Accessibility June 23, 2021
Online yoga classes for blind people boost mental, physical fitness during pandemic
Yoga has amazing physical and mental health benefits for everyone. For visually impaired people, yoga is especially helpful as it builds core strength, reducing the possibility of falls. Online yoga classes for blind people are becoming more popular especially now when people with vision impairments are stuck at home due to the pandemic.
Alok Kaushik, a 46-year-old London-based IT professional, lost his vision in his mid-30s due to retinitis pigmentosa (RP). He was somewhat familiar with yoga, but this was limited to the pranayama, which is the yogic practice of focusing on breath. Kaushik never imagined he could do the rigorous asanas given his vision impairment.
That changed when he discovered the Prana Yoga Therapy Centre’s online yoga classes for blind people. These online classes are the brainchild of Dr Priti Sharma, an Ayurveda practitioner. Like Kaushik, Sharma is also blind due to RP.
“In the current circumstances I needed someone who could teach yoga online, and since Dr. Sharma is visually impaired herself, what needs to be done to teach a blind person did not need any explanation”, says Kaushik, who is now able to do rigorous yoga asanas like surya namaskar. “I had never done them before and never thought that I could do either”, he adds.
Tips to make online yoga classes for the blind effective
Dr Sharma started teaching yoga over 30 years ago. She studied yoga therapy along with her degree in Ayurveda and went on to start a yoga centre with her husband. When the world shifted online after the lockdown, so did the centre’s yoga classes.
Everything shifted online and we thought why not try teaching yoga to the blind online as well through Zoom. I taught the yoga instructors in my team how to work with visually impaired people and we started online yoga classes for the blind in February 2021. – Dr Priti Sharma, Medical yoga therapist
In yoga, arriving at right posture is essential. Dr Sharma trained her yoga instructors on how to give clear, precise verbal cues to the blind students learning yoga online. Keen observation skills on the trainers’ part are also essential as they have to watch the students on the video call session to give further instructions if required.
So far, 30 blind people have signed up for the online yoga classes from India, the United Kingdom, and the United States. To make it sustainable, Dr. Sharma has chosen experienced yoga teachers undergoing therapy-level courses and equipped them with skills to teach blind people yoga online.
Dr Khushboo Damani, a homeopath, is among the trainers teaching online yoga to blind students.
“I had never met any blind person apart from Dr. Priti”, says Dr Damani, “so my understanding of the needs of visually impaired people was limited”. But her experience of conducting online yoga classes for visually impaired people has been smooth. “My student was enthusiastic, and by the eight class, she was able to do the surya namaskar perfectly. All my blind students function independently – they set up the camera, log in on Zoom, position the camera – all on their own”.
Yoga’s life-changing impact on the blind
Aparna Murthy, a visually impaired banker, had some concerns when she signed up for the online yoga classes for the blind.
“I was going through some mental and physical issues, and we anyway have apprehensions given our disability”, says Murthy who is 30 years old and lives in Delhi. “Also, as a woman, I had some worries about being on video. But all the yoga trainers working with blind students have been sensitised and work with conviction. There are follow up calls from trainers to find out what we are going through”.
Ajay Minocha, a credit risk professional in Mumbai, was among the first visually impaired students to sign up for the online yoga classes for visually impaired people. “I have a hectic job and often put in 12 hours at work. I had gained weight and suffered frequent headaches. After the online yoga classes, my body is more agile, and I concentrate more at work”.
For Kaushik too, the benefits are significant. “I used to have lower back problem and unusual sensitivity in my hands and feet. That has significantly improved along with my physical strength and stamina. More importantly, joining these yoga sessions have made me regular with my practice, which used to be a challenge for me”.
They say yoga is for everyone. For visually impaired people, yoga could be especially helpful given most of them do get the support needed to go for regular walks or access a gym.