Embracing Inclusivity: Adaptive Yoga + A.P.E. with Carli Ross
Discover the transformative power of adaptive yoga and inclusive Physical Education
Alycia Anderson: Welcome to Pushing Forward with Alycia a podcast that gives disability a voice. Each week we will explore topics like confidence, ambition, resilience and finding success against all odds. We are creating a collective community that believes that all things are possible for all people.
Open hearts, clear paths. Let’s go.
Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia. The last couple of days I was doing some research on the topic that we are going to dive into today, which is inclusion and integration in schools and in physical education and activity specifically.
And, I ran into this photo that was online and it was a picture of a little girl, maybe like five years old, and she was in her little ballerina outfit sitting in front of a mirror in her wheelchair, doing a ballerina pose. It was adorable, and there was a quote from Magic Johnson that said all kids need a little help, hope and someone that believes in them.
This reminded me of my adapted PE teacher when I was in school. She taught me so many things. She taught me about advocacy and physical fitness and health and how to take care of my body.
She taught me how to stretch. Some of the things that she taught me how to do as a little girl with a disability, I am still doing today.
I want to introduce Carli Ross her and I went to Chico State together when we were doing our undergrad degree in adapted… in kinesiology with an emphasis on adapted physical education. She is a dynamic leader and educator in the field of kinesiology and adaptive physical education. She is an international adaptive physical education Project Coordinator, founder of Carli B. Yoga, and is a certified yoga instructor who also has an adaptive yoga program. What did I leave out?
Carli Ross: Oh my gosh. When you asked me to be a part of this, I was just so excited. Like you said, every time we get together like, I feel inspired and motivated every time we talk. And so, I was just stoked to have this conversation and to get to share our conversations with like more people, the fact that like maybe they will listen is pretty awesome. So, thank you.
You really hit those key points. I have been teaching in the Kinesiology department focusing on adaptive physical education for nine years at Chico State. I was out in the school district and I was teaching general physical education, and also had a few students on IEPs, 504s and so I like was able to integrate them with into my physical education classes.
Alycia Anderson: Can you share really quick what that is?
Carli Ross: Yeah, yeah… So, for like in a general physical education course a student might have an IEP or 504, which would be a programming for their physical education class so they could get extra help, whether it be through an aid or kind of whatever their team decides.
And they have a… maybe a large team, maybe a small team of their parents and their coordinator.
It could just be whatever that student’s disability is that their team consists of so let us say the adapted physical education teachers on that team. They will help create this 504 plan or IEP to allow that child to be the most successful in the general physical education course.
Alycia Anderson: I love it. OK, that is great.
Carli Ross: Yeah, yeah… So, I had those classes and then I think my biggest focus in the last year or two has been Carli B. Yoga with my adapted yoga classes.
Then my Italy program I have partnered up with a nonprofit over there [GASON IST] and they are an adaptive physical education program. What is so cool about it is that the first time I went over there I just like happened to run into them. I was doing yoga in the Piazza just because it sounded cool, like who did not want to go to yoga in the Piazza.
And, I looked around and I saw all of these billboard size signs, with people with disability doing sport. They were swimming. They were skiing, and I thought, who is this program and I need to be a part of it.
So, I found the President and I asked, can I come volunteer?
I volunteered with them for a year or for that summer and decided my students or our students at Chico State need to be a part of this. They need to see that this is an international issue that we need to bring to the table. In the summer they do these sports camps where it is all abilities and they modify.
We are like walking through forests with everybody and swimming and paddle boarding and rock climbing and every single human is involved, and for our students at Chico State to get to come over and see the modifications they have used, the pieces of equipment that they are using and bring it back to Chico and bring it back here.
It has been a pretty amazing experience, so that has been a huge fire or passion for me.
Alycia Anderson: You’re bringing back some of their practices from Italy back to Chico State.
Carli Ross: Yeah.
Alycia Anderson: Is there differences like? What are you seeing?
