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Yoga for Sensory Impairment

This was published in Spectrum Magazine, March 2017:

 

My interest in teaching Special Needs Yoga started when my second son was born with Global Developmental Delay – an event which shaped my life and my yoga journey. I realised the potential for Yoga to enrich people with sensory impairments, and I have observed the therapeutic benefits that benefit many individuals.

I have taught Yoga for 20 years at Sense’s TouchBase South East community hub in Barnet. In 2014 I was invited to deliver sessions in Central London as part of Sense’s sports project, Sporting Sense. With new funding from Sport England, these sensory yoga classes continue, and are attended by people with Sensory impairments from all over London.

When teaching Yoga I believe in looking beyond the impairment to the unique potential of each individual. The practice will be modified in accordance with their needs and yoga is adaptable so people are taught in a safe and caring way. It is important to meet people where they are at in the here and now, and teach with trust and compassion.

My approach to people with visual impairment is to speak with a clear and audible voice and to limit external noise so instructions can be followed easily. With hearing impairment, the teacher should be clearly visible with consideration of lighting, position and clarity. Where people are deafblind, the use of touch and vibration are used, and hand on hand support helps people feel the poses.

A typical session would incorporate mobilising joints, limbs and muscles and include a forward and back bend, a lateral bend, spinal twist and balance using props as necessary. Breathing exercises and relaxation would be utilised at appropriate times.

Yoga provides people with an opportunity to detach from their normal day. It’s pleasing to watch students embrace yoga with passion and enjoyment. As they progress, I have observed students practice with care, trust, confidence and a connection with themselves, and those around them.

Yoga provides a perfect antidote to address impairments by inviting change, adaptation and growth on all levels including motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological. It reduces stress and reactivity, and helps people to move from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.

The physical benefits of Yoga include increased flexibility and mobility. It assists someone who is disconnected, to become more self-aware and acquire a deeper understanding of their body and the environment. The poses can be adapted to different situations, which means yoga is inclusive to everyone, using props such as chairs, blocks and bolsters to aid practice.

People report that yoga makes them feel more healthy and fit, has helped with issues like depression and anxiety, and leads to increased self esteem and confidence. The students have interacted well as a group and keep in touch socially for an overwhelming sense of well being.

Richard’s interview on the Disability Sports Network

Listen to Richard when he was recently interviewed on the Disability Sports Network.He shares his experience on how he teaches Yoga to people with Sensory Impairment and how he adapts the practice to accommodate different situations.

 

He also explains how people with sensory Impairment benefit from Yoga and their sense of fulfilment and wellbeing from attending sessions. To bring it to life, here’s a video of a class with some of our students.

 

Special yoga for special people

An article recently published by Jane Reynolds in the newsletter for the British Wheel of Yoga – Wales Region:

I’m a bit in love with the Special Yoga centre and its people. For a while I thought I might keep them as my little secret because they are precious to me…. But then, Gollum never did yoga, did he – otherwise he might have been saved?

 

In September I went to London for a three day intensive workshop, entitled “Yoga for Adults with Special Needs” at the Special Yoga studio in Kilburn Lane. Thirty years ago I had a boyfriend who bought a house near Queens Park (just down the road). If he hung on to it, good luck to him, they now sell for £3,000,000!

Yoga for special needs class photo

The workshop was open to people like me, i.e. yoga teachers with no expertise in teaching special needs students, people who already worked with the special needs population but with little or no knowledge of how yoga might fit in, and finally people who already did both but wanted a deeper understanding.

 

The course leader was Richard Kravetz. Richard is a BWY man – he used to be a County Rep. In 1988 his second son, Matthew, was born with global development delay. Looking after Matthew, and meeting other parents of special children like Matthew, fired Richard’s passion for bringing the benefits of yoga to this very diverse population. You might have read his article in the current issue of Spectrum on the BWY initiative on dementia – Richard is interested in all aspects of special yoga – from children to the elderly, and I warn you now that he is seriously inspiring.

 

The curriculum for the workshop looked at working with both ambulatory and non-ambulatory groups, and for people in high and low arousal. The course looked at providing yoga for people with autism, add and adhd, Downs syndrome, cerebral palsy, depression, sensory impairment and dementia.

We were privileged to watch a live class, and view two of Richard’s classes on video. We became his students for one session of chair yoga and we also had a session of touch and simple massage (Tui Na) techniques to support the yoga taught by another Special Yoga tutor, Christine Godwin.

 

Richard explained that adults with learning difficulties are trapped in their bodies, have shallow breathing habits and disorganised mental patterns. He says, ‘The effect of medication, accidents and past trauma often results in a heightened state of stress and reactivity, where the individual is trapped in a state resistant to change, and they exist in survival mode to cope with their fear …. The person can become anxious about minor matters and is unable to listen or respond to stimulus’.

