As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I watch the Little Women shows, and I was so excited when on the first episode of Little Women: NY Dawn invited Lila and Jason to take an aerial yoga class. The teacher admitted to having never had little people in an aerial class and began by lowering the hammocks. The class seemed to be off to a great start, but soon the characters were in in uncomfortable positions and even in pain. When Lila tells the teacher she is feeling pressure in her kidneys the teacher dismisses it saying they’ll fix it in a minute and continues to move Lila into awkward positions that do not work for her body. Jason mentions the issue of little people having short arms, and it is clear the class isn’t working for them. However, we cannot completely blame the teacher her- many yoga teachers have never worked with little people and their unique bodies. Below are a few tips to help teachers (and other students) provide students with small stature a more positive class experience.
- Physical Differences
Every little person will have different physical conditions and complications that will affect his or her practice, however, some common issues include bowed legs, knock knees, hearing loss, respiratory/breathing problems and spine/back/neck problems including scoliosis. Being familiar with these conditions will help you offer modifications and help the student have a positive experience.
- Studio Layout
Are your mats and props at a level that all students can reach? If you have smaller mats for children’s classes, are they available for all students? If you play music during class, is it at a level that does not distract students who might have a hard time distinguishing sounds from hearing your voice? Coming to a yoga class can be intimidating, and having to ask for props or the music to be turned down can make the experience even more daunting.
- Utilize Strengths
While some little people may be challenged by arm balances and balancing postures, poses involving bending of the legs and inversions, they may excel in positions such as Wide-Legged Forward Bend (Parasarita Padottanasana) if they do not have lower back problems. Be creative to find poses in which the student can feel successful.
People often unknowingly tend to infantilize little people due to their size. Allow little people their independence and rely on the student to ask for help if needed (believe me he/she will). Avoid accidentally talk down to the student, touch him/her without permission, over-touching, or singling out the student during class.
- Never Assume
Be aware of making assumptions about a student of short stature. While he/she may not have a standard body shape and may need to make some modifications or look slightly different in a pose, he/she may be very fit and be even be an accomplished yogi. Little people can also be deceptively strong, and will use this strength to counteract weaknesses. Finally, little people tend to be very in-tuned with their bodies so listen to the student and let him/her guide you to his/her personal edge.