Imagine your student cuing up your yoga video. You walk them through the sun salutation at a moderate speed; you think you’re doing it slowly enough. Then, you tell your student you’re going to do them more quickly. You might even suggest 10 sun salutations in 5 minutes, which on one hand seems like a lot, but if you can easily shift positions, would mean that you’re moving, but too overwhelming. (That example, by the way, came from a “beginner” yoga class I found on a streaming service). Your student is familiar with the sun salutation. (In my case I had it memorized because I’d learned it in yoga teacher training.) Within two or three attempts at keeping up, your student gives up, turns off the video, and declares that yoga isn’t for them. is that the example you want you set for your students?
Thankfully in my case I knew that teacher wasn’t for me, but there’s a good reason why I don’t do a lot of yoga videos or sequences from online sources. I, like many autistic individuals, have an issue with perioperception. My frustration from the “fast” sequence wasn’t a lack of knowledge or even ability. It was because I cannot make my body move that quickly. Perioperception is being able to walk or kick (walking up stairs is a good example) without looking at your feet. Or, being able to touch your nose with your eyes closed.
Then, you can talk about sensory issues. Trying to listen, process the instructions at the pace the instructor wants, and move my body…that depending on how I’m doing on any given day, can be too much.
So yoga instructors, I ask you: Is your yoga too fast?
If you have neurodivergent individuals in your class, there’s a good chance that it is. Taking my coordination issues out of the equation, listening to commands being “barked” (even if the instructor doesn’t mean it that way) at me can trigger my cPTSD. It feels like I’m being ordered, or yelled at, and neither are things you want to happen in a yoga class.
As yoga instructors, we need to assess who our classes are for and who we hope enters. Let me be blunt, if you only want to teach able-bodied, thin, moderately flexible individuals who can afford a high price tag, then your classes will be structured that way and anyone who doesn’t fit those criteria will be left in the cold. It’s best if you say that up front. Save us all frustration and spending our money where it isn’t wanted, by being clear on who you’re serving.
But if you’re interested including neurodifferent individuals in your class, think about the speed at which you’re transitioning poses, and what poses you’re transitioning into and out of. For example, in the sun salutation, the transition between mountain pose and upward salute consists of putting the hands together and raising them over the head. A slight bend in the back is also suggested. This transition requires moving only the hands and arms, and slightly adjusting the back. The feet remain in place. Weight remains balanced over the feet. The hips and core do not move. It’s a relatively easy transition.
Now, think about moving from from the half-forward bend pose to the four-limbed staff pose in the sun salutation A. The half-forward bend has someone bent at the waist with their hands on their thighs, back straight. Then they move to the floor (sometimes with a plank pose in between, which is suggested), with hands and toes on the floor and then lower until they are in what can be a sustained downward part of a push-up. Hands, feet, center of gravity, position …. it all changes here. If someone has mobility or strength challenges, this transition becomes even more difficult.
Are you giving your students enough time to get to the floor?
Are you giving your students enough time to move their hands?
Are you giving modifications for students who cannot make it to the floor, or who cannot easily transition back up off the floor?
Are you allowing your students enough time to process the instructions for this transition?
If you have concerns about this, it may help you to have someone do an accessibility review for your classes. I suspect, just as this “beginners” yoga video was too fast for most of my community, that many yoga instructors aren’t aware just how accessible, or inaccessible, their beginner classes are. We want to bring yoga to everyone. Yoga is for all bodies. Let’s start by thinking about how we’re cuing and what we’re asking for. And if necessary, slow it down.