Catherine is one of our amazing Badgeholders, based in Sheffield. She teaches charity classes for Sheffield Hallam Student Minds, and recently began teaching at the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind. Here, she write about her experiences teaching yoga for the visually impaired. Thank you for all your incredible work, Catherine!
Teaching the charity classes for Yoga Quota has been such an enriching experience as it involved a completely different style when teaching to beginners. Over the past few weeks, I've taken the challenge a step further by teaching short 30-minute chair yoga classes at the Sheffield Royal Society for the Blind.
For starters, my alignment cues are constantly evolving and my usual "inhale, urdhva mukha shvanasana; exhale, adho mukha svanasana" style of teaching has changed completely (~ do I even remember any of my Sanksrit?). Depending on the demographic I've had to be more or less creative with the cues, and even things like "puff your chest out" have come to replace "open your chest" so that everyone in the class can understand what the movement is meant to be. My funniest group yet has even suggested calling it "doing a Marilyn Monroe" which is more or less acurate I suppose...
More specifically for the SRSB classes though, it's been such a humbling experience and the groups have all been very receptive. To help guide my students, I tend to use the body as a reference point (thanks for the tip Harriet!): so "bring the chin in line with the shoulder" rather than using drishti (sight-based) cues. The biggest challenge is with the groups that confuse left and right, especially when it comes to twists, but at the SRSB activity centre, it's been a great help that they all know each other and I have found that they will often help each other out on that one; if not, a simple hand on the shoulder works as an adjustement. Sadly on twists though, "let's twist again - like we did last summer" didn't go down so well so I still have plenty to learn on cues!
Another change to the class style is that I don't play any music, this helps keep the focus on the movements, the breath - and especially with groups that may be deaf and blind, it saves me from shouting. Nobody needs Mrs Trunchbull leading a yoga class, amirite?
Really though, these classes have also been an incredible eye-opener for me as a teacher to realise that low mobility affects the body in many different ways, and it's given me the opportunity to understand first hand that every body is different. Working with some of the mature students who would find challenge with cat/cow and simple twists, I've decided to strip back the class to more gentle and repetitive movements (even knee to chest and pigeon are a real challenge which I didn't quite expect) and focussing on encouraging patience, self care and self compassion. This gives a really warm tone to the classes and added to the existing community feel at SRSB, it makes it a really heartwarming experience.