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Community Spotlight: This Signing Yogi is making yoga accessible

yoga in sign language
Yoga isn’t always completely accessible to deaf and hard of hearing people, but Bethaney the founder of Sign Yoga, is changing this.

The UK signing yogi teaches yoga classes in sign language.

She is a proud child of deaf adults (CODA.) Both of her siblings, her niece, nephew, and sister-in-law are all deaf, so British Sign Language (BSL) is something very close to her heart. She uses it daily with her family and in the community.

Bethaney has been practicing yoga for about five years. After realizing the positive impact it subtly had on her life, in 2018 she qualified as a Yoga Teacher. It took 200 hours of Yoga Teacher Training, which she completed in Thailand.

“If I skipped yoga I’d know about it, I can’t explain it but it’s a healing form of therapy for me. This is why I wanted to share this with the deaf community,” Bethaney says.

Offering yoga classes in sign language

As yoga became a huge part of her life, she’d constantly get responses about how it’s inaccessible for deaf people. After completing her training, Bethaney decided to use her skills and passion to teach yoga locally to friends and family who wanted access to yoga in BSL.

“I decided to run this through a side name like SignYoga as I didn’t want to keep sharing on my Facebook and it naturally ended up reaching other people who were interested in learning more about yoga and its benefits,” she explains. “I went from the intention of teaching people I knew to then teaching strangers that wanted to try it for themselves.”

So what makes her classes different?

All of her classes are run in BSL, so attendees are getting access to all of the small details that can sometimes be missed in mainstream classes. This includes syncing breath moves with poses. During a mainstream class, many deaf yogis rely on layout and mirrors for a clear line view. Or close proximity to the yoga teacher.

“I always inform them what breath count we’re using so they never miss what’s next if they choose to close their eyes or if they are looking away due to the Drishti (gaze) in the pose,” Bethaney says.

Bethaney enjoys running her classes in BSL because she gets to connect with “lovely people.” She also receives fulfillment from learning how yoga is improving lives.

“My classes are always super flowy and it’s just really warming to see everyone move in sync,” Bethaney says.

Are you interested in learning yoga?

When asked what she wished hearing yogis knew about deaf and hard of hearing yogis, Bethaney says she wants them “to stay on their mat and demo!”

As a hearing teacher, it’s a luxury to be able to direct a hearing class verbally while walking around the room without demonstrating any poses. This is, however, not helpful for a deaf or hard of hearing student. Students with hearing loss must then rely on looking at their neighbors. She advises teachers to be more accessible by printing off class plans or anything that will be covered in class. Even if it’s something short and simple like a mantra that is included at the beginning or end of class.

“She advises teachers to be more accessible by printing off class plans or anything that will be covered in class, even if it’s something short and simple like a mantra that is included at the beginning or end of class.”

Read more: Yoga and meditation classes are challenging with hearing loss

There are several types of yoga for deaf and hard of hearing people. You have options based on what vibe you’re feeling. Whether it is fitness, flexibility, or restorative, each teacher has his/her own styles of teaching. Also, yoga goes beyond the mat. It can play a part in who you are in your everyday life and can shift your perspective positively.

If you’re thinking of joining a mainstream class, Bethaney suggests Ashtanga or Hot Yoga. They both follow their own sequence which is repeated in every class with slight variations so you have a general idea of what to expect.

Bethaney has been running several virtual classes a week. Her Facebook and Instagram consist of daily posts about yoga and self-development, and she runs a free Hatha style class every Saturday morning on Facebook Live. Videos are also available on YouTube.

Yoga in American Sign Language

As Bethaney only teaches in British Sign Language, she gave HearingLikeMe her recommendations of yoga teachers that teach in American Sign Language (ASL.)

Beatrice Bachleda, Raymonda, Deafhood Yoga, Lilli Erin Beese are all yoga teachers that teach in ASL and are active on social media.

Bethaney hopes this will open up more people to the practice of yoga.

“I know yoga can make people stronger mentally and physically. Building a resilience and feeling more content with themselves. Yoga can definitely teach you the tools to live a happier life.”

Author Details
Ashley is a 29-year-old who loves to travel and try new things. She has bi-lateral, severe hearing loss, and wears a Phonak Naída V-SP hearing aid in one ear and has an Esteem implant in the other. She plays soccer for the USA Women’s National Deaf Team. She’s currently traveling the world in pursuit of adventure and perspective while also learning about the deaf and hard of hearing communities in various countries. Her travels can be followed on instagram @ashley5chanel or on her blog