About Mariah Kilbourne
Mariah is a yoga enthusiast and avid concert-goer. She also loves writing, photography, and graphic design. Mariah is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies with a specialization in Leadership Studies from Texas Lutheran University in 2010.
What got you into yoga, and what does the practice mean to you?
I started practicing yoga after my best friend Didi (who also had a disability) passed away. Her death was hard on my body, due to the way my physical body processes stress in the presence of spastic cerebral palsy. For a year after she passed, I had difficulty walking, moving, and interacting with my friends. I knew this was not the way I wanted to live my life, nor how Didi would have wanted me to continue.
So I asked my physical therapist Tiffany if she thought it would be a good idea if I tried yoga. She immediately said yes and connected me to her friend and colleague, Dr. Sarah Eads, who is also a physical therapist. We began working individually and adapted the practice to my abilities. I enjoyed the practice very much and soon became dedicated to attending classes consistently.
Since then, I have attended over 300 classes. I have learned how to adapt my practice, and I practice alongside able-bodied practitioners. My practice has helped me return to walking with my Kaye Walker; transferring has been easier, and I have regained my independence in the world.
The practice has taught me that I am not alone. The connection I have regained with my body and with my community inspires me to share the practice with others who have disability, who might feel the same way I did.
Tell us a little bit about the work you do. How do you bring the therapeutic benefits of yoga to people with limited access to this practice?
I have created an Instagram account called Yoga for CP, through which I aim to dispel any fears that others with disability may have about starting a yoga practice. I provide information about common yoga verbiage, how to breath, how to laugh, and how to modify postures. My goal is to show others that it is possible to begin a practice at any time, and with any ability level.
Cerebral Palsy (CP) is a large umbrella diagnosis that can have a vast array of severity and affects a very large population. There are 17 million people in the world diagnosed with CP, and they can ALL do Yoga. Social media allows me to share this message with as many people as possible. Ultimately, I would like to create an online platform to provide classes for those with disability, integrating full asana, breath work and meditation.
What’s your advice for yoga teachers and yoga therapists who are interested in working with the population(s) you work with? How did you get started?
My number one advice to yoga teachers and yoga therapists is to be open. Don’t be afraid to get to know the student who has disability, just like you would any other yoga student. Typically, if given the chance, the student with CP or disability will be able to share how their body works best. Including the student in how the modification will be carried out will always give the best outcome, since no one individual with disability is the same.
Finding someone with experience in working with special populations is good, but not a necessity, if the yoga teacher is willing to pay attention and put in the work. This may include seeking courses that instruct in adaptable yoga, or seeking a healthcare professional with experience in yoga.
I don’t currently work privately with other people with disabilities, but hope that my platform will lead me down a path where my skills are needed most. I’m so excited and grateful that I will begin 300 hour Yoga & Meditation Teacher Training in January 2022 with Beryl Bender Birch, The Hard and the Soft Yoga Institute, and all of the incredible faculty that are part of the program. I still can’t believe this opportunity is possible. I can’t wait to begin!