Most people think making a yoga studio accessible ends with having a ramp to the front door, but there is much more to it. Accessibility is really about creating an inclusive community where people of all backgrounds and abilities are welcome. Here are three ways yoga studios can become more welcoming to all potential yoga students:
1. Accessible Spaces
Accessibility usually begins with making sure all spaces are wheelchair accessible, including bathrooms. This is also an issue in hallways and lobbies, which can become too cluttered for wheelchairs to navigate.
In class, make sure there is always a clear aisle from the main entrance of the studio that won’t be blocked by other people practicing. It’s also important to keep props neat and organized during class, so wheelchair users can move around the space.
Also, refrain from using incense, essential oils or harsh cleaning chemicals that may bother those with a sensitivity.
2. Financially Accessible
Are your classes, workshops and trainings financially accessible to people who have limited resources? This is a big challenge for yoga studio management when there are slim profit margins. But there are a few different ways to address this:
a. Sliding scale price structures offer a pay-what-you-can arrangement. This type of scale can also include a supporter level so students who have the means can pay more to cover the cost of those who can’t.
b. Work trade arrangements can offer accessibility, but make sure the labor you request is reasonable and accessible. Also, check this arrangement is legal in your area.
c. Partner with a nonprofit to get grants or donations to cover class fees or tuition for people with disabilities.
d. Ask guest teachers to offer at least 10% of the spaces in their workshops or trainings at a lower rate or for free. That way you won’t be left carrying the burden yourself.
3. Yoga Accessibility Training
Make sure all your teachers are trained in accessible yoga or a similar skill-based program. This means students of different abilities will be welcomed in all classes instead of being told they don’t belong. Trainings should also offer techniques for teaching multiple levels at the same time, which allows for truly mixed-level classes.
Also, offer props in every class, even if the teacher doesn’t have specific plans to use them. This can equalize the use of props without singling out people who do use them. Props include chairs, which should be available in all yoga spaces for people who aren’t comfortable practicing on the floor.
Training should also include how to use trauma-informed language, and how to get consent to touch students. A trauma-informed approach helps keep students and teachers safe, can reduce stress, and creates an environment that is conducive for healing.
In the end, welcoming all students to yoga is not only the legal and ethical thing to do, it’s a smart business move that can increase your student base.
Jivana Heyman, C-IAYT, E-RYT500, is the founder and director of Accessible Yoga, an international non-profit organization dedicated to increasing access to the yoga teachings. He is a co-owner of the Santa Barbara Yoga Center, an Integral Yoga Minister, and the author of the forthcoming book, “Accessible Yoga: Poses and Practices for Every Body.”