Carli Ross: The equipment has been different. We may not be able to like go purchase that piece of equipment, but it gives these students these ten students that went with me last summer. Now they have that vision of what this piece of equipment did or how it was utilized, and now they can come back and kind of like build and modify within the equipment that we have… to be able to like support a student in a chair coming on a hike with us, that is not like a… you know… a pay type for their chair typically or whatever it might be.
Alycia Anderson: I love that and it makes me think of one of the barriers in general physical education would be lack of proper equipment or adaptive equipment. Is that correct?
Carli Ross: I mean really it opened my eyes as well as far as like equipment we do not have, we kind of just get used to what we have, and we are like, OK, we will try and work with it, we will try and modify and then going to see somebody else’s program or somebody else do something in a completely different way with another piece of equipment has really just opened my eyes to there is so much out there.
We just kind of have this narrow-minded thought of like well, this is how we have done it. This is how we have always done it. Let us just make this work, or let us just have them sit out for this one piece and then we can kind of bring them back and you and I both know, like my feeling on that and like no one should be sitting out.
Everybody should be in every single activity and there are no excuses for not.
Alycia Anderson: What do you think is perpetuating that?
Carli Ross: Yeah, I think fear. Fear of asking those, those participants, or those students to… what if they fail? And then it is my fault. And then what if they get hurt? What if you know, they have never seen it done, maybe correctly or done with a certain piece of equipment, and so, they would rather play it in that safety zone of like, I know that they are going to be OK seated or taking laps around the track… rather than… like, OK, are you OK with, like, maybe us transferring you to this and like your pants might fall off. I do not know… like… you know, we will go into some privacy… we will make sure that you are comfortable in it and then we will see if it works.
If it does not then we will get you back to where you are comfortable.
Those little tiny baby steps of like getting out of that comfort zone, or what has always been done, is what is going to build you up to being just more progressive and ultimately having more movement.
Alycia Anderson: And I think that is the beauty of that quote is, “everybody needs a little help and a little bit of hope” and as educators we/you/they have a responsibility to empower.
If we are allowing these kids to… students to… navigate an unknown.
So, I think pushing the envelope of those societal norms right now for children with disabilities is highly important for them to branch out and I mean really, it’s like the physical education is so important but the social aspect and feeling included and feeling a part of a community and finding a way to accomplish things physically, maybe it navigating, adapting it along the way all of that, there’s like such powerful tools and letting them just dive in and have the experience right.
Carli Ross: 100%! I think the assumption is huge, you know, that’s where ableism comes in, like assuming ohh… they probably do not want to like get out and try it. Or, I just do not think they could it, and so we are gonna hold back from it.
And just like the assumption is… tends to be negative at first.
And just recently, it was at the beginning of the semester, so a few months ago, I was doing a little talk to a bunch of adapted physical educators in our community, and my talk was on adapted yoga.
And it was so new for them, like ohh they could do that?
You know, it was kind of like eye opening for them, and I thought, oh my gosh, if this is eye opening for adaptive physical educators who are definitely out there in the field and modifying and adapting daily and they haven’t quite put that that yoga piece together!?!
How far could we, you know, could we go with this, and like it is the little types of, I think they were thinking and everybody assumes that yoga is just like these, like crazy balance poses are what you see on Instagram, and when I walk them through this like 15-minute yoga session of breath work and focusing on your posture, it was like a whole new world opened up for them.
So, I think it is just like putting it out there… that took no equipment, and it is just showing that our view of one sport, like volleyball or yoga or whatever sport, it might be, is not the only way that it can be played, or that it can be done.
Alycia Anderson: You are listening to Pushing Forward with Alycia and we will be right back.
Alycia Anderson: Welcome back to Pushing Forward with Alycia.
What made you want to do this work?
Carli Ross: Growing up, I was an athlete, played all sorts of sports through college, even, and then I kind of like, stopped doing that and thought OK I should focus on school and sport and I like, dabbled and I want to be in the field of movement because that feels good for me. I wanna like… I think… I want to share that with other people.
