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SCI Forum Reports

Swimming and Yoga

May 10, 2005






Kiko Van Zandt, RN , a rehabilitation nurse at Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center (CHRMC) in Seattle, is unapologetically passionate about getting people to start swimming. She teaches and coaches disabled swimmers, and went to Athens with the US Paralympics swim team in 2004 (swimmers won 35 of the 88 U.S. medals). She swam competitively in college and has continued to do so throughout her life.

"While I come from a competitive background personally, I'm here today because I really just want to get you guys in the water," she told the audience. "I want you to feel comfortable and safe in the water, and to enjoy it." Her motto? "Swimming is the right choice!"

Why swim?

Van Zandt provided a long list of benefits of swimming for everyone, regardless of ability or disability:

In addition, Van Zandt believes swimming is an especially good exercise choice for the SCI population because it provides the opportunity to engage in a resistance activity, to feel freedom of movement ("you're not working against gravity when you're in the water"), and to increase body awareness.

How to get started

Getting started is arguably the hardest part of any exercise program, and Van Zandt admits that working regular exercise into one's life is difficult, more so if you have a disability. "Exercise should be done to make your life better and easier," she said, "not to make it harder. You need to choose something that works for you." In her experience teaching and coaching swimming in the disabled population, the benefits of swimming far outweigh the hassles.

"Start with your local parks and recreation departments, YMCA, or disabled student services if you're a student," Van Zandt suggested. Ask about classes, sessions, and even individual lessons. "Use terms like 'adaptive aquatics' or 'disability swimming' when looking for or asking about swim programs." Some local swim schools also have programs for people with disabilities.

"Make sure you tell them you're not talking about Special Olympics activities," she warned. Special Olympics pertain to people with developmental disabilities (IQ under 75). "Be clear that you have a physical disability" and need help getting in and out of the water.

For a list of Puget Sound swimming pools , click here.

Things to know

Need help?

Van Zandt is happy to give advice and encouragement to anyone having trouble getting started. Contact her at 206-987-2182 or kiko.vanzandt@seattlechildrens.org .

Swimming resources


Laura Yon-Brooks, MA , combines an advanced degree in sports medicine with extensive yoga training and has taught yoga to cancer patients at the UW Medical Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance for five years. She practices a style of yoga called viniyoga, ( vini means "to adapt")which "can be adapted to the needs of the individual, as opposed to trying to adapt the person to the yoga."

Working with people who have serious illness or injury, she finds that with viniyoga, "we can always do something, even if a patient is hooked up to an IV or too tired to get out of bed. This yoga isn't just the postures, it's breathing, mindfulness, movement, awareness and visualization. We use the breath to quiet the mind." What it feels like is more important than what it looks like, "so we adapt the poses according to how it feels for the individual and so the individual can get some benefit. viniyoga really is for every body."

Yon-Brooks took the audience through a short viniyoga session, with a series of stretches and mental relaxation and breathing exercises.

Yoga Resources