 

So how does yoga help? There are eleven strategic areas:-

  • Improved motor planning and control
  • Improved self-awareness – body and mind
  • Develop ability to self-regulate across environment and demands
  • Develop a sense of balance and perspective
  • Develop ability to relax and release tension, fear and frustration
  • Reduce stress reaction and improve resilience
  • Improve immune function
  • Improve quality and quantity of sleep
  • Enhance respiratory ability and capacity
  • Enhance a sense of wellbeing, calm and peace
  • Enhance a sense of emotional balance

 

Richard stresses the importance of chanting when teaching a special group. It’s good for regulating the breath and improving lung function, but it also promotes connection and integration. We sang the ‘Om Song’, together with hand movements and combined with group members’ names. Chanting someone’s name improves concentration and self-esteem. Not all chants are appropriate, but Hari Om, Om, Om Shanti and Namaste can all be freely used.

 

Positive affirmations are another good way of removing negative energy and promoting self-esteem. I AM HEALTHY! I AM STRONG! I AM FULL OF ENERGY! I AM HAPPY! I AM SAFE. Building flowing sequences can tap into group dynamics, especially when used with counting out loud and sounding the breath. A sense of fun is obligatory.

 

A yoga teacher teaching a special group needs the gravitas to hold the space. Richard emphasised again and again the importance of our own personal practice. ‘The importance of self-practice is crucial for the practitioner. A regular practice of Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation is advocated as it helps the teacher to be physically and emotionally stable and in an optimal state to teach. From a solid and grounded base the teacher is in a position to help others effectively with the intention of supporting the healing of their student using composure, respect, love and compassion.’

 

Chair Yoga

Extended-Side-Angle

When you picture people practicing yoga, do you imagine impossibly supple, young people bent into all sorts of shapes no human should be able to get themselves into?

If so, then you’d be surprised to hear that yoga can be incredibly beneficial for people with mobility issues, including elderly people and those with disabilities. What’s more, yoga can be practiced not just from the comfort of your own home, but even from the comfort of your own chair!

Star Pose

Benefits Of Chair Yoga

Yoga has been shown to improve overall health, prevent and (even in some cases) reverse disease when practiced regularly as a lifestyle. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that it can therefore lend its benefits to those with mobility issues. Here are some of them:

1. Improved Strength

This means that elderly people will be better able to continue with hobbies and daily activities independently for many more years to come. If they are unlucky enough to suffer a fall or injury, a strong body will be able to withstand this better and sustain fewer injuries.

2. Improved Flexibility

Chair yoga can help those with mobility issues to undertake activities that they have perhaps been unable to, such as reaching down to tie shoe laces or pick things up.

3. Improved Proprioception

Proprioception is the skill of knowing where your body is in space, and coordinating your movements accurately. This is particularly important for elderly people and can prevent falls. For people with disabilities or conditions such as MS, it may mean having greater control over your body and its movements.

4. Reduced Stress And Improved Mental Clarity

Chair yoga can lessen the impact of chronic illnesses and pain. For elderly people, it may also help them cope with feelings of isolation, if this is a problem. Being calmer and more relaxed inevitably leads to a greater feeling of happiness and well-being, which everyone can benefit from!

5. Opportunities To Meet People And Socialize

Joining chair yoga classes for those with mobility issues and the elderly will also give them a venue to socialize and make friends. However, it’s important that you choose an appropriate class so that the instructor will have specific knowledge about what is appropriate for you to do—they’ll be able to suitably adapt the exercises.

6. Improved Stress And Pain Management

Chair yoga (and yoga in general, really) includes breath work, which can help people not only with stress management but also for coping and managing pain. Through meditation and paying attention to your breath, you can help your body and mind to cope with the pain of an illness or condition you may suffer with.

Chair Yoga Poses

I have provided some examples of yoga poses and postures below that can be done from the comfort of a chair covering a range of abilities. These postures all promote flexibility and strength.

Chair yoga 1

Chair yoga - forward bend

chair yoga - extended side angle

chair yoga - forward bend -shoulder stretch

chair yoga - seated spinal twist

Star pose -2

Chair yoga - table pose

The great thing with yoga is that it can be adapted to suit anyone’s needs. The aim is to work with your body rather than against it, therefore ruling out any competitiveness, which can lead you to push yourself too far and do yourself harm.

It’s an effective and gentle way to improve your strength and flexibility in a way that can compliment your current medical interventions, therapies and exercises. With a regular practice, you will soon be reaping the benefits that go well beyond the ones outlined above.

Have you tried chair yoga?

*All images are courtesy of the author and Multiyork