-Savitha Nanjangud, San Jose, CA
In April 2013, I had the opportunity to teach a few classes at the Santa Clara Valley Blind Center located in San Jose since their teacher was looking for a substitute. Before accepting I observed one of the classes. The class was very mellow, mostly breath and motion practices confined to the chair. I was nervous about teaching the very next day and practiced and prepared several chair poses. I was also nervous about relating to the students and giving precise instructions without hurting their feelings.
From Chair to the Mat – gaining Confidence
In the first class I introduced myself to each of them and explained a little bit about our style of yoga. I wasn’t sure if they were open to chanting Om or saying any mantras so I kept all of it out in the beginning. The first few classes were very simple with watching of the breath, breath and motion practices on the chair and a few standing poses holding the back of the chair. I ended the session again with simple relaxation without any AUM or other chanting. The students started enjoying the classes, especially the DRT since some of them had trouble sleeping. After 7 classes as a substitute teacher the Activity Coordinator invited me back to take a 3 month session of weekly classes.
Several new students joined the new session. Each student here is unique. Some are partially sighted and some fully blind. Some have limitations due to past or present injuries and some have limited mobility due to stiffness. One student is also hearing impaired along with being blind. I continued teaching as before focusing on breathing practices and using the chair a lot. Midway through the session I started transitioning the students to the mat. I realized that the students needed to build more confidence in controlling their bodies and develop spatial awareness as well as better balance. I tried out a few sitting sukshma vyayama practices and then added some standing and sitting breathing practices. I also introduced core strengthening (leg raising, navasana) and loosening practices (forward/backward bending, side bending, twisting, hip rotation, etc) which the more athletic students really enjoyed. I continued using the chair for Pada sanchalana, Veerabhadrasana, modified Parvatasana etc. while slowly adding more free standing practices like centering and ankle stretch breathing to improve balance practices.
I checked with the center management if it would be ok to chant Om and say a few Sanskrit prayers and they were very open to it. So I began chanting Om, starting and closing mantras after explaining the meaning. By the end of the 3 month session students had transitioned almost completely to the mat, they were a lot more confident and were challenging themselves to improve flexibility, balance and coordination.
Participants and their Experiences
Gabi used to be very athletic before she became blind so she enjoys the core strengthening practices. In spite of her ankle injuries, which limits her ability to do shashankasana and Veerabhadrasana, she is very determined and finds her own variations. Reggie likes the abdominal breathing and DRT as it helps him sleep better. Ken is an elderly Veteran and like Gabi, uses the class to complement his daily walks. Margie is a short elderly lady who is surprisingly flexible. Her main challenge, which applies to all the others as well, is being able to stay balanced while walking so she can avoid injuries. Ron has an old rotator cuff injury and said the yoga practices really helped increase the range of motion in his shoulders which physical therapy had not addressed. Rubin is a Native American, very steeped in his culture and physically quite fit. He is also hearing impaired and struggles to follow instructions. However he thoroughly enjoys the spiritual nature of the class, especially DRT. Jane can only do chair yoga but quickly creates her own variations based on the instructions given to the others. Recently I challenged the whole class with the complete Suryanamaskar sequence. I had previously introduced individual asanas either with the chair or without. This time we did two full rounds of SN and they pushed through it with a sincere die-hard spirit with Jane doing the chair sequence.
The students are all very gracious and grateful for the yoga classes and work very hard to follow my instructions and meet my expectations. They express their gratitude after each class and love to openly share their experiences and ask questions. I am blessed to have the opportunity to share my yoga knowledge with this amazing group of people who live their lives with such grace in the midst of so many physical limitations and setbacks.
Savitha.Nanjangud is the senior faculty of Yoga Teacher Training and a passionate yoga teacher at Yoga Bharati. She also coordinates youth yoga activities.
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