When you think of yoga, what images come to mind? You might see a very specific type of person. You might see a specific race, size, shape, and ability of that person. Imagine you’re walking into a yoga studio, who do you see?
As I’ve started to discuss in my last post, the Westernization of yoga has created this image of yoga that strays very far from the roots of yoga. While there are stories of yoga being restricted to men in India, there are stories and there is a history of people of all shapes, sizes, and genders practicing yoga. Now, as yoga has become a financial commodity, it seems that the population practicing yoga has narrowed. This brings me to my topic today, accessible yoga.
We live in a world where there is potential for variety. Depending on where you live, there may be a variety of foods available, a variety of leisure activities, and a variety of people. So why has yoga in the west seemed to cater to one type of person? Accessibility is a huge issue…not just in yoga but in many realms of life. Access to healthy, fresh foods. Access to transportation. Access to healthcare. So why aren’t we talking about access to yoga? This is a multi-billion dollar company in the west and yet somehow we are limiting it to a very specific type of person for a very specific price point.
We all know the benefits of yoga. We all know that it can help with physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. So why is this only available to certain people? Even studios and classes that are low-cost or promoted to “everyone” seem to only be taught or attended by specific people. Why? Simply put…accessibility. This doesn’t just mean being able to get to the yoga studio or being able to pay for the class. This means being able to do the poses comfortably, being able to do the breath and meditation practices comfortably. This lack of accessibility affects many populations, including but not limited to people of color (POC), larger bodies individuals, people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, people living with differently abled bodies, and people who may not speak or understand English well.
So what do we do? What do we, as yoga teachers and students do to make sure EVERYONE has access, in every way, to the wonderful practice of yoga? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Here are just a few of my tips to make your studios and classes more accessible (in no specific order):
- Hire POC teachers
- Hire larger bodies teachers
- Hire teachers who identify as LGBTQIA
- Provide classes in different languages
- Promote chair yoga or accessible classes
- Use props
- Provide a variety of mat sizes and thicknesses
- Do not use words like “full expression of pose” or “more difficult version”
- Use words like “modification” or “adjustment”
- Use invitational language
- As a teacher, model these modifications and adjustments
- Incorporate pauses
- Allow students to decide what feels good for them
- Use consent cards for hands on adjustments
- Ask permission before using essential oils or scents
- Attend/offer trainings for accessible yoga
- Provide all-gender or gender neutral restrooms
This is not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to make classes more accessible. Let’s start by being open and welcoming to EVERYONE.