The Guide to Adaptive Yoga

Four Pillars to Adaptive Yoga

I knew early on that teaching yoga to unique populations was what my purpose was. I was certain that I wanted to bring yoga to people who would otherwise not be able to easily access it. Years ago I began by peddling my offerings into rehab centers and places elderly lived. I taught for many years with the National MS society. My adaptive yoga journey started at a local organization that offers adaptive sports to adults with varying disabilities. Teaching to this population, I found was definitely at home and found pure joy in the work.

I also have taught and continue to teach “typical” people in my studio and in the community. It fills a different place in my heart. I love bringing some of my special experiences with my other students into the space of a regular ol’ yoga class. When I was actively sharing yoga in the hospice world, I had many lessons that were gifted to me from those who were dying and I embedded them into my yoga classes.

Why The Pillars?

For nearly two decades I have logged and stored away many of those special experiences and continue to pull from them often. I also have grown tremendously as a yoga teacher. In that time, I developed techniques that have success when sharing yoga with different populations. I have crafted this technique into a method I call the Four Pillars to Adaptive Yoga. Really, these pillars should be in every yoga class, but a definite must for the adaptive yoga world.

Every community across the globe has people with disabilities who need adaptive yoga and mindfulness. They need connection, movement, breath and gratitude. It is my mission that as many people as possible will have access to yoga, but I need your help!

If you are a yoga teacher, a mental health worker, an occupational therapist, a counselor, a certified nurse’s aid, or a compassionate person YOU can do this!

The Guide to Adaptive Yoga

I created a guide to get you started and I have TONS of resources and experiences if it sparks something in you that wants more. I will walk you through how to market yourself, how to invoice, how to grow your offerings and how to bring YOU into your community to serve others.

Let’s do this! It starts here!

About Stacie

With over sixteen years experience, Stacie Wyatt is an experienced 500 hour Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance, Certified Brain Injury Specialist, Certified Trauma Informed Coach, Life Wellness Coach, Senior YogaFit Instructor, Mind/Body Personal trainer, Stress Reduction and Meditation Instructor, Pilates Instructor, and Barre Instructor. Stacie brings her personal life experience of raising a daughter with a disability and over 12 years working in special education to her everyday Yoga classes.

Yoga and Traumatic Brain Injuries

A person with a traumatic brain injury can practice yoga, it just might not look like the yoga we have learned in our Western view. I have permission from this man’s family to share a little of his story. I no longer work with him because of the pandemic moved him out of the facility I saw him in. My time with him was a great experience for me and we worked together for three years.

His Story

His injury occurred when he was just 12 years old coming home from a family ski weekend in the mountains. An oncoming vehicle struck his family’s car and he was injured badly. His traumatic brain injury caused a long term coma, loss of communication, and severe body damage. His cognitive ability was stunted to a young child’s level and yet, he continued to age and become a man.

I began sharing yoga with this man about 10 years ago. He never wanted to participate in the group class I was leading at the assisted living home he lived in. He has some pretty tough “behaviors” due to his injury and lack of communication so group settings were really hard for him.

People would often ask me how I was teaching him yoga since he was paralyzed on one side and had very rigid limbs and atrophy in most of his major muscles, and actually even his hands. He has minimal language and was very hard to understand so he often resorted to yelling and destruction. I asked his family if I could try working 1:1 with him. I wanted to give this guy some goodness and show him he had value and he was often viewed as a challenge by the 24/7 staff.

Our yoga sessions consisted of me talking to him like a normal person, sharing silly things to make him laugh, bringing in his favorite color red in the form of balloons and balls to have him attempt to swat with his working arm, sharing wild orange essential oil, taking deep breaths together, moving his affected limbs gently in range of motion exercises, giving him a neck and shoulder massage, talked about the good in our lives, and mostly connecting with this human.

Is this Yoga?

Did we do a sun salutation? Nope.
Did I speak in Sanskrit? Nope.
Did I stand and just guide a series of movements? Nope.

Did we connect in Union? Yep.
Did he experience movement? Yep.
Did we breathe together? Yep.
Did we share gratitude? Yep.

The Four Pillars

Those are the four pillars that I teach and preach when working with someone with different abilities. Actually all my classes regardless of ability have those four pillars.


Last I heard from his mom he was doing well. He is now 45 and still loves the color red.

What is Your Intention?

