In the first part of this article, I shared some of my own experiences in teaching yoga to people who are blind or have varying degrees of vision loss. Through the application of Yoga I have witnessed an increase in their confidence, both in movement and daily living, but it wasn’t until I started to introduce the therapy balls for self-care massage that I observed significant changes in their body awareness. As this population is often unable to “see” their body, the therapy balls have provided an opportunity for them to discover, map and explore various parts of their anatomy. Some parts of their body may feel familiar, whereas others can seem disconnected or foreign; much like the difference between navigating well known surroundings such as their home as opposed to a place they are visiting for the first time.
I previously mentioned that balance is a primary concern of my students with vision loss. After all, our feet connect us with the ground and developing a stable foundation provides an opportunity to step forward with greater confidence. Many of the students have mentioned that they wear footwear pretty much all of the time as they are never sure of what they might step on. Moreover, many with vision loss suffer from diabetes, which is in fact one of the primary causes of vision loss itself and can be accompanied by nerve damage, often beginning in the extremities. As a result, footwear is not only functional but also worn for safety and to help prevent injury.
Through the use and application of therapy balls on the soles of their feet, the students immediately felt the freedom they were now provided from their constrictive footwear and their ability to explore and register the tactile senses of their feet was remarkable and incredibly well received. For example, after exploring one foot initially, I will have them check-in and assess any changes they feel and this is where “a-ha” moments have been felt and shared. Feedback of feeling “more contact with the ground,” “wider,” “stable,” and “feel I am standing taller” are just a few of their comments. One student shared a discovery from her home environment after utilizing the therapy balls and reflected upon how she could now feel changes in texture between standing on a wooden floor versus a tiled floor, whereas as previously she was unable to distinguish such nuances.
In addition to listening to the comments and feedback from my students, I have also directly observed some positive changes. For example, I have observed that with improved awareness, they now stand with more equal weight distribution over both feet and in turn, take their steps with more stability and assertiveness which has been of great benefit with standing exercises and also getting up and down from the floor. The positive improvements do not stop there; posture is also much improved and overall body confidence soars as a result. After listening to their feedback and personally witnessing such improvements, it makes total sense and is of no surprise, that rolling their feet with the use of therapy balls, is now their most common and specific exercise request.
One other key area that I would like to make mention of, is that the use of the therapy balls has clearly highlighted asymmetries in the bodies of many students. When examined further, this can often be traced back to their use of a cane, or holding the harness of their guide dog on a predominant side whilst carrying items such as bags or groceries in the other. These were asymmetries that they were often unaware of previously, but can now piece together to help them understand why they have felt various aches and pains or tension in certain areas by utilization of therapy balls and associated exercises.
There are many more aspects of therapy ball use that I could expand upon here in application to my students, but to keep this blog somewhat contained, I would like to highlight one last interesting observation. During the many years I have been teaching yoga to the blind and low vision community, I have observed that they often unconsciously tense up their facial muscles. While this occurs predominantly in students with complete blindness, it is nevertheless prevalent in most low vision students to varying degrees.
I’ve tried various techniques throughout my teachings to help release this tension, but it has been through the use of the Coregeous® ball that I have seen the greatest improvements. Initially and as I often do, I practiced exercises on myself after having attended a workshop with Jill Miller at the Yoga conference in Toronto. Realizing how relaxed and “zoned out” I felt both during and afterwards, I knew immediately that I had to introduce this to my students.
To begin, I started guiding them with a gentle shearing technique along the jaw and front of the neck. Somewhat surprisingly, the next thing I noticed was how they began to roll the inflatable ball across their entire face without guidance from me. Enlightened by this, I encouraged them to continue and proceed with what felt right. The energy in the room became rather introspective at this point and they all looked completely relaxed. I knew immediately that I was onto something great for my students. Though it takes time to change old habits and create a new normal, I continue to build upon these positive results and I’m always open to trying different methods. I am very much looking forward to taking the Yoga Tune Up® Breath and Bliss Immersion to further learn and share more down regulation techniques with my students. Perhaps a further article will be forthcoming!