Yoga teaches us to let go, to dig within, and adjust to being completely content with the present moment. It is about learning to accept yourself, to forgive yourself, learning not to judge, and most importantly: no self-judgment.
I have found that some of the modern-day, or “Instagram Yoga” as I call it, places too much emphasis on what yoga is supposed to look like, and tends to intimidate a lot of people from practicing yoga in a studio, based on this warped and narcissistic illusion that is sometimes created of yoga, that just makes people feel insecure in a yoga class, worried that they don’t resemble a human pretzel with the dramatic, photoshopped sunset in the background, or that you are supposed to have a particular body type to perform yoga. It frustrates me and is one of the challenges that I am facing as a yoga teacher.
This is where the blindfold comes in to teach us this lesson. And it all started as a once-off fund-raiser for a school for visually impaired children, here in Durban, South Africa where I am from. A friend of mine is a teacher at Bright Eyes School for the Visually Impaired. She is one of the toughest and most determined women that I have ever met and got the ball rolling by running a half-marathon blindfolded to raise the funds required for a much-needed jungle gym for their students, that uses a lot of audible and tactile interactive structures for the kids to learn from whilst playing. I am always wanting to help, and get involved, and hence my idea to teach a Yoga Blind class as a fundraiser to assist them. We had no idea at just how much the experience would teach us, as well as the students, and I remember going home after our first session with a little lump in my throat and a bursting heart of pride at what we had accomplished.
Asides the challenge of being blindfolded, we wanted society to become more aware of the challenges that a person with visual impairments is faced with every day, and just how little society is equipped to assist and accommodate for these challenges. Carron-Anne Strachan, one of the founders of Bright Eyes and incredibly inspiring women, has been visually impaired since birth and has no idea of what yoga is “supposed” to look like. She also found that one of her biggest challenges is that as much as she has always been intrigued by yoga and the benefits that it has, she has always been intimidated to attend a class, as she does not feel that anybody would take the time to accommodate her, and of course the fear of being judged for not being able to perform the postures as they are apparently “supposed to be” done, which is a fear that most of us feel when first attending or attempting anything new.
Yoga is for everybody, and just that the fact that you have taken the time to arrive on the mat, you are practicing yoga. Carron arrived ready and excited to join in our first class, most of the class being blindfolded, which already put her at ease, even though she was the biggest inspiration to everybody in that studio. What do we learn by practicing Pratyahara though?
To switch off the senses, to focus internally, and most importantly to switch off to our egos and let go of self-judgment.
Self-judgement prohibits us from doing so many things that we can achieve, it gives us an internal fear of failing and appearing like a failure to the world. It is amazing how placing a blindfold on, and turning your senses internally, allows you to see what you are made of. Some of the regular students, who were usually otherwise hesitant to try to take that extra twist, and dig a little deeper into the asana, were now taking themselves beyond that fear. The beauty of it is that only I could see it, what they were feeling internally, by taking the time to listen to what was happening internally, allowed themselves to open up in a way that I have never experienced in all my yoga teaching experience. Although the class could not see me, I have never felt more engagement from a class ever. Students who are usually otherwise advanced were showing a little more hesitation as the challenge of balance kicked-in, and I could see them just coming down to a more simple version of the asana, and being content with it, not trying to push themselves any further than was necessary for that day.
As for Carron, who had never experienced a yoga class before, she boldly and purposefully moved with content, taking on even some of the more challenging postures that I had set for the class, taking the time to stop, breath, and let go into asana, and adjusting herself where she felt the need to, not because she felt that she did not look like the student next to her.