Sunday, September 27, 2015

Online Yoga Resources for Every Body

Witthaya Phonsawat for
As a fair-skinned blonde, I look a lot like the stereotypical yoga student.  Well, except for the glasses.  And the cluster of moles on my face.  And the ten extra pounds.  Not to mention my general lack of coordination and flexibility.

I’ve tried a few so-called beginner’s yoga videos that include a pose I find far too advanced:  one-legged downward-facing dog.  Not only does this put too much pressure on my impinged shoulder; it sends a bolt of searing pain up my spine.

My husband was advised to take a yoga class to help relieve pain in his neck and upper back.  While some of the poses helped stretch tight muscles, he often left the class in more pain than he'd started with: his instructor lo-o-oved having everyone try headstands.

To be fair, she did tell her students to "opt out of a pose if it’s too challenging for you."  But they weren’t given any advice on how to judge an appropriate level of challenge.  Or what to do while everyone else was trying the pose. 

Isn’t it time we redefine what an "average" yoga student looks like or is capable of?  Isn’t it time to adapt to the real bodies of real people rather than relying on one-size-fits-few poses and instructions?

Fortunately, an increasing number of teachers are doing just that.

Here are the best resources I’ve found online about yoga for people of different appearances and abilities.  

If you have flexibility or mobility issues:
One video that works well for me is Chair Yoga with Jessica Smith.  It's designed for people with less flexibility, but who have mobility in their arms and legs.   
May All be Happy has descriptions and photos of eight Wheelchair Yoga poses; the last two assume some degree of movement in the legs, but the rest are focused on the upper body.

And at Teachasana, Nancy Gerstein gives suggestions for Adapting Poses to the Chair, including both seated and standing poses.  

If you have a larger/curvier body, there's a great series of posts at Teachasana:

Decolonizing Yoga has very interesting perspectives on accepting all sorts of people into the yoga studio and community:

I was also pleasantly surprised to find resources on adapting instruction for people with different physical limitations:

As you can see, there's something for nearly everyone.  I hope the above resources help you adapt yoga instruction to your own or your students' needs.  And I hope it's inspired you to expand your image of what a yoga practitioner looks like. 

If you’re a yoga teacher interested in working with underserved groups, here are a couple of potential sources of funding:

  • Give Back Yoga offers supply grants and monetary grants.
  • Kripalu offers stipends, but only to graduates of their School of Yoga or Ayurveda training.

You might also be interested in Yoga Service Council's new series of books on Best Practices in teaching yoga to different populations:  Yoga in Schools (2015), Yoga for Veterans (2016), and Yoga for Incarcerated Populations (2017).

Disappointed not to see your favorite inclusive-yoga resource?  Please post a comment letting us know about it.  (If you prefer, you can email me at mindfulteachers[at]gmail[dot]com.)


related posts:

Tense and Let Go: Yoga Nidra Relaxation Practice

Yoga Sparks (recommended book)

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  1. A reader recommended this mindful yoga session with Lynn Rossy. I appreciate the emphasis on listening to your own body when deciding how far to go into a pose and how long to hold it. There's also a chair modification for each pose.

  2. The role of the teacher is very precious and should be accepted by all the students and good students are those who obey the teachers.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Todd. I certainly prefer obedient students, but I think there are some circumstances where it might be appropriate to question or adapt the teacher's instructions (for example, to avoid injury in a yoga class). Any thoughts on this?

  3. Very good and informative article, thanks for this posting.
    Anahata Chakra

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