While not being able to see would be a hindrance in other activities, on the yoga mat it, can be actually be an advantage, says Brandon Smith, who teaches at the Braille Institute in Los Angeles. Visually impaired students seem to more easily turn their attention inward and focus on how the poses feel in their own bodies. "I still have students who ask, 'Am I doing this right?' Of course if there's something that could cause injury, I'll mention that," says Smith. "But otherwise I'll say, 'You tell me. Does it feel right?' Yoga is about empowerment and getting in touch with their body intelligence."
Smith began volunteering at the institute three years ago doing voiceover recordings, then asked if he could teach yoga as a way to gain extra practice as a new teacher. The non-profit center offers a range of free services and classes for the visually impaired, including three yoga classes per week.
Teaching yoga to blind people isn't all that different from teaching anyone else, Smith says. But he believes that his work at the institute has made him a better teacher overall; for example, he has learned to use descriptive verbal cues since he can't rely on demonstrating poses.
"I think to be a good teacher, whether people have sight or don't have sight, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes," he adds.
Smith's student Liz Conejo Daniels says she and her fellow students were happy to help "train" Smith, by letting him know when his instruction left them scratching their heads.
For Smith, weekly yoga practice has helped her develop compassion toward people who don't understanding her challenges. "Instead of being reactive angry, or annoyed, I can just see the situation for what it is," she says.