Chronic Pain

From Feeling Stupid To Feeling Included

As a blind person, the acceptance shown to me in my yoga class reminds me that everything can be accessible to the disabled, if people let it be.

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Back in elementary school, sometimes our music teacher wanted us to do more than sing. She wanted kids to move around.

She’d put on some music, usually classical, and then she’d start giving us instructions on how to move, both verbal and non-verbal. As a class, we were meant to mimic her movements.

But as a person who was born blind, I couldn’t follow the instructions. So someone—a teaching assistant, or a student sometimes—would stand behind me during these impromptu movement sessions, and wave my arms for me. As my arms were flailed around, I felt like a ragdoll: all I could do was relax as my body was manipulated according to the whims of a teacher whose instructions I couldn’t understand.

Obviously, they thought they were including me. But to me, this experience was humiliating. I could sing just fine, and music class was one of my favorites, but the movement sessions made me feel powerless and othered, like the gym classes I couldn’t participate in, where I was often delegated to just keeping score on a chalkboard as everyone else but me got to play.

Back in those days, I never thought much about what accessibility and inclusion meant. But since then, I’ve avoided putting myself in vulnerable positions where people might, once more, make me their ragdoll.

Back in those days, I never thought much about what accessibility and inclusion meant. But since then, I’ve avoided putting myself in vulnerable positions where people might, once more, make me their ragdoll.

Then I got it into my head that I wanted to do yoga.

At first, I struggled to find an accessible class. Turning online, I discovered most instructors didn’t verbally describe what they were doing enough so I could keep up. But I asked around, and eventually found a yoga teacher who was willing to work with my disabilities, and the chronic pain I live with due to multiple surgeries for scoliosis. The only problem was she lived in Montreal and I lived hundreds of miles away in Ontario. So we went ahead with our sessions over Skype.

It wasn’t always ideal: I had to work out in my bedroom, using a bed as a workout mat, and sometimes, the sessions would get disrupted through virtual hiccups. But still, I loved it. Not only was no one trying to control my body for me, but I was able to explore the joy of movement in ways that so many teachers in my life had denied me.

My favorite part of these yoga classes was the last six minutes, when we’d simply stay still. During these moments, I would try to block out all of my racing thoughts, and be mindful of the world around me: the cars driving by on the street below, the thump-thump of a basketball being dribbled by neighborhood children across the street.

Eventually, though, the sessions came to an end, as my teacher moved on to other things. It was then that I heard Pilates classes around the corner. With trepidation, I decided to give it a try. Would I feel comfortable in a class with a live teacher, the only woman without sight in a room full of others?

Not only was no one trying to control my body for me, but I was able to explore the joy of movement in ways that so many teachers in my life had denied me.

But times have changed since musical movement class, and I’m happy to say that now, I feel accepted at Pilates class.

There’s maybe one exception. “Is it alright if I touch you?” my Pilates instructor always asks, as she places her hand on my arm. This is a thing many sighted people do, and it’s a gesture that often makes me feel like a piece of furniture, but I recognize that in the case of a Pilates class, it’s more of a reflection of the time we live in now: a mandatory request for permission to touch, needed to help give me better instruction.

Outside of that, though, I never feel like someone else’s ragdoll, like I did back in music class. Nor do I feel judged by my other classmates. As my Pilates instructor gives her instructions, I feel at home among the soothing music and with the chocolate-scented tension band in my hands. It’s a multi-sensory experience of sound, smell, touch, and movement that lets me block out my other worries and tensions; in which my instructor muses whether or not sight makes balancing easier, as she instructs the entire class to close their eyes.

From feeling stupid to feeling included. It’s hard to put into words just how profound an experience that can be.

From feeling stupid to feeling included. It’s hard to put into words just how profound an experience that can be. For so long, I put off joining a Pilates or yoga class, simply because I assumed no class could ever accommodate me. But once I found the right one, it was a reminder that no matter what your circumstances: there’s a place in this world for everyone.

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