Three great yoga apps for people with limited mobility
Yoga can be tricky if you have pain or have mobility limitations.
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My relationship with yoga is even longer than my relationship with pain. My mother put me in my first yoga class at 6 or 7—I loved the quiet music, the slight stick of my blue yoga mat, and the satisfying pull of hamstrings. By 15, I attended weekly yoga class regularly with my mom in a friend’s home studio. I was never great and I never cared to be. I loved the intensity of stretching for its own sake. I was also 15 when I was in the first major car accident of my life, which led to chronic pain in my neck and back. Later, at 21, I would be in an even more serious accident that led to multiple fractures, nerve damage, and issues walking.
My journey back to yoga has been very slow. A few months after I began walking again, I attended my first Bikram class. Bikram consists of 26 poses practiced over 90 minutes in 105 degrees. During that session, sweat dripped into my eyes, my legs ached from too much standing, and dizziness came in waves. The class was simply too hard. I enjoyed it, but in the way one might enjoy picking at a scab: you know you shouldn’t be doing it, and the blood is never worth it.
I finished out my 10-day trial of Bikram and stopped doing yoga. I took short walks instead and took the next few years to get used to my new body and level of ability.
Finally, a few weeks ago I went back to yoga. I steeled myself to have the conversation most disabled folks with an invisible condition dread: the disclosure.
“I have a few injuries that make it difficult to stand for lengths of time. I may need to lie down or take more frequent breaks.”
The instructor was gracious, “I’ll give you modifications along the way, but you can lay down as long as you want. This is your hour.”
The rest of the class went smoothly, and my yoga practice was reinvigorated. But my life is busy. I needed a good yoga app that could keep up with my lifestyle, while still gentle enough to accommodate my chronic pain.
Here are my three favorite yoga apps for those with chronic pain:
1. The Underbelly
The Underbelly was founded by Jessamyn Stanley and Mary Carr. Stanley is the author of "Every Body Yoga: Let Go of Fear. Get On the Mat. Love Your Body." The ethos of The Underbelly is that anyone can do yoga, regardless of size or physical condition.
Stanley said of yoga, “Yoga is for everybody and EVERY BODY. You don’t have to be thin and you don’t have to be fat. You don’t have to be a specific color or commit to a specific diet. You don’t have to earn (or have access to) a certain amount of money.”
I was immediately drawn to not just the ethos of The Underbelly, but also the 10-minute couch potato yoga session offered on the site. The Underbelly offers a yoga practice for folks who need to be seated, folks who need assistive tools (like blocks and bolsters), and beginners.
2. Evolve 21
Evolve 21 is a fitness app for people of all abilities. What I love about this app is that it offers wellness practice in small, manageable bites in a range of activities including yoga, meditation, and cardio. Its 7-minute-a-day challenge also fundraises for the Cerebral Palsy Foundation.
Trainers range from dancers, wheelchair users, certified Pilates instructors, to mindfulness teachers. On the app, you can customize your program and swipe “yes” or “no” on certain poses to include or exclude them from your personalized session. This feature is amazing, because I can exclude standing poses from my practice on days I’m not up for it, and reincorporate those poses when I am. The app has a visual guide and well as a narrated practice for those who are visual or auditory learners.
3. Pocket Yoga
While it wasn't a favorite in our testing of the best yoga apps, Pocket Yoga is a reliable, on-the-go app for folks who don’t always have internet access. Pocket Yoga classes are available without Wi-Fi, so I can take my practice with me wherever I go. There’s a wide variety of adjustable settings, including difficulty, skill level, and duration—meaning the app can adapt with my body’s fluctuating needs and pain levels. I also love the pose dictionary, which gives users access to read more about the pose and how to do it safely.
For its quality, the app is also one of the least expensive on the market, only $2.99 a month.
“You have every right to choose what you want from your practice,” says registered yoga instructor Gabrielle Lawrence. “For me that looks like building a judgement free relationship with my body and practicing compassion and patience with myself.”
As Lawrence suggests, I am cultivating a fitness practice that honors my body’s needs and limitations, rather than its performance.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.