A highly personalized approach, yoga therapy is based on an assessment of an individual’s physical, mental, emotional, and psychological state. A therapist develops an individualized plan so a student can practice yoga tailored to his or her specific needs and that, over time, alleviates pain and enhances well being.
The YogAbility Institute in Santa Monica, CA, offers a therapeutic approach to yoga for people with disabilities and special needs. Its founder, Bea Ammidown, is a certified yoga therapist and former journalist who wrote for Life Magazine and the LA Times before a head-on collision in 1985 changed the course of her life. Through four years of rehabilitation, yoga proved instrumental to her healing, so Ammidown embraced yoga therapy as her life’s work.
Nearly 80 years young and nimble, Ammidown teaches classes around town and in her home studio, six days a week. A mother of three and a grandmother of six, she shows no signs of slowing down. She’s done numerous videos, including a DVD, Special Needs Yoga. Being a senior, she says, helps her relate to her students, especially those with special needs. “I’m very pleased to say how old I am, which sounds younger every year.” On a recent, warm fall day, we chatted by phone about her mission, her approach to teaching, and where she gets her indefatigable energy.
Paula Fitzgerald: Tell me about your journey to yoga. What hooked you?
Bea Ammidown: (laughs) Well, I was born with loose joints, as they say. My physical therapist says I’m “bendy” rather than flexible. So as a little girl, being kind of double-jointed, I loved doing backbends and splits and dancing, which is what yoga is about—being connected to one’s body. That always gave me great pleasure.
Then, after I’d moved to California, I found a book on yoga by Richard Hittleman. That was in 1962. I thought, “Oh, that looks good. Let me do a little something at home.” By the early ‘70s, I learned about yoga classes and good teachers. One was through UCLA Extension, so I became a student there. Many years later, I was in a very serious accident, having done yoga for years, and recuperated after surgeries and various procedures, and I thought, “Well, whatever I have been able to do for myself, I’d love to share a lot of that with others with special needs, and I’d love to put together programs and classes.”
I trained at YogaWorks in Santa Monica, which involved years of study. I stopped doing journalism and started giving little classes and then more classes followed. I loved what I was experiencing personally, which also helped my writing, so I taught yoga and writing for years. I continue to do that in special classes and workshops.
Fitzgerald: And when did you start the YogAbility Institute?
Ammidown: In 1999. We are a nonprofit organization that was started on the coattails of my first nonprofit called HumoRx-Laugh Wagons, a program inspired by Norman Cousins’ book, Anatomy of an Illness, and our friendship. He called it psychoneuroimmunology. He showed himself funny movies and said, “Take less pain medication, because with affirmative emotions we truly assist the immune system.”