Rusk Helps Amputees Find Balance with Yoga

Yoga is valued among its practitioners for uncovering a connection between body and mind. Could the practice of yoga also uncover an amputee’s potential to overcome the challenges of chronic pain and psychological distress?

Experts at NYU Langone Medical Center’s Amputee Support Program, who had the foresight and imagination to ask such a question, launched a collaborative pilot project last fall with the Iyengar Yoga Association of Greater New York. Iyengar, a unique form of yoga incorporating belts, ropes, and other props, is noted for its precise approach to body alignment and for being accessible to injured or otherwise incapacitated yoga students.

Recognizing the capability of Iyengar Yoga to improve both physical and mental stability, the unorthodox program began exploring the positive impact this singular form of holistic care might have on individuals living with amputation.

Funded in part by a generous donor, himself an amputee and yoga practitioner, the pilot phase of theprogram ran for six consecutive weeks in October and November 2011. Six active, lower-extremity amputees received weekly yoga instruction at the Iyengar Yoga Institute in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. During each semiprivate session, students practiced postures or “asanas” focused on developing strength, endurance, optimal body alignment, and mental clarity.

Participants reported significant improvement in mind, body and spirit; a substantial decrease in length and frequency of painful sensations; improved flexibility; and increased comfort using a prosthesis in their daily lives.

Acting on the enthusiastic response, team leaders have since completed two additional six-week sessions and are poised to expand the program. To be included are yoga classes for amputees at Rusk and at community organizations including the Iyengar Yoga Association; the training of multidisciplinary team members in yoga principles; and further research into the effects of yoga on amputee rehabilitation.

Since the first meeting of Rusk’s amputee support program four years ago, the team has been committed to exploring new avenues for amputees to achieve optimal physical, mental, and social well-being. Low-cost and no-cost opportunities have included monthly meetings featuring motivational speakers and the introduction of a soccer clinic for amputees. With the novel integration of Iyengar Yoga, Rusk again asserts it is unbound by convention and dedicated above all to serving the unique needs of each patient.

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