My first experience teaching to a group with disabilities was in India where I had the opportunity to instruct a class of children who were either visually or hearing impaired. Needless to say, the requirements of teaching the blind and deaf are different but thanks to the flexibilityand accessibility of Satyananda Yoga, I was able to accommodate both disabilities in one session. Through regular practice, the children began to reap the benefitsof yoga and a relationship based on trust developed between them and myself.
This experience was my stepping-stone in instructing a group of hearing impaired adults in Bangkok. I have been teaching this group for one year now with the help of a Thai sign language interpreter. I wanted the students to bring their awareness to their body and breath and turn their focus inward, the goal of all yoga practices for any beginner and a challenge for people who rely solely on their vision to receive instructions.
Instructions must be received visually, not through sound. This means all visual instructions through the sign language interpreter must be given prior to commencing the practice. Also two to three hearing and experienced practitioners are necessary to demonstrate the asanas, stationed in strategic locations in the classroom so that the students can see and understand what they should be doing during the class. This also frees me from having to stand at the head of the class and it allows me to give hands-on adjustments to the students individually.
Fostering breath and meditative awareness with eyes open rather than the customary eyes closed takes more practice.
Language and cultural issues were also hurdles needing to be overcome. My verbal explanations of fostering awareness of specificbody parts and the breath, basic understanding of integrative yoga, benefitsof the specificpractices, and clarifying misunderstandings of yoga all had to firstbe translated into Thai, and then, into sign language. Communication was made possible by this two-step translation process and by taking the time at the beginning of the class for the students to see and understand the sign language instructions.
Unlike hearing students, the hearing impaired cannot listen to instructions while they engage in the asana. By briefingthe students prior to the practices, they are motivated and excited about their participation. The instructions must be clear, brief and pertinent as to not confuse the students or waste class time.
I use two or three hearing demonstrators placed in various vantage points in the classroom so that all the students can see at any given point. A sign language interpreter must be present.
Understanding the practices and their benefits: Students sit, watch and comprehend the explanations relayed to them by the sign language interpreter in order to understand the practices they are about to engage in. Focus on awareness, benefits and cautions must be clearly communicated.
Fostering breath awareness: Students sit comfortably on the floor and focus on breathing with their eyes open to receive instructions. They practise two to three minutes of slow abdominal breathing while keeping one hand on the stomach to learn correct breathing.
Rubbing palms of the hands: Students place the palms on closed eyes to stimulate the brain cells and to become alert and focused.
Before any practice I explain the benefitsin an interesting manner to make them feel excited and eager to do them with more focus.
Pawanmuktasana series 1 or 3: Any combinations of PM1 and or PM3 to release stiffness and to improve the flow of prana are beneficial. These practices make them feel at ease and confident to try more asana.
Standing poses: Combination of the following standing poses: tadasana, tiryak tadasana and other sideways stretching poses, trikonasana, kati chakrasana and other standing spinal twist poses, hasta utthanasana, padahastasana, standing asanas like druta utkatasana, samakonasana, balancing poses like vrikshasana and eka pada pranamasana.
Most of them never do any yoga, so even these standing poses create some pressure and stretching effects on their body so they feel like something is going on in the body. In the beginning it looks challenging for them but slowly they start doing it easily and feel satisfiedwith their improvement.
Lying down poses (Pawanmuktasana 2): These abdominal practices are always attractive for beginners because they feel pressure in their abdomen and think that they are burning fat. They become more eager to try and continue.
Pawanmuktasana 3: During this group of practices, they feel a stretch in their whole back and in the pelvic organs.
These practices are not difficultto do and can be done with open eyes looking straight ahead, but at the same time they are challenging too.
Backward bending and spinal poses: Marjari asana, vyaghrasana, bhujangasana, dhanurasana, ushtrasana. These asanas are effective to boost confidence. With interesting explanations about the benefits, students feel very happy to do them.
Sitting poses: Vajrasana, simhagarjanasana
Inverted poses: Sarvangasana Relaxation: Shavasana
Pranayama: Panting dog breathing, kapalbhati, nadi shodhana, bhramari.
This is a moment of refection for the students to observe the difference in their body, mind and breath after the practices.
Clapping: As reciting the Om mantra is difficult for the hearing impaired, the students clap their hands together to feel the vibration that their hands have created. This develops a sense of unity and wholeness.
Popularity of our yoga class among the hearing impaired has been constant since the start. Now over 30 students participate each month to enthusiastically reap the benefitsof yoga. Over time, practices have become easier and familiar to them.
Physical, mental and emotional benefitsare evident, as the students have gained more confidenceto face the challenges of society.
A yoga session catering towards their needs, equipped with a sign language interpreter and demonstrators creates a safe haven for them to take an inward journey within themselves. At the end of the class, the students enthusiastically ask me numerous questions on yoga which they normally would not be able to ask without an interpreter. Their dedication to practise yoga motivates me to continue teaching this class. The group motto the students themselves have created is "Yoga through our EYES, connected through our HEARTS." They are indeed understanding the true spirit of yoga.