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.

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