As a yoga teacher, creating an inclusive practice is at the heart of my mission. I believe that yoga should be a space where every individual, regardless of their physical conditions or neurodivergent traits, feels not only welcome but truly embraced. In this short article I am reflecting on some ways to make yoga more inclusive for everyone, specifically thinking about how I can foster an environment that celebrates the diverse ways our minds navigate the journey of self-discovery.
- Mindful Language Matters
In my classes I try to pay careful consideration to the language I use. Clear and concise instructions can make a world of difference. Avoiding metaphors that might be confusing for neurodivergent individuals ensures that everyone can follow along effortlessly. Instead of saying, “Imagine your thoughts are clouds drifting away,” I often opt for simple and direct instructions such as for example, “Focus on your breath as you inhale and exhale and try to be present in the moment.”
- Sensory Considerations
Yoga is a sensory experience, and being aware of different sensitivities is key. Some fellow yogis might be sensitive to certain sounds, lights, or even scents. If the space allows me, I try to create a calm and soothing environment by dimming lights, minimising external noises and using subtle, neutral scents. I hope this may help my students feel more at ease and able to fully immerse themselves in the practice, reducing distractions.
- Providing Options and Choices
I recognise that the bodies we inhabit are all unique in their own way, and not all poses work for everyone. Offering variations and modifications allows yogis to adapt each movement to their own specific comfort level. Who comes regularly to my classes know that one of my favourite mantras is ‘always listen to your body’. This empowerment fosters a sense of autonomy and inclusivity.
- Creating Visual Guides
Neurodivergent fellow yogis often benefit from visual aids. I feel it’s very important to incorporate visual guides and practical demonstrations to accompany verbal instructions. This caters to different learning styles and ensures that everyone, regardless of how they process information, can follow along seamlessly.
- Flexible Class Structures
Although this is not always possible, I try to structures my classes to be as flexible as possible, for example allowing for breaks or variations in rhythm if needed. Understanding that everyone has different attention spans and energy levels, my ideal class in one that offers moments of stillness or incorporate mindfulness exercises that can enhance the overall experience for all practitioners.
- Encourage Self-Expression
Beyond the physical postures, yoga is a form of self-expression. A big part of my job then is stimulating my students to express themselves freely. This might involve allowing them to choose their favourite poses or encouraging creative movement within a structured practice. I believe that embracing diversity of expression can foster a sense of belonging for everyone.
- Being Open to Feedback
I try to create an open dialogue with my students moving from the idea that each one of them has needs that I might not be aware of initially. I hope that by fostering an environment where students feel comfortable sharing their preferences and concerns, I can tailor my teaching style to better meet the diverse needs of my class.
- Cultivating a Community of Support
For me, building a neurodivergence-friendly yoga practice extends beyond the mat. If it feels right, I try to encourage my students to connect with each other, share experiences, and celebrate their individual journeys. A supportive community can make a significant impact on the overall well-being of all, on and off the mat.
By being mindful of my students’ differences, experiences and modes of thoughts, I hope I can continue to build a greater understanding and acceptance in my classes, where everyone feels seen, heard and valued. After all, yoga is for every body and every mind.