What is Accessible Yoga?
I talk a lot about accessible yoga throughout my website and on Instagram. I wanted to take some time to outline what I mean by accessible yoga, and also to acknowledge the hard work of so many others who are making yoga accessible.
Accessible Yoga Defined
I define accessible yoga (influenced by a combination of several teachers) as teaching yoga in a way that means anybody can come to my classes and feel brave and empowered to practice yoga. That’s it. Everybody and every body can practice yoga.
My Experience with Yoga
Yoga has a reputation (in my experience and perspective) of being a sport in a way. We often see yoga portrayed by white, able-bodied, athletic, flexible women. This is so misleading. It portrays the idea that only people that identify as such can do yoga well. My own entry into yoga amplified this. The first classes I attended were hot power vinyasa classes (which I loved, and have nothing against). AND, these classes were in rooms that were over 90 degrees, and filled with able-bodied people that never used props and could all do arm balances. I was often told what pose we would do without guidance into the poses or a demonstration of how to use props.
This doesn’t really bode well for many people. As I mentioned in my earlier post, props were rarely recommended by my teachers, and few of my classmates would actually use them. There were so many times where I was embarrassed because I couldn’t hold a pose the way somebody next to me was holding it. Which says a few things. First, letting go of our ego is central to yoga, and the fact that I was so concerned with what my pose looked like means that the classes I was going to weren’t getting to the heart of yoga, I was just doing a lot of stretching and calisthenics. Second, the environment I was in wasn’t a brave space. It wasn’t a place to be vulnerable, but a place to be competitive. And this is what shapes the way I teach and practice yoga. Yoga meets you where you are. That is accessible yoga.
Why I Teach Accessible Yoga
My mother has an autoimmune disease that limits her mobility. Over the last ten years, I have noticed the positive impact practicing yoga has on my life. Whether it’s from the change of perspective I have towards my challenges and obstacles after a physical yoga practice, or the pranayama (breath control) I practice when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I wanted my mom to have access to this practice as well. So, I teach yoga in a way that meets her where she is. I teach all of my classes in a way that meets my students where they are.
Not only does teaching this way make yoga accessible for everybody, it makes yoga a practice (brave space, self reflection, actual yoga practices,)
What Makes A Yoga Class Accessible?
There are so many ways a yoga class can be accessible. First, is everybody able to get to the class? Is the studio ADA friendly? Are there pricing levels that make it cost effective for a wide variety of income levels? Are there props available for everybody in the class? If yes, then great, we’re on our way towards an inclusive environment.
Next, is everybody encouraged to use props? Here is where language comes in. If a teacher says “gather any props if you need them”, that doesn’t make it sound like props are encouraged. In my experience I thought that if I “needed” props, then I wasn’t good at yoga. Getting all of my props after this statement made me feel “less” than the person I am. An accessible yoga class/teacher should encourage every single person in that room/online class to use props. Props make our yoga practice better, and they make poses accessible to everybody.
Continuing with the theme of language, there are so many words and phrases that should be included in a class, and avoided in a class, to make it accessible. Typically, a trauma informed teacher will know what these words are, but the aim is for a teacher to create an environment with their words that encourages students to be aware of their own bodies, to be aware of what their bodies need, and to pursue options in poses that fit the students needs. Plenty of options should be offered and demonstrated for students throughout the class so that students actually know what their options are. Choices are presented and students are empowered to make those choices, further enabling them to understand their own needs while giving them a feeling of agency.
In addition to teaching with props and appropriate language, there are also a variety of class styles that are offered now to make yoga available to a wider net. Chair yoga and bed yoga in particular have grown in popularity over the years. This makes yoga available to those where standing up might not be an option. It creates options for those who may not have had the option before this movement emerged.
Accessible Yoga classes aren’t going to necessarily be labeled as such, but it will become very clear during the class whether the teacher has an accessible yoga approach to their teaching.
The Recent History of Accessible Yoga
Accessible yoga is a recent trend. As I explained earlier, yoga in the west is often seen as a practice dominated by athletic, flexible, white, women. In recent years a movement has taken off to make yoga more inclusive and trauma informed. At the end of the day, teachers don’t know what a student’s background is, or what a student walking into yoga class is carrying in their minds or hearts. We don’t know what burdens our students may be carrying. The least we can do is create a space for our students to feel brave and to feel like they have agency.
A number of individuals and organizations are working hard to make accessible yoga more mainstream, pushing for all teachers to have accessible yoga and trauma informed training. Jivana Heyman, founder of the Accessible Yoga Training, and author of Accessible Yoga, was one of the early teachers of this movement. You can learn more about his work here.
How Do I Find Accessible Yoga Teachers/Classes?
Accessible yoga classes aren’t always going to be labeled as accessible yoga classes. It has more to do with the teacher and their training, so reading up a bit on a teacher’s bio before class, asking your teacher questions beforehand, or testing out a few classes and finding one that has this approach. Many teachers are certified accessible yoga teachers and this will be listed in their bio. Some studios place an extra emphasis on making their classes accessible, so they create a space and policies that promote accessibility.
I also offer accessible yoga classes online which you can sign up for here. I offer a free trial period so you can test it out before you commit.
Accessible yoga is essentially a way of thinking that not only makes yoga accessible to everybody, but it creates an environment for all students to dive into the eight limbs of yoga, beyond the physical practice.