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November 11, 2022

Adaptive yoga: drug-free medication for rehabilitation

Recently we spoke to Rodrigo, who suffered a spinal-cord injury eight years ago.

He turned to yoga soon after and found that it nurtured a sense of self compassion and acceptance towards his body and supported him on his rehabilitation journey from the spinal-cord injury. He later founded “Allihopa” to help people with disabilities.

Rodrigo’s complete D3 spinal-cord injury was sustained when he fell from a cliff hiking and broke his back. He discovered the importance of adaptive yoga and mindfulness as a way of increasing his well-being, and he soon felt motivated to share his passion and newfound purpose with other people who have experienced trauma or disability.

Allihopa rehabilitation

Rodrigo, who spends his time between Sweden and Brazil, founded a non-profit organisation called Allihopa *, meaning ‘all together’ in Swedish, which aims to share adaptive yoga and mindfulness to people with disabilities all over the world. He also teaches yoga teachers how to be more inclusive and create more accessible yoga for people with disabilities.

Yoga

When did you first start yoga?

I started when I was twenty-five and living in London in a Bikram yoga studio, which is known as a hot yoga studio. The heat increases activity levels making you sweat heavily, but you feel amazing after. At that time yoga was just physical exercise for me.


After my accident, during the rehabilitation I got in touch with a paraplegic who teaches yoga to disabled people and I started studying with him. I never planned to become a yoga teacher, but as I was trying to take care of my body, I felt something powerful through adaptive yoga as I connected with the philosophical side of accepting your body.


I gave a class to a few paraplegics in a rehabilitation centre in Sweden and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. The students shared that since their accidents, this was the first time that they felt in their body and that I had changed their lives. I realised I had never felt such a strong sense of purpose and responsibility, and so I started training to become a yoga teacher and later founded Allihopa.

spinal-cord injury rehabilitation

How did yoga help with your rehabilitation from spinal-cord injury?

After my accident, I was in a dark place. I started practicing yoga on the floor and then worked hard to transfer from the floor to the chair. Every day I made sure that I committed one hour to practice, and during this hour, it was the only time that I felt that I was in my body. When you go through trauma to this scale, you don’t want to be in your body anymore as you no longer feel welcome. Your body reminds you of your limitations and chronic nerve pain, not to mention the medication for the pain that has strong cognitive side effects.

As soon as two weeks after my accident, doing mindful movement, even though there was still sadness, showed me that there was also a lot of beauty in practicing yoga and how my body responded to it, and I started paying more attention to it through gratitude and self-compassion. Yoga offers this sense of self-exploration and self-introspection, which I came to understand is what yoga really is. I created a beautiful relationship with my body that I had not experienced before and the process of accepting my situation was a different type of rehabilitation to pain killers.

What do you do to make your yoga more inclusive?

With Allihopa I make yoga accessible to people with disabilities who cannot afford yoga classes, through pro-bono and non-profit organisations and rehab centres. I also teach other yoga teachers how to make yoga accessible and be welcoming to those who have accessibility issues or have experienced severe trauma. Traditionally yoga courses do not teach students how to serve the disabled population and so it is so important to create inclusive courses.

yoga for spinal-cord injury

How does yoga translate into your everyday life?

Yoga helps me to be more aware and present within my body and become less reactionary. When your body is presenting you with chronic pain and you are comparing your life to someone who has complete mobility whilst you are in a wheelchair, acceptance can be very powerful. You realise that it’s just a human condition, it’s not you.

Are there any wheelchair-friendly retreats?

It is difficult to find wheelchair-friendly retreats and people are very surprised when I ask them as it’s something they have never thought about, we are very overlooked as a community. However, I have a mindset where, rather than accepting that something isn’t available to me, I will create it myself, and so I am working on organising an accessible and adaptive yoga retreat.

people with disabilities

What is the message you’d most like to get out?

I have learnt that long-lasting joy is found through helping others. I used to live in London in the middle of the rat-race, chasing only materialism. However, after my accident, I changed my perspective to start helping others, especially those who really need help, and I have found that the benefits are enormous. You need to combine what you love doing, what you’re good at, and what the world needs. I found my purpose through pain and suffering, and I hope people don’t need to experience this to find theirs.

Yoga for spinal-cord injury

Rodrigo is an incredible character who, despite his pain and suffering due to the spinal-cord injury, has managed to create a safe space to encourage others facing similar challenges to nurture a sense of self-acceptance and self-compassion among the pain and distress that they are feeling. His global achievements of establishing a non-profit organisation have helped marginalised communities gain access to adaptive yoga, as well as inspiring others yoga teachers to be more inclusive and create accessible spaces for all.

For more information about yoga and rehabilitation, visit the Allihopa website and follow Allihopa on Instagram: @allihopayoga

Allihopa - Yoga for people with disabilities

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