Lila Lolling's DeafYoga Foundation brings yoga to the underserved hearing-impaired community.
For many yogis, yoga prompts a personal transformation so deep that they feel compelled to share the practice. That was true for Lila Lolling, who turned to yoga for help overcoming her struggles with epileptic seizures. After becoming a yoga teacher, the former American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter was inspired to help the deaf community reap the mental and physical benefits of yoga; in 2008, she founded the DeafYoga Foundation, which aims to advance yoga in sign language and increase access to yoga for the deaf and hearing impaired.
Yoga Journal:What inspired your interest in the deaf community?
Lila Lolling: When I was little, I read Helen Keller: The Story of My Life and realized there was something within me that desired a similar expression. I felt like I could relate to deaf people in a way that was compassionate, loving, and from a place of oneness. I don’t view them as having a disability; I view them as me— exploring life—but with a more beautifully artistic language.
YJ:What has the deaf community taught you about yoga?
LL: Members experience life through sight and vibration. Because of this, they taught me to tune in to the subtleties of an asana practice. As a hearing person, you focus on verbal cues, alignment, and music. Now, I’m better able to embrace and recognize the inner experience of the asana benefits—the flow of prana— and I’m more open to visualizations during meditation. My brothers and sisters in the deaf community have been some of my greatest teachers.
YJ:What is the legacy you want to leave through your teaching?
LL: My passion and hope are to inspire people to remember their divine exquisiteness and embody the meaning of yoga. In 2015, I founded Saraswati Yoga School, named after the great lineage in which I was initiated, and began writing spiritual yoga-philosophy books to motivate students on their journey. If I can transmit the teachings of my gurus, their legacy can continue. My wish for us all is to be an embodiment of personal and spiritual transformation.
YJ: How has your teaching transformed after 15 years?
LL: When I first began teaching, I was the typical, enthusiastic asana instructor offering around 15 yoga classes a week. Over the years, I began teaching classical philosophy and sacred scriptures. Throughout that time, I felt a strong calling to share the teachings in ASL. I’m not teaching anymore from a place of wanting to have a “perfect” class or wanting my students to have the “perfect” experience. Now, I’m encouraging my students to live yoga on and off the mat.
In the Details: Lolling Shares a Few of Her Favorite Things
Soham. It’s so simple—it’s the natural inhalation and exhalation sound, and means “I am That.”
I am a Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand)fanatic. I love all inversions, but Sirsasana is my favorite.
Anahata (heart), because it’s intelligently placed between the earth and the heavens, and it’s the gateway to all connections.