In an effort to make yoga more all-inclusive, yoga instructor and qualified British Sign Language (BSL) Bethaney Mouzer has started teaching sign-language yoga for the deaf.
Trying to learn yoga when deaf is obviously a challenge. If you learn via a Youtube channel, you’re constantly turning your head to look at the video because you can’t hear what the instructor is saying. If you’re learning at a studio it’s even harder because your view of the teacher is often obstructed by other yogis. And learning via a book is always challenging because turning pages during Downward Dog is just awkward.
One woman with a mission to change all that is Bethaney Mouzer. She calls it SignYoga.
“There’s a huge lack of BSL access to wellbeing, yoga, meditation, self-care and self-love in comparison to English,” she tells us.
At a time when we are witnessing a boom in yoga teachers, there is still a huge lack of classes adjusted for the deaf. While most teachers focus on verbally leading a class and demonstrating moves, virtually none have the BSL skills necessary to teach yoga to the deaf.
Mouzer says “My classes are all delivered in BSL and focus on alignment, doing poses correctly and flowing together as a group, which is beautiful to see!”
She’s now beginning to teach yoga to traditional teachers (so if you happen to be one of the yoga teachers who follow our email newsletter, you might like to connect with her).
Not only is Mouzer’s story an inspiring one, but it also comes at the perfect time. Mental health problems are on the rise, and deaf people are more prone to complications than most. Given the benefits of yoga and meditation for mental health, there is clearly huge value in what Mouzer is trying to do.
Benefits of Meditation & Yoga For The Deaf
While 25% of the general population is affected by mental health conditions according to the WHO, the number is double that (50%) for deaf people.
Yoga and meditation are both hugely beneficial for combatting common problems like stress and anxiety. Taking a yoga class can massively improve mental health. But not if the class itself leads you to feel stressed and isolated. Many deaf people feel isolate at yoga classes because they cannot hear the instructions, unlike non-deaf people. This counteracts the positive benefits that yoga should offer.
By delivering SignYoga for the hearing impaired, teachers give the deaf a more comfortable and inclusive way of learning so that they can feel more comfortable in the studio.
Teaching meditation to the deaf, on the other hand, is unique challenge. Usually when we meditate we have our eyes closed and the teacher leads verbally. This means that a hearing-impaired individual can neither hear the instructor nor see their hands to read their sign language. A modified approach is needed.
Tips For Learning Yoga & Meditation For The Deaf
1: If you learn at home, go slowly: When you’re learning yoga at home, make sure you go slowly enough to learn the moves properly. If you’re learning from a Youtube video, frequently pause the video so that you can check that you are performing moves correctly. Some Youtube videos also have Closed Captioning so you can read what the instructor is saying.
2: Arrive early and sit at the front: If you’re learning yoga at a traditional studio, you will definitely need to see what the instructor is doing. Arrive early and set your mat at the front of the class. Tell the teacher that you are hearing impaired. They will make an extra effort to check that you are following the asanas correctly.
3: During meditation lessons: Mention to the instructor that you are hearing impaired. There are many meditation techniques that do not require the eyes to be closed (such as Zazen). A good teacher will help you to find a practice that is ideal for you and that they re able to teach if they don’t know BSL.
4: Don’t use guided meditation: If you’re hearing impaired, you may find it stressful or simply difficult to hear what a guided meditation teacher is saying to you. The extra effort to listen could impede your focus, making it impossible to truly meditate. This means guided meditations for the deaf are generally a bad idea. There are alternatives. For instance, you can read a guided meditation script, or practice more traditional methods like breathing meditations.
5: Use an illustrated yoga mat: When performing yoga, it can be hard to look up at the instructor or the video you’re following along to. One alternative solution is to use an illustrated yoga mat like this one on Amazon. These mats have illustrations of the yoga poses, so you can actually see the asanas without having to look away from the mat.
Thanks to amazing yoga teachers like Bethaney Mouzer, yoga is starting to become more inclusive, and more and more deaf people are taking up the practice.
If you’ve been worried about doing yoga because you are hearing impaired, always remember that you’re just as capable as anyone else, and that there are some truly talented yoga teachers who can help you along the way.
If you’re hearing impaired, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on yoga and how you practice.