Yoga — It’s More than Downward Dog

I’m taking a yoga class that has brought more into my life than knowing how to do downward dog. Aside from me, the class is entirely sighted and I think I’m the first blind person any of my teachers have instructed. They have worked hard to integrate me into the class, going above and beyond. I’m fairly certain that most, if not all, of my classmates have never known a blind person and they have needed to adjust as well.

The class itself is great and seems to be helping my body grow stronger. The social aspects of attending a class are a different story. At first, I had little interaction with my fellow yoga enthusiasts. When politeness dictated speaking to me, my classmates did, but there was no voluntary interaction. Yet they freely chatted with each other. That phase lasted about 2 months. Then one person actually introduced himself and asked me what to do if he was setting his mat up next to mine. I indicated he should say something and including his name would be helpful. He did that once or twice, seemingly shifting the tide because people suddenly voluntarily interacted with me.

It started off slowly, with somebody taking the blankets I was carrying and returning them to the shelf because she was closer than me, followed by a hello when I encountered somebody at the mat closet. Then, insanity erupted. People suddenly and simultaneously got the idea that helping me navigate around the room meant putting their hands on various parts of my body, not saying a word, and gently nudging me in the direction they thought I was headed. It happened A LOT. In case it’s not clear, that is NOT a good idea. It’s creepy not knowing who owns the hand, it’s disconcerting to suddenly be touched without warning, and it can be dangerous if they think I’m going one way when I’m going another. I was so flabbergasted that I didn’t know what to do.

One of my neighbors is also in the class and he is my ride, so I asked him. He told me people were only trying to help and my instinctive solution of announcing to the entire class the proper way to help would go over badly. He thought everyone would go back to ignoring me. I let the problem sit in the back of my head and tried to cope with the behavior.

Then, it disappeared. Entirely. Without warning. I have yet to find out why. There has also been a slight decrease in voluntary interactions with me. Obviously something happened.

Now the latest new disconcerting behavior. Looking back, I know it has been growing over time, but today it reached the level of irritating. For a while, my instructor has been thanking me – and only me –for coming to class as if I’m doing something exceptional. Other people have taken up similar behaviors like saying, “It’s so great to see you in class.” I also noticed people say hello and goodbye to me, but otherwise I’m not sought out. Furthermore, I am getting special treatment because I’m blind that goes beyond what I need. Today, I began to do this backbend thing and the instructor made somebody who was in my way move, even though she was there first.

I have to ask this: What’s so profoundly amazing about a blind person doing yoga? It’s yoga, not curing cancer. And, if it’s so incredible that I’m in a yoga class, doesn’t it follow that people would want to talk to this paragon of accomplishment? And if being blind means people need to cater to me, I want the catering behavior to be real human conversation, not simply relocating so I can stay put.

Sometimes I truly feel like a space alien suddenly dropped on earth. I don’t fit anywhere, people do the strangest things, and reactions seem out of proportion to my judgment of the situation. I know my classmates are good people. I know they are trying to be kind. I even know that the biggest problem is that they simply do not know what to do. But, um, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. I would think more than three months of my presence would have gotten us past this point. I keep thinking I should do something shocking or say something provocative to snap them out of their current mindset and force them to see me as a person. Maybe if I went to class naked?

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About Jen

After acquiring a degree from Vassar College in psychology, I moved to Western Mass where I ran a peer mentoring network for disabled college students as well as activism and organizing around disability issues. I also conducted research on disabled women’s body image. An Upstate New York native, I eventually followed my heliotropic nature to the sun of Southern California. I divide my time between writing (disability fiction and essays) along with moderating San Diego Bisexual Forum which is one of the oldest groups of its kind in the country. In my off hours I can often be found in my neighborhood live music venue enjoying our local talent.

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