As I have opened myself up in my quest for vulnerability this year and to take something I am passionate about and share it more openly in my adaptive yoga teacher mentoring program, I am asked to look at what I do through a different lens and be open to understanding and learning, while also being confident in myself and what I know to be effective.

Since yoga truly is a practice for daily life and not the ability to touch our toes, I find myself curious how other yoga teachers and/or practitioners view intention. Is having an intention and a plan for the class the same?

For everyone else, is an intention for your day the same as your plan for the day? I don’t think so. I believe we set an intention in our day, or our teaching (example to be present) and our plan may need to adjust according to what shows up in the day or in the yoga session.

I am fairly clear on my intention within a general sense when I am teaching yoga, however we all know that “reading the room” is key. This ability to switch gears in a yoga class is also helpful in life because let’s face it, how many times do we have a plan and we need to change it suddenly. Having this emotional resiliency and ability to be flexible in our minds is a useful tool for everyone.

Here is where my vulnerability was poked yesterday. I had someone observe me yesterday in one of my houses and she asked me afterwards something along the lines of is that all they ever “do” in class and could they “do” more? I knew when she said that she was referring to “doing” more of the physical stuff of yoga.

Hmmm….we chatted about it and as I reflected on it throughout the day I realized that not only have I overcome insecurities about myself, I have also found that the foundation in myself and my work is incredibly strong. This was not always the way I felt and it has taken me polishing myself over the years to remove the doubts and fears and step into being vulnerable enough to share what I do with others in a very real sense. This also allows an opening for me to learn and continue to polish.

This is my truth–When I enter a group home or assisted living setting to share yoga, I have an intention which is to always value them and see them.

As we entering the house, my plan for class had to shift once I was there a few minutes and we finished the check in.  I ALWAYS do a check in and this is so important to what I believe is a great method that I have developed over time.  In the check-in they get to answer how is their mind, body and spirit. This is something I believe we ALL need to do on a daily basis because it helps us to pause, assess ourselves so we know what we need.  By answering these questions in a simply one or two word answer, it also opens the door for vulnerability, connection, empathy and much more.

The group on this day had just three students. The most able bodied student was out and the three that gathered in the living room included one who is partially paralyzed with no movement in left arm and minimal in left leg, one who suffers from severe PTSD and pain, and one who has very little motor control and incredible low self esteem as a result. This is a group who are working very hard on acceptance, grief and how to integrate themselves into their current lives following their injuries.

During the check in I learned that one student was tired but good, and another answered like this:  mind-broken, body-broken, spirit-more broken. The tired student had a hard time sitting up straight and suffers from neck and back pain, so using the soft couch for support was where he was at.  The student who felt he was broken has very little control of his body and the moment he feels a sense of failure, he quits. His tremors and lack of coordination is embarrassing to him and if he struggles, he 99% of the time will stop movement and just listen. The one who is partially paralyzed needs hand over hand support for lifting his arm and leg.

Did I need to switch gears? Heck yes.

Why? Because my intention is to value them and to see them.

I saw that they were struggling physically and my sense was that they needed the connection and opportunity to be seen more than they they needed to be challenged physically or “do” more.  In my mind they were “doing” a lot by engaging, talking, sharing openly, and being present. For these guys, trust is HUGE and they chose to sit around the living and participate.

If I kept my class plan and/or asked them to do something new/hard/unfamiliar it is likely on this particular day, it would have caused them to bail. Since my intention is in valuing them, by adjusting my plan and giving them space to share and move easily in their bodies, they were able to feel successful in a world where they have little success. This touches on their past trauma, their present challenges and how connection and being seen can fuel confidence in them. 

Yes, we did some movement and we did some breathing. We learned a simple sequence that is heart based and tapped into a softer side. Yes, we learned about energy and reciprocity of giving and receiving.  We learned about faith in ourselves and something greater than ourselves.  We shared our gratitudes. 

While all of this magic was going on, dishes were being banged, conversations being loudly had, people in and out, distraction after distraction.  Hard?  Very.

For the yoga teachers out there, what is YOUR intention when teaching? Does your intention change based on your students in class and is your intention different than your class plan?

For everyone, what is your intention? How do you want to interact with the world today? Begin your day by setting an intention and then make choices to align with that.

xo, Stacie

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The Last One

In many of my experiences walking into into a group home to share Yoga I am often met with much reluctance. I think this is partly because so many view yoga as it is something you do on the floor with a somewhat healthy body in strange shapes.