And it was one of our intro to adapted classes where I/we got to be hands-on in the field and I kind of felt that success of just this little girl and I playing catch and she was so stoked on it. She you know was over the moon and wanted, wanted it back and so that, like, sparked my APE interests.
And the more in these last just few years that I have been a part of this world and community, each little step forward I take, I noticed all the walls that are… that are up and that I just think should not be up, and it should be broken down. And so, I just kind of keep diving forward a little bit at a time and notice it needs to be tapped into each time.
So, with adapted yoga, I really wanted to teach adapted yoga, and I did not know where to do it. I could not find a facility.
They thought, ohh we do not have full accessibility in into our studio, and in different studios I went to, we do not wanna mess up our floors… we do not know where to store the chairs, so I just kept getting like turned down, and turned down after time… after time… for all of these, like amazing facilities.
But they were scared. They were scared to have an adapted yoga course.
And so, that is actually why, like the online stuff kind of started and like let us do it outside, let us do it online until I finally found that facility that was willing to take a chance.
And so that has given me drive to, like, open more doors for bigger communities and more people, is that it should be there.
The accessibility should be there, it is just people have that fear and it has been a slow roll in and I just keep getting excited about each little door that is broken down or each little thing that happened.
So, I just keep moving forward.
Alycia Anderson: It is so amazing… that is creating that like place of belonging where you can kind of enter and not feel immediately kind of stress… that you have to have the answer… is to make everybody else feel comfortable… that is advocacy work!
The future has got to be very bright for the field and the industry and everything that you are trying to push forward because it needs to be more prevalent.
Carli Ross: What’s crazy, like, I have told you… I teach an intro introduction to adaptive physical education course here, and it is, you know, 300 level classes are about like juniors some are seniors in college and this is some of… most of them… it is their first time working hands-on with somebody with a disability!
It is their first-time hearing about IDEA and IEPs and 504 plans… accessibility or even just talking about etiquette.
It is their first introduction into this world, and so many of them have talked with me later.
They are teachers now in the field not adapted PE teachers, but they take that into consideration now just because of this one course.
Like, I feel like, that is all everyone needs is the information to be out there, and then they can carry it on too.
It is you do not have to be this huge advocate of, like adapted physical educator.
Like you could be in any field and still support it just by having that base knowledge.
Alycia Anderson: Totally, and first of all, just a quick mention that is so cool that you are teaching the course that initially inspired you so many years ago to…
Carli Ross: Yeah, right.
Alycia Anderson: I mean that is a full circle moment, which I love seeing, like little breadcrumbs of connecting dots of your path, you know, because that is a really cool story in itself, but I think that the keyword that you just said for me is connection.
And once, you create a connection… an emotional connection to putting in the work of inclusion it becomes a lot easier to stop and pause and take the time.
And you know, I just spoke at the California Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance the attendees that I was speaking to were general and physical educators.
And… they hired me to come in and talk about ableism, and when I got done with my keynote, I just had so many professionals walk up to me and say this is the type of information and conversations that we need to have to connect and understand that all these students deserve us to stop for a second and go OK, how can we make it work for everyone.
So, all these students can be together. They are playing together; they are socializing together. They are becoming fit together. They are learning to be independent and strong together.
Carli Ross: The fact that they had this hands-on experience, they had this connection. They had this hands-on experience they were… they went through it with somebody, and they like, recall that years later and they recall it all.
Remember when, so-and-so did not get picked up by the bus and the accessibility like was not there for them to be able to get on any other thing. They could not find a ride home for hours and hours, you know, like these different things that just stick with them for, like, years and years, that exposure or that connection that they have. With that other human being and it really broadens their views, it is cool.
Alycia Anderson: So, what do we need to do better?
Carli Ross: What you are doing right now, like getting out to those big corporations and getting to maybe people that like do not have the opportunity to have this like one little introduction course and just spreading that word.
We will start with that connection. They will connect with you.
They will see that within the community now and just have that on the forefront of their mind as they move forward within whatever career that they have as far as adaptive physical education.
