Yogachemmal Dr. Meena Ramanathan1 and Yogacharya Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani2
1 Coordinator, CYTER, SBV, Puducherry.
2 Deputy Director, CYTER, SBV, Puducherry.
Yoga is one of the six schools of ancient Indian Philosophy that enables one to achieve higher levels of performance, helping manifest the potentials from within. Yoga is a great boon to civilized man having preventive, curative as well as rehabilitative potential. It is a spiritual science for the integrated and holistic development of physical, mental and spiritual aspects of our being. Yoga is a conventional long-established and time-tested art and therapeutic science that has positive contribution to make in maintenance of general well being and happiness of all. “Yoga is a way of life”, says Swami Gitananda Giri Guru Maharaj, which can make a person rediscover his best in life. The practice is calming and provides a rare opportunity in our chaotic lives enabling one to focus inwards. (1)
According to Hathapradipika, a traditional Yoga text, Yoga is a safe and reliable practice that can be done at any age by anyone. (Yuva vrddho’thivrddho va vyadhito durbalo’pi va abhyasat siddimapnoti sarvayogeshvatandritah – Hathapradipika I: 64. Whether young, old or very old, sick or debilitated, one who is vigilant attains success in all yoga, by means of practice, provided they abide to the rules and regulations properly). (2) Yoga can also be performed by those with acute or chronic and painful disabilities, those who suffer from chronic illnesses and those with missing limbs too. Yoga has never recognized any barriers of age, sex, religion or creed. (3)
Children with special needs have various physical and mental disabilities which affect their mental attitude. They lack confidence and have a poor self-image. They develop feelings of inferiority from their awareness of their own abnormality and lack of success in all directions. They are frustrated due to the inability to do simple tasks, either unable to do it or do it with immense difficulty. Hence they are highly tense and tire easily from physical exertion. The spine is stiff, thus producing much pain, which further limits movement, imbalances co-ordination of limbs. They also have difficulty in concentration. (4)
Practice of Hatha Yoga begins by working with the body on a structural level, helping to align the spinal column, increase flexibility, and strengthen muscles, while internal organs are toned and rejuvenated; the digestive, lymphatic, cardiovascular, and pulmonary systems are purified of toxins and waste matter; the nervous and endocrine systems are normalised and balanced and brain cells are nourished and refreshed. The end result is increased mental clarity, emotional stability and a greater sense of overall well-being. (5, 6)
The Garbopanishad, of the post Vedic Period, 1000BC; is a treatise on embryology, explains the systematic growth of the embryo in the 2nd chapter. Susruta, a rehabilitative surgeon; explains the development of the foetus in detail in the 3rd chapter of Sushruta Samhita (700 BC). The heart of the foetus starts developing in the fourth month. As heart is the seat of consciousness, it expresses its desire for things of taste, smell etc. (through the longings of its mother). The enceinte is called double-hearted (Dauhrida) now, those whose wishes and desires – not being honoured and gratified – lead to the birth of a paralysed, hump-backed, crooked-armed, lame, dwarfed, defected and a blind child. Hence the desires of the enceinte should be gratified, which would ensure the birth of a strong, vigorous and long-lived son. Suggestions about corrective surgery for certain disabilities have been explained. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reveals that we have at our disposal an excellent Yogic system which advocates a method of controlling the mind and the body. He depicts a crystallized picture of what constitutes the mind, its functions and impediments. Patanjali has also described the states of mind- Mudha, Kshipta, Vikshipta, Ekagrata and Niruddha– the dull, distracted, partially distracted, one pointed and controlled respectively. The mind of the disabled is classified under the Mudha, Kshipta or Vikshipta states. (7)
Thirumoolar in Thirumandiram (a classical treatise on yoga in Tamil) (8) describes thus:
Paigindra vayuk kuraiyir kuralaagum
Paigindra vayu villaikkin mudamaagum
Paigindra vayu naduppadir koonaagum
Paigindra vayuma tharkkillaip paarkkile (480)
Birth Imperfections Explained as
When after intercourse, the man is short of breath,
The infant born a dwarf will be;
When breath blows feeble,
The issue may be defective limbs be born;
When breath halts in mid-act
A hunch-back will be born;
All these apply not to woman’s rhythm.
Maadha udharam malamigil mandanaam
Maadha udharam jalamigil moongaiyaam
Maadha udharam irandokkil kannillai
Maadha udharatthil vanda kuzhavikke (481)
How Deaf, Dumb, and Blind are Born:
When at the time of union,
The mother’s bowels are heavy exceeding,
A dullard will be born;
If urine exceeds,
A dumb will be born;
If both exceed, a blind will be born;
Thus is it for the infant born
The mother’s condition according.
