A different kind of yogini

Photo: hearing-impaired yogini talking with Desirée At Thrive Yoga‘s recent Rumbaugh workshop, I had my mat next to a special yogini. I never caught her name. She was hearing impaired and she had brought a sign language interpreter with her. Dave and Susan gave them plenty of room in the corner of the studio (actually, my favorite turf for taking pictures, which is why I ended up next to her). The interpreter frequently stood off to one side signing Desirée’s lecture and demos. During the routines, she sat or stood near the woman and passed on the instructions.

I got a chance to partner with her when we were doing handstands in the inversion session. She was able to get up into the pose fine, and I goofed up a couple of times with the support. I also did not know the sign that she gave to let me know that she wanted to come down. I let her get out of having to support me for the hand stand, in part because she could never have supported my weight. I could see that she had a very good personal practice and she was capable of absorbing everything that Desirée was offering.

After the session was over, the woman and her interpreter approached Desirée and had a conversation. There are some obvious obstacles between a hearing-impaired yogi and an instructor because hearing is so important in cuing through a practice. In the workshop’s case, this was not even a standard class, but an extended demo/lecture/try-it-yourself format. I am pretty sure that the woman did not know exactly what to expect. Plus, Anusara has its own specific terminology for how a posture is put together and an interpreter would have to be familiar with it to translate that language into appropriate signs. At one point during the session, I was tempted to grab one of Desirée’s associates and ask them to actually help the hearing-impaired yogini get a clear idea of what Desirée was asking of us by actually laying hands on her and rotate muscles in spiral directions.

I had been meaning to blog about this encounter on the mats with the hearing impaired, but I forgot about it until I came across a tweet from the Deaf Yoga Foundation, based in New York City. It’s main mandates are preparing a yoga sign dictionary, teacher training, and community outreach. The dictionary is interesting because it is drawing on hand gestures in Indian (Hindu) dance. Check out Dancing for the Gods.

3 thoughts on “A different kind of yogini

  1. thats really interesting… something i have never thought about. and wouldnt know what to do as a teacher. thanks for the brain food!

  2. As a Speech Pathologist Yogini, who works closely with the deaf and hearing impaired, I am always amazed by how little our society has opened it's doors to those who may be of that culture.

    I have read articles of Yoga instructors specially trained in hearing impaired yoga, and it could be something as simple as taps on the floor, hand signals and touch cues to help those who a) may not hear quite well (which could very well include those who are aided… many people may not be deaf but still may miss something in class), b) may have language delays (this includes children specifically).

    simple things like not having music, positioning those students so they can clearly see the instructor, having wall padding and cloth hanging from the ceiling to decrease echoing in the room (especially for those who are aided!).

    that woman was actually extremely fortunate to have an interpreter with her… so many wouldn't.

  3. Long time reader, but have never commented. I've often thought of how yoga is a physical practice designed to unite the mind, body, and soul, but the asana part of it is very much for students without physical limitations. Willow St does offer an ASL class which I find interesting just based on the challenges raised in your post. Especially as Anusara does have it's own terminology, but even with that it can take some time for any student from a different style of yoga to physically incorporate the Anusara principles. I took a class for a long time with a woman who had MS and I was always in awe of her presence, the teacher's cueing, and her ability to modify her poses to meet her needs. I hope we can continue to see more asana classes for those that face some sort of disability.

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