As the only Deaf yoga teacher practicing in Minnesota, I provide classes in American Sign Language, and being Deaf myself, understand how to incorporate cultural sensitivity and use of cultural norms to gain the trust of my yogis to allow them to let go of the one sense they use to gain information, which is their eyes. As many of you experience yoga through the ears, we Deaf experience the practice through our eyes. To close our eyes for a minute is a challenge, not relaxing. Teachers who understand this are able to work with their yogis to achieve relaxation and calmness through the eyes in different approaches. I also work with the DeafBlind community and consultants to create an experience for DeafBlind participants similar to programs for sighted/hearing yogis.
When COVID hit, teaching at the local Deaf club was no longer an option, and teaching went full time online, under Deaf North Yoga. We were uncertain if this would work, but the online program was a huge success. Not only did we achieve launching twice-a-day, five-day-a week, two times a day classes for Deaf, DeafBlind, and hard-of-hearing yogis and ASL users, we attracted members from other states.
“Yoga helped me through the pandemic,” states one Deaf yogi, Albert Walla.
“It helped us stay connected, and helped my mental health,” says Jer Loudenback, another Deaf yogi.
To be inclusive, Jessalyn launched the DeafBlind Yoga project in partnership with Lindsey Moon, President of DeafBlind Association. COVID impacted the DeafBlind community more as their access to communication was cut off. Communication through tactile (signing with their hands) and/or using protactile (signing including other body parts) was their only access to information decreased isolation.
To help eliminate isolation, I began to work with community members who received vaccinations. I provided tactile communication so that DeafBlind members could join yoga. After securing DeafBlind interpreters, the funds to pay them, and scholarships to award DeafBlind community members, we had over ten participants in our first eight weeks. Many of the adaptations included using “signs” that represented the movement, props for tactile focus, and visualization techniques and the sense of touch to maximize the experience.
Jessalyn Akerman-Frank is a certified and trained Deaf yoga teacher. She is the only one in Minnesota and one of 40 in the United States. She has been teaching in the Deaf, DeafBlind and hard-of–hearing and hearing community for 20 years. She taught at yoga centers in Minnesota, as guest teacher in other states, and with Passages Deaf Travel on Deaf cruises. She is trained in the RYT-200 program, Yoga Ed., Kidding Around Yoga, Firefly Yoga, and Chair Yoga. She trained in life coaching, and is currently studying in the Reiki Master program. Jessalyn moved her studio online at the start of COVID, and DeafNorth is currently online five days a week, with four teachers: one Deaf, one DeafBlind, and two fluent in ASL.
“The benefits of Yoga should be accessible to everyone.”