Dezzie, a yellow Labrador is laid on a yellow blanket in a yoga studio. He is wearing a guide dog harness.
Disability

My experience of going to a yoga class

I first started doing some yoga during lockdown. I think this is similar to a lot of other people. It was an activity you could do at home with no equipment, with online videos being easily accessible. 

I’ve been going to yoga classes for about a month and wanted to share my experience as someone with cerebral palsy and a visual impairment.

Why yoga?

The thought of going to an in person class has always appealed to me, but getting there would have been problematic. Prior to getting my guide dog Dezzie, leaving the house by myself didn’t really happen. I suppose this is why I’ve recently joined a class.

Read more: The emotional adjustment of getting a guide dog

I found a local class and decided to message them. In theory, I could have just turned up with Dezzie, but I wanted to know if they could accommodate things for me. Being both registered blind and having mild cerebral palsy means that some elements of the class might have been inaccessible. 

I’m pleased to report that they messaged back and were very welcoming of both myself and Dezzie. They did say that one of the instructors was allergic to dogs, but that they’d be able to hoover and asked that I avoided their class if possible. Given the wide variety of classes, this wasn’t a barrier for me accessing a yoga class at a time that suited me. 

I ended up booking onto a class that was due to happen that evening. If anything, I didn’t want to give myself the time to overthink it. I was nervous. I was going to an unknown place, in a room of people who didn’t know me, with an instructor wasn’t expecting us.

Our first class

The yoga studio has a waiting room. The plan was to bring a blanket and a bone and leave Dezzie there while I attended the class. Dezzie had other ideas…

When we arrived, everyone was so welcoming. I was asked if I needed anything and was reassured that I could leave Dezzie in the waiting room or bring him into the yoga studio. Dezzie is very affectionate and is partial to a cuddle if you’re sat on the floor, so I made the decision to leave him in the waiting room.

The instructor guided me into the room and helped me find a mat near the front. She said that she’d describe what she was doing and that I could ask questions at any point. 

A few minutes into the class, Dezzie started barking. I hoped he’d settle, but he didn’t. Thankfully everyone was more than happy for him to be in the studio. To put it into perspective, Dezzie and I had only been qualified for a few months and he was a 22-month-old Labrador cross retriever. A fluffy bundle of energy who just wants to love everyone… 

There were a few times during our first class where he got a bit excited and went to say hello to people. Thankfully they all saw the funny side. Yet I was so embarrassed! People had paid to be here to take part in a very relaxing yoga class and here I am with my dog just causing chaos. The class lasts an hour, I spent about half of that sat next to Dezzie and rewarded him for laying down on his blanket. 

By the end of the class he was calmly laid down and I got to enjoy some yoga. 

Cerebral palsy and yoga

From a physical point of view, I’ve been able to do most of the moves in the class. The instructor is great and always offers alternative ways of doing things. There’s one line in particular that I love “only do what’s accessible to you”. While this can be applied to everyone depending on how you are feeling each day, it’s particularly comforting to myself. There is no pressure to do anything and the space feels truly inclusive of everyone. 

Read more: Cerebral palsy and managing pain

Yoga is great physio and certainly is more appealing than the everyday stretches. The class I attend is called vinyasa flow. It’s very much focused on stretching muscles, breathe work and balance. After a class I do feel the strain, but in a good way. I believe it’ll be particularly helpful as we head into the colder months. My muscles are always so much tighter and I hope yoga can help with that.

If you have physical disability and want to try on some yoga, WheelPower have a free online class every Wednesday.

Free online wheelchair yoga class every Wednesday (WheelPower)

Internalised ableism 

The internalised ableism crept in. Surely it wasn’t fair on everyone else that I took up too much room? Maybe I shouldn’t go, I should let other people enjoy themselves. What about the woman that’s allergic? They shouldn’t have to hoover just because of Dezzie. What if he’s making too much noise? What if he’s dropping too much fur?

Internalised ableism is when a disabled person internalises the prejudice views towards disability. They believe that they’re ‘the problem’ and may try to minimise their disability or not access the support they need.

Going back the following week was the hardest. I knew it was something I wanted to do, but I couldn’t help but worry about what other people thought. This is not down to anything that was said, because they couldn’t have been more welcoming. 

Dezzie and I have now been to 5 yoga classes. He loves going and is getting calmer each week. Last week he even had a nap. I was worried he’d start snoring! 

I need to remind myself that it’s okay to take up space. Dezzie is my mobility aid and an extension of me. I have as much right to attend a yoga class. I’m allowed to have a fluffy companion. Not only that, people don’t care. They are more than happy for him to be there. If anything, people make turns to be on the mat next to him! If he moves a bit or makes a noise that’s okay. At the end of the day, he’s a dog and is happy to see people. Most of the noise comes from him wagging his tail as it bangs on the laminate flooring.

If you’ve thought about doing something new, consider this your nudge to go for it. You might actually enjoy it. 

~ Chloe x

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