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Shuswap Association for Community Living creates opportunities and
provides support to optimize the potential of individuals with intellectual disabilities.

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“The Wednesday Afternoon Gang”

a special class offering

U. Konasan SACL Rope 1 SACL Wed Gang

In February 2016, I was approached by Elly Tufts from the Shuswap Association for Community Living (SACL) to see if I would consider teaching some basic chair yoga to a small group of intellectually challenged adults.  Elly took classes from me a few years ago, and thought that the Iyengar method of teaching and approach to yoga might be a good fit for a select group of clients from SACL.  After some careful consideration, and guided by a Yoga Rahasya article of a teacher at the RIMYI who successfully taught an ongoing class of similarly disabled individuals, I agreed to a pilot session of 5 weeks.  The class continues today with the same group of six students ranging in age from mid-thirties to mid-fifties.  They have had a consistent capable staff support who has also taken regular classes with me.  Mary’s presence and participation in this class is invaluable.

Always eager, these students have taught me volumes – continually refining my teaching skills to instruct at a level that is understood, despite their disability.  What are the best action words?  What is the best word to reference the trunk? What words work best to bring the desired response in the body?  Simple, plain language, as always.  “Lift your heart” “sit tall” work for them.   They have taught me immense patience – some are easily distracted.  One or two yawn…. and soon everyone is yawning!

I use the 45 minutes in each class to teach them to stretch their arms, shoulders, legs, and spine, mostly while sitting on a chair, or standing nearby, using a strap and sometimes one or two foam blocks.  The ropes are a huge asset to assist in stretching toes and calf muscles, lengthening the spine and opening the chest (Rope I).  It’s a joy to see! The progression of understanding and doing has been impressive.  Lunges, Adhomukha Svanasana, Ardha Uttanasana using the chair are mastered quite well these days.  They have learned a few Sanskrit words. They remain keen and we have fun.  Savasana, using a chair (or a bolster under the thighs), sometimes with an eye bag, brings a quietness and serenity they take with them.

Some of these students live with family, others with guardians. All cope with their particular stresses.  Their yoga class is not only a social outing but a time to move and stretch their bodies and be encouraged to bring alignment, particularly in their feet and to sit, stand and walk tall.  And relax. For most of the teachers in IYAC/ACYI, there will be a similar association like SACL that could be interested in offering some chair yoga to a group of similar clients.  Why not check it out?  I offer the class at half my usual rate per student.  It is in part, my volunteerism in the community.

Blessed to teach my weekly “Wednesday afternoon gang”,  I continue to learn and am humbled with each class I teach as I get to know these special folks a little more, and they me. They are indeed a gift. I am happy to be able to offer them such a lovely and well equipped teaching space that Shuswap Yoga studio is.

Laurie Ankenman holds her Introductory II certificate and co owns Shuswap Yoga studio with Donna Rao in Salmon Arm BC.