'As a wheelchair user I have often found yoga classes to be out of reach. Many studios are physically inaccessible due to stairs or steps. Other times when I have found accessible studios or spaces I have arrived and have spent the class with twelve pairs of curious eyes in my direction. This is not a situation unique to Bristol. Accessible yoga spaces, particularly to those with physical needs are few and far between. There are exceptions and with my wheels on a yoga mat I have had some wonderful experiences surrounded by other people. In Bristol there are some fantastic teachers doing their best to make their spaces accessible. But sometimes I ask myself if I have enjoyed a class just because I have been able to access it and experience what most of the yoga going population are able to experience. As a result, I have often retreated to online yoga videos on You Tube. Which have been great but don’t fully replicate an in-class experience.
Choice, is not something I have had a lot of when it comes to yoga. Until lockdown. One of the unforeseen benefits to the various lockdowns has been the increase of online yoga classes. If I’m honest, at first, I was reluctant to take part. I was asking myself why should I join a studio’s online class that previously had been inaccessible to me? But then I decided I would go to as many classes as possible and show that people with disabilities want to access yoga classes and experience the benefits as they should be able to. The results have been liberating. This is what it must be like to choose a class because you like the teacher, or the time suits you, or the price is right, or because you wake up and think I want to practice some yoga with other people. This is what it feels like to not have to send an email to see if the studio has wheelchair access and steel myself for the response that is invariably one of disappointment. This is what it must feel like to start to appreciate my body again and its possibilities rather than just berating it for its limitations.
Since March last year I must have joined over 50 yoga classes from Bristol to Austin, I’ve had five months of one to ones with an instructor and at the time of writing am mid-way through a 30-day yoga programme. I am seeing my body do things it hasn’t done in 25 years. The impact on my mental health and resilience has been astounding. My hope is that in months to come yoga classes that return to a physical space adapt their spaces to become more accessible. Or at the very least continue to provide an online offering because I, and others like me, will still be here and wanting to join in.'
Stephen Lightbown, January 2021.