Our Work in the World

Transforming Dreams Into Realities by Terri Whitesong

Terri Whitesong, an adaptive yoga instructor and a graduate of our Opening Yoga training program, submitted this story about transformation and turning dreams into realities.

For over 10 years, we have been using adaptive yoga with [my daughter] Steph at home, to help her reduce the symptoms of her cerebral palsy and calm her body. Vicki and I were classmates in the yoga instructor training at Heartworks Yoga Studio in Northfield last year. Last year I also became an adaptive yoga instructor through the advanced instructor training program at Mind Body Solutions.  During this time, Steph helped teach her caregivers how to do yoga breathing and grounding during Steph’s transfers in and out of her wheelchair.  As a result, Steph discovered she could teach yoga and decided she wanted to be a yoga teacher too!  So I talked with Vicki and said, “Steph wants to be a yoga teacher. We need to figure out a way to teach her how to do that.” Vicki’s matter-of-fact response was, “OK. We can do that.”

So I continued to coach Steph on how to teach her caregivers at home and deepen her own yoga practice.  Vicki and Steph practiced doing yoga together, both at home and via Skype.  The three of us developed a yoga communication board so Steph could direct the class flow for Vicki and me to teach.  Vicki and I taught a class together in April, the two of us practicing with Steph’s communication board in her absence (due to the April blizzard in Minnesota). Meanwhile, Steph and I practiced teaching mini-yoga sessions to her cousin via Skype while Vicki, Steph and I used Skype time to practice using Steph’s yoga communication board.

Then, one Monday morning, Vicki, Steph, and I were out the door bright and early to attend a yoga class taught by Matthew Sanford at the Mind Body Solutions yoga studio in Minnetonka, MN.  Matthew is a nationally recognized yoga teacher, public speaker, founder of the non-profit Mind Body Solutions, and paraplegic for the last thirty-seven years.  He is masterful in teaching adaptive yoga to those living with disabilities.  Steph was glued to his every move as she watched him whirl around the room in his wheelchair while he taught a yoga class to able-bodied people.  At the same time, Matt helped Steph discover how she can teach yoga to a class of students.  On several occasions, with Matt’s coaching and encouragement, Steph demonstrated to the rest of the class how she effectively uses yoga as a wheelchair user living with quadriplegia.  They were very impressed!

After the Monday class with Matt, I observed Steph in a quiet moment at home, turning her head to the far right and pausing to feel how this typical head position of hers turns off her body, then bringing her head to mid-line and holding it there to notice how this position allowed her to be more aware of her entire body. This is something Matt taught her in the Monday class. I asked her if this is what she was practicing. She looked at me from mid-line head position, gave me a big grin and clearly nodded yes. This was the first time I saw her nod from mid-line in years. Her steadfastness in practicing head turns until she could clearly distinguish the different effects of the two head positions was inspiring.

The rest of the week Steph constantly practiced what Matt taught her and repeatedly watched his home practice DVD for wheelchair users. Then on the following Saturday, Steph, Vicki and I debuted as a yoga teaching team by teaching an hour-long “Yoga for Peace” class to a small group of students.  Steph was the lead teacher, choosing which of us was to teach each segment of the class and what we were to teach.  She did an awesome job of watching the class and determining what needed to be taught next.  (The photo seen above this article is of our teaching team’s debut with the yoga communication board Steph uses to direct the class flow. In the photo I am holding a clay udu hand drum I play to support the rhythmic flow of the class upon Steph’s request.)

I feel both blessed and overwhelmed with the significant shift my daughter Steph experienced during and after our yoga adventure to Mind Body Solutions, as it had a strong and good “domino” effect for me, along with Steph’s primary caregiver and her extended family and friends. What I learned from all this? Small, steady steps transform dreams into realities.