Applied Bio-psychology for Children with Special Needs in NHE Schools
By Tang Ruei Chen
For the past five years, a group of members of Ananda Marga in Taiwan have been applying yoga concepts in working with children with developmental problems (Down syndrome, ADHD, ADD, CP, autism, Slow learners). I thought to share with you some of our experiences as I see that we as yogis are in an ideal position to assist these children and promote their healthy growth in unique ways.
The first experience I had with special children was fifteen years ago. I went to a special school, and we taught yoga to a group of about fifteen children with Down syndrome. It was extremely noisy, and the five teachers who were there to assist would tell how exhausted they would be after the class. It was a real struggle, which was complicated by my poor Chinese. Besides that the children would always say (in Chinese) ‘Ni hen bang.’ Which means ‘You are very good’. But which was understood by me as ‘You are very fat’ (‘Ni hen pang.’) It didn’t work out very well.
About five years ago though, I got a student with autism in the KG. She didn’t talk, socialize or follow the instructions of the teacher. It took her three months to let me touch her. I started to do daily assisted yoga and massage practices with her. She gradually started to talk, maybe a new word (and later a sentence) a week. After six months of daily massaging her and doing yoga, she could join the collective classes, follow the teacher and interact more with the classmates. The social welfare department of the local government also observed the changes and improvements. Now she is in third grade and is active and can interact much better, though she is still a slow learner.
From this experience I gained much confidence and I started to share the ideas of assisted yoga and massage/ touch techniques with others (we call it YogaTouch). My faith in yoga and Shrii P. R. Sarkar’s teaching was the main force that inspired me to start to lead others too.
There was much interest in special yoga from people in the special education field, including occupational therapists and those doing physical therapy. Even some professors came to our workshops and supported our work.
In Taipei, Supriya quit her job as a Montessori teacher and applied herself fulltime to work with children with YogaTouch techniques and her own ideas of training special children. She now has a small center where she trains all sorts of children through Yoga, massage and meditation. She also works in seven different elementary schools to train the local special education class teachers how to use these methods. We often give workshops, for parents and teachers on the subject.
Arunima is another person who has been working with special children. Though she has a uniquely different style and mostly works with groups, she has found that the regular practice of asanas, breathing and some form of meditation helps special children over time to find greater balance and better health as well as better growth. Though the method works, we have found it is really hard work that requires consistency and persistence.
While many of the benefits of yoga and massage techniques remain anecdotal, some of the graduates of our workshops have successfully done their master thesis on this work. My personal experience (luckily my skills have improved) with groups also has shown that the children through regular breathing exercises can be trained to develop concentration, and through the asanas develop body awareness and a better temper. (This observation comes after teaching for more than 15 months on a weekly basis)
Though in this space I couldn’t show you all the principles or practices we apply, the easiest format for working ne to one with KG children is a five step massage, yoga stretching program that consists of:
1. Assisted Shoulder Stand: Ask the child to lie on the mat and pull her up by the legs. Keep the child in the upside down position by blocking the back with your leg/ body. Massage the feet. (Inverted poses stimulate brain function which is the basis for sensory integration)
2. Assisted Fish Pose: help the child assume fish pose, by placing your right hand under the chest and the left hand under the head. (to avoid too much pressure on the head). Ideally, place one hand under the chest and other hand under the head. Lift the chest. If possible tickle the throat, and chin area to stimulate the nerves for good speech. Alternate three times with shoulder stand. (This pose compliments the effects of shoulder stand on the thyroid)
3. Assisted Cobra. The child lies prone on the floor. You squat over her buttocks and pull her up into assisted cobra. (This opens the heart and throat chakra – massage the chest after this practice to promote speech and lung capacity.)
4. Assisted Twist. Ask the child to lie on the back. With your left arm, press down the left shoulder. With your right hand fold the legs and press the knees on the floor. (Twists stimulate the entire nerve system and bring clarity of mind) Repeat on the other side.
5. Assisted Knee Press. Ask the child to lie down take the legs by the knees and press on the abdomen. Notice the child’s face (usually sends blood into the face) for discomfort. Release and repeat. (helps in stomach-energy imbalances)
These are the five main poses, which are easily done. Whether it is the yoga element or the touch, the child usually enjoys it and as it becomes a routine, waits for the time to get a chance to experience the ‘children spa’.
Doing YogaTouch practices is full of fun, intimacy and tickling and interaction between the child and the caregiver (or even the other children who will join in).
We have seen how it helps children sleep (some teachers do it before nap time), or before class helps hyper active or ADD children focus. We also use it with children who have low muscle tone and are not energetic enough.
The practices we use are a combination of assisted Yoga, Chinese infant massage, and polarity therapy, which makes it all look very complicated but actually ends up in elevating the art of the simple hug, and channelizes the energy that the hug or the touch gives towards specific purposes of healing and well being by integrating it with yoga.
We hope that this form of applied bio-psychology can become a standard part of our NHE program as we believe that every school has to deal with children whose development poses challenges. These practices are worth exploring. If you would want to know more, a manual will come out next year.
You also can explore some of the pictures of the workshops on http://veryyoga.blogspot.com and http://www.wretch.cc/blog/geeta. These blogs are in Chinese, but scroll and click on the pictures with yoga or a group of children and you may see some of the parent and child workshops we offer free of charge.