Adaptive Aerial Yoga

Curated by
Whitney Bailey
Content via Wheel:Life
Curated by
Whitney Bailey

Sara Schaffer is a physical therapist and yoga practitioner. She holds adaptive aerial yoga classes in Denver, Colorado with the aim of helping students improve their overall health.

Woman sitting in wheelchair with her right arm and left leg in a silk

Sara describes aerial yoga as “a silk that hangs from the ceiling and you can place body parts in it to achieve different positions.”

“I found (aerial yoga) to be very therapeutic, calming, and decompressing.”

Sara got certified in Volo aerial yoga, a method developed by Harmony Hoefner. After Sara’s certification, Harmony suggested teaming up with Sara to create adaptive aerial yoga. The pair collaborated by using Harmony’s in-depth knowledge of aerial yoga and Sara’s physical therapy and neuro-orthopedic background.

“We wanted to get people with disabilities in the silk to see how we could help them get moving.”

Benefits of Aerial Yoga

Woman stretching on mat with her legs in silk. Her wheelchair is beside her

“Aerial yoga is an opportunity for individuals who use wheelchairs to move in new ways and create new space,” says Sara.

Students in the adaptive aerial yoga class start in their wheelchairs with silks strapped under their arms. This placement compresses under their armpits and helps flush out their lymphatic system. Individuals get oscillation and decompression in their spine, and it releases their lats. Using the silks also aids in lengthening the fasciae around the joints which increases joint mobility.

Sara states, “Some of the feedback I get from folks is that the fear of falling backward in their chairs is always there. With aerial yoga, the silk supports the thoracic spine so they can extend or go into an arched position without the fear of falling. Inversions, getting the head below the heart, are a challenge to create on your own, but the silks give you that option. You can place the legs in the silk while lying on the floor so that blood is flowing toward your head and heart.”

Aerial yoga can also improve mood and depression. Sara reports that she has had students say that aerial yoga has benefited their pain management and reduced the amount of medicine they have to take.

“Another important element is that our students have fun. We get them in the silks prone on their stomachs about a foot off the ground, and they use their arms to push off the floor and fly. It’s like being on a swing. People get creative and come up with all kinds of cool ideas.”

Trained Assistants

Woman in silk with assistant behind her

Sara has trained assistants in her classroom to assist the students in getting into the silks when needed. She states, “Assistants go through a two-hour training program. They learn where to place their hands, how to help someone get in and out of the silk, and when and how it is appropriate to touch the student.”

Usually, the assistants are generally interested in yoga and/or studying physical or occupational therapy.

In the future, Sara and Harmony would like to write an adaptive curriculum for adaptive aerial yoga. Their goal would be to have the curriculum offered in rehabs in hospitals.  

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