Accessible Yoga – at last!

Earlier this month I embarked on my first ever online BSL yoga class. I had been feeling restless in my body after a busy summer and I felt the call to get back on the yoga mat. Bearing in mind that I hadn’t really practised the yoga asanas formally for quite a few years, I knew that my body wouldn’t be quite as supple as it used to be.

However, with new work projects looming and the knowledge that I’d be spending more time sat at my desk than ever before, I signed up to this course in Hatha yoga with deaf yoga teacher Kavita Chana. I was intrigued by the course ethos which was about cultivating a sense of gratitude and hopeful that I could integrate my new learnings into my daily working life.

I’m at the half way stage in the course now and it’s been a relief to be able to follow instructions from a yoga teacher without the hassle of needing to lipread or ask for clarification because of a language barrier. The pace that the class is delivered in is perfect too, with plenty of time to absorb instructions with your eyes before turning away from the computer screen and settling into the yoga asana on the mat.

Admittedly, it would be lovely (and perhaps preferable) to attend this class in person instead. But with so many of us coming from across the UK to learn from this teacher, I’m grateful for the unique opportunity to gather with likeminded individuals even if it is online.

It seems that the yoga movement is confidently making its way through the deaf community now too, something that I’m really happy to report. Not only do we have Kavita Chana at Deaf Yoga Works but down in London there is Deaf Yoga which offers in person and online classes and there is also Sign Yoga with CODA Bethaney Mouzer who has several recordings and courses online.

With the success of the recent Earthly Wellbeing Retreat organised by Marilyn Willrich down in Cornwall which saw deaf yogis flock there for the weekend, I am truly inspired to see so much movement in the holistic field for deaf and hard of hearing people.

It’s a far cry from 15 years ago when I attended a Yoga convention in London. At the time, I was told there was no BSL interpretation and if I wanted to bring anyone to communicate for me they had to also have a valid festival ticket. It was frustrating, but makes it even more meaningful now to see how much things have changed.

Back then I attended yoga classes in person, copying others around me if I wasn’t sure what the teacher had said and daydreaming on the mat in ‘corpse’ pose when we were actually supposed to be progressively relaxing every muscle in our body – I was completely oblivious to this instruction!

Knowing that I was missing out on a lot of information, I eventually got most of my yoga knowledge from a book that my sister bought me for my 22nd birthday. With clear photos and detailed instructions, I devoured that book and memorised all of the asana names and transitions so that I could practise alone with ease and without interruption. I suppose this level of study and revision would have been classed as ‘extra work’ because I was deaf but it felt normal for me to find ways around obstacles and these were the days before we had accessible Yoga classes on YouTube too!

Nowadays, we have much more choice on offer. Not only do we have those BSL yoga teachers I have mentioned, we also have a wealth of captioned YouTube videos online and a growing interest in yoga teachers to be accessible and inclusive. Times really are changing.

But why Yoga? Why not another form of exercise? Far from what the common assumptions are about yoga – that it’ll make you super flexible and bendy – yoga actually works to connect the mind and the body, reaping huge rewards for a stressed out nervous system or anxious mind. It’s the physical and mental benefits to yoga that keep drawing me back to the practice time after time.

Some people use the BSL sign for ‘meditation’ when they talk about yoga, others use a sign which shows the link between body and mind. The latter is the one that I am personally most likely to use as its this body-mind connection that keeps me engaged in my practice on the busiest of days.

I’ve also learnt that as my body has changed as I’ve gotten older, my practice has changed too. After I had my children, my practice altered and even when I was preparing to give birth I would use more of the breathing techniques with sitting poses in yoga than the more active asanas. Practising yoga and meditation in both of my pregnancies allowed me to use the natural methods in childbirth, all the while keeping me calm and in control of my breath.

It is very easy to do other forms of exercise mindlessly. You can run for miles whilst daydreaming or listening to a podcast. You can even cycle whilst simultaneously listening to music. But not yoga. It brings you back to your body, to your breath and the here and now. That’s where the challenge – and the magic – really happens.

When I first started out in yoga I had gotten used to my deaf friends brushing off the idea of joining me at a class because it was inaccessible. But nowadays I see more and more deaf friends talk of their yoga practice, even getting together to practice out in nature or even on beaches. It’s a wonderfully healthy practice that – with time and dedication – will really boost your overall health.

If you’re reading this and you’re curious about yoga with a deaf teacher or BSL yoga instructor, why not try some of the resources online first. See how your body reacts to the practice. See whether its something that you feel you could make part of your daily life.

With winter approaching and the deaf community twice as likely to experience mental health issues than the hearing community, I highly recommend exploring any type of physical exercise that enables you to get out of your thinking mind and back in your body. Whether this be ‘on the mat’ yoga, a sociable football match or brisk winter walks outside, go with what calls your body to move. It’ll thank you for it later.

For more information on the yoga classes I’ve mentioned please see:


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