I recently went to a new (to me) yoga class. It was a great little class, with a warm instructor. The class was billed as a “Basics” approach to yoga, and I thought it was encouraging to see a pretty good amount of diversity amongst the students as I walked into class.
But folks still struggled.
And while yes, there is an element of yoga that that asks for some personal challenge, growth and transformation, I don’t see how struggle fits in that paradigm. Because when students truly struggle, they’re often out of the space of yoga, out of the present moment — instead, they’re into their judging minds: judging the teacher for offering the pose, judging the students for how well they do (or don’t) the pose, and judging themselves for their seeming lack.
And I don’t get that.
I mean, I totally get how a person can fall into a negative judgment cycle. I do that all the time. But I don’t get why yoga classes can’t be more accessible for people no matter their experience or ability level.
That literally does not compute for me.
Throwing Out the Welcome Mat
Because here’s the thing: making your yoga classes accessible? It’s not rocket science. And 99.99% of the time, it doesn’t take any more time than not. All it requires is a willingness to shake things up a bit and get creative.
Accessibility is definitely about making poses work and supporting your students physically, but it goes beyond that, too — helping people feel welcome, regardless of the identit(ies) they bring to your class, what happened to them last Tuesday (or 20 years ago), the shape/size of their body, and so on.
Shifting into an accessible mindset as a teacher is often the hardest part. Once you put on that lens, though, it can become more easeful.
If you’re interested in trying some of this on your own, consider these tips:
1. Room Set-Up: When possible, I love to have my students with the short end of their mat to the wall. Not only does this give people easy access to the wall for poses (hello, balancing poses and getting up/down off the floor with a little more grace!), it also allows everyone to see and hear a little better because they don’t have their neighbor’s foot (on a good day) in their face.
2. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Want to support each student in a way that works for them? First, you have to know them. Rather than asking a yes/no question (“Do you have any injuries?”), consider an open-ended question (“Tell me about what’s going on with your body”). This approach both gives you more information and gives you a moment to build connection and rapport with the student.
3. Work From Most Supported to Least Supported: Many yoga classes start by teaching the least supported version of the pose (e.g. Trikonasana, Triangle pose) and then offer options “if you can’t do it” (e.g. a block under the bottom hand). To make your classes more empowering for everyone, consider doing the reverse. Start everyone with a block under the hand and build confidence and strength. Then, if/when students are feeling stable, offer suggestions for lowering or removing the block — making lots of space, of course, for people to not do that.
These are just a few quick, easy, non-time-consuming ways to make your classes more accessible, no matter who walks in the door next week. Let us know: how do you make your classes accessible?