This mini yoga series on U.S. News has us heartily encouraged. We posted earlier about Ryan McGraw, an inspiring yoga teacher living with cerebral palsy, reminding us that yoga is adaptable and available to everybody, yoga “molds” be damned. Here we have another Ryan. He’s Ryan Gambrell, a 29-year-old San Diego resident who stays active surfing, biking, golfing and doing yoga. He’s different because he’s little.
At 5 foot 2, Ryan practices yoga to help build core strength to improve his posture which in turn helps relieve pain and numbness in his back and legs from spinal stenosis, which he’s live with all his life. When he first started practicing yoga, Crow pose was completely out of reach, literally, because of his body shape. But over time he reached that empowering moment of flight when his feet finally left the ground to balance. Which then ended in a face plant. But we know how that goes! Try, try again. Which he did.
Ryan has tried different yoga classes and has managed to figure out his own modifications and versions of poses for his body. When asked what his biggest challenge was he said it was getting to class on time. Oh Ryan, we can relate! He also mentioned a stretch that may seem simple to many, but was always a challenge for him:
Honestly, my biggest challenge is getting to class on time. I guess certain poses that require a lot of bending in the legs and knees are challenging. Anything that simulates sitting cross-legged is very difficult for me because I can’t do that. But, I just do them as much as I can and kind of work on them as it goes. One thing I was never able to do before yoga is stretch my leg behind my back—like how a soccer player would lift his knee up and pull his foot from behind to stretch the quads. Before yoga, I could never do that. Then all of a sudden, I got more flexible, and one day I tried it and was like, “Oh!”
Planning to practice yoga only until his back got better, Ryan is now hooked. Here’s his advice for beginner yogis:
My advice, especially for little people, is to just show up, and bring a positive attitude and open mind. I think it’s easy to get frustrated and say, “Yoga isn’t meant for little people.” Some people might talk themselves out of it before they even get to class and say, “Oh, that’s not something I can do.” But as I’ve explained, after a few times, you get more and more flexible, and things start to click. And based on personal experience, even if you did half the poses, you’d feel better than when you had showed up. Also, if you start doing something, especially in a class environment like yoga, it gives you something to talk about. And then you get to build friendships and camaraderie, which are the keys to the longevity of an active lifestyle. So, keep showing up and embrace it. I also feel like yoga is a good entry level into athletics, especially for little people.
We wanted to also give a shout out to the yoga teachers out there taking the time to work with individuals who don’t “fit the mold,” which, really, is pretty much everyone when you take the time to think about.