Adaptive Yoga at Gianna Homes

Every other Friday brings a special visitor to Gianna Homes. Deb Whitcomb visits the home to lead our residents in an adaptive yoga program. No need to turn yourself into a pretzel here – Deb is trained to meet the specific needs of people with special physical and cognitive needs. Even a person who may only typically passively observe activities can be involved with guidance to simple stretches and weighted sandbags to help the person feel grounded and connected to their own body.

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Here is what Deb has to say about her practice:

Tell me about your philosophy of care and approach to teaching adaptive yoga.


My philosophy of care is first and foremost meeting people where they are at physically, mentally and emotionally in order to cultivate a connection.  So it helps to know a bit of history of the resident.  How they lived their lives. What were their values, habits and lifestyle?  Utilizing movement and deeply ingrained patterns and ways of being can provide a connection based in the present moment. Human connection is hardwired, but unfortunately becomes fragmented by dementia.  Short-term memory is difficult to access, but by activating deep, ingrained patterns or neuropathways unaltered by the physical brain changes, for a brief moment in time the participant is in the here and now.

How do you see yoga practice affecting older adults, especially those with dementia?


Yoga works not only on the physical level, but also on the mental, emotional and spiritual aspects.  It may not appear that not much is happening, physically, when observing adaptive yoga.  However using different postures, in a particular sequence, even with minimal effort, activate the life force or Prana within the body providing physical benefits including grounding and increasing circulation, muscle tone and strength.

Are there exercises caregivers can try with their loved ones?


Loss of connection through conversation, story telling and remembering cherished memories are often inaccessible with Dementia.  Establishing a different method of connecting requires creativity and patience. There are a few simple techniques that can be utilized to enhance connection with your loved one.  These include singing songs or nursery rhythms, reading short poetry and/or daily inspirational messages.   Incorporating touch and movement while singing, talking or quoting inspirational messages are ways to foster connection.  Another modality that works is to gently place the hands on the tops of the feet (barefoot preferred), providing a physical reference for grounding. A tall spine is also important, so referencing the feet and cueing to gently lift the chest or crown of head can accomplish this.

What else would you like us to know?


One of the most difficult changes associated with dementia is grief and loss.  Loss of how things used to be, loss of the keeper of the family history, the matriarch and/or patriarch of the family.  Self-compassion and resiliency are can assist to navigate this difficult and challenging time. Be kind to your self and practice self care. I recommend reading “Finding Hope When Dreams Have Shattered” by Ted Bowman.

Alternative Yoga is more than just a way to get in exercise or movement, but a means to connect with one’s body and the world around us. We are so grateful for Deb’s work with our residents.


To see more of what Gianna Homes does that set’s us apart (in addition to alternative yoga) from our competition, check out our Social Model of Care.