Here are at Big Bear Festival Headquarters we are always excited to learn a new technique or share advice to help teachers be better at conveying information. One student at Big Bear Yoga Festival 2018 brought it to our attention that teachers weren’t informed about how to adjust their class to working with Deaf students. (Thank you beloved for sharing your wisdom with us to pass along!)
Here are a few tips that yoga teachers might find helpful in communicating with Deaf students and helping them to experience a yoga class that is joyful and comfortable.
In the United States, the sign language that is most commonly used by the Deaf community is called ASL (American Sign Language.) Most deaf people can read and write in English in the United States making them bilingual as they can communicate in both ASL and English. However sign language is not universal and different countries have their own sign language. Even sign language is different between the United States and the United Kingdom. So how will you know what is the best way to communicate with a Deaf student who is in your yoga class? Simply ask them! A Deaf person will let you know how they prefer to communicate. It could be speaking, signing, writing, reading lips, or another method.
One thing to keep in mind is that not all Deaf people can read lips. It is a very difficult skill and it is hard to read lips accurately all the time. Even the best lip readers can only catch 25 to 30% of what is being said. When communicating with someone who is reading your lips, make sure to face them directly and enunciate your words. Do not mumble!
Another thing to make a note of is that many Deaf people don’t like being a defined as “hearing impaired.” All hearing loss is not the same and individuals identify themselves differently.
If you play music during your yoga class and have Deaf students, you will want to address that with them. Deaf students may enjoy music or it may make it difficult for them to understand what you were saying with the music in the background. Simply ask them if the music is bothersome or if they enjoy it.
Deaf students may find that its most comfortable for them to attend class positioning themselves in the front of the class or in the middle of the class. That way they have a better chance of lip reading as you’re speaking or they can follow students and mimic them no matter which direction you are facing or the students are moving.
As the teacher, another thing to take into consideration is which direction you are positioning your body during the class. If the student is using lip reading you want to face them for most of the class. It might be difficult at first for you as you might be used to giving cues and facing certain directions during the class. If necessary, practice giving cues and direction facing a mirror to improve your teaching techniques. Another way to improve would be to teach a fellow yoga teacher and ask them for feedback.
One critical thing to do in your yoga class is at the end when you are going into Shavasana. Inform any Deaf yoga students that you will tap them on the shoulder when Shavasana is over so that they may fully relax and enjoy the pose and not constantly wondering or checking around to see if the relaxing Shavasana time has ended. This is true for any pose or period of time where you direct students to close their eyes.
It might be very helpful for any Deaf student if you’re able to provide a summary for the class or even a script of what you’re planning on teaching. They can follow along on the printout if they have any questions. You can also do this with any specific directions you are planning on teaching where the nuance might be very difficult to understand. For example, Bandhas including Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, or Jalandhara Bandha.
In an ideal situation you would invite an interpreter or another yoga teacher who is Deaf to teach the class with you. You can find in-person and online interpreter options, or ask the Deaf student . Here are two links to check out: https://www.deaf-interpreter.com/request-an-interpreter/ and https://www.hi5access.com/request_services/
You can also learn some sign language words from your country to help during the class. There are classes in many cities to help share sign language with the community. You can also find some easy to follow YouTube videos online.
New technologies are constantly being developed that you can also utilized to help a Deaf student during class. You may want to look into blue tooth technology where you could speak into a headphone or ear piece and have the words typed out on your Deaf student’s cell phone, laptop or ipad. However, it might slow down the student to read all of your comments and interrupt the energy and flow of the class. This might be something to consider if you are teaching more of a workshop or event teacher training program.
When you’re planning a yoga class you can also considered different ways of communicating the material beyond simply speaking at the front of class. Consider having a white board or poster board were you draw or write out directions, a video with subtitles, or having a student demonstrate and you pointing to specific elements of the pose. Get creative!
If you are a Deaf yoga student or teacher, please share with us your suggestions and requests for amazing yoga classes that you enjoy! We are also looking for Deaf yoga teachers to teach at upcoming events, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org – Namaste!