I use the phrase making yoga accessible multiple times on my website. When you hear the phrase making yoga accessible you might think of helping people in wheelchairs to do yoga. While I certainly do that in my classes at assisted living facilities, the idea is really much broader. It’s about making yoga work for the people I’m working with.
I make yoga accessible by:
LISTENING – I don’t know what your needs are unless I’m listening to what you tell me. If you need help with a particular posture I need to hear that. If you’re expressing fear or concern I need to reassure you. If you’re saying one thing verbally but your body is saying something different, I need to listen to both.
MAKING IT FUN – Yoga can be hard physically, emotionally and spiritually it’s true, but there’s no reason you can’t have a little fun while doing the work. Real life is serious enough, we can be a little lighter while we’re on the mat. Using phrases like “slumpasana” are factually true and more fun than nagging you to “sit up straight.”
ACKNOWLEDGING YOUR ASSETS AND LIABILITIES – One day when I was changing in the locker room, a woman in the next aisle asked a friend to borrow a beach towel because she had grabbed the wrong one that morning and hers didn’t cover her “assets and liabilities.” The woman should’ve copywritten the phrase because it’s a great way of looking at yourself. We all have assets and liabilities. As a teacher, I have to help you accommodate yours.
PROVIDING A SPACE TO BE VULNERABLE – I need to provide you a space where you can try out new ways of being yourself. For example, in my mommy & me classes, the moms are learning how to integrate the new role of being a mom into their old image of themselves. Providing a space where they can do something they used to do pre-parenthood with their babies allows room to grow into new roles. I’m there to help you embrace that vulnerability.
KEEPING IT SAFE – Student safety is a number one priority. I always say “Do what you can” and “Make it your practice.” My cues are suggestions for your journey unless it looks likes you actually are getting unsafe and then I’ll get quite insistent.
USING PROPS – Sometimes we use a lot of props. Props keep people comfortable, safe, and build body awareness. Props are our friends.
KEEPING MY EGO IN CHECK – My classes and private sessions are about you not me. I’m not there to wow you with a posture or name dropping.
KEEPING YOUR EGO IN CHECK – Like really, really, really encouraging you to take the bloody prop.
LANGUAGING TO MY AUDIENCE – In my kids classes I phrase things differently than to a class of adult beginner yogis. The important thing is I phrase things in a way that resonates with you as my student. Using the Sanskrit is respectful and builds your skillset if used with some translation. I’m there to teach you, not overwhelm you with verbage.
BEING ATTENTIVE – If you need help with a particular posture, I need to help you when you’re in that posture, not 15 minutes down the road. When the tenor of the class is showing a little bit of frustration or overwhelm, I need to back off vs. if everyone is sleepy, I need to jazz it up.
MAKING IT RELEVANT – My wheelchair students don’t need classes on the finer points of handstand nor do my mommy & me students need a tirade on the need for absolute silence in savasana (corpse pose). I provide students with the information that’s relevant to where they are at in their practice.
PRACTICING BODY ACCEPTANCE – I don’t care what you weigh, or how many diagnoses you have, or your gender…. We’ll get you doing the yoga that’s right for you.
EMBRACING CHANGE – You have different needs every time you come to class. I don’t make my classes the same every time. It makes us open to the possibilities of change together.
BY BEING WELCOMING – I’m thrilled you came to class. I don’t teach yoga because I have to. I’m really happy to be there too.
HAVING A CAN DO MINDSET – If something didn’t work for you, I’ll see or hear that and we’ll try something else. The important part is saying yes to the yoga, the details we’ll work through.
ENCOURAGING COURAGE – I have problems, you have problems, we have problems. It could be a little song but we don’t have to let the problems keep us from doing yoga. We have to have the courage to focus on what parts of yoga we can do, and focus our attention and energy there. Practice with sutra 2.8 close to your heart. “Unreasonable dislikes are usually the result of painful experiences in the past connected with particular objects and situations.” We need to leave the fear in the past.
ACCEPTING HELP – I don’t have all the answers. If I don’t know the answer to your question, I’ll tell you, and then I’ll do the research and get back to you.
DEALING WITH CHALLENGES – I make the assumption that everyone in my classes has challenges. They might be physical, mental, or emotional but we’ve all got our baggage. It’s like at the airport when all the bags go around on the carousel and when you go grab yours it’s too heavy. I’m that dream porter who appears and helps you with your heavy bag. While I wheel it around for you, hopefully I can teach you how to pack lighter for next time.
BEING OPEN TO NEW IDEAS – I’m a voracious researcher so I love using students as my lab rats. But when the rats revolt…
BY BEING HUMBLE – I love feedback. I don’t really (I’m the same as everyone else I internally cringe when I know you didn’t like something). But… I really do love the feedback because it makes me a better teacher.
Because at the end of the day, making yoga accessible is just about being the best teacher you can for the students in front of you.
For more tips on how to keep yoga accessible and thrive with chronic illness, get my free ebook, Thrive with Yoga
An adaptation of this post, 10 Ways to Make Yoga Accessible, was shared on the Accessible Yoga website. To read that abridged version and learn more about the good work that they do, visit their WEBSITE.