When you think about yoga, the image of a group of people in a room sweating and performing various poses may come to mind. However, the physical movements that we call ‘asanas’ are actually just one part of this ultimately mental and spiritual practice. Yoga is an ancient system of philosophies that incorporates breath, meditation, focus, as well as our attitude and actions towards ourselves and others. Did you know that you can practice yoga without doing a single asana?
By its very nature, yoga is inherently accessible and everyone can practice some form of it. If you do choose to practice asanas, it should not require you to be in a studio with expensive equipment. It can be done almost anywhere, anytime by anyone. Even though it is often practiced in a gym or studio with a teacher planning the sequence for the whole group, yoga is an individual practice that is open to all. There are so many different styles and teachers in the yoga world - everyone should be able to find their own way to practice, and we should be doing all we can to make sure that Yoga is available to people of all body types, backgrounds, abilities, ages and genders.
If you have ever attended a yoga class and not felt included, or felt like you weren’t suited to the class, it’s more than likely that your teacher did not do all they could to make the class suitable for YOU. Over the years, the practice has developed into a mostly physical one which only focuses on the asanas. The fast pace and direction to make unattainable shapes for our individual bodies can often make this a stressful experience where the student leaves the class either injured or too scared to go back. Even worse, they may leave feeling like they’re ‘not good enough’.
How can we change this? What does an accessible yoga class look like?
First, it is up to the teacher to ensure that ALL students in their class feel comfortable, included, and visible. If an individual with an injury or a different need comes to a class and is ignored while everyone else goes through the practice, it is NOT going to make them feel any of these things. They will likely leave and never come back to yoga.
If you already teach yoga, there are many things you can do to make your classes more inclusive and accessible. Here’s how:
Be open to adapting and changing. Take into consideration that that your class plan is likely to change depending on who is in front of you on any particular day. Stop doing your own yoga practice in your classes and LOOK at your students. You are there for them, not you.
Know your stuff and learn from many sources. The more you learn, the more tools you have and then you’ll be able to offer different suggestions to those who need them. Have chairs, and other props ready and available to all who may like to use them, and please avoid labelling using a prop is a"gentler" or "easier" option. Remember, there is no one size fits all practice and everyone feels things differently in their own individual bodies.
Practice Ahimsa (non-harm) and teach with kindness and compassion. Use words that are inclusive and be careful about the language you use and the words you say – the energy of those words can affect people more than we know!
Practice Satya (truthfulness). Offer space for people to be truthful with themselves and to practice in their own way. Forget about one size fits all and give options for every single asana. Remind students that it is their body, their choice, and that choosing to not do something that doesn’t feel right for them does not make them less than anyone else.
Remember that yoga isn’t just about what you look like, but how you feel and what you experience. Find and use different tools of yoga to connect with the individual beings in front of you. Just breathing is enough on some days.
LV Chair Yoga embodies all of the above ideas, taking into consideration that everyone is different on any given day. By practicing yoga in the chair, we offer even more ways for individuals to practice in a way that is safe and accessible for everyBODY.
Here's a way you can adapt a popular balance pose - Tree (Vrksasana) to the chair for many different people.
Chair Yoga classes are inclusive of all abilities, conditions and ages – in one single class you may have athletes, older people and people with disability all together practising in their own way. This inclusivity creates a strong sense of connection with community, which can have knock on effects such as decreased loneliness, depression, ostracism etc. In addition to this sense of connection, students who thought they would never be able to access the benefits of yoga feel a sense of accomplishment and increased confidence by doing these classes. Yoga is truly for everybody and we must do all we can to make this wonderful practice as inclusive as possible.