Yoga for People with Learning Disabilities
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Nerissa teaches massage, yoga and relaxation within the Continuing Studies Area at Leicester College. She is part of a team who work with people with profound and multiple learning difficulties. A whole range of activities including art, sport, drama, music, ICT, life skills, personal presentation are offered.
My approach to yoga with special needs is experimental, intuitive and rooted in traditional yoga teachings but:
Adapted to the needs of the individual.
Practices are safe and non-competitive.
Twenty years ago Barbara Brosnan in her book Yoga for Handicapped People says:
The actual physical movements achieved with or without help improve:
More recently Sonia Sumar in her book Yoga for the Special Needs Child says working with the body on a structural level:
Movements can be passive with a support worker or active if students are able to practise themselves.
'Touch is a basic behavioural need, in much the same way as breathing is a basic physical need. When the need for touch remains unsatisfied abnormal behaviour will result.' (Montague 1986).
Working with basic massage techniques is not only about the concept of touch but also the sense of smell.
Flo Longhorn (1988) suggests that for children with profound learning difficulties smelling is not a passive or isolated process. You must position the child comfortably, bring the flowers to the child's nose, tell him what he is smelling and let him touch them.
When I massage individuals I am working on the:
The breath is key in yoga, it is our life force, our vital energy.
How to use the breath with learning disabilities depends on the individual.
Two main ways:
Humming is a:
To learn how to relax is a skill which takes time.
In this area relaxation can last from two to twenty minutes.
To put into practise we need to be able to:
Other important factors are to have:
Do not get disheartened when it doesn't go to plan!
Working in this way is not a leisure pastime for learning disabilities it is an essential need to enable them to become integrated within a society that is often judgmental and hostile to anyone who is different. If we can educate those with learning disabilities no matter how profound to find a place within our community it will enrich all our lives.
'When I first attended the yoga sessions the work we did was totally foreign to me. I am used to raising peoples energy and working on their enthusiasms. Yet within a few sessions I understood where yoga was coming from. It was a completely different approach, it was about putting people in touch with themselves, there was a spirituality about it. I regret that we don't use it in a Christian way with so many of the stressed individuals around us.'
Don Dow - Support Worker