This week I had a beautiful experience while teaching my Monday morning Special Needs Yoga class. The class is for a group of kids around the age of 8-10 with additional needs like cerebral palsy and downs syndrome. We have been working together for about 10 weeks now and the kids know me through Instagram, always asking what I am up to in the mornings (it is part of the morning check in routine)!
About 30 minutes into the class I decided we would look at Camel. We had been doing quite a bit of extension work and there had been fits of hilarious giggles in bow from everybody. I went over to Caelan, who was having a really hard time getting his hands on his feet without lowering his hips. He immediately shook his head with a small noise of protest when I asked if we could do it (I should point out now that he has communication needs and small noises are his way of communicating without his sign gestures). I asked if I could help him, but he shook his head and tried again with the same result but with encouragement from me because he was so close. I asked him to come up to the start position and asked him, “Do you want me to help you more? You will have to trust me.” He stared right at me with his bright eyes for a moment and nodded he was ready and made a sound of agreement. I guided him back like a drop back and he managed to grab his feet. Instantly he started wriggling like a puppy. We have worked towards this trust and he gets to feel more poses in his body that we did a few months ago, it has been such a privilege to watch them grow. The act of him trusting me, and really trusting me, soothed my heart.
The class is very mixed, so many different bodies and needs and personalities that shine through. Their time at the studio and in my class has become a cherished time for them and for me. So why is it important that they get that time?
Yoga gives these kids a new way to explore their bodies. Sometimes their body feels very strange and Yoga can help them feel it, find it and use it. All I need to do is see one of the boys running around the room in downdog to know that he is super comfortable on all fours. As the weeks have gone past I see them balancing, holding tough poses that require poise and core and not even flinching.
The class has given them a structured routine around breathing, mindfulness, respect and physicality. As soon as they arrive on their mats they are sitting up ready for the breathing exercises and almost always beat me to the punch saying “namaste.”
It has connected them to a passion. Finding out all they can do has really made an impact on these kids. They go home and they share what they can do with their family and friends. I hear storied from parents about how excited the kids get when showing them how to do the poses (and man, can they rattle off the lists of poses). When some daily tasks are a struggle, these kids are taking complex poses and sensations and teaching them with animation and clarity.
The principal teacher who brings the class, Cat, said:
Monday is now the highlight of our week and it’s such a great feeling when the children burst through the classroom door in the morning, their hands signing…’ EXCITED !…..YOGA!’
Every week, the lessons are varied and fun as we crawl around the floor as ‘crocodiles’ or swing from the ceiling in the silks and it has been an absolute pleasure to watch the children grow in confidence and attempt poses we never thought possible.
‘Down dog on the wall’ has now become a favourite request when we practise back at school. And even though the children often struggle with every day speech, I love that the words ‘Shavasana’ and ‘Namaste’ roll off their tongue!
Parents too, have reported special moments when they are asked to join in at home as the children demonstrate their skills …..a breakthrough when the daily activities of their offspring so often remain a mystery due to a lack of communication.
For children, who find many everyday tasks a challenge, being able to take part in yoga is an amazing opportunity and we are all looking forward to our remaining sessions.”
This is something I am very passionate about. It is part of my work to get free yoga for all children and to get into schools with this material. Whatever your views are on the roots of Yoga, the poses, the structure and the play are bringing something to these children, something they have embraced in such a beautiful way.