Silent Practice

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At the end of most yoga classes, the sound of the instructor's voice gently rouses students from Savasana. But how do you know when to come out of the pose if you can't hear the verbal cue?

This is just one of the challenges that deaf and hearing-impaired people face. And until a few years ago, there was no organized effort to address such challenges and bring yoga to this population some 28 million strong. But in 2004 Lila Lolling, a hearing yoga instructor and former American Sign Language interpreter, decided to combine her two passions and launched DeafYoga. Lolling says that in order to teach yoga to deaf students, accommodations to traditional yoga instruction need to be made. In her classes for the deaf community in Austin, Texas, and in workshops around the country She uses sign language and, when students' eyes are closed in meditation, gentle touch, a fan, and lights to communicate. In her DVD DeafYoga for Beginners, Lolling uses sign language, subtitles, and demonstration to convey her instructions.

Through the DeafYoga Foundation, a nonprofit that Lolling founded, she is tackling an even bigger challenge: the translation of yoga terminology. "There's no sign for consciousness," she explains. "There is, but it [means] to know. [To have] 'consciousness' and to 'know something' is not the same thing. There's no standardized sign for yoga, meditation, enlightenment, or Pranayama." That American Sign Language and English are drastically different makes the translation issues even more difficult, Lolling says.

Lolling wants to catalog signs created of yoga concepts and provide a network for deaf students to find teachers and classes. She says she would also like to educate hearing instructors on how to teach yoga to deaf people.

Bonnie Ramsey, a deaf yogini in Austin, started practicing three years ago after seeing a flier for Lolling's class. Since then she has taken classes in both the hearing and deaf communities but says that classes with accommodations for deaf students help her to relax more during the practice. Through an interpreter she explains that it's especially helpful when, for example, students' eyes are closed in Savasana and Lolling slowly raises the lights to indicate that it's time to come out of the final resting pose. "Otherwise, I'd be opening my eyes and trying to figure out what the next step is," she says. "This way I can really relax instead of feeling I have to keep paying attention."