Yoga Used To Benefit Those With Special Needs

The smallest victories are often the
most profound—like learning to walk or blowing out your first
birthday candle all on your own. Accomplishments like these can
change a person’s entire outlook on life, yet many of us let
moments like these slip by without even noticing. We would notice if
they didn’t happen, as their absence would change the direction of
our lives. For children with special needs it may take years of
concerted effort to achieve these goals, so you can bet the moment
doesn’t go unnoticed. Thanks to a growing number of yoga teachers
dedicated to working with people who have special needs, more
and more of these moments being celebrated
.

Karen Fakroddin is one of these
teachers and has witnessed some of these transformative moments. One
of her students is a 20-year-old woman who independently blew out her
birthday candle for the first time last year. Cerebral palsy has
constricted her muscles to the point that she cannot walk or speak;
yet she has been practicing yoga with Fakroddin for three years.
Through this practice she has improved her breathing, digestion, and
stamina and has less pain in her limbs; though it is the memory of
blowing out that birthday candle that makes her smile.

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Fakroddin teaches group and private
classes for kids with special needs and embodies the true spirit of
yoga as she explains, “the beauty of yoga is that it helps you
wherever you are at.” Using this approach, she gently guides her
students through stretches and breathing exercises that address their
unique needs, focusing on their abilities rather than their
disabilities.

Fakroddin, and many others like her,
have been trained in the system developed by Sonia
Sumar
called Yoga
for the Special Child
. Sumar conceived the
program when she noticed how much yoga helped her daughter, who was
born with Down syndrome, and she became an avid yoga student herself.
That was over 30 years ago. Since then she has written a book by the
same name and now trains and certifies teachers in this methodology.
One of her first students defied the limitations his doctors put on
him, learning to ride a bike and play basketball, even after they
said he never would.

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Practitioners
of this system conduct a thorough assessment and get clearance from
the child’s doctor before working with them. Gadi Revivo, a doctor
specializing in pediatric rehabilitation, cautions that there are
some risks as some special needs are resulting from or intertwined
with spinal cord issues. Still, he believes that yoga will inevitably
be more beneficial than harmful to them. He points out that “many
of these kids have been doing physical therapy, speech, occupational
therapy most of their lives. They get bored.”
Yoga allows them to “integrate stretching, body awareness,
breathing and posture in a way they haven’t experienced it before.
It’s different,” he says.

Another teacher describes a teen whose
feet were curled up when she began yoga. Starting by rotating her
toes and ankles, she slowly worked towards Standing Poses and is now
learning to walk. She will most likely never take a single step for
granted. May we all be so blessed!

Do you know of anyone with special
needs that has experienced the benefits of yoga?

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