How to Overcome 5 Common Obstacles to Accessibility with Chair Yoga
Practical, real-world strategies for overcoming five common obstacles that stand in the way of access and equity in yoga and mindfulness education.
Do a quick internet search for “yoga class” or “yoga clothes” and note what images you see. Brightly-colored, form-fitting outfits? Models with perfect ponytails and shiny muscles? Pristine yoga mats rolled out in spacious rooms?
Keep scrolling and you’ll notice a disturbing unspoken message, unsubtle and pervasive. These commercialized depictions plainly say, “Yoga is a space for the privileged. Only the affluent, thin, light-skinned, youthful, conventionally educated and fashionably dressed are welcome here.”
Yoga has been commodified to the extent that many would-be students protest, “I’m not flexible enough” or “I could never wear the clothes you need,” or they even recuse themselves entirely, as “I’m not one of those yoga people.”
When we see only fancy apparel, idyllic locations and nondisabled bodies, we assume that anything else simply does not belong in the yoga space. This disparity in representation leads to feelings of inadequacy, or to the misconception that yoga cannot possibly benefit us, or both.
The tragedy of this scenario is the people who most need the benefits of yoga and mindfulness are the ones who feel the least connected to yoga as it is presented in popular media.
This article identifies five common obstacles that stand in the way of access and equity in yoga and mindfulness education, along with practical, real-world strategies for overcoming each one. As you read through each description, take note of the ways each obstacle manifests in your classroom, your home, and/or your own mind and heart. Remember, our experiences may vary in degree but they are consistent in fact — we all encounter these challenges to some extent. In addition, every student experiences many more obstacles than these. We hope this provides you with a starting point for reflection and continued conversation.
Obstacle #1: Space
Imagine a yoga practice space. Chances are, you’re picturing an airy studio or a dedicated room with furniture pushed aside and zero clutter. Actually, a yoga practice space could be anything, anywhere you can take an intentional, mindful breath. Here at Yoga Ed., some of our favorite practice spaces are the most unconventional: the floor beside the office chair, standing in line for the public restroom, on the nursing pillow, in the quiet corridor between the bathroom and the bedroom while the kids are napping.
Try This Yoga Tool:
Make a short list of al the places where you would love to feel more body-mind connection. As you read each item on your list, lovingly say to yourself, “I can take a breath here.”
Obstacle #2: Body
Yoga is too often represented in extreme body shapes that look like contortion acts. A much more accurate depiction of yoga would emphasize how varied these yoga poses really are in all of their expressions. The ubiquitous Tree Pose looks very different when practiced by a neurodiverse 8-year-old, a military veteran amputee, and a college athlete in their physical prime, and it is just as beautiful and just as effective for each individual.
Write a sticky note to yourself with a body-related affirmation, and put it where you know you’ll appreciate it. Examples: Your bathroom mirror, your car dashboard, the inside of your backpack.
Obstacle #3: Resources
With all the specialized, branded gear we see in yoga-related content, we might assume that yoga is a costly activity, like alpine skiing or scuba diving. In reality, the only requirements for yoga practice are a willingness to self-reflect and the ability to breathe and move on purpose. No expensive yoga mat, no membership fee, no stretchy clothing necessary.
Try This Yoga Tool:
Internalize this loving reminder: You are enough, you are worthy, you belong. You don’t need to buy anything new, or behave differently, or change in any way to legitimize yourself.
Obstacle #4: Time
Studios that have yoga classes on their schedules usually offer options for 60- or 75-minute classes. This time allotment is simply unrealistic for those of us that already juggle a bit too much for comfort. Fortunately, you don’t need to somehow squeeze another hour out of your week; you can practice yoga in small amounts throughout the day, no schedule overhaul necessary.
Try This Yoga Tool:
Choose an anchor task or event, something that happens regularly and often, such as brushing your teeth, and tether a specific new yoga tool to that anchor. For example, you might commit to practicing Sunrise Breath when you first sit down at your desk.
Obstacle #5: Representation
We’ve already discussed the commercialized yoga stereotype and its damaging effects on our perception of who yoga is and is not for. While there is troubling inequity in the racialized identities we see in yoga-related advertising, the truth is that there are many yoga teachers from diverse backgrounds and underrepresented communities doing wonderful work in the world, and they are readily internet-searchable.
Discover new-to-you faces and voices in yoga education by searching for the intersectional identities that resonate with you. For example, you might try “Black yoga teacher,” “ASL yoga teacher training for Deaf and hard of hearing,” or “yoga class in Hawaiian language.” Also, remember that you are a leader and educator with a sphere of influence all your own. As such, you yourself might be the very representation that your community is waiting for.
The emissaries of yoga teaching to the United States and beyond emphasized the importance of self-sovereignty, the value of attention without over-attachment, and the power of universal love. We wholeheartedly agree.
We believe that yoga should be accessible for everyone.
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