Accessible yoga for everyone

15 June 2016 | By Sam Rudra Swartz

Life works in mysterious ways, right? Today I practice hatha yoga almost every day, and share it with others: some in wheelchairs and others with bodies in varying conditions. How did I get here? How did "this" happen? In this text I share a peace of my story, from american football player to yoga teacher on wheels.

How did “this” happen? And what is “this”? Am I referring to the “this” that was the day my toes were swollen and then within weeks my whole body was riddled in pain from inflammation and I could barely walk down the street to the subway? Am I referring to the “this” that has me requiring the use of a wheelchair for my body to feel comfortable enough to move from one point to the next? Or am I talking about the “this” which is me sharing my practice of yoga with others from said wheelchair? A yoga teacher, how did THAT happen? The answer is yes, yes to all of the above “this” moments and so much more. 

For as long as I can remember, in my mind, I knew what was going to happen next. I was going to play football, American style, helmets, shoulder pads, et al, in school. Play for a major university program and then off to the NFL. Sure, why not? Then my mind shifted to wanting to attend one of the many top music conservatories where I would excel in my craft. I was certainly going to audition and win the tuba chair in a major symphony orchestra, somewhere in the world, and have a career as a musician. Of course!

But somehow, my mind and my life didn’t ever quite align itself with what would become my current reality.

There is no way I could have said that I would teach yoga until I was doing just that, starting in 2011 at Integral Yoga Institute. I first learned about the studio in 2001 from one of my customers when I was still a waiter (that was B.W. - before wheelchair). However, it has been there, in New York City since 1966, founded by Swami Satchidananda, the Guru from India who opened the Woodstock Music Festival in 1969, who chanted OM’s and gave an opening invocation and blessing. Nestled on 13th Street in Greenwich Village, The IYINY has been thriving for 50 years. It’s kind of a big deal in the yoga world.

So as you might hear in my tone, I still carry a little bit of a New York City, “edge,” and come off a little sarcastic at times.  Please forgive me, I have a daily sadhana, a spiritual practice, that I feel allows me to relax and accept my authentic self. Even that, “ego,” thing that still carries the programming and the personality traits I have come to know so well AND even like. While I know, from my study of the yoga sutras, that my mind might be calmer, clearer, and better off with a few more adjustments, I also realize that judgment and a lack of acceptance of the, “me,” that  I know so well, won’t help me relax further into equanimity, acceptance, and self-love either. 


Who knew you could have a wheelchair yoga practice?
Every morning, that I wake up at the Integral Yoga Ashram, inside of the IY Institute, I have to give myself a little push to get to morning meditation at 6:00 a.m. Personal hatha yoga practice at 7:00 a.m. follows for me and the other resident yogis. When I first began practicing hatha yoga in a wheelchair I had no idea what I was doing or how I could even attempt to practice. Although I had taken several classes at IYINY, ‘B.W.,’ I still had no idea that one could have a chair yoga practice. I had not heard of the teachers who already taught people to practice in a chair, I did not know there were trainings and books about chair yoga…nothing. What I did know, or thought, was that I had taken enough classes that I had a general idea of how yoga was practiced and that I was going to try and imitate that from my wheelchair.

IT WORKED! HERE I AM! I am practicing hatha yoga almost every day and I even share my practice with others, or as some would say, “teach,” it to others. I share with some people in wheelchairs and share it with others who have bodies in varying conditions, from the very fit to the, slightly and extremely, challenged. Most days I am in awe wondering how I even know how to do what I do and wonder, “how did “THIS” happen?” How did I end up “here?”  “Is it too late to still be a musician?” 

Although my mind is still patterned to ask these questions, I contemplate them a lot less. Thank you yoga and meditation! Thank you Gurus and teachers, who have shared with me and others their yoga practice! I now know, and I am not sure that it is by conscious choice or not…I don’t have to, “know.” It has been a much more fulfilling, surprising, and fun, “ride,” in life to be surprised, to be in awe that I have the opportunity to practice and share yoga this way. The fact that it is while I require the use of a wheelchair and that has provided me with the ability to share with ALL others, no matter how the body looks or moves, leaves me speechless and truly grateful.  

OM Shanti

Accessible Yoga - online videos

10 min

Yoga with

What is Accessible Yoga? Sam Rudra Swartz explains.

30 min

Meditate with

Accessible Yoga: Yoga Nidra class for deep relaxation with Sam Rudra Swartz.

60 min

Yoga with

Accessible Yoga: Full body asana practice with adjustments with Sam Rudra Swartz.

20 min

Yoga with

Accessible Yoga: Adapting yoga poses for everybody with Sam Rudra Swartz.


Foto: Saritphotography

Sam Rudra Swartz

Sam is a resident of the Integral Yoga Institute Ashram in New York City. Sam has a passion for making yoga accessible for everyone. Since he became chair-bound himself his interest in yoga expanded.

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