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Yoga with Cerebral Palsy, and Not Fitting the Yoga ‘Mold’

in YD News
Ryan McGraw in his favorite pose. | image: Tracy Caracciolo, US News

Ryan McGraw in his favorite pose. | image: Tracy Caracciolo, US News

“He doesn’t fit the mold, which is fine,” is how U.S. News describes Ryan McGraw’s approach to yoga as a 30-year-old living with cerebral palsy. This is at once uplifting and depressing. What mold? Why has yoga reached the point of moldyness? No one likes molds, not even ones made of jell-o. But we are consistently inspired by stories like Ryan’s that remind us what we already know, when we’re not tangled up in yoga pants scandals and wanderlusting: yoga is for everyone, every body. Strong in its foundations, it is adaptable and malleable. Throw it in a blender or slather it on a piece of toast and eat it for breakfast, the yoga remains.

Ryan McGraw started practicing yoga as a teenager and he now teaches it in Chicago. We love what he has to say about how his practice has affected his life:

I think the main factor of yoga that’s affecting me—more now than ever—is in the mental aspect of my life. I’m more tied to myself and have a more positive outlook on life. Physically, having cerebral palsy, I need to keep active and keep the muscles healthy. In yoga, you really have to keep your body aligned, and I feel that has helped my flexibility, balance and coordination. And it’s also helped me become more conscious of my breath.

And he has some great advice for those thinking it’s “just for the thin, fit and athletically-inclined,” as the stereotype is described in the article.

Do not get discouraged by what we see in magazines; yoga can be inclusive to people with all abilities with the use of props. There are adaptations are out there, and adaptations don’t mean that you’re doing any less.

U.S. News is doing a series on the unlikely bunch, the outsiders, as it were, that are “changing the face of yoga.” We’d like to think that the body of yoga has always been (and will always be) about being an open practice for everyone, no matter what the face looks like, what “advanced” shape it contorts into or what it wears to yoga class.




10 comments… add one
  • What an inspiring story. The inclusiveness of yoga is such an important concept that can be so easily overlooked. Thanks for sharing.

  • Kristen Love

    Great story. I wish I was in Chicago so I could take a class from such an awesome yogi like Ryan 🙂

  • Love this article. As a teacher of free yoga for kids and adults with cerebral palsy as well as other needs, I can confirm that yoga is indeed inclusive. Thank you for sharing this. <3

  • Hi Ryan! I had the pleasure have having you in my class a few times about 10 years ago! It’s wonderful to hear that you are now teaching yoga! My son is thriving in Chicago as well!
    Thank you Yogadork for posting this story. Ryan is a true inspiration!

  • Tracey

    Thank you for this article. I know many people with cerebral palsy (deaf and cp) so this article is great and I’ve already shared with one CP friend who I hope will share with her CP friends.
    Thanks again for sharing.
    Best regards,

  • romney

    So true. I love yoga because it is about the journey not the goal. Improving through regular practice, not ticking off poses you’ve done. Even “thin, fit and athletically inclined” people have to practice regularly to improve.

  • Sally

    Ryan…. Wow! What an inspiring story to share! I also have CP as well as deaf. I have had 2 spine surgeries and am still in pain. Tracey is showing me that there are ways that CP people can take yoga in different ways. I will definitely try this and will tell my CP friends about this approach. Thanks for sharing this. Ryan and Tracey! I wish I knew if this before I had my two surgeries. Oh well better late than never!

  • What an inspiring story. A great article that actually touched me a little as I have a close family member suffering from this.

  • Amanda

    My teacher always says that pictures of perfect yoga poses are for inspiration only. You should not be competing in yoga, not even against yourself.

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