So last month I heard a harrowing tale of a yoga student who was turned away from a yoga class because of a physical challenge. I was shocked and appalled when I heard the story so I decided to investigate when it was okay to turn a student away from class. I do a lot of my recon work on Facebook and Twitter. So I decided to post a question on my page. The question was “when is it okay to turn a student away from your class”? I have yet to do it. The reasons for exclusion that were offered were to be expected. Issues like safety and people being disrespectful to the teacher and late for class. I get that and those issues can usually be resolved with a conversation or two. Other answers were somewhat disappointing, like if you were sexually attracted to a student. What happened to Brahmacharya, and just plain restraint? I find the produce guy at my local grocery really attractive but I manage to keep my clothes when I’m shopping there. It’s called respect and focusing on the task at hand.
As I’m hearing this story I’m aware that there are always three sides to every story, your side, their side and the truth. It made me really think about the yoga of inclusion? Is it fair to exclude someone with a major limitation from your class because of your own fears, or she may be distracting to others in the class? Remember yoga is about your own experience. Being distracted on your yoga mat is really all about you. Here is yet another opportunity to focus on your own practice.
A long time yoga student and elite athlete came to a special power yoga class taught by a well trained with years of experience. This student was turned away because of a physical challenge. This disability causes the student to fall down often. Here’s the inspiration; this student always gets back up. I would be jazzed to have this student in my class. I know that it might be distracting to some, but I would find it a wonderful challenge.
I have been teaching yoga for 10 years. I have been blessed enough to teach both locally, globally and online. I love the challenge of offering a true all levels class. In my first 200 hour yoga teacher training there was a student with only one leg. Billy was a long time super athletic yoga student. He was often my partner in teaching exercises and I always was nervous to be partnered with him. How do I teach to a person with one leg? Billy taught me so much about myself, my fears and how to teach yoga to every BODY. He inspired me with his ability to adapt his practice. He showed me how to be better at teaching asana. At first when I was partnered with him I was confused and challenged. How do I teach a warrior 2 to someone with just one leg? I honoured him as a whole person and I taught to the person on the mat. He taught me so very much and truly built my confidence as a teacher. If you can teach yoga to a one legged practitioner you can teach yoga to anyone.
Safety and respecting the teacher, students and their time issues aside -you can teach to everyone in a class if you meet the student where they are and chose to be open to it. There is something gratifying about including everyone on the mat. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain situations where providing yoga in a one on one setting is preferred to a group class. I feel no one should be denied access to a class based the on their physicality. We should definitely give them a chance to try.
If someone with a disability comes to your class. Accommodate them by setting up your class differently or changing the focus of your class. The universe brought you a gift, why not embrace it? I know there there is a time and place for everything but we must remember that the yoga experience is about empowerment, inclusion, self discovery, love, and raising consciousness.