What is Accessible Yoga?
At Gecko, we are firm believers that yoga is for every body. However, the yoga industry at large doesn’t always represent the practice that way. In this article, we’ll explore the concept of accessible yoga, why we think it matters, and how we can all help champion this important movement.
What is Accessible Yoga?
Accessible Yoga Photo by Eckhart Yoga
Accessible yoga is an approach which acknowledges that each body is unique, and adapts the physical postures (asanas) to meet the needs of each individual. The goal of accessible yoga is to make yoga inclusive, welcoming, and safe for everyone, regardless of their physical abilities, health conditions, or age.
Both ancient wisdom and modern science agree that yoga asana can provide many incredible physical and mental health benefits, including reducing stress, anxiety, and depression, and improving balance, flexibility, and strength. It can also help its practitioners develop a positive, loving relationship with their body.
However, many people are unable to participate in postural yoga classes, whether that be due to disabilities, physical limitations, or sociocultural barriers to entry. Taking an accessible approach to yoga helps give all individuals access to the many benefits of the practice.
The Misrepresentation of Yoga
The term “yoga” is often used to describe typical modern postural yoga.
However, yoga is a centuries-old tradition that encompasses various physical, spiritual, mental, and ethical practices. In fact, meditation and breathing are an equal part of yoga as sun salutations and downward dogs.
Reducing yoga to a mere physical practice is not only inaccurate and culturally insensitive, but it can even contribute to toxic diet culture.
This narrow view of the practice creates a perspective of yoga that is centered on physical fitness. While yoga can be a transformative physical practice, the objective of yoga is not to “get in shape”. Conflating yoga with exercise in turn creates the notion that a yogi should have a certain image, ability level, or body type (which is often thin, flexible, and female). To make matters worse, many yoga and athleisure brands in the West intentionally propagate this misrepresentation, turning the practice of yoga into something exclusive and status-driven.
What Does Accessible Yoga Look Like?
Chair Yoga Image by Yogajala
Accessible yoga is not a specific type of yoga, but rather any approach that makes the physical practice more inclusive and accessible to a range of students, regardless of their physical abilities.
Accessible yoga teachers focus on creating a safe and supportive environment that allows all individuals to participate fully in the practice of yoga.
This means offering different options and layers for each asana, so the physical poses can meet the individual wherever they are on their yoga journey.
It also means helping educate communities about the true nature of yoga, which goes far beyond the physical practice. Accessible yoga teachers recognize that one does not need to reach “the full expression” of a pose in order to reap the benefits, and emphasize that an advanced yoga practice has little to do with the depth of one’s splits or amplitude of one’s backbend.
Modifying Poses and Using Props in Accessible Yoga
One of the key principles of accessible yoga is modifying to accommodate the individual's physical limitations. Modifications can be applied to a yoga flow or sequence as a whole, or within specific poses. Often, these modifications can be offered within the same class so that even though there is a collective experience, each student gets to explore a version of the practice that speaks to their needs.
For example, a student with a knee injury may be encouraged to take a reclined figure-four pose instead of sleeping pigeon. Meanwhile, a pregnant student may be offered gentle heart openers instead of intense backbends. A third student with limited mobility in their right hand might be given the option to skip all vinyasas in a class.
One of the simplest and most effective ways to modify a pose without losing its essence and energetic value is by incorporating a prop.
There are many props that can be used in yoga, such as straps, bolsters, balls, blocks, and even chairs. Props can help students safely explore and expand their range of motion, find additional support, find proper alignment, and discover new poses that may have otherwise been out of reach.
Check out this post: 5 Ways to Use a Cork Yoga Block to Modify Challenging Poses
Additional Ways to Make your Yoga Classes More Accessible
It’s important to remember that physical limitations aren’t the only hindrance for a new student who might want to enter a yoga studio. Often, the greatest barriers to entry are mental or self-imposed.
Here are some nuanced ways yoga teachers and studios can make their classes more welcoming and inclusive:
- Helping define expectations for new students before they enter the class (what to wear, what to bring, etc)
- Using body-positive, non-ableist language
- Demoing poses with the use of props
- Asking for consent and permission for hands-on adjustments
- Offering a free introductory class or sliding scale payment options
- Removing mirrors from your yoga studio
- Featuring a wide range of yoga teachers and styles
- Using visual cues and demonstrations for students with hearing impairments
- Emphasizing other key yoga practices, such as pranayama (breath worth) or meditation
Accessible Yoga: Because Being Good at Yoga Has Little to Do with Touching Your Toes
An accessible approach to yoga is part and parcel of a holistic view of the practice. It is understanding that yoga is much more than just asana.
Flexibility of the bones, without flexibility of the mind, is not yoga. Strength of the muscles, without strength of the heart, is not yoga. Relaxation of the body, without relaxation of the ego, is not yoga.
Only once we embody this, can we truly progress on our yogic journey.
Sustainable Cork Yoga Mats & Accessories for a Practice That Extends Beyond the Mat
At Gecko, our mission is to help you practice better yoga by creating products that align with the yogic values.
This means applying the principles of the practice to every aspect of our business, from the sourcing of materials to the way we engage with our community.
We call this our Conscious Supply Chain.
Explore our full collection of sustainable cork yoga products, and start building a holistic yoga practice today!