Kaivalyadhama is striving to bring qualitative change in the lives of intellectually disabled children

There was a time when Vasudha (name changed), mother of Atharva (name changed) and his teacher’s struggled to make him sit in one place for more than 5 minutes. Today, Atharva calmly sits in one place for good 10 minutes!

Asmita (another special child) would often turn out to be so violent, her parents had to tie her up to control her. Uneducated themselves they had no choice but to do so. However, lately, Asmita has turned calmer and her bouts of violence are minimal, observe her parents.

Atharva and Asmita study at ‘Samvad’, a school for special children in Lonavala. Both were part of a five month old (December 2014- April 2015) exploratory project organised by the Kaivalyadham (Kdham) Yoga Research and Training Institute, Lonavala. The project was aimed at studying the impact of exposure to yoga on five special children.

“The results of the study have been delightful and encouraging,” quips Dr Praseeda Menon, Research Officer, Scientific Research Department (Psychology section), Kaivalyadham. “What better testimony than their caregivers certifying the change?” she further asks.

The Kdham team selected 5 children in the age group 7 years -17 years of age group. The group showed mild moderate intellectual disability levels. The children were administered psychological tests twice-One before the study and one after it. And remarkable improvement in the children’s ability to listen and follow instructions, hold postures during asana practices, betterment in neuro motor skills was recorded. “If in just 5 months we could achieve such positive results, we can help them do much better if we run the programme on a regular basis,” feels Dr Menon.

The curriculum Kdham had to adhere to for training the special children had to be carefully designed. “It had to be moderate and precise”, explains Dr Meena Ramanathan, who specializes in training intellectually disabled children in yoga. Dr Meena Ramanathan who works with Pondicherry based Centre for Yoga Therapy, Education and Research (CYTER) was especially roped in for the project.

The children were exposed to Yoga training five days a week. Initially, the yogic training began with simple asana practices and ‘Omkaar’ chanting. Over a period of two months it advanced to teaching children dynamic asana practices, surayanamskars and Pranayama such as Bhramari. The study was a learning experience all the way for Kdham’s research team and its teachers. It was during the study, Dr Menon and team realised the need to some ‘fun element’ to their teaching. “In order to make it more absorbable for the children we decided to further experiment”, narrates Dr Menon.

Thus, evolved the concept Of ‘Yog Mela’, wherein intellectually challenged kids were exhibited yoga for two days in a fun filled way at the Kdham campus. Tasks which enhanced their neuro motor skills were eventually added. Children were asked to make laddoos, grate carrots, plant trees etc. “Such activities led to children overcoming their normal abilities and developing better discrimination power. To put it in yogic terms, it was practicing ‘Dharana’ for them,” explains Dr Meena Ramanathan of CYTER. Omkaar chanting assisted in relieving suppressed feelings in them. “Omkaar Sadhana facilitated the expression of deeper, suppressed emotions in a great manner. This helped children to further open up,” observes Ramanathan.

Very few precedents as far as application of yoga for special children is concerned have been so far set. Be it in India or elsewhere around the globe. That is just the reason why Kdham wants to take the study to a wider audience in terms of its application. It is now in quest of like-minded people, institutions, social scientists and funding agencies who can join hands with it. “Such associations will help it explore and establish the efficacy of yoga in intellectually challenged children” feels Dr Subodh Tiwari, CEO, Kaivalyadham.  Yoga can make a qualitative difference to the lives of not only the special children but also their parents, he assures.

To sum it all up in the words of a Yoga teacher deeply involved in the project-“You cannot order a tree or a plant to grow in a particular manner. All you can do is provide favourable conditions for its growth. We will be doing just that”….