YOGA FOR SPECIAL CHILDREN
The children with disabilities who practice Yoga often surprise everyone with their quick mastery of various yoga techniques as well as tremendous improvement of basic motor, communicative and cognitive skills; they develop greater concentration, balance and control in their day to day activities. Yoga is beneficial to all but the only requirement is proper instruction and regular dedicated practice. It is highly recommended that the parents of the special children also enrol in with their children to experience the effects of Yoga for themselves. It also helps create better bonding and understanding between the parent and the child with special needs. We never really know what the outcome might be but we do know that yoga helps to recreate, refine and redefine the child, which lays foundation for positive improvement. (9, 10)
Basic Jathis and Kriyas may be given as a part of the warm up practices with Surya Namaskar. These help improve the flexibility, create awareness of the body and enhances the energy circulation throughout the body.
ASANAS: ‘Asanas’ or ‘postures’ are psycho-physiological practices since they form the basis of Yoga’s mind-body integration activity. The greatest benefit from practicing asanas comes when we learn how to relax in a given pose resulting in a state of deep concentration in which mind is totally focused on a single object or on the incoming and outgoing breaths which helps harmonise mind and body.
Although the ‘differently-abled’ children might not be able to practice all of the poses, there are many postures that are especially beneficial to them. Even trying to attain a particular posture has the same benefit as attaining the final position. Depending upon the type of handicap, most of these postures can be modified for them. In fact, they can be taught to perform various postures without moving at all. There are instances of severely disabled persons who practice their yoga routine from their beds or wheelchairs. Asanas work on the muscles and the joints, creating space within the body’s structure to help increase circulation and improve flexibility. The physical functioning becomes more integrated and less stressful.
Demonstration of the asana is more effective than the explanation. (This holds good for all the Yogic Techniques). Postures are tailored as per the ability of the individual child.
Postures to improve blood flow to the head: Postures like Viparitkarani,(topsy-turvy posture) Sarvangasana (shoulder-stand), Matsyasana (fish posture), Halasana (plough posture), alternating with standing postures such as Padahastasana (hand to foot posture), Trikonasana (triangle posture), Padangushtasana (clasping big toe like a hook) helps increasing blood flow to the head region and help activate the brain cells.
Postures to increase concentration: Balancing postures such as Vrikshasana (tree posture), Ardhachakrasana (half-wheel posture) and Natarajasana (posture of Lord Nataraja). Children have to be helped by the parent or the instructor to maintain these postures.
Postures to improve confidence and body stance: Back bending postures such as Bhujangasana (serpent posture), Ushtrasana (camel posture), Chakrasana (wheel posture), Dhanurasana (bow posture) that opens the shoulders and the chest region are useful for enhancing their vital capacity as well as improving their self confidence and their body stance.
Those affected by the impairment of the lower limbs can be taught the practice of hand balancing postures and they excel in that. Simhasana (lion posture) improves stammering, stuttering and some ear, nose and throat defects of the children. Pavanamukta Asana (wind-releasing posture) is an enjoyable practice too. Thus starting from simple movements and dynamic postures, they can be slowly led on to the static postures, the concept of Sthira and Sukha, thereby satisfied gradually. (11, 12)
PRANAYAMA: Pranayama controls and regulates breathing and is very beneficial for the disabled. This technique particularly improves the stamina, balance and strength, induces better sleep by the improved circulation of the vital energy. Pranayama helps in controlling epileptic-seizures which may be common among these children. Sounds of animals make it interesting for them to perform. Kukkuriya Pranayama, (dog panting breath) is an all time favorite with children. Practice of Mathangi Pranayama, Vyagraha Pranayama with Cheeri and Sharabha Kriya are also enjoyed. Others like Kapalabhati is also very useful (for the slow dull people and not the hyperactive ones). The Shitali and Sitkari Pranayama are useful for the people affected by the Down’s syndrome as they have thickened tongue with difficulty in speech. Nada Pranayama such as Pranava Pranayama helps alleviate stress as well as sublimate suppressed and regressed emotions. Mukha Bhastrika is also known as the ‘cleansing breath’ helps remove old, stagnant air from the lungs and cleanses the bloodstream of excess carbon dioxide. Its practice also decreases response time and enhances memory and comprehension. Research also suggests that it is useful in combating learning disorders, A.D.D., and mental retardation. (13, 14) It may also be of value to train mentally retarded children who have prolonged Reaction Time.
Pranayama and Asanas work hand-in-hand to balance and integrate different physiological functions and to help dissolve emotional blockages and negative habitual patterns that can obstruct the flow of vital energy within the body. (15)
SHATKARMAS: Some of the Shatkarmas such as Trataka, Kapalabhati, may be very useful for the developing concentration and also act as tranquillizers. The regular practices of Kunjal Kriya and Dugda Neti up to at least 40 days have been found to improve mental retardation.(16) These children suffer from numerous eye related problems and Trataka and the Neti are highly beneficial for such children along with a diet rich in Vitamin A and C.
