Can you really make a yoga class work for everyone? How do you make it safe? Safe for those nursing injuries? Safe for those with chronic conditions like high-blood pressure, asthma, arthritis? Challenges and limitations like stiff joints, rock-hard tight muscles, poor balance, obesity, dyslexia, or even hyper flexibility?
As yoga has become popularized in America the variety of conditions and challenges that students bring to class span the entire gamut including entering in a wheelchair, the blind with a service dog and possibly an assisting companion, hearing impaired, missing various limbs. It has been said that if you can breathe you can do yoga.
Physical and psychological safety is imperative for a teacher to establish even as students enter the room, with eye contact, a smile and a warm welcome.
To create physical safety (whether in-person or virtually, live or recorded) there are ways to educate all students how to practice safely. Some approaches that have been popular for decades welcome improvement and innovation. When I began practicing in the 1970s and to this day the guidance that is frequently used is, “listen to your body,” or “make this your practice, adjusting or modifying in any way that your body needs.” This type of guidance works well for some people, people who already have some body awareness, some relationship with their body. Not everybody has this. They have really never been “physical.”
Some concrete terms that can be more helpful (and I welcome suggestions to improve and innovate these), are the ones I’ve been using for quite a while. They are a little more concrete. “In this practice, you are welcome to release anything at any time, particularly any breaths that we hold in or hold out. You are also welcome to do something different if your body needs something different, or if you simply want to experiment or explore, which I encourage. Mainly avoid any pain, strain or sharp sensations especially around the joints.”
This type of guidance needs to come at the very beginning of the class to set the context for practice. It needs to be reinforced more than once during the class. This “approach” needs to be practiced to learn a new way of approaching yoga that is less exclusively follow-the-leader style, and more allowance for students to “explore” and “experiment” to expand body awareness.
There are still more challenges and approaches to creating safety. Join me for Dynamic Gentle Yoga Teacher Training and I will share with you what I have learned from more than three decades of teaching.