For someone in a wheelchair this idea seems obviously impossible and out of their ability or comfort zone, and rightly so.

Several years ago I was standing in the kitchen of a home a couple years ago trying my best to cajole a few guys into joining me. I often have to frame it in terms of “hey, come over here and hang out with me for a minute”. I get to chatting and asking them questions and engaging in them, and then usually before long I have them hook, line and sinker. This particular day was just that except that the only person in the kitchen was a large man who made several wisecracks to me about doing yoga.

I started with my usual onslaught of engaging questions like what did you have for lunch, did you see who won the football game, what is your favorite season, how long have you lived in Colorado, etc. Within a few minutes, we are in a deep conversation about the mountains and things we agree make Colorado awesome. After a short while passed and he made another crack about yoga, I giggled and said we had actually just been practicing yoga for the last fifteen minutes.

I explained to him what the definition and essence of yoga is and that is exactly what we have been doing. Gotcha! I exclaimed as he grumbled something about weird yoga people. I offered him a professional foot rub and the rest is history.

Since that day, he and I have met twice a month for 1:1 yoga for over two years.

Here is what it looks like—I arrive and wake up him for a nap, I insist he come out of his room (he prefers isolation and even though I honor his preference, part of the deal with me is some resemblance of boundaries and expectations), he shuffles his large and partially paralyzed body to an easy chair in the living room, I plop down on the floor and rub his feet and then with his permission I move his body for him. I stretch his left side and listen to his horrible wise-cracks and jokes.

Just like that, I was able to get a skeptic to see that Yoga is union, coming together and finding a sense of self in the moment.

In time I have watched as his confidence grew and we went from me moving his left side to him agreeing to arm wrestle me, pull me up from the floor and reach for me. Prior to Yoga he often said “I can’t move my left arm, it is paralyzed”. Now he sees that while it may not be as strong as it was before his accident, it is moving some and he is building strength in his once really strong arms.

After about a year of working with this man I arrived one day to learn he was in the intensive care unit. It didn’t occur to me once to not swiftly drive over to the hospital and complete our yoga session there.

He was intubated but awake when I walked into the strange sights, smells and sounds of an ICU. I introduced myself to his nurse and explained I was his yoga teacher. The quizzical look on her face was something I see often when people don’t fully get what I do. I asked her if I could rub his feet and she agreed that he would probably like that. As I stood next to his head to say hello, his eyes opened and he looked shocked to see me. I teased him that he couldn’t get out of yoga by being in the ICU so we better get busy. His eyes filled with tears and even though he couldn’t speak, I understood what he was saying.

As I finished up rubbing his feet and was packing my things his heart rate and breathing became labored and alarms got louder and louder. His oxygen was tanking despite being on a ventilator. I instinctively put my hand on his chest and said “Watch me. Breathe with me”. After about 30 rounds of deep breathing, his numbers returned to as normal as they could given his situation. The nurse stood with her eyes wide open. I told him I was going to glue a picture of my face to the ceiling so that every time his oxygen dropped he’d see my face and remember to breathe. His eyes twinkled.

It is one of my greatest pleasures to showcase my students’ yoga practice to people who would never see yoga through this particular lens. The first feat is getting the students to see it’s not twisted bodies on the floor, the second is showing staff or caregivers the possibilities. Moving his body for him created not only connection but also the movement his once healthy body still desired.

This beautiful soul had his last foot rub a couple weeks ago and took his final breath this week. I will deeply miss our time together and what he gave my life. It is usually the least likely Yoga students that bring me the most. I hope that he valued our time together as much as I did. He was a special one.

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Living My Manifesto

It seems many people have opinions on other peoples business model, and the two most common statements I get as it relates to my yoga business is 1) I’d never drive that far for a class or student, and 2) I would never teach a class for that little of a rate (usually followed by a laundry list of all the trainings and education they have).

Here’s the thing. I’m not in it for the money, but the money is always there. I’m not in it for the fame although I am booked solid week after week and literally have no room in my schedule for more. I’m not in it for the ego, yet I know that I make an incredible difference in the lives of many.

