By Paige Smith Orloff Every Thursday afternoon, a small group of men and women, ages ranging from 25 to 82, gathers at a downtown studio for a private yoga class, which includes sun salutes, chanting, and other elements of a traditional hatha yoga practice. But this class is far from traditional. Many who are waiting to enter the high-ceilinged studio use wheelchairs. All have some form of developmental disability, from Down’s syndrome to cerebral palsy. The class forms the core of a new program developed by the 25-year-old Anne Lesley Dupee, health and wellness coordinator for local nonprofit United Cerebral Palsy/Work, Inc., which provides housing, training, and support to developmentally disabled adults.
Dupee, raised in British Columbia, began working as a caregiver to disabled adults during college, to pay her expenses while studying theater and costume design.
One of her first clients, a 33-year-old man with cerebral palsy, inspired her to create the “Yoga and Wellness” program. “He taught me about patience and humility and what it’s like to live life from a wheelchair,” she said. “I really started to notice these range-of-motion exercises we did every day. He wasn’t doing yoga per se, but because of these exercises he was in so much better shape and a lot less pain” than others with similar conditions. When Dupee left Canada nearly two years ago, “searching for sunshine,” she said, “I stopped in every little town along the West Coast. When I came across Santa Barbara, I found open doors and warm welcomes.” She stumbled upon UCP/Work Inc. while looking for another nearby nonprofit’s office, and was hired as an independent living instructor. Her superiors supported the idea of a yoga program, and helped her find Emily Kligerman, who teaches the classes. The two of them, Dupee said, have worked closely to create the program and find its funding, which comes from the Balm Foundation as well as UCP/Work Inc.
Ironically, Dupee wasn’t much of a yogi at first; her taste in exercise runs more to capoeira, the Brazilian amalgam of dance and martial arts. But she believes that yoga is ideal for her clients: “Yoga meets each person wherever they are emotionally or physically. If all they do is breathing to start, then that’s their yoga and they just build from that.” Her greatest joy is seeing students take their training out of the studio and into their lives. One woman with, as Dupee put it, “anger management issues,” astonished her social worker when she defused a tense situation by chanting “Shanti, shanti” (“peace”), just as she learned in class.
Dupee said the program succeeds when clients learn to “listen to their own voices and pay attention to their own bodies.” This kind of inward focus can benefit everyone, stated Dupee. “I don’t know that it even matters if it’s yoga — if you’re doing something over time, 10 minutes of your day to meditate, 10 minutes of your day to do yoga, the difference that makes is like compound interest on life.”
4•1•1: Contact Anne Dupee at 708-1901.