Interpreting a Yoga Class

This post is the result of my work with an interpreting student. The question/answer format is from the structure of her homework assignment. I have made this publicly available in the hopes that it may serve as a resource to others interpreting yoga classes for Deaf yogis and yoginis.  This is in no way an exhaustive list.  I hope you find something here that helps your experience.

1) What special skills might come in handy for an interpreter in this setting?

  • Yoga experience.  Knowledge of the class process, and the instructor’s plan for the class.
  • Ability to “go with the flow”.
  • This last one is not so much a skill as of a desired trait: Have a calm, peaceful demeanor. Yoga can be a spiritual experience for many participants.

2) Is there any formal or informal training available for this type of work?

  • You can, and should, take a class yourself as a participant.  Not only will it help to prepare you to interpret the class, but you just might find it helps your body too!  Yoga can be a beneficial practice for working interpreters.  Personally, I’ve found that taking a Bikram yoga class can be equally as healing as a massage.
  • If you’re nervous about going in to the situation cold, I highly suggest that you observe or take a class prior to stepping in as the interpreter.
  • I don’t know of any formal training programs for interpreting in yoga.

3) What are some vocabulary words that come up in these settings?

  • The instructors frequently use Sanskrit to refer to the particular pose/asana.  You should familiarize yourself with the words used in the particular type of yoga (Bikram, Vinyasa, Iyengar, Kundalini, etc) you’re interpreting.
  • There are also common terms for the names of yoga poses.  For example: Adho Mukha Shvanasana is commonly known as ‘downward facing dog’.  Teachers sometimes use both Sanskrit and English names for poses during class, sometimes only one.
  • For target language, you should expect to use lots of classifiers and/or your own body to interpret the instructions.

Vocabulary for Yoga:

4) What are the demands and controls in these settings?

Before anything else, know that the biggest control you have in class is your rapport with the Deaf student the instructor.  Make a game plan with the student before class starts. Find out their working knowledge of the class, and what they need from you.  With the instructor, it is critical to make sure they understand how important it is that you’re working as a team.  If it’s their first class with a Deaf student, just remember Dennis Cokley’s advice about The Importance of The Day Before.

Here are a list of some Demands and Controls to consider in a yoga class:

DEMAND:  The students won’t always be able to look at you.  Some poses require the head to be down and the eyes to be closed.

CONTROL:  Know ahead of time what the pose will entail. Take your time to get the interpreting right, so that the student fully understands what to do.  This is where your partnership with the instructor is key.  Also, don’t be afraid to touch the student to inform him/her that the pose is finished.  Ask for permission before class, though.

DEMAND:  The class is “flow” style, where the students are expected to follow along with the instructor’s voice and work as a unit.

CONTROL: Other students in the class are doing the same thing, and the deaf student can keep an eye on the rest of the class. Suggest that the deaf person be situated in at least the 2nd row.  You can also prepare “cue cards” to call out the specific pose, perhaps with a drawing of the pose. (ask instructor to use these if possible)

DEMAND: The lights are off

CONTROL: Work with instructor before she turns of the lights to clearly interpret the instructions (usually lights off means relax, often with eyes closed.)

DEMAND: Instructor gives a guided mediation while the lights are off.

CONTROL:  Prepare this ahead of time by asking the instructor if they have any lights out time.  Also, ask the student how he/she would like to receive this information.  If there is a small floor lamp, or dimmable lights, use them.  Some guided meditations involve the teacher talking the students through the body, reminding them to relax (“relax your toes…your ankles…..your knees… and so on).  If the teacher and student are comfortable with it, the teacher could lightly touch the student in the area of focus.  Like a light tapping meditation up the body.

5) What are the differences between interpreting in this type of setting and any other assignment?

  • Remember, they’re here to exercise.   Body movement speaks for itself, and you might not need to interpret as much as you think you do.
  • If the student doesn’t like the class, she won’t come back.  (unless it’s a required college class, for example)  At community yoga studios, there’s no obligation to stick it out.
  • In my experience, my work in these arenas has been largely volunteer or trade.  I have been paid for some of these assignments, but not comparable to the rate of a typical interpreting assignment.

6) Anything else you want to add?

  • Wear yoga clothes. Take off your shoes in the front lobby.  Most classes require bare feet. Be ready to move around the room, lay on the ground, and rest on your knees.  If you have a hard time sitting on your knees, ask the instructor for help before class starts.  They usually have yoga blocks or meditation benches for students.  With almost any yoga class, students move their heads around in all sorts of positions, and it can be challenging to figure out where to put yourself.  You may find yourself in some funny angles throughout class.  To that point…
  • Be sensitive to other students in the room.  Don’t stare.  Carry your body with intention and grace.  Be mindful that other people probably feel uncomfortable with you watching them do awkward yoga poses.
  • Check out this video.  It’s a neat tutorial for yoga instructors of deaf yoginis.

Thanks for reading.  Please feel free to leave a comment below, or contact me directly.


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