Exceptional yoga…

Recently I have had the amazing opportunity to teach yoga at The Exceptional Foundation as a volunteer. It started out as a mandatory volunteer project for grad school and turned into so much more. I have learned so much from these exceptional individuals! The purpose of my school project was to spend time with a person with exceptionalities and see beyond their disability and see the true person. I got to see these participants not only smile and laugh with their friends but I also got to see them do yoga and transcend their disability and show me their amazing abilities! The age range for this class is 18+.

EF yoga

Class format… I team-teach the yoga class with another yogi in my grad school class (Jonathan) and it has proven to be a great method for this class. This way we are able to walk around the class and give attention to all the participants. We came up with this basic class format and of course deviate from it when necessary but it gives us a format to follow when creating our classes.

  • Warm up & Calm down (warm the body, calm the mind)
  • Surya Namaskara – Sun Salutations (modified)
  • Asana – Introduction of a new pose
  • Pranayama – Breathing exercise

One of the most important things I learned as it relates to class format is to really take into account the participants with physical disabilities. We have a few in wheelchairs and some that have trouble moving from standing to seated. So the first modification we made to our class was to start standing and when we moved to the floor we stayed there for the remainder of class. We also focused on arm and trunk movements so these students could participate as much as possible.

The second modification we made was music. We thought that music might be distracting but during the first class where we used gentle background music we noticed the participants were much more calm and quiet.

A typical class might look something like this… (Jonathan named this one Movement & Balance)

  • Standing:
  • Welcome
  • Breath (3 part breath: belly, ribs, chest)
  • Head & neck rolls
  • Shoulder rolls
  • Back/spine/trunk rotations (circles)
  • Arm circles
  • Legs/knees (hands on knees making circles)
  • Movement: (use calming music) – intuitive movement/warm up (move around the room however you wish)
  • Mountain – reconnect with breath, rock back and forth on feet, connect with the earth
  • Forward fold sequence (reach up, fold half way down with knees bent, inhale and lengthen spine, exhale fold all the way down, scoop arms and inhale back to standing)
  • Bear twists
  • Introducing new pose: Warrior I & Warrior II (surfing in Warrior II)
  • Intro to balance: raise one foot at a time, knee to chest
  • Tree – meditation
  • Shake it out (shake legs and arms)
  • Forward fold sequence to floor
  • Seated:
  • Table
  • Cat/Cow
  • Elephant (spinal balance)
  • Down dog
  • Child’s pose
  • Lay on back – knees to chest/knee rolls
  • Savasana
  • Robin’s Breath (seated meditation)
  • Namaste (closing)

Pranayama… Breathing exercises. We thought that we would loose our participants interest if we ask them to simply sit and breathe so we researched fun exercise to keep their attention. However, we realized that although the breathing games were fun; they did wonderfully with simple visualizations. The aim of breathing exercises is to give them a tool calm themselves down when they feel overwhelmed. 

  • Robin’s Breath… (seated) Start with hands at heart center with a deep inhale; exhale, palms together in front (arms straight, bow head and gently arch upper back); inhale, arms wide; exhale, palms together (arms straight, bow head and gently arch upper back); inhale, hands to heart center. Repeat. 
  • Visualizations… Example: Close your eyes and inhale deeply, on the exhale imagine you’re blowing a toy sail boat across a river.

Thoughts… As the class continues I realize how much these exceptional individuals have made an impact on my life. There is one participant who always asks me how my day was and inquires about what we will be doing in class. She brightens my day and I look forward to seeing her every Wednesday! Our main goal for this yoga class is to give the participants breathing/calming techniques that they can carry over into other parts of their lives. One of the staff members at The EF was in our grad school class and she always tells us about moments during the day where she sees the participants using yoga techniques. I cannot even begin to express my excitement about these exceptional yogi’s!

With love & gratitude,


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