Building a network for disabled

Carl Freeman, 62, of North Charleston, practices an adapted warrior pose during a yoga class for visually impaired people as yoga instructor Natasha Stevens looks on.

Carl Freeman really didn’t know anything about yoga until taking a class last fall and realized how much he needed it.

“Once you start doing yoga, you realize how very beneficial it is to your body and mind. It loosens you up,” says the 62-year-old North Charleston man. “I try to do as much as the instructor leads you to do. I love it and look forward to it every week.”

Freeman is among a group of blind and visually impaired people from across the greater Charleston area who are doing yoga, among other physical activities, through collaborations of the year-old nonprofit Adaptive Expeditions and other groups.

Joe Moore, executive director of Adaptive Expeditions, created the nonprofit after working with adaptive recreation programs at the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission for four years.

In the past year, Moore has been working to build the foundation for the group, including getting a national affiliation with the U.S. Paralympic Sport Club and making connections with like-minded organizations providing recreation and services to the disabled.

Collaborators include the county park commission, the College of Charleston sailing program and Lori Mulder of Visual Insights.

Last year, Adaptive Expeditions helped more than 100 individuals with physical and visual disabilities experience the health benefits of sport activities, including yoga, surfing, sailing, kayaking, cycling, swimming and programs related to natural history.

Moore, a James Island native who lost a leg in a car accident in which he was a backseat passenger, is answering a call for the disabled, who often suffer health issues related to being sedentary and isolated. In many cases, transportation to programs is one of the largest obstacles to participation.

“Consistency (of activities) is an issue,” says Moore, noting that recreation programs for the disabled are often infrequent or inconsistent and scattered across the Charleston area.

Moore says Adaptive Expeditions is trying to serve not only as the connection between those programs but as an authority on training individuals how to adapt activities for the disabled and to manage risk by the providers.

It’s not a simple task. Take, for example, the adaptive yoga class, that will be held on Fridays for the next 10 weeks at the St. Julian Divine building on Charleston’s East Side.

The first session of the class was made possible through grants by Disabled Sports USA and Gaiam Partners (a yoga products company and the Give Back Yoga Foundation). The second session wasn’t funded until a private local donor pitched in about $2,000, a large chunk of which goes to paying for transportation via Tele-A-Ride.

Also, the city of Charleston donated the use of the building.

Lori Mulder, the owner of Visual Insights and a low vision specialist, volunteered her time to make sure the programming continued.

Mulder also was involved with teaching independent living skills classes, funded and developed by North Charleston-based AccessAbility, after the yoga class.

“This catches my heart,” says Mulder. “There’s a lot more to this than meets the eye than people coming here to meet for yoga.”

Mulder says that after the current session is complete, she is not sure where future funding will come from.

Building this network of recreation services for the local disabled population also involves broadening the skills of providers, such as personal trainer and freelance yoga teacher Natasha Stevens.

“When the opportunity came up to teach the (visually impaired) group, I was interested to add another element to my teaching,” says Stevens, who taught both the fall and current sessions of yoga at St. Julian Devine.

“It’s been an amazing experience to teach a group of people who are not visually based (because) I’ve had to find different ways to cue people how to move their bodies,” says Stevens, noting how most people who begin yoga rely heavily on watching the instructor or others do the poses.

“There’s more hands on, but not as much. The more I teach, the more used to (verbal) cueing. That’s been a development as I’ve gone on,” says Stevens.

Most of the participants in the current sessions are repeats from the fall and Stevens has noticed how more confident and relaxed they have become doing the poses over time.

Shandell Thompson, 29, of North Charleston, seems like she’s a yoga veteran, based on how limber she was during a class last week.

“I have never done yoga before (this offering). I love it. It’s good for the soul,” says Thompson, who does some yoga at home between the weekly classes.

Rebecca Veeck, 24, of Mount Pleasant, was more familiar with yoga having worked with an instructor before, but she likes doing a class with other people who are visually impaired.

“It’s nice coming with other blind people and being around people who are the same (as you). We get along. I love the teacher and I love this class.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.