MUDRAS: Bhujangini Mudra and Brahma Mudra, working with breath and sound vibration induces a sense of relaxation and reinvigorates the head and neck region reducing stress. Hasta Mudras and Kaya Mudras (Yoga Mudra, Manduka Mudra) helps drive away depression, bringing out a sense of joy and happiness. Avoid Oli Mudras, due to their powerful influence on the gonadal and other endocrine glands.
DHYANA: The practice of meditation in any form reduces the feeling of loneliness and promotes peace of mind. It is very beneficial for the physically disabled, but a difficult practice for the mentally challenged.
YOGIC RELAXATION: Unrealistic expectations at home and outside add powerful peer pressures on them driving them mad. Shava Asana (corpse posture) with Kaya Kriya and Spanda-Nishpanda relaxes all aspects of the musculoskeletal system thereby promoting complete relaxation and harmonisation of mind, body and emotions.
Prayer and chanting of simple mantras makes them less aggressive, purifies the speech, calms the mind, and helps reduce distraction. Hence chanting the Pranava Mantra AUM can benefit these children. Helps maintaining their concentration and improves their alertness with rest and relaxation and aids them to get emotional and mental strength. Repetition of certain sound patterns can produce a calming and healing effect on the nervous system and psyche.
BENEFITS OF YOGA FOR SPECIAL CHILDREN
- Yoga helps coordinate the activities of mind, body and emotions
- Reduces distracted state of mind thereby building up focus and concentration
- Improves activities of day today living to the degree which could never otherwise be achieved
- Improves one’s ability and helps one to rely on their own selves making them independent
- Helps develop social relationships, and reduces frequency of violent emotional upsets
- Reduces the negative traits and tendency to cause injuries to self and others
- Develops a positive outlook improving self-confidence, self-sufficiency and sociability
- Improves interpersonal relationships
- Improves their loco motor skills and psycho-motor coordination
- Reduces obesity
- Controls drooling
- Helps in disappearance of facial tics
- enhanced eye-hand coordination
- improved attention span
- Reduces hyperactivity
- Improves appetite and sleep
- Improves overall health
- Increases immunity
- Reduces aggression
- Reduces dependency of drugs
- Increases the efficiency of the nervous system and thus helps in their rehabilitation.
The practice of Asanas followed by deep relaxation can help significantly promote proper muscle tone, which is characteristic of most children with cerebral palsy. Holding in an Asana gives the muscles and tendons a relaxing stretch, releasing overall stress and tightness throughout the musculature and around the joints. In fact the most important aspect of Asana practice for children with cerebral palsy is its ability to stretch and realign the spine. This systematic series of forward and backward bending postures complimenting each other helps to stretch the vertebrae and reduce pressure on the inter-vertebral disks and nerves that radiate out of the spine reducing muscular tension throughout the body and enhances overall nerve function. As a result, the child is able to develop a greater range of movement and coordination as well as greater independence.
Children with Down’s syndrome are shorter than average, with truncated limbs, crossed eyes and hypotonia (low muscle tone). Motor development is slow; they are more susceptible to certain medical problems including congenital heart defects, are susceptible to infections and have respiratory problems. Majority of children with Down’s syndrome fall in the mild to moderate range of mental retardation. Yoga practice facilitates the development of body awareness, concentration and memory, provides vital skills for any child with a developmental disability.
The first step in teaching Yoga to an autistic child is to establish a strong bond. The teacher must stoop down to the level of the child, gain the child’s complete confidence, gradually develop mutual trust and friendship and later introduce some of the practices such as asanas and pranayama that will help to bring the child with autism out of his or her shell and into the world of social interaction.
Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) have learning delays due to their hyperactivity and distractibility. They develop more resilience through the ability to self-regulate, reduce stress and anxiety; balance themselves and learn how to relax, release tension and frustration through the various techniques of yoga. Yoga provides the perfect platform to build vital skills. (17)
Although modern medical approaches are being used to cure the disabilities, they have achieved only a small amount of success. In comparison to the treatment given to such children; yogic therapy has been found to be more beneficial, because the mode of action of many psychically active drugs is not fully clear.
Mostly major and minor tranquillizers, antidepressants and anti-convulsants are given to these children. It has been observed that many of these drugs have wide action and a considerable number of side effects, some bad and some very serious. Yoga is an experiential science (Anubuthi Shastra). The physiological, biochemical and psychological benefits have been measured and well established. Research work is still in the toddler’s level as far as the disabled and the disabilities are concerned. But it can be authentically said that these practices make them joyful and happy, making them jubilant, improving their quality of life, giving them a sense of well being, apart from the other physical benefits. The sense of perception is tremendous in these children. They teach us a lot about the harsh realities of life. They live their life as God has given it to them; accepting it gracefully making no complaints about it. They are the Special Creations of the Divine’s unfathomable play.
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