How can exercise and wellbeing be more accessible for the deaf community?

This New Zealand Sign Language Week, we spoke with Babs Leyten to learn more.

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Babs Leyten, a lululemon Ambassador and certified yoga and pilates instructor, is on a mission to make fitness more inclusive for the deaf community. In celebration of New Zealand Sign Language Week (8 – 14 May), Babs is spearheading a number of initiatives to help the deaf community feel more involved, connected, and appreciated through tailored exercise classes.

Growing up as a CODA (child of a deaf adult), Babs has witnessed firsthand the neglect and exclusion the deaf community can often feel when approaching fitness and wellbeing. This inequality is what sparked her idea of delivering a series of “yogalates” (combination of yoga and pilates) classes in New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) across the country.

“This initiative has the power to bring the hearing world and the deaf world together by providing an inclusive environment to sweat, connect and grow,” she said. “It is my goal to start the ripple effect and welcome the deaf community to the wellness space while bringing awareness of the deaf community and the challenges they face to the hearing world.”

Alongside her series of yogalates classes, Babs is also teaching basic NZSL to all staff across lululemon stores in New Zealand. Babs hopes that by equipping the store teams with relevant training and education, the deaf community will feel more welcome and included in the retail space.

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"Creating spaces, opportunities and events that cater to both the hearing and the deaf community will start the ripple change. "

Babs hopes that by equipping the store teams with relevant training and education, the deaf community will feel more welcome and included in the retail space.

“It is so inspiring to witness the staff across our stores practicing their Sign Language,” Babs said.

“This initiative has the power to bring the hearing world and the deaf world together by providing an inclusive environment to sweat, connect and grow,” she said. “It is my goal to start the ripple effect and welcome the deaf community to the wellness space while bringing awareness of the deaf community and the challenges they face to the hearing world.” “With over 23,000 people in New Zealand using NZSL as a form of communication, to offer an experience for accessibility and inclusivity where the deaf community feel safe is truly invaluable."

So as a community, how can we make movement and wellbeing more accessible? Babs shared her insights and passion for creating safe spaces with us.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your connection to the deaf community?

My name is Babs Leyten and I teach yoga & pilates full-time in the Christchurch community. My style of teaching is supportive, energetic, educational and inclusive. I have a huge passion for fitness, holistic living and bringing communities together. My Mum was born deaf, so I was brought up with NZSL (New Zealand Sign Language). I am so honoured to teach yoga and pilates for the deaf community and combine two passions of mine through advocacy for accessibility this space.

What is Yogalates and how did it come about?

I started my health and fitness journey in 2016 having qualified as a Level 4 Personal Trainer. I fell in love with the group fitness aspect and started teaching pump, step, HIIT and circuit classes. I worked as a Group Fitness Team Leader and then discovered Yoga & Pilates. I have now been teaching yoga & pilates for over five years and fell in love with the opportunity to connect with the body, mind and soul. Yogalates is a combination of yoga & pilates - the mindfulness, movement and breath of yoga, mixed with the core, control and isolation exercises of pilates. I am excited to share this wisdom and experience with the deaf community.

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What does community mean to you?

Community for me is extremely important to feel seen, connected and practicing a passion you enjoy. A place you can go to feel safe, have fun and connect with like-minded people. Communication, connection and having your own unique expression, without judgment is what I value most.

How do you create safe spaces and why do you think it is important?

I welcome everyone to my classes with the energy that they can be themselves and come to the space to feel seen, safe and let go of any external stresses. I think it's important to create an environment where everyone is welcome, to feel comfortable and have the opportunity to feel included. My goal is to ensure everyone who comes to my classes feels supported and that they can be their absolute best selves to grow and flourish.

Do you have any advice on how others can better support the deaf community?

I have witnessed first-hand how neglected and left out a deaf person can feel, hence why communication and a sense of community is so important for everyone. Creating spaces, opportunities and events that cater to both the hearing and the deaf community will start the ripple change. NZSL is an official language of Aotearoa, so learning basic Sign Language to communicate with a deaf person is a great start. I believe the wellness space and teachers could offer these experiences with basic NZSL to create inclusiveness for the deaf community. I only wish I could clone myself so I could offer regular classes around New Zealand!

 

New Zealand Sign Language (NZSL) Week is a chance for the Deaf community to stand proud as Deaf, and to celebrate their language and culture. Click here to learn more .

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