Why do I drive hundreds of miles a day only to find my student still in bed because staff didn’t bother to wake him up? Because I said I would and because when he did decide to get up, together we created a beautiful session that included him doing something he hasn’t done in decades. This incredibly special student was injured at age 25 and his college roommate continues to write him a letter every single week and they are now in their mid 50’s. My student actually wrote him a letter back! Remember, yoga is defined as union and it doesn’t have to include pretzel shapes with our bodies.

I do it because it is service—which to me is defined as doing something without an attachment to personal gain. I do it because it is my gift. It is purpose. I do it because this is the manifesto my business and life is structured around.

The minute I start calculating how much money I am going to make, I have stepped out of service.

And do you want to know what? The money is always there.

I’d much rather show up within the foundation of my manifesto than seek out fame and fortune. That isn’t what I am about. I am about service and becoming the best version of myself through those I humbly serve.

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“The confinement that I feel is only what I ALLOW myself to feel.”

I often say that I am putting all of the amazing nuggets of wisdom that come from my students with brain injuries into my future book. Who knows, maybe someday a future Ted Talk. Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Year after year I am humbled at the insights that come from people living with brain injuries. I feel so strongly that they can teach the world so many things about truly living. Over the years I have kept a little notebook with some of the teachings that they bring to my life. It is common that I often pull inspiration from that notebook and share with others.

This one is a keeper.

I have been teaching from the theme of freedom this month. According to Webster’s dictionary, freedom is defined as having the ability to think, speak and act without hindrance or restraint. As we broke down each of those areas and shared the hinderances in our lives it is easy to see that everyone has certain hinderances or restraints that keep them from living fully free. For some, it is living without the ability to move their legs, or for others it is not being able to drive or work. Although I can drive and work, I have certain physical limitations and responsibilities that keep me from being fully free in my actions.

We then moved onto our ability to speak without hinderance or restraint and it was evident that while the idea of free speech exists, there is a limitation to what we can all say and not get into a little hot water, whether that it within our own home or in the community.

We finished our discussion with the realization that the only true place we have freedom is in our thoughts. It was decided that we are all free to think what we think. No matter what our challenges or our struggles are, it is ultimately what do with it through our mindset.

Here is the moment of ah-ha that has stayed in my heart for weeks. As we were closing up our discussion on living freedom, this was spoken:

“The confinement that I feel is only what I ALLOW myself to feel.”

Read that again.

The woman who said this is a student who lives in assisted living and occasionally comes down for yoga. Her body is riddled with pain so her practice is breathing and sharing. She is brave and wise.

She also lost her independence, her family, her ability to work and drive, and do things that feed her soul. And yet, she has the insight to see that despite all of her lack of freedoms, she can escape the cage with her thoughts.  She is one of the most insightful and grateful people I have ever met.

To think that I am called the teacher. I disagree.

The truth is, I am a conduit for their wisdom. I get to be the messenger. 

Seeking Yoga Teachers

There are some awesome heart centered Yoga teachers out there that are tired of the high focus on the physical form that our western culture emphasizes. They also have the heart to touch the lives of unique individuals.

I am seeking those Yoga teachers.

When I began my own personal practice of yoga I was doing it for all the reasons many of us do–increase flexibility, get leaner and stronger, and stretch the tight muscles. What I discovered in the process of learning and doing all of that is the true essence of Yoga–which is union; with myself and with others.

It was also at this time that I was embarking on a self-discovery quest that lead me down many paths, and ultimately opened some amazing doors for my own personal growth.

I had dove deep into my soul and realized that I am here to do great things and in order to do that, I had A LOT of healing in my heart to do. (A recent podcast explains it all). When I found the space in my heart that anger no longer was consuming, I filled it with life changing love.


I have been hustling in and out of assisted living, rehab centers and group homes for over thirteen years, specializing in people with brain injuries. It is the most rewarding work I can ever imagine. It is SO needed in every community.

Let’s team up

I want to share this very special population with YOU so that you can go into your communities and feel confident teaching Yoga to individuals with disabilities.

I am currently taking applications for adaptive yoga teacher mentorship. Learn more!

Together we can do so much more.

Embracing Spirit Yoga

The Charming Gardener

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom – Marcel Proust

For years I have wanted to share a story about a man who has made a profound impact on my life during the month of March when it is the Brain Injury Awareness month, but have struggled to find the words that capture the essence of him and also be sensitive to never want to exploit his life, or his injury.

