As yoga teachers, we may be accustomed to using the subtleties of facial expressions and body language. Although many yoga teachers guide students through movement with their words, they may not realize how often sighted students are looking around the room, physical or virtual to be sure that they are “Getting it right.”  However, when you teach those with limited or no vision, the subtleties of your expressions and body language are not understood and the option of getting a picture of what a teacher is suggesting by glancing around the room is not an option. If we want to make yoga classes accessible to those without vision, here are several helpful tips.

1. A picture is worth a thousand words, or that is how the expression goes.  So in reverse, for those who can’t see a picture, we might need to use more descriptive words, that assist students in seeing and feeling the postures more deeply within.

2. Cues that use direction, such as  “face the short side of the mat,” spacing cues that are dependent on the student’s body proportions, such as, “Place your feet a narrow hip-width apart, with your feet parallel,” and cues that help students direct body parts from within, such as, “Draw your tailbone down, while drawing your abdomen in toward your spine and up,” are optimal because they don’t require vision to judge distance and can be performed by visually impaired, as well as fully sighted students who wish to feel the postures from within, without distraction.  

3. When teaching an in-person yoga class, recognize that the student without vision cannot see you approaching and find a way to quietly but with some distinct audible sounds approach, perhaps having a jingly bracelet or some other subtle cue that can alert students of your proximity. Not just students with vision impairment, but also sighted students might find this helpful, as it is not always just blind students who may be deeply involved in their practice and not watching the teacher and are surprised when they seem to suddenly be a few inches away.

4. When taught virtually, blind students may feel lost in classes where students are required to be muted. Keep a special watch on any students who are not fully sighted and without singling them out, adapt cues or rephrase instructions until it is clear that they understand. In smaller classes, consider allowing students to stay unmuted so they might ask questions when they are unsure, or check with the visually impaired students to find out if they are comfortable with you speaking directly to them if they are not understanding your offered cue so that you might guide them safely into the posture.

5. Yoga is an internal practice, an opportunity to go deeper. In our competitive culture, students in a yoga class are often looking around, comparing themselves to others, and sadly missing out on some of the most significant opportunities that a non-competitive practice allows.  Students who don’t have the option of opening their eyes might teach the sighted among us a thing or two about truly feeling our bodies in postures and adjusting as our bodies and not our comparative minds dictate. The greatest challenges in life allow for the biggest growth opportunities. So you might consider offering the whole class the experience of practicing with eyes closed.  It might be a truly eye-opening experience. Pun intended. :)

May this be of benefit! 

Lisa Bouley Headshot PhotoLisa Bouley, MS, RYT200, received her master’s degree, in nutrition from the University of Bridgeport and her bachelor’s degree, in psychology, from Clark University.  Her love of yoga began over 40 years ago, when she discovered a small book that demonstrated some basic yoga postures.  This began a journey that led her to take classes in Sivananda yoga and spend time living and performing seva at a Sivananda ashram, in Grass Valley CA, in the early 90’s completing her first 200-hour yoga teacher’s training at Kripalu, in Lenox, MA, in the later 90’s, and then discovered ChildLight in 2019. It was at ChildLight that Lisa’s knowledge and understanding blossomed in many new directions. Lisa began her ChildLight training with Yoga & Mindfulness for Children and then Yoga & Mindfulness for Tweens and Teens. When trainings began virtually, Lisa enjoyed being part of the first live virtual 200-hour adult yoga teacher’s training and then a 30-hour Yin Yoga training.  In addition to her degree in nutrition, Lisa has spent years learning about a variety of holistic healing traditions and has a passion for assisting clients in finding natural remedies and nutritional and lifestyle changes that bring greater physical, mental and emotional well-being. Her experience with vision loss and the gifts that the teachings of yoga bring in challenging times, provide her greater insight and ability to share these core understandings, as well as the ability to inspire students to feel the postures, allowing her descriptive verbal cues to guide them deeper within. Currently, Lisa resides in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. She enjoys time in nature, teaching yoga, and furthering her studies. Life is for learning is a belief that she holds near and dear. Her current focuses of study and learning include yoga philosophy, Sanskrit, ayurveda, chakras, mudras, and deeper understanding of the spiritual realms. Lisa can be reached with questions or comments at: lmbouley@msn.com