I mean the exposure of more areas than just your little town or county or, you know, state… get broader, get bigger, see what other people are doing and then see the success they have had and be open to potentially changing your program and being able to build as you see fit.
Alycia Anderson: You’re doing that work of advancing that, which is amazing.
Carli Ross: Thank you. Yeah, I really felt it in Italy last summer. It was our first full program last summer and I had one student come up to me on like an overnight and he was really struggling.
He was having one of the hardest, he said, two days of his life, and it is like I just do not know if I wanna do this anymore. I just, you know, like… I wanna quit, but I know I cannot.
This is hard, and so I see him, I do not know six months, 5-6 months later, in the halls and kind of ask him how things are going and we brought up that moment that he had that really difficult time and he said I think about that all the time and no now in these situations it is so much easier, and I know I can get through it.
And so, like it was just so cool to, like, bring up that, like, really tough moment, but he had. He saw that he was capable of doing it and then been able to take that on with him through school and now into his career. And so like, that was an eye-opening moment for me, is that they had some tough times over there, but they have all talked about bringing them back and bringing them to Chico, which feels pretty darn cool.
Alycia Anderson: Congratulations on all the cool stuff you are doing currently. It is so important.
Physical education and movement was the single most foundational thing that I was ever taught in my entire life as a little kid with a disability trying to figure out all of this. I just think the work that you are doing in emphasizing that to all of these many educators that you are touching now that are going out and you know they have got a real lifeline directly to help these kids.
I learned to be strong and competitive and one with my chair through play, and that is like been a thing that has translated into my independence and my success in my life, so it is foundationally the most important thing that educators and parents and anyone out there that has any type of disability can try to dabble in in some way that works for them. Because it is powerful, it really is, powerful.
As we wrap up, I want to… we kind of like end with like a pushing forward like segment. Can you leave us with something that is beautiful and inspirational somewhat?
Carli Ross: On the spot… Let us see… I think, I talked a little bit about being an athlete and playing volleyball through college, and the biggest thing I did was compare myself to others.
I am not as tall as them, I cannot jump as high as them, you know, whatever it might have been. The way I look in my uniform compared to them, and unfortunately, that was a lot of my younger years was comparison.
And, I was not able to find out who I really was because I was looking at everybody else and I wish I remember somebody had told me that comparison was the thief of joy.
I pass it along every single class I have ever taught. I think the second that you can let go of comparison and judgment then you are able to really find out who you are and accept you for all of your awesomeness and be able to just progress and move forward from there.
Alycia Anderson: Ohh, it is beautiful, I have written in my affirmation book that I look at every morning, it is none of your business what anyone else is doing.
Carli Ross: So true.
Alycia Anderson: Tell us how. How to find you your website?
Carli Ross: Carli B Yoga dot com is my website and Instagram. And any of the things that’s Carly B. Yoga.
We do have… I just started this Instagram page for Italy and it is called Ciao Chico and so that’s super fun. You can follow us all through Italy. I have students take it for like a week at a time and they post their experience and stories and their posts. And it has been pretty fun to get started and to follow and then yeah, I actually just put out some a journal and an adult coloring book to Amazon.
And so, it is like a journaling for beginners and I partnered with one of my students here, who is an amazing artist.
We are, like, just getting it out, probably at the end of this month for the adult coloring book.
And it is all of these positive quotes or affirmations in like a natural format, and my idea was that you could kind of color on it and say your affirmations as you are doing it and then post it up somewhere? That you…
Alycia Anderson: Oh my God, I. Need that?
Carli Ross: So, I am so excited about that to go out as well. So, I have got some fun, little different things out there and fire. View it if you would.
Alycia Anderson: Just congratulations on all of your successes and the amazing work that you are doing. It is making such a difference. It is so important. It is so impactful. I am so proud of you. I am so proud that I am your friend for so many years and I love you.
For everyone else out there thank you so much for spending some time with us, this is Pushing Forward with Alycia, and that is how we roll.