As soon as I began my yoga teacher training I knew that I wanted to teach accessible yoga. I didn’t know it had a name, but I always knew that I wanted to teach my classes in a way that everybody that joined my class would be able to do.
During my training, every time we learned a new pose I would think to myself “how can I teach this pose without hurting myself or my students?”. This question became the guiding force behind my teaching style. I then went on to take the Accessible Yoga Training and fine tune my craft of making yoga accessible to those that I work with.
Being an accessible yoga teacher doesn’t mean teaching only one style of yoga. You can be an accessible Yin yoga teacher, or an accessible Vinyasa or Hatha yoga teacher. You can be who you already are AND teach accessibly. I firmly believe that yoga should be available to everybody, but not everybody is my student. I have my community and my circle, and I can teach yoga to them, but if you haven’t heard of me, then my reach is limited. Plus, some people might not like my tone of voice, or the poses I teach, or something else about me, which is fine. We all have our favorite teachers and it’s hard to say why - maybe we just get along well with them. What I CAN do is help spread accessible teaching practices to other teachers in the hopes that one day we all teach accessibly. So how can you teach yoga in an accessible way?
It starts with understanding
We teach yoga for a number of reasons, but I’m betting a lot of us teach so that we can invite our students into a life of peace. Shouldn’t everybody have access to this? Shouldn’t everybody have access to this knowledge? I believe we should all have the chance to learn about this practice and what it can do for our souls, minds, and bodies. Once we have all agreed upon this, we can move onto the next step.
Adjusting our language
This is our most important tool in our toolkit. As you know, the language we use is what guides students throughout our practice. It’s not what we demonstrate, or our hands on assists (I don’t even use hands on assists), but it is the words that we use. Our words are so powerful and can have an impact without our even realizing it. To transition into a more accessible teaching language, here are some methods I have learned along the way.
Use language like:
“If this feels painful or uncomfortable, perhaps try easing out of the stretch a bit”
“Find your version of this pose that best serves you”
“One option is to move into table top, another is to move into downward facing dog”
Avoid language like
“If this pose is too challenging”
“Move into the full expression of the pose”
“Everybody move into downward facing dog”
“If you can’t do this…”
“Just…” (that’s it - the word “just” can make others feel not enough)
Props should be normalized in yoga. Not only offering props, but requesting that every person in the room use props, and handing them out to people that don’t have props, will encourage people to use them! In a room where nobody used props, I was always embarrassed to use them when I needed them. Plus, people might not realize how helpful a prop could be because they might not have used one before. Show them how amazing props can be.
Another note on props is to teach people how to use a prop while setting up a pose. Demonstrate to students a few ways to use a prop, and say things like “this is my favorite way to use a block”. If your students know that you use props, they might feel more open to using one themselves.
Trauma Informed Teaching
Learn about trauma informed approaches. I am not an expert on this, but there are so many resources out there. Learning how to teach with a trauma informed lens will make your classes more appealing to those that have experienced trauma. And the thing is, most people have trauma in their past, so learning how to teach with a trauma informed approach will make you more approachable as a teacher. Here are some things I like to remember when trying to teach with a trauma informed lens:
Teach with the door behind me so that students face the door rather than have their back to the door.
Don’t provide hands on assists without clear, and repeated consent. Just asking once at the beginning of class isn’t enough. Be sure to ask for consent each time you adjust a pose.
Don’t approach students from the back while they are in downward facing dog (or any similar pose).
Avoid scents in your practice (perfume, aromatherapy, etc.). If you like to use aromatherapy in your classes, make sure it is advertised in your class description that you use aromatherapy so students are aware before they take your class. Also announce to students before you incorporate aromatherapy in the moment.
Avoid the word “relax”.
Avoid telling students how they are supposed to feel. Let them feel what they feel and ask them how a pose feels rather than telling them how it should feel.
Set Accessible Prices
Sometimes the first barrier to a yoga class is the price. Sometimes a drop in yoga class might be too expensive for a student. So making sure that rates are either at an accessible price point, offering scholarships, or presenting sliding scale price options can make yoga available to all of your students.
Options for Everybody
Learning how to provide options for anybody that walks into your class will not only make you a more accessible teacher, but it will increase your confidence in teaching your classes to anybody. There are some amazing resources out there for learning how to teach options to those who practice in wheelchairs, with prosthetics, or with walking support. The key here is to learn how to not be afraid of unfamiliar situations. So you’ve never taught a class to somebody in a wheelchair? No big deal. Learning what the options are in a seated practice will equip you to teach the next person that enters your class in a wheelchair. Accessible Yoga is an amazing resource for online and in person training opportunities, as well as local resources, for learning how to teach specifically to special populations. That doesn’t mean you only teach chair yoga from now on. It just means that you’ll be prepared for teaching in circumstances that you’re maybe not as familiar with.
Even if you can do amazing arm balances and inversions, make sure to demonstrate more accessible yoga poses as well. This applies to demonstrating in class and to what you post on social media. If you post poses that are accessible to everybody, and demonstrate a variety of options, students will feel more inclined to learn from you. If you only demonstrate arm balances that require a significant amount of flexibility, students might not relate with you. You can still post your feats of gravity and flexibility, but throw in a few options that make you somebody your students can relate to.
Continue Your Education
The world of accessible yoga is constantly changing and growing. As we learn more about the intersection of yoga and trauma, yoga and disease, yoga and social justice, etc. we should adapt our teaching accordingly. One training won’t last for ten years, or even two years. We learn new things every day and our world changes every day. By continuing to learn and grow, we as yoga teachers can feel confident that we’re doing our best to create an inclusive and accessible environment for all of our students. Learning from experts in fields like race and yoga, yoga for larger bodies, yoga for ageing, and other niche topics can help us become better teachers. I’m not an expert in any of these topics, but I know that learning from experts will help me be a better teacher.
Here are some amazing resources for continuing your growth towards becoming an accessible yoga teacher: