Students: How To Make Any Yoga Class More Accessible

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It’s summer! If you’re traveling this year, you may be leaving your favorite classes and teachers behind. If you’re intimidated by the thought of of finding a yoga class while you’re on the road, I’ve got some guidelines for you. Sometimes it can be a challenge to find a class or a teacher that feels like a good fit, but with the right mindset and a willingness to experiment, you might enjoy the exploration of a “yoga field trip.” Here are a few thoughts on how to make any yoga experience more accessible for you:

Introduce Yourself and Set Boundaries: This sounds dramatic, but it’s pretty simple. Meet the teacher and introduce yourself. Let her know that you may be modifying the practice  to accommodate your body. That’s plenty of information– you don’t need to be more specific if you don’t want to. This is your chance to let the teacher know in a friendly way that you know what you need to do to take care of yourself. If you prefer not to be touched (I always prefer not to be assisted or adjusted by a yoga teacher that doesn’t know me or my body, and with whom I have not yet established trust), then just let them know that you prefer not to receive any adjustments if that’s something that is offered in that class.

Be Confident!  When you walk into class, you’ve got that whole “I’m in a new place” vibe to work with. You may be the person in class who looks different, or who doesn’t have the same type of yoga outfit as the other students. Maybe it feels like you’re the new kid in the class and you don’t fit in. Before you have a major high school anxiety attack, take a deep breath and remember that you are there to take care of yourself. Your yoga mat is your refuge (even if it’s a rental), and you can take your practice with you wherever you go. If it’s not awkward, you might introduce yourself to someone and ask a question or two about the class. Or close your eyes and meditate. Or do a little Savasana. Or do whatever you want, because you’re awesome and your yoga looks like what it looks like for you!

Grab Your Props. Take a look around and grab any props you know you like.  I always take a blanket and two blocks, if available– the blanket is great to support under the hips for seated poses if that helps your body. Blocks will bring the floor closer to you when needed. If you know you like a bolster under the knees during Savasana, grab one, or double up your blankets if there aren’t bolsters available. Oh, and a blanket folded over two blocks works pretty well if props are limited!

Move at Your Own Speed. This can be a tough one. It may be that your body does not want to move as quickly as the class tempo does. If you can get a feel for patterns in the sequence, you may be able to omit steps so that you can land in some of the same poses at the same time. For example, if the class is powering through chaturanga, up-dog, down-dog, you can skip right to down dog to be ready for the next standing pose. Or, omit down dog and wait in table (hands-and-knees) for the next transition. If you’re feeling like you just can’t keep up, take a resting pose and breathe for a while– the tempo of class may change, and you’ll be able to participate more then.

Modify Where Needed, But Keep An Open Mind. Hopefully you have some ideas about what works well in your body by this point in your yoga practice. If down dog doesn’t work for your shoulders, chill out in a hands-and-knees position. Maybe a traditional “chaturanga/up-dog/down-dog” vinyasa doesn’t work for you. You can sub out whatever movement works for you: cat and cow, knees-down chaturanga, locust pose, or spend some time in forearm plank. There may be some poses your body can’t do (that’s pretty typical). If the teacher doesn’t offer an alternative or modification, you are free to do something that feels right to you instead. For example, if Bird of Paradise is offered and it’s just not working, then do tree pose instead, or another pose that was taught earlier that feels appropriate to you.

At the same time, this is an opportunity to try something different and perhaps explore a different style of practice. Ideally, this teacher has a specific sequence that’s designed to create an experience for the class. My recommendation is to make the class accessible for yourself, but to do what you can to participate.

From time to time, everyone (even a yoga teacher) has the experience of not being able to do something that others seem to do easily. It’s not for nothing that Teddy Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Every one of us has our own practice. We can’t know anything about the other students, their bodies, their lives, or their experiences with yoga. If you get caught up in comparison or judgment, notice that it’s happened, and practice the internal skills of yoga: feel your body, notice your breath. Return to the embodied experience of your yoga practice. In this way, we become more aware of our habitual internal narratives and repetitive mental patterns, and grow more skillful at working with them.

Whatever your experience in the class, at the end, you’ll know yourself and your body better than you did before. If you find that the experience was really not right for you, I like to imagine myself writing a review. What were the highlights? What did you not enjoy as much? Was there anything unique or different about the practice space, or the community? What will you look for next time?

I hope you enjoy your yoga travels and find joy in the experience!

 

 

 

 

 

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1 thought on “Students: How To Make Any Yoga Class More Accessible

  1. Keith

    Good suggestions. I have developed a routine that I do each morning after I shower, so it is not too intense and travels with me. It blends yoga, pilates, isometrics, light weight-lifting, etc. I vary the 15 minute routine each day to keep it fresh. Some yoga and pilates moves hurt the knees and back of this old body, so I avoid them. I applaud folks like you that can do so much more than me and teach others. Take care, Keith

    Reply

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