South Africa (SA). In this way, she hopes to improve physical impairments, enhance functional ability, facilitate community participation and ultimately increase the quality of life of persons living with disability. She conceptualised this idea when traveling through India, on a journey of gaining a deeper understanding of yoga philosophy and her own personal practice. Upon return, Dale knew that her medical background gave her the edge to take yoga further than the asana (physical practice) and change the lives of those living with neurological injury. She traveled to Minnesota in April 2017 to train with Matthew Sanford himself and bring his approach of adaptive yoga back to SA. 

The five foundational principles of adapted yoga

  1. Let your breath find its rhythm

  2. There is nothing wrong with passive movement

  3. Poses need not look a particular way on the outer body - You CAN pose from your chair

  4. Prana (divine energy) flows up the spine (Shushmna Nadi)

  5. Understand and accept your limits

Mrs cHilds (A TBI survivor who lives with Left sided hemiparesis) improved postural awareness & alignment - bEfore and after

Mrs cHilds (A TBI survivor who lives with Left sided hemiparesis) improved postural awareness & alignment - bEfore and after

Some of the practical benefits of practicing yoga:

  • Increase strength, flexibility and balance - both mental and physical

  • Improve posture and awareness of body in space

  • Decreased experience of pain

  • Increased self-confidence and self-esteem

  • Greater consciousness: a stronger mind-body connection

  • Enhanced stress management

  • Improved mood

  • Greater control of your emotions (become less reactive)

  • Greater capacity for breath

  • Deeper sense of connection with self and others

  • Opportunity for participation

Who can do adaptive yoga?

Any person living with an injury or physical disability (walking with/without assistance or using a wheelchair) who would like to start yoga as part of their health regime (complementary health) or as a recreational activity can do adaptive yoga. Students living with the following conditions/injuries will benefit from adaptive yoga:

  • Spinal cord injury - complete or incomplete; paraplegia or quadriplegia

  • Stroke or brain injury - hemiparesis

  • Cerebral Palsy

  • Down Syndrome

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Scoliosis

  • Guillain-barré syndrome

  • Multiple Sclerosis

  • Peripheral neuropathy

  • Epilepsy

Please note that this list is not exhaustive. If your condition is not listed above and you are interested in starting yoga - please contact Dale Guthrie 

About Matthew Sanford and Mind Body Solutions

Matthew Sanford is the pioneer of adaptive yoga and the founder of the non-profit organisation Mind Body Solutions (Minnesota, USA) where Dale Guthrie trained. Since becoming paralysed at the age of 13 years (30 years ago), Matthew has been exploring the weird and wonderful connections between mind and body and has transformed the lives of many people living with disability. To learn move about Matthew Sanford read his award winning memoir, WAKING: A MEMOIR OF TRAUMA AND TRANSCENDENCE or visit Alternatively, watch the You Tube clip (right) or read up at