FOR most people when you say the word ‘yoga’, images of super fit, incredibly flexible people bending themselves into pretzel-like shapes pop into their heads.
They certainly don’t envision people suffering from injuries and debilitating illness or senior citizens sitting in chairs while stretching, practicing breathing exercises and learning to meditate.
And they almost certainly don’t picture a roomful of heavily pregnant mothers-to be performing yoga poses.
With the introduction of therapeutic yoga, the Bahamas Medical Centre on Blake Road is helping to change that mindset.
Therapeutic yoga enables people who have limited movement or unsteady balance due to age or injury to rehabilitate their bodies and minds by focusing on the controlled breathing and guided meditation aspects of yoga, and utilising chairs, bolsters and even the swimming pool to help people achieve modified stretches and poses.
“In the Bahamas, we don’t have enough programmes for seniors,” said instructor Emey Robinson.
“Where I did a lot of my training in West Palm, there are a lot of assisted living facilities and they had a lot of aquatic programmes and therapeutic programmes for seniors. Unfortunately, when I came home and saw what was here, it made me really sad to see there were a lot of seniors in homes where there wasn’t a lot of activity going on and I wanted to see how I could do something about it.”
She first approached the owner of a local gym who told her not to bother pursuing her interest here.
“She said no one wants rehab yoga here. Everyone wants power yoga, everyone wants Pilates, everyone wants boot camps. But I was like, what about the people who can’t do the boot camps and the power yoga? What do you do for them? Do you just toss them to the side.”
Undeterred, Ms Robinson reached out to Barry Rassin, president of Doctors Hospital Health System and Bahamas Medical Centre, to see if he might be interested in this unique programme.
The two met and immediately began working on the partnership.
“Therapeutic yoga ties directly into the medical fitness programme at Bahamas Medical Centre as we focus very specifically on helping people with various health and physical issues,” Mr Rassin said. “Whether it be after a medical crisis and you want to get back to your health or you are getting on in age and want an effective way to stay active in a non-stress environment, therapeutic yoga is for you.
In fact, it was finding herself with serious physical limitations following a terrible car accident that led Ms Robinson to therapeutic yoga.
“I had a spinal fracture following a car accident right before I left for college. I stayed in bed for three months with a brace on and was supposed to be placed in a halo, but I did recover enough that I didn’t need that. One of my Bahamian doctors recommended that I try yoga for full recovery and it worked,” she said.
Once healed, she decided she wanted to become a therapeutic yoga instructor so that she could help others.
‘Therapeutic Yoga@Bahamas Medical Centre’ clients have an option of doing chair yoga classes, yoga for recovery or even aquatic yoga (starting August).
With chair yoga, you are seated in a sturdy chair to make it possible or easier to participate if standing is difficult or not an option due to arthritis, hip or knee injuries, limitations caused by a stroke or Parkinson’s Disease or even just simple muscle weakness and stiff joints that seem to come along with age.
With yoga for recovery, you lie on the floor with cushions and other apparatus to bolster your body. This is for those with even more physical limitations.
Aquatic yoga makes it even easier for those who are challenged with strength and range of motion.
“When you’re in the water, it takes the pressure off your joints and bones and you can go through this whole process with aquatic yoga without minimal strain,” Ms Robinson said.
Knowing how to swim is not required for aquatic yoga as participants are always holding onto the side of the pool.
Ms Robinson said the benefits achieved from doing yoga go far beyond the physical improvements.
“As you get older and you don’t move around a lot, your joints and your muscles start to get a little bit tighter, I think that’s what makes a lot of elderly people depressed. They realise, ‘Hey, I can’t move around as fast as I used to, I can’t bend down to pick up something.’ And with the movement, it gives them a sense of pride that they are able to do something they could do when they were younger,” she said.
Studies are also being done on the cognitive benefits yoga provides for those with Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s.
Of course, therapeutic yoga is not just for the senior citizen crowd. Former athletes are using it as a means of healing. Ms Robinson has seen former dancers, football and basketball players take up Therapeutic yoga to rebuild their bodies as well as their minds.
“When you’re injured, you’re always thinking about what am I going to do tomorrow or next week or next month and you want to speed up the recovery but you can’t because your body needs to take that break. Yoga teaches you to relax, clam your mind and give your body that break it needs in order to heal properly,” she said.
As part of the therapeutic yoga at the Bahamas Medical Centre, Ms Robinson is also offering classes specifically designed for expectant mothers.
Prenatal yoga, which can be practiced even by women who have never before tried any sort of yoga, focuses on breathing, strengthening the abdominals and pelvic area, gentle stretching, and meditation – all things that can help prepare a woman for labour and childbirth.
For more information on Therapeutic Yoga@Bahamas Medical Centre call 327-5081.