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Multi-Sensory Yoga: What Is It & How to Implement It

A yogi embraces his sound yoga and multi-sensory yoga practice with the use of aromatics, mediation, and more.

People come to yoga classes for many reasons – sometimes to escape and sometimes to connect. As instructors, we have the opportunity to guide people to whatever it is they’re seeking to get from the class.

One of the most powerful ways to do this is by creating a multi-sensory yoga experience. This is much easier than it sounds, and you may already be doing this without realizing it. Multi-sensory yoga involves the use of any or all of the five senses – sight, sound, smell, touch, taste – in a yoga practice. It can also be the complete opposite. 

Just as it is beneficial as it is to engage the senses, it can also be advantageous to withdraw from the senses. This is a practice that originates from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The fifth limb of his 8-Fold Path of Yoga is “pratyahara,” meaning withdrawal of the senses or food, being outside input. As we share ways to incorporate each of the senses into your yoga classes, also consider how you may withdraw from them to create a different experience.

Learn How To Utilize Senses In Your Yoga Classes

Sight

The visual appearance of the space is the first thing students encounter upon coming to a yoga class. And first impressions matter. It is important for students and teachers to feel that they are in a safe, welcoming space. Unless you own the studio, it may be difficult to modify it directly, but there are visual elements you can control. Set up your class in a way that all students can see you if they need a reference for a position. You may choose to set up your class in rows, a straight line, or perhaps a semi-circle, space permitting. 

Many students learn the most from seeing the instructor demonstrate. Some instructors practice alongside the class, while others choose to move around, providing mostly verbal cues. Whatever your style is, let your students see you move in a way that honors the practice. 

One way to withdraw from the sense of sight is to have students simply close their eyes. We do this often at the beginning or end of the practice, but it can be incorporated during class for moments of stillness to challenge balance and stability.

Sound Healing

Using sound healing is popular in some classes and styles, while others are taught in silence. Changing the sound in your class is one of the easiest ways to heighten awareness of the senses. Some ideas for sounds include instrumental music, drums, singing bowls, rain sticks, bells, and chimes. You may enjoy having vocal music in your classes as well. Keep in mind that if you choose to have vocal music, you may want to choose songs that are either not popular or perhaps are in another language. This can help keep students focused on their practice, rather than having a silent sing-along instead. 

If you have the resources to do so, having live sound can change the environment of the class. Many find solace and healing in sound yoga. Sound baths or sound healing are often added to yoga classes as a way to help students connect or let go. They are often used at the beginning or end of class, often in a specific note or vibration that is associated with the form of healing or desired effect.

 Another form of live sound is the use of chanting or mantras. Inviting students to participate in chanting can help them feel more included in the practice and let them experience the sense of bringing sound to a class where students generally remain silent. 

With so many options for sounds out there, don’t forget to invite silence into your class. Don’t be afraid to shut off the music, or even let your students practice in silence without cues if they know the sequence. The world around us is so loud that your class may be the only place they find true silence.

Smell

One of the more personal aspects of a yoga class is smell. Our sense of smell is often considered to invoke the most emotion and memory because of its close proximity to the memory centers of the brain. Common sources of smell in a yoga class include the use of oils or the burning of incense or sage.

If you choose to use any of these smells, please consider doing so respectfully. Many people have health conditions that make smoke or strong smells uncomfortable and potentially hazardous to their health. Let students know before class if you plan to use smells, and then respect requests not to do so. The burning of incense or sage is also deeply sacred in some cultures, and should not be taken lightly.

A yoga practices his physical practice as well as smell yoga with the use of incense.

One less common thought when it comes to smell is the smell students bring with them. Some studios may have no-fragrance policies requesting that students forgo perfumes and colognes when attending. Other facilities encourage cleanliness, such as coming to class with clean feet to make the atmosphere more comfortable for all.

Touch

One of the most beautiful parts of a yoga class can also be the most challenging. The sense of touch elicits many feelings and emotions that differ from person to person. Because of the sensitive nature of touch, make sure to clearly communicate any physical contact you plan on making during class. Many teachers provide hands-on adjustments for students, which can greatly elevate a student’s practice. If this is your teaching style, get your student’s permission before touching them, and then continue to talk through adjustment as you provide it, so they know what to expect. 

Another option can be to add a savasana assist at the end of a practice. This can be an incredible way to provide gentle touch and relaxation to your students. It could include a neck or face massage, gentle pressure on the shoulders, or an adjustment to the feet and legs. Receiving permission from the student beforehand is critical here as well.

Even if you choose not to provide physical touch to your students, you can still help them have a sensory experience with touch. Drawing their attention to their own bodies can provide a sense of touch without encroaching on personal space. Acknowledging the feeling of their feet supported by the ground or the feeling of their palms together in prayer can help them connect more deeply to their own body.

If you are interested in diving deeper into physical touch, consider looking into a specialty or training on hands-on adjustments, trauma-informed teaching, or yoga massage.


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Taste

Although we all may think about food at some point during a yoga practice, it may not be the ideal time for a snack. We can still involve our sense of taste in ways that don’t require a meal on our mat. Some students may find focus with a mint in their mouth or enjoy time to sip a drink as they practice. Mints can also make for a better-smelling pranayama or breath practice, especially if participants are in close quarters. 

As you plan your next yoga class, think about what sense you could add or take away, and why you might do so. Creating intentional sensation or withdrawal invites presence and awareness that can make all the difference in a class.

Sara Jackson
Sara loves helping others live and move in a way that empowers and uplifts them. She encourages people to connect to their bodies and the world around them through fitness, nutrition, and mind-body work. She provides workshops, training, and consulting to individuals and businesses to foster growth and improve well-being. She collects education like raindrops, including a B.S. in Exercise Science, 200-Hr CYT, and CPT among many others. When she’s not in the studio teaching, she’s probably outside somewhere finding her soul up in the mountains or out in the desert. Connect with her at uplifthealthtraining@gmail.com.