Teach 6 Ways to Avoid Ableism in Yoga Classes and...

6 Ways to Avoid Ableism in Yoga Classes and Make the Practice More Accessible


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Last year at the Accessible Yoga Conference in St. Louis, Missouri, I attended a workshop led by Ryan McGraw, a yoga teacher who has cerebral palsy and is a disability rights advocate. I remember Ryan succinctly explaining the difference between the medical model of disability and the cultural model, and how much yoga has focused on the medical model.


The medical model, he explained, perceives people with disabilities as needing to be fixed or needing to be cured. The cultural model perceives disability as an important, potentially beneficial, aspect to someone’s personality and background, much like being left-handed or red-headed. It’s based on an idea of embracing difference rather than hiding or disdaining difference.

Yoga in the West has moved away from a traditional focus on spiritual enlightenment and instead become mostly concerned with two interconnected elements: physical ability and physical healing. Unfortunately, these two elements directly feed into the medical model of disability, in which people with disabilities, chronic illnesses, larger bodies, who are seniors, or whose bodies are perceived as different or “other,” are seen as inferior and needing to be fixed.

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