Fit Abilities is a wellness and yoga program that takes place after school in North County Schools specifically for students served by area schools with visual impairments in six to eight week intervals. The Fit Abilities approach makes yoga accessible by facilitating yoga and wellness activities in a way that is physically accessible given their visual impairments and also trauma informed so wellness activities meet some of the students social and emotional needs as well. We aim to also support the families of our students who are in the Fit Abilities program by offering appropriate community resources and giving them ideas on similar wellness activities to get the entire family involved in a wellness routine that is accessible to everyone outside of our times together. We do this this by opening some of your classes and activities up to the siblings and parents of the students with visual impairments throughout our six to eight week classes.
Below you will find more information about the teachers who created the Fit Abilities program and Natasha Baebler, the yoga and wellness teacher:
Natasha Baebler, RYT 2oo Yoga Teacher, Vocation Rehabilitation and Special Education Teacher, Owner of UD Yoga
Natasha Baebler, the founder of UDyoga, is an individual with multiple disabilities, a Rehabilitation Counselor, and Registered Yoga Teacher with Yoga Alliance. Through her practice, Natasha recognized barriers to full access. First physical, and later instructional. Teacher training programs discuss welcoming all students into class. Yet, few teachers are equipped with the skills necessary to provide a full yogic experience to all students.
UDyoga advocates for all students of yoga regardless of what they bring to the mat. A student who uses a wheelchair should be able to have a full personal yoga experience in the same studio, the same class, and with the same teacher as a student who can sustain a complicated balancing pose.
UDyoga is about opening yoga to anyone who wants to experience its benefits. This means braking down physical barriers and ensuring Yoga is offered in physically accessible spaces, opening minds and providing tools for yoga teachers to work with any student who enters their class, and helping students recognize that they want to experience yoga, there is a teacher willing to teach them.
Julie Johnson, Teacher of the Visually Impaired and Assistive Technology Specialist
Julie has been working in Ferguson for nearly five and a half years in a variety of educational positions but has been a Teacher of the Visually Impaired for nine years. In her time working in Ferguson and North County STL as a Teacher of the Visually Impaired working in the homes and schools, she noticed how high the instances of poverty, childhood trauma and overall toxic stress were among the families and students she served. After watching how deep the toxic stress was embedded into the daily lives of her students and their families over the last five years, she wanted to come up with a way to offer the gift of yoga that was culturally and physically acceptable to her students so they could learn some healing tools that could empower them to seek healthy options to coping with toxic stress.
The type of yoga that would be accessible for her students would need to be greatly adapted to meet the physical accessibility needs and trauma informed to meet the social emotional access needs of her students. In this instance, trauma informed yoga simply means that the yoga teacher teaches the class in such a way that acknowledges the social emotional impact childhood trauma has played on the development of her students. The students are never forced to do any yoga but are instead given choices on how they are going to interact with the students and yoga teachers in the room. Luckily for the Fit Abilities Program, Natasha Baebler, the lead yoga and wellness teacher, has created a specific yoga classes that are both accessible to her students to address their visual needs and social emotional needs by teaching in a way that is trauma informed.
Bonnie Lenz, Teacher of the Visually Impaired
Bonnie has taught for 36 years, working with children who are Blind or have Visual Impairments for 22 years.
“Having grown up in a stressed family, I have always felt empathy and kinship with students to whom school is not easy or comfortable, and I’m committed to providing support and equity for them. For kids with toxic stress, feeling safe and valued is crucial to developing resilience, self-efficacy, and the ability to think critically and to self-regulate. I came to practice Yoga late in life, only learning in January 2015 that I love it and can do it. As I experienced the physical and mental benefits myself, I began reading the research regarding the benefits (particularly the calming and focusing effects) of Yoga for school-aged children.
“In conversations with Julie, I became acquainted with the Trauma-Informed Network. I looked for opportunities to be involved with and learn from like-minded people to support our more vulnerable children and their families. When Julie told me about meeting our instructor, Natasha, and that she wanted to work with her, I was in! Fit Abilities was born. At that point, the only question remaining was how and with what resources we would make it work.”