Yoga and Sickle Cell

I recently started teaching yoga to sickle cell patients. I specialize in yoga therapy, and restorative yoga. Which is meeting the student where they are and adapting yoga to the person to make them healthier. I have taught all sorts of illness and all types of students in doctor’s and integrative medicine doctors.


My doctor wanted me to teach sickle cell patients because I am very healthy and I rarely go to the infusion clinic. The nurses tell me I don’t’ come often enough. I went in March and I had last gone in January.

I use very little pain medicine, and I seem to be healthier. I must confess yoga is the reason for my health. I changed my lifestyle when I was 25. I became vegetarian, I started yoga, I became more holistic. I started detox, and acupuncture. I became a yoga teacher not because I wanted to, because I wanted to know more about yoga. My mother taught ballet and did some yoga at home. I learned yoga when I was young. I walked away from yoga in my teens and came back to it when I was 25. I started doing yoga on PBS there were two yogis with show and I would do them every day. I started going to yoga class when I was about 27 I had a good yoga practice. I was used to having my own yoga practice as a kid. My husband was in the military for 22 years so I moved very often. I would study one type of yoga and move with the military and the yoga I was studying was not at my new location so I would study a different type of yoga. This went on everywhere I moved. Remember yoga did not get as prevalent in the USA until Madonna embraced it. This was way before that.

When I moved back to Louisiana I met a yoga teacher who became my friend. Pam was going to a yoga training and asked me to take her beginner classes while she was out of town. I said no. She was persistent I kept saying no. She finally said to me, “April you have been doing yoga longer than me, your yoga is beautiful, you can do this!” I made her write out the class and practice it with me. I taught her beginner classes when when she was out of town. When she came back she gave me her beginner classes. I got certified in the next year.

I didn’t want to teach initially but I realized later I was meant to teach. I had studied every type of yoga when we moved all over the world. I had more yoga education than most teachers. Which really became true a few years later. As a sickle cell patient I had learned I could not do what other teachers did as I didn’t have the stamina. I could not teach 16 classes a week. (Oh, of course I tried!) but it was too much for me. I also practiced the most difficult yoga I could. I feel I was meant to help people. I understood chronic illness more than anyone in my teacher training and I understood it better than my instructors who were healthy.

It’s ironic early on in my teaching career one of my teachers told me to teach sick people. I was in my 20’s I was strong and did not want to teach sick people. I have come full circle to teaching people who are ill. I have gotten older and weaker, yet thats not why I chose to teach people who are ill. I realized one day I understood chronic illness better than anyone else, I lived with it why not help people who needed it more? I got disenchanted with people wanting a better body, or the best yoga clothes, or the best mat. I thought what am I doing? I need to help people. So I did.

As someone with sickle cell I learned I can’t be as physical as other teachers, I can’t take as many classes or workshops. So I studied yoga. I read every book, took every online workshop, I could not be as physical as other teachers, but I could be far more studious. When I was sick I could read and study. I learned I was more certified than most teachers, I knew more and I wanted to train teachers, so about 10 years after I started teaching I became certified to train yoga teachers. I was a teacher’s teacher.

I knew so much from reading and learning that I wanted to pass it on. I started teaching people who were ill, developmental disabled kids, kids with add, people with arthritis, fibromyalgia, I taught the breast cancer class for two years and saw a lot of unjust unfair medical policies and saw several students pass who didn’t have to die. Unfortunately the doctors offices I taught in were very affluent. I never saw a sickle cell patient. I referred a few to the office, but they didn’t come to yoga. Then the doctor I worked for became a concierge doctor. She stopped taking insurance. Only the really wealth could see her. I got a lot of private students people who paid $75.00 an hour for a private yoga class at their home or office. Ironically I didn’t get them from her I just started marketing myself for private classes. I asked the universe for them and got several. Some people were my students for over two years.

Teaching people with sickle cell is very different. They are not on time for class, you can’t get upset when someone took the bus or had to bum a ride to get to class. Some can barely afford a mat, yet that is the one thing they need. Remove the socioeconomic component and they are just students who need yoga more than most. They are stressed out and in pain and yoga can help. I did not treat them differently than other students. I started them with Ardha surya namascar and surya namascar Half sun salutes and full sun salutes. The problem is they are like everyone else. Most don’t exercise at all. Not a lot of flexibility. I decided to give them restorative class at the end of the month. They need restorative yoga more than anyone else in my opinion. Restorative yoga is lying over bolsters (pillows) and doing yoga poses, holding the poses longer. It’s very relaxing. I do it at home when I am sick.

I can’t say for sure that yoga made me a healthier patient. I can say for sure my lifestyle did. The patients love yoga. I also have learned over the years to give chronic illness patients a longer shavassana, which they really enjoy. They get a 15 minute shavassana. Yoga class is shorter for people with chronic illness. It’s an hour and 15 minutes instead of 90 minutes. So far they really have embraced it. I have recently had more challenging health issues, and I am glad I devoted myself to helping people. It’s the best reward to hear someone tell me they did shavassans on themselves and could sit still for a cat scan when they are claustrophobic, or yoga breathing helped them not get pneumonia in their opinion. This is my true reward.

If you want to start yoga. Get a teacher, don’t do videos. Videos don’t teach you proper form, only muscle memory does that. If you do videos and learn improper form, it’s harder to unlearn improper form than to just learn proper form. I had proper form I did yoga as a a child. I meditated as a child. Get a teacher, a mat, and practice a few times a week on your own to start. You need to choose a style of yoga like Hatha or restorative. Don’t try hot yoga your first time out you won’t stick with it. Don’t choose something to difficult. Yoga is meant to to be done under any circumstance. Hot yoga is perfect to do after recovering from a hospitalization it removes toxins. There is a type of yoga for every problem, the problem is you have to know enough about yoga to know which you need at which moment. That that takes a lot of knowledge or someone with a lot of knowledge to guide you. Look for a Yoga Alliance Registered Teacher.

Om Shanti



  1. Fulei on February 10, 2015 at 6:17 am

    Thank you for this article! I started getting into yoga but didn’t stick with it because I didn’t see the benefits & at times it hurt more than help. I agree that practicing it with a live instructor is better than a video. I had no idea there are different types of yoga. I look forward to moving forward in this.

  2. mitch on June 3, 2016 at 4:36 am

    I would like to get to know more about sickle cell disease.I want to
    improve my health condition

  3. Angela on August 13, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    Hi, thank you for your wonderful article. Can someone with sickle trait participate in hot yoga? I am just concerned because typically athletes are discouraged from participating athletics (i.e. football players outside and running) in high temperatures. Also concerned because of the hydration needs during hot yoga.

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