Every once in a while if you are lucky, you meet someone who touches your soul in a place that you may have not otherwise even known existed. I had been teaching yoga to people with brain injuries for many years when I met someone who reached something in me that is not easily described. Of course, each of my students who have arrived for yoga have brought something unique and often profound to my life, but one man in particular has really found a place in my heart. 

It has been my method while I teach yoga to people with brain injuries to not ever ask how they sustained their injury. It is not that such a huge event in their life does not matter to me, but I do not need to know the details. I do not need to know even what their life was like before the injury. Instead, I prefer to just know them as they are now. I want to know what they like, what they dream of, what bothers them, what they long for, what brings them joy, what hurts and what they love. In time as we work together it is not uncommon for the details of the injury to be revealed, or the life they had prior to the event, but it is not something that I seek out. Just as I rarely seek to learn about someone’s past, because it is now that I want to know and be part of. 

Each time I was leaving the long term care center that I frequented weekly to teach adaptive yoga I would often see a man with the most beautiful blue eyes sitting in his chair watching hockey reruns or slowly walking through the corridors, grasping the hand rail, sliding his left leg along the linoleum floor. I would greet him and I would usually get the same response, “hi….yep yep”. Always the same answer. One day I asked him if he wanted to come to yoga and this time, he gave me an adamant, “nope nope”. This exchanged continued for nearly a year. Always “nope, nope”.

Then one day, I got a “yep yep”.

That was the beginning of a friendship and a blending of two people bringing out the best in each other. In time through his amazing family and his own sharing, I learned about his life before his accident and it is my honor to share it here. 

My friend Jim was just a young man with his whole life ahead of him. A recent college graduate, a great new career at a bank, and a nice home. This elite athlete who had his eyes on an Ironman, who was a former college hockey captain, and friend to anyone was welcoming in a life that many dream of. Surrounded by an incredible family, life long friends and a passion for being a competitive athlete, the younger Jim was a man full of dreams that he knew he could achieve. 

But, in a split second, the life he created was shattered. A training ride on his beloved bicycle changed everything when he was struck by a car. After months and months in the hospital and in rehab, Jim was able to regain some of his skills and returned miraculously to his love of running. With the help of his family and friends, he was able to do some of the things he loved and had some amazing successes through his recovery.

His next hurdle would be the massive seizures that would prove to take away the progress that he had gained physically, and with his language and memory. More work, more struggles and more setbacks. 

When I met Jim he had recently suffered a massive seizure that caused major damage to his brain. His language was stuck on a constant loop of repeating the same phrases over and over, or he would have outbursts that were either bouts of laughter that was uncontrollable, or fits of rage. Physically, he was struggling to walk and use his left arm. Cognitively it was hard to say what he was able to retain since his ability to communicate easily was greatly impacted. 

When a portion of your brain is removed and the misfiring neurotransmitters from repetitive seizures, it is a miracle to witness all that he is able to do. He may not remember what he had for breakfast, or what year it is, but he can tell you the details of his favorite hockey team, the names of his beloved college buddies, or the exact model of hockey skates he prefers. He will laugh at your jokes and even crack a few himself. 

It is hard to capture the resiliency of his spirit. The best way I can describe it is despite all of the struggles and all the loss he has endured, his spirit is as loving, as devoted, as connected, and as grateful as it ever was. His smile can light up a room and the second you remind him that he is a champion, he beams and tries even harder. His confidence in himself marvels me.

I have never once heard him complain about his life. Never once. Instead, he is a light. He bears goodness on anyone in his presence. He brings out the best in me, I know that. He has become my version of the charming gardener who brings out happiness and blossoms in me. 

Jim’s life was on the path much like yours and mine. In an instant it was all gone. And yet, he is the kindest, most humble man, who always shakes my hand to thank me and say goodbye as he looks me in the eye. He could have given up. He could have become bitter and resentful. Instead, he is pure grace and pure light.

One day while I was on the floor at his feet working his very stiff ankle, he whispered something to me. I couldn’t hear him so I asked him to repeat it. He quietly said, “I forgive her”. When I asked him who he was talking about, he said, “the girl who hit me with her car”. 

Can you find that kind of grace and forgiveness? Can you live your life without a complaint? Can you be resilient to the tragedy and loss of your own life? Take a lesson from my friend Jim. He knows the way.