The Deaf Yoga Foundation serves as a support network for deaf, hard-of-hearing and signing yoga teachers and students around the world. They work to arrange interpreters for yoga teacher’s trainings, connect deaf students with deaf and sign language fluent yoga teachers, and provide classes, retreats, webinars and workshops in sign language.
Jessica Frank, co-stewards of the foundation, explained how most people don’t know where to begin in terms of teaching yoga to deaf or hard of hearing students. However, through using visual clues they have adapted a format to ensure an enjoyable practice for the students.
“Deaf students are visual and tactile learners,” said Frank. “This means information needs to be presented visually and tactically. Instead of walking across the room voicing the instructions of the yoga sequences as the typical hearing yoga teacher does, the deaf yoga instructor often demonstrates the poses and describes the sequences in a visual manner through a combination of sign language, classifiers and handshapes.”
While there isn’t a specific certification or course required for instructors to take in order to teach deaf or hard of hearing students, the Deaf Yoga Foundation offers a course to help teachers learn methods of incorporating tactics to teach their students.
“Currently, there is no standardized approach in training yoga teachers to teach deaf and hard of hearing students,” explained Frank. “However, the foundation plays a large role in the Yoga Teachers’ Training Course at the Sivananda Yoga Ashram Ranch in New York that takes place annually, soon to be biannually, every June, where trainees can learn of the various creative methods utilized in leading classes catered to deaf and hard of hearing students’ needs.”
Frank explained if an instructor has never taught deaf or hard of hearing students before they can create safe spaces and environments adaptable for anyone in their class. Frank said the best place to start — if the instructor knows the student is deaf before class begins — would be to establish a bit of a rapport to make the student feel welcome, and to check in if there are any injuries or health concerns.
“During class, the instructor can use very basic gestures to emphasize breathing, inhaling and exhaling,” said Frank. “Many deaf students have expressed frustration because they miss out on this aspect in hearing classes. If the student does not understand how to do a pose correctly, the instructor should feel free to adjust the student’s alignment. The instructor can demonstrate the pose as well. The instructor can also check in with the student after class, and fill them in if there is anything that was not communicated clearly during class.”
Learning sign language is a good first place to start for those interested in teaching and accommodating deaf and hard of hearing students. The Deaf Yoga Foundation also offers the option of having their trainers come to studios to teach visual yoga courses.
“Hire deaf yoga teachers,” said Frank. “Hire yoga teachers fluent in sign language. We also offer the option of having us come to the studio to train teachers in accommodating to deaf students’ needs, which is called the visual yoga certification course. This will cover basic visual cues and overall tips in communicating with deaf and hard of hearing students. This course usually takes place over the duration of two days, and does not require becoming fluent in sign language.”