Yoga Makes Debut at Special Olympics

For the first time, yoga classes will be offered at the Special Olympics World Games kicking off this Saturday, July 25th, in Los Angeles.
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For the first time, yoga classes will be offered at the Special Olympics World Games kicking off this Saturday, July 25th, in Los Angeles.
Special Olympics World Games

For the first time, yoga classes will be offered at the Special Olympics World Games kicking off this Saturday, July 25th, in Los Angeles.

When the Special Olympics World Games kick off in Los Angeles this Saturday, July 25th, 6,500 athletes with intellectual disabilities from 165 countries won’t only be participating in the largest sports and humanitarian event in the world, they’ll also be taking yoga classes.

The 20- to 30-minute yoga classes, coordinated by Emperor's College of Traditional Oriental Medicine, will be available to athletes for the first time throughout the Games, along with acupuncture, Oriental medicine (AOM) wellness services, and Tai Chi classes.

"It’s not surprising that yoga is having is having its moment at the Games now," says Sara Ivanhoe, who will teach yoga throughout the Games along with Mia Togo, Kia Miller, and Vytas Baskauskas. "We just celebrated the first International Day of Yoga. This is again another huge first for yoga -- what an extraordinary thing to be a part of."

Why yoga, why now? The fact that first lady Michelle Obama, an Honorary Chair of the Games, is a yoga fan has certainly played a role, Ivanhoe says. There's also greater awareness today that yoga is for every walk of life. "We see how healing and inclusive yoga is. As yoga teachers, we’re sharing this gift that you can take with you anywhere and feel accepted rather than alienation," says Togo.

Also see Personal Transformation + Healing Through Yoga

On a practical level, having yoga at the Games offers athletes another approach to balance their mind, body, and energy in order to maximize their performance, says Miller, who adds that she's "excited to share breath techniques that will help them to access their inner intelligence, their innate wisdom, and deeper potential."

Ivanhoe believes that yoga could even help teach intellectually disabled people in a different way, through the yoking of mind and body. But Togo adds that the teachers will learn just as much from this inspiring group of athletes.

"A lot of us are living in the intellect, sometimes a little too much. [An intellectual disability] can keep you in this really open heart space with a capacity to love so big, and I think, 'How can I be like that?'"

Yoga classes will be offered in the Athletes Village on the campus of the University of Southern California throughout the Games, which conclude on Aug. 2. Find spectator information here or watch the Opening Ceremony and the Games on ESPN.

See also3 Extraordinary Stories of Healing Through Yoga