06/13/2013 02:13 pm ET Updated Aug 13, 2013

Yoga: How We Help People With Disabilities Gain Access to Integrative Therapies

This is an interview with Crystal Hinton, who started her yoga service career caring for her younger sister, Chanda, when Chanda moved to Colorado in 2000. A shooting accident at the age of 9 left Chanda paralyzed, a C/6 injury. In 2003, Chanda "hit rock bottom" as a result of raging medication side effects, chronic pain, and weight loss. Together, they founded The Chanda Plan Foundation in 2005, funding integrative treatments in their community, such as massage therapy, acupuncture and yoga therapy to name a few. Crystal now serves as the yoga therapist for The Chanda Plan Foundation, offering yoga as an integrative treatment for participants in The Quality of Life Program.

Rob: What originally motivated you to do this work, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Becoming a caregiver at age 13 motivated me early on to learn more about healing through yoga. As a witness to my sister's healing journey, I yearned for compassion and healing where it was -- and still is -- being overlooked. This continues to motivate my work.

Is there a standout moment from your work with people with physical disabilities?

There isn't necessarily a standout moment. Rather, this work requires patience in witnessing those who function with less physical dexterity or those who incur injury that limits their physical function. In this sense, the work is unlike any other.

What did you know about providing treatments to people experiencing health problems related to their disability before you began teaching? What were some of the assumptions you had about this population, and how have those assumptions changed?

We knew what we knew only from our own experience, and that was a lot. We came up with our own ways to instill hope when our medical system wouldn't. Questioning the integrity of our healing approach was the first step. I think at first we all assume most of this population is weak, when really they are the true warriors of our culture today, being survivors of our medical system.

What has been the greatest challenge in your teaching experience, and what tools have you developed for addressing that challenge?

It's been the simple and complex task to hold space for each student. What I mean by that is that I don't try to fix anything, but rather allow each student to come into their own healing revelations in their own time.

What advice would you give to anyone who is going to teach adaptive yoga to people with disabilities?

It's sacred work, so be humble. They have more to teach us then we do them; value it as such. Our teacher and friend, Matthew Sanford, says, "If we could bottle the patience that's cultivated from those living with a disability, and have everyone sip from that, the world would know peace."

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of "service yoga" in America in the next decade?

I hope "service yoga" expands tenfold, and its efficacy becomes widely recognized so there are resources in every city and town in the U.S. Then more hospitals will consider collaborating with this ancient system of healing, educating their patients on the care of the human frame, and on food as medicine.

What other organizations do you admire?

We admire all conscious and collective collaborations of healing practices!

To name a few, the pioneering work of Matthew Sanford and Mind/Body Solutions, our local Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Recovery Project demonstrating that the possibilities are endless, the healing teachings of Reverend Hanna Kroeger (called "the Grandmother of Health") and her Peaceful Meadow Retreat outside of Boulder, and last but not least the amazing work of Jacque Fresco -- The Venus Project -- asking us to think outside the box.

Join Crystal and Chanda at Hanuman Festival, which is deeply committed to supporting service organizations and encouraging festival-goers to take action in their communities. The festival features talks from leaders in the Seva movement and donates a portion of its sales to the Give Back Yoga Foundation, Angel Organic, the Wellness Initiative, and Africa Yoga Project. Learn more about Hanuman Festival at

My health is looked after by a wonderful yoga studio, the Yoga Pod. And their teachers are bringing yoga to many unserved populations after completing the Yoga Pod Seva Teacher Training. Check out their fall intensive program:

Editor: Alice Trembour

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