Today I’m excited to share an interview with Melanie Waldman, a yoga student AND teacher who practices with an upper extremity amputation. Melanie is gracious enough to share with us how yoga helped with her healing process after her amputation as well as some of the pose modifications she uses to adapt her practice.
Melanie and I connected in the Accessible Yoga Ambassadors Facebook group which is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in learning more about or participating in a community dedicated to accessible and adaptive yoga!
Q&A with Melanie Waldman
How did you begin practicing yoga?
I began my yoga practice approximately 10 years ago, which was about 5 or 6 years before the actual date of my arm amputation, but what I’ve always loved most about practicing yoga was in connecting my physical asanas (yoga poses) in coordination with my mindfulness practice.
My physical practice was temporarily put on hold after my amputation which was 4 years ago, on September 18, 2013. However, near the end of 2016 (and with thanks to the help of my younger cousin) my local Baptiste yoga studio owner had reached out to me and offered to help me relearn a modified practice.
I was terrified of doing “hot yoga”, but I also felt as though I was ready enough to challenge myself at that time. Enough so, that I could get back into studying movement and relearn how to exist within myself, again.
So, we started my new practice in a non-heated room, so that I could learn how to modify vinyasa and complete the overall “Journey into Power” sequence. I was fortunate enough to be able to take this one-on-one session with one of the teachers at the studio who also worked as an Occupational Therapist. This was exactly what I needed in order to start up my practice, again.
A week later, I finally made my way into the hot yoga class! Nine months later, I completed my 200-hour yoga teacher training program. Since then, I have been teaching at the studio on and off.
I will be forever grateful that my studio took the time and gave me the space I needed to find my way back into my “new skin” again. So, thank you Grow Yoga!
What would you like yoga teachers to know about working with someone with an amputation?
I think it depends from case to case based on the participant. I think if your student(s) expresses the need for help, just be mindful and open to offering pose modifications.
Pose Modification Options:
*this can be applied to almost any situation in teaching an accessible yoga student*
- If they let you know they are struggling with their balance, offer for them to practice next to the wall.
- If they think they can try a new pose & you are unsure exactly how you can help, reassure them that you’re there to support them and even try asking them, “how can I help you ‘play’ within this pose”?
- If the participant is new and you’ve never met them before, just like any other new student, make sure that you say hello and personally introduce yourself as the instructor.
- If you offer assists, be sure to let your adaptive student know and ask them if there are any poses that they may need assistance with AND if there are any areas that they experience pain with and should be avoided.
*Always be mindful of the language you use, as positive or well intentioned as it may seem, it is sometimes triggering for people with disabilities to hear others refer to them as “inspiring” or “inspirational”. Instead be sure to focus on how the participant feels in the moment, and reassure them that you are there to help them feel as though they are well-aligned, safe and supported throughout the entirety practice!
In my case, as a student, I found it EXTREMELY helpful to know that I was supported as a student by everyone who worked as a teacher at my yoga studio. So, I offer to you, in the words of Dumbledore, “Help will always be given (at Hogwarts) to those who ask for it.”
What have you enjoyed the most about your yoga practice?
After my amputation, once I finally regained my yoga practice, it became a huge part of working through my emotional recovery. My practice has become a great way for me to develop the tools I need in order to breathe through my various adversities, and also serves as a great practice toward maintaining my patience, as well as my focus (my drishti). Yoga also reminds me to have fun here and there too!
Was there ever a moment in your yoga practice when you surprised yourself by doing something you did not think you were capable of accomplishing?
Yes! In the beginning of my practice when I would see people go into Crow pose, specifically, I would calmly sit in Buddha squat and wait until the instructor called for the next pose.
But one day, a few months into my practice the instructor offered for everyone to play in their Crow pose. At first I stayed in my malasana squat, but after class I went into my studio’s closed off childcare room.
In that space of quiet, stillness, and non-judgement, I was able to find freedom. I created a modified “heart bench” from two blocks and a bolster. I placed them just under my right side and placed my “nub” on the front block–to simulate my forearm. I then placed my right knee on the second block– to simulate placing my knee on the back of my elbow.
Today, my current crow pose simply requires one block, and has even flown off into eka pada galavasana (flying crow pose).
What benefits have you experienced through your yoga practice?
Having a regular practice 2-3 times a week let me realize my full potential and allowed me to focus on my power, both on and off of my mat. Despite my struggles with chronic nerve pain, I was able to pinpoint and find where my “edge” was, through yoga. Because of this practice, I was able to finally realize that my possibilities were bound to be absolutely endless.
Namaste amputee and accessible yogis!
Stay tuned – Melanie will be back soon to share some of her favorite pose modifications!
If you’d like to learn more from Melanie about how she adapts her yoga practice, hear about her travels, surgeries & recovery or even simply learn how she puts her hair up into a bun you can find her on social media & her blog at the links below!