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'Deaf North Yoga' makes yoga more accessible

The Twin Cities-based business is providing accessible yoga to people who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing. Classes are done over Zoom in ASL.

ST PAUL, Minnesota — When Jessalyn Akerman-Frank started practicing yoga, she grew frustrated by not being able to quite access the classes. 

Akerman-Frank, who is deaf, recalled attending classes with hearing people and said, "When you bend upside down, I have to look and turn my head. I have to see what they're doing. But a deaf teacher understands that already. 'Okay, so how can I make an accommodation for deaf, deafblind?'" 

Akerman-Frank has been teaching deaf yoga in the Twin Cities for more than 20 years. But when the pandemic hit in March 2020, she switched classes to Zoom. 

"I wanted to provide accessible yoga to people who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing. My concern with COVID spreading, of course, and the community was so isolated," said Akerman-Frank to KARE 11 through interpreter Laura Perez. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
Jessalyn Akerman-Frank, founder of Deaf North Yoga.

People loved the convenience of practicing at home; Deaf North Yoga has been holding classes over Zoom ever since. 

It's allowed more people to access the classes with yogis from all across the country. 

Akerman-Frank said she is the only deaf instructor teaching deaf yoga in Minnesota. 

Many experience yoga through their ears, being guided by a teacher's voice. Deaf yoga is done through a person's eyes. Deaf North Yoga's classes are done in American Sign Language. 

Akerman-Frank and her team of teachers use ASL to give yogis the same feeling and experience as hearing people. 

"Hearing people... they can close their eyes. They can listen to the speaking, and the language, and the music. But a deaf person, if they close their eyes, they're lost. They have no access to the class," she said. 

Credit: Heidi Wigdahl
A Deaf North Yoga Class is held over Zoom in April.

During a recent class in April, you could see Akerman-Frank explain what was coming next in ASL and signing the counting. 

"I wasn't sure if I was breathing right but Jessalyn took the time to teach us how to breathe," said Albert Walla, who has been coming to classes for the past three years. 

Walla lives in Edina but is currently in Connecticut taking care of his mother. 

"She's deaf; I'm deaf. She signs ASL which is just amazing. I know people that are not deaf and teachers, they'll go on and on in English for five, 10 minutes, sometimes explaining something and I wouldn't get it. But Jessalyn is a Godsend and she has helped me so much," Walla said. 

Walla has had ailments in the past, including not being able to lift his arm over his shoulder and having issues turning his head. At 70 going on 71, those problems have disappeared. 

"I'm breathing better; my mind is clearer," Walla said. "It is amazing." 

"I'm proud to see that and see the pride in themselves," Akerman-Frank said. 

Deaf North Yoga has also held deafblind yoga classes in person which rely on more tactile communication. 

Ultimately, Akerman-Frank would like to see more people who are deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing becoming teachers themselves. 

She added, "The hearing organizations that teach yoga, other parts of health and wellness, to take the effort to connect with us. To develop an understanding, and an awareness, a relationship with our community of deaf, deafblind, hard of hearing so we have more access. That's my hope in the future." 

You can find Deaf North Yoga's classes, here. They are open to everyone. 

Know a local business we should feature for our Behind the Business segment? Email Heidi Wigdahl at hwigdahl@kare11.com.   

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