Raise your hand if you are a yoga teacher and you’ve instructed your class to close their eyes so they can see within. Or, raise your hand if you are a yoga student and you’ve heard your yoga teacher ask you to close your eyes. I’m seeing a lot of raised hands out there in the universe as this is a common theme in yoga classes.

If you ask me, once you get comfortable in your yoga practice and can start to close your eyes during some of the asanas, that is when your practice really starts to blossom. Closing the eyes provides an outlet to quiet the mind and notice exactly what is happening in your body. When I ask my students to do this, it is not so they can’t see, but so they can truly SEE what’s happening from within.

These instructions took on a whole new meaning to me when I started the first week of my beginners’ yoga class series and was notified that one student was blind. Not only that, but she was to be accompanied by her seeing eye dog. I wasn’t terrified, but I quickly changed my game plan of how I was going to teach the class. I’ll be honest: This is one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a teacher.

With a student who is blind, you can’t tell them to look at their feet to see if they are in the proper alignment, or to watch the way you are demonstrating the proper alignment with your feet. You pretty much have to throw most of your regular cues away. It forced me to rethink every cue as it came out of my mouth.

So, what’s it like having a blind student in class? It’s awesome!

When you teach new students, there are always a few in each class who fear the unknown, not quite sure what to expect, maybe even thinking, ‘oh my gosh, what have I gotten myself into?’ If any of the women in my beginners’ series class felt this way, I’m sure their fears were squelched as soon as they saw Mary and her dog walk into the studio. I know I would be checking myself and saying, “Geez, if this woman has the courage to step onto her yoga mat, then I most certainly can too.”

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Buddha always practiced with his eyes closed!

Mary has been an inspiration to each person in the class, present company included. I love the sense of community she has brought to all of us – how the other students are patient when I need to spend a little more time with Mary, how they help her prepare for class and then put away her props for her after. Every week something one of the students does to help Mary touches my heart and makes me smile. And, Mary is probably by far the most attentive and best listener I’ve ever had.

Having Sarah the dog in class is a special treat too. Sarah sits attentively next to Mary and has never caused the slightest distraction. Although, I admit I was kind of bummed when she didn’t try downward dog with us.

I close my eyes a lot when I practice, but never for a whole class. I blindfolded myself and tried this out at home and have to say (no pun intended) it was an eye-opening experience, one that I highly recommend everyone try at least once (but be safe and have a spotter there to keep an eye on you). Even if you can’t do a whole class this way, just try doing a sun salutation with your eyes closed. However, I caution you to watch your nose when you come down from plank to chaturanga dandasana. And be careful with those balance poses ­– they were nearly impossible for me! Standing poses and alignment will take on a whole new meaning, and if you are a teacher, this exercise provides an excellent opportunity to strengthen your verbal asana cues.

It can be really natural to be fearful of new experiences. What I’ve learned from Mary is that you can’t be afraid, that you have to look at what the experience will teach you, how you can embrace it, and how you will learn and grow from it. Mary is not showing a single sign of fear. Last week after class she asked if I could teach her how to do Warrior 3!

I’d like to send out a huge hug and thanks to Mary for having the courage to start her yoga journey and also for helping me to grow as a yoga teacher. Mary used to do a lot of ballet dancing and is looking forward to bringing her love of dance and movement into her yoga practice. So, Mary here’s to you – keep on dancing on your yoga mat and spreading your light!

Buddha image: Andrea Kratzenberg

Yoga Teacher Tale #1