Whether you’re a studio-goer or online practitioner, you may love the idea of having a consistent yoga practice that helps you build strength and flexibility, and that supports your overall physical, mental, and spiritual well-being.
Tapas, self-discipline, is not the only component necessary for you to be successful in establishing a yoga routine that works for you and that is sustainable in the long run.
No matter how devoted you are to your yoga practice, there will be times when illness, injury, travel, and other curveballs of life will interfere, and you may feel unable to practice.
Accessible yoga is all about adapting the practice to your life in a way that you can stay connected to it and reap its benefits even when things get rough, no matter how you feel.
One of the first things to suffer and be forgotten first when life gets stressful or we go through changes are often the self-care practices we need most, like yoga.
In this article we will discuss ways to adapt your yoga practice utilizing some of the main principles of accessible yoga:
- What is accessible yoga?
- Who is accessible yoga for?
- Accessible yoga adapts to your life
- Accessible yoga meets the student where they are
- Accessible yoga goes beyond the mat
Let’s dive right in!
What is accessible yoga?
Although often confused as gentle yoga, yoga for seniors, and chair yoga, the truth is, those are yoga styles that incorporate accessible yoga principles.
Accessible yoga isn’t a style of yoga per se, but a way to view the practice that allows the teachers and practitioners to start from where they are, and explore the yoga practice in a way that fits their individual needs.
Any yoga class, practitioner, and practice that chooses to acknowledge the person first, and that makes room for a wide range of people to be able to participate, is an accessible yoga class.
Accessible yoga invites us to look at the practice from a holistic perspective.
It’s about letting go of the idea that the poses are what matters most, and creating space in yoga and wellness studios for traditionally marginalized communities and individuals to explore the benefits of yoga.
Who is accessible yoga for?
Accessible yoga is for everyone since it’s an approach to any style of yoga that adapts to you instead of having to mold yourself to the practice.
The adaptive and inclusive methodology of accessible yoga is especially good for:
- People with disabilities
- People with chronic illness
- Those in non-normative bodies
- Folks with PTSD and trauma-related experiences
- People new to yoga
- Aging adults
- Those with temporary or permanent injuries
Accessible Yoga Adapts to Your Life
One of the most common reasons to fall off of the practice is not having enough time, and tapping into the practices of accessible yoga can help.
Letting go of the idea that you need to be in the yoga studio flowing every day, is one of the easiest ways to make your yoga practice more accessible.
Maintaining a studio membership is not accessible for all budgets, and others who may have the financial means, find themselves without enough time to show up consistently.
Find online teachers you resonate with and create your own hybrid schedule.
Go to the studio when you can, so that you can stay connected to the community. When you’re short on time, traveling, or just too tired, stay in, turn on your favorite yoga streaming service, and connect to the virtual community instead.
Mold your practice to what you need in each season of your life.
Accessible yoga meets the Student where they Are
1# Accessible yoga invites the use of props
Although unfairly stigmatized by some even today, props are essential in making your yoga practice more accessible.
Implying that to be able to access a certain posture all you need is discipline and practice and that props are just for beginners is ableist, and just not true.
Props are a great way to explore alignment that feels good in your body, deepen into certain stretches and shapes, and provide support in your poses.
Props can also be used to challenge your physical practice and add an extra layer of fun and creativity.
There are many props that you can use, and if you’ve been reluctant to use them before, we invite you to give them a try and see how they can enhance your practice.
Some of the main props to explore are:
- Yoga Blocks
Although often relegated to a prop only for beginners “who really need them”, blocks are a great prop for any practitioner to use as a way to assist flexibility or balance.
Yoga blocks can be used to improve alignment, deepen poses, and provide support, making the practice more accessible for those with reduced mobility, chronic pain, or who simply want to explore what it’s like to be supported in their practice.
Try using blocks under your hands when flowing from low lunge (anjaneyasana) to half-split (ardha hanumanasana) to find more space for your lower back and hamstrings.
- Yoga Straps
Straps are great for supporting you in shapes that challenge your flexibility and when your mobility feels restricted.
They can be used to assist with stretches, provide support in balancing poses, and deepen poses.
When practicing seated forward fold (paschimottanasana), for example, consider bringing your strap around the ball of your feet, and keeping your spine long, use the leverage of the strap to assist you in folding into the posture – keep your knees slightly bent for comfort.
- Yoga Blankets
Another versatile prop to make your yoga practice more accessible is the yoga blanket.
You can use it to cover yourself up in meditation or savasana, but it can also be used during practice to provide support while seated or kneeling.
Yoga blankets can be used to decrease stress on joints and improve comfort levels during practice. If your knees are sensitive when you’re in table pose (bharmanasana), try folding your blanket underneath them for extra cushioning.
2# Accessible yoga is trauma-informed
In an effort to truly be a practice to support all people, and often reaching historically marginalized communities with less access to wellness practices, accessible yoga teachers and spaces that provide these classes are often trauma-informed.
3# Accessible yoga lets go of pose hierarchy
In many western yoga studios and even in teacher circles, there is still the concept that one must achieve the “full expression of a pose” in order to be an advanced yogi, whatever that means.
Accessible yoga challenges the notion of pose hierarchy!
It invites yoga teachers and practitioners to consider that different bodies, different conditions, different needs, and even different moods, can benefit from giving multiple options when practicing yoga, especially asana.
The one-size-fits-all approach is ableist, and accessible yoga aims to change that by providing teachers and students with tools and resources.
Accessible yoga goes Beyond the Mat
Yoga citta vrtti nirodha – yoga is the stilling of the fluctuating states of the mind.Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1.2
One of the best ways to make your yoga practice more accessible is to dive into the other aspects of yoga, because let’s face it, you may not feel like moving every day, and that’s okay.
Accessible yoga is a great reminder for teachers and students of the practice that the purpose of yoga goes way beyond the asanas.
1# Yogic philosophy
If you want to dive even deeper, consider exploring some of the other 8 Limbs of Yoga and study yogic tradition and philosophy.
2# Meditation as accessible yoga
Noticing your thoughts and emotions and being present in the moment is a very accessible way to practice yoga anywhere, anytime.
Building a consistent meditation practice can add incredible benefits to your life.
3# Pranayama as accessible yoga
Accessible yoga classes often include basic breathwork techniques (pranayama) which can help you move with intention, reduce stress levels, and keep you grounded when you are practicing yoga poses on your mat.
It can also be practiced when you’re sitting in traffic during rush hour, stressed out and bothered because you’re late.
Meditation and breathwork are two of the most accessible yoga practices you can incorporate into your daily life that don’t require you to be in optimal physical shape, or even feel good.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced yogi, it is essential to make your yoga practice more accessible if you want to make it into a consistent ritual that can support you through the ebbs and flows of life.
This is important whether you feel strong and healthy, or you’re going through a tough time.
Listening to your body and adjusting the practice and the poses accordingly to what you need every day, will bring a new level of accessibility into your practice.
Remaining flexible and adaptable, using props creatively, and exploring beyond the physical practice are some of the best ways to make the yoga practice fit your life, hence being more accessible and sustainable!
Read more about adaptive yoga here.