By Jenny Park
What should instructors know about teaching disabled yoga students? Most yoga teachers are drawn to this field by a desire to reach out and help others, but some may feel inadequate or overwhelmed at the idea of extending their reach to encompass all students, including those with disabilities. Not every yoga teacher is cut out to teach those with disabilities, but the few with the special skills necessary will benefit from the experience as much as their students.
Disabled yoga students have very different needs than average students in more ways than just the purely physical. In addition to needing assisted and heavily modified poses, disabled students will require a special teaching style that takes into account their unique mindset and outlook. In order to meet these needs, a teacher will ideally have a lot of empathy for those in life situations vastly different from their own. Before undertaking this challenge, ask yourself honestly whether or not you are able to relate well with those that are physically challenged. It’s okay if the answer is no; empathy is often the result of age and experience. Complete honesty is the important factor here. If the answer is no today perhaps it could become a yes tomorrow.
Disabled yoga students have to deal with having most of the world look down on them, literally and figuratively, especially when wheelchair-bound. Sometimes what they need the most is to be treated like everyone else because mentally, they are. A good candidate for teaching yoga to those with disabilities is an individual who can remain sensitive to their physical limitations without becoming condescending or underestimating their capabilities. It’s a delicate balance.
One of the joys of sharing yoga with others is having the opportunity to promote a mind-body connection in students, grounding and awakening them to their own deeper inner self. Individuals with a physical disability usually need no such guidance; their physical state makes them more than aware of their bodies at any given time. For them, yoga will be an opportunity to love and honor the physical body for exactly what it is. Learning to appreciate a body that has limitations is the gift yoga has to offer disabled students.
Another very valuable thing yoga has to offer those with disabilities is the opportunity to reach out and touch another human being. Those of us that are without physical limitations often take human contact for granted; even the most standoffish person knows that they have the freedom to hug a friend or lay a hand on their shoulder if they choose to do so, but those with disabilities usually don’t have those kind of opportunities. Wheelchairs and such have improved vastly, but they are still large and bulky, effectively barricading the individual from human contact on a physical level. Contact between the yoga teacher and student during assisted poses helps fill the gap created by these deficiencies naturally. Even something as simple as gripping the wrists in order to help a student stretch their arms above their head is valuable contact between two human beings; it doesn’t take much to feel accepted, respected and cared for.
Yoga teachers have the opportunity to explore what the student’s body is capable of, rather than what it’s unable to do. Exploring these possibilities gives the student a greater sense of control over their life situation and is a very rewarding experience for any yoga teacher to be a part of. Being able to transform another person’s life in a profound way is a very humbling experience.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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