Over the past couple of months, in addition to my full-time placement at Wings, I’ve also had the privilege of volunteering with a truly unique organization in Bangalore, called Prafull Oorja. Prafull Oorja is an organization whose goal is to make yoga accessible to all people, specifically those who belong to underrepresented groups in India. On this mission, Prafull Oorja runs classes and private sessions throughout Bangalore for children with special needs and rural populations. They are focused on yoga therapy, but also incorporate art, music, dance, reiki and accupressure, according to each individual’s needs.
Last Saturday, I had the exciting opportunity to participate in one of Prafull Oorja’s uBloom Level One Yoga Teacher Trainings for children with special needs. The training drew 13 people from all different personal and professional backgrounds. Some travelled from as far as Chennai and Hyderabad just for the day. This dynamic group came together for a full Saturday of engaging discussions about Autism/ASD, Cerebral Palsy, Downs Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Epilepsy, the different needs associated with each, and of course, yoga. In my life I’ve known plenty of people – children, peers and adults – with various needs and abilities, through volunteering, school, work, and personal life. I found that it was easy for me to jump in to share my experiences as we discussed conditions such as Autism, ADD/ADHD, and Downs. I was even surprised to find that among some more experienced professionals, my input seemed to be received as insightful and valuable. I was interested listening to the experiences of the Prafull Oorja teachers and therapists, who presented some familiar information in a new light. In my experience, therapists for children with special needs are often mainly focused on managing problematic behaviors. Here, we spoke instead about seeking out a child’s natural strengths, balancing their energy, and embracing the different needs that we all have as individuals. It should be obvious, but we tend to forget that each of us has different needs and experiences, at different times and in different ways. Each of us learns differently, at our own pace, according to our own needs. Some of us are visual learners, and some only learn by doing, and so on. Unfortunately, this is easier for others to accept about those of us who don’t also experience impulses, anxieties, or physical limitations that are generally viewed as socially unacceptable or disruptive. If we are quiet about our differences, society lets us get away with them, like a kind of universal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. Sometimes, we are so convincing, that we manage even to convince ourselves of our sameness, our typicalness. This is dangerous for many reasons. One reason is that it necessarily creates an “other” who is alienated from the acceptance of society due to their inability to conform. However, I’ve learned another danger is that it actually does just as much to alienate us from our true self.
I’m very new to yoga, so for as vocal as I may have been during the start of the workshop, I turned silent when the topic veered philosophical. I listened carefully to those around me discuss what yoga means to them, but could not formulate a response of my own. I thought at that point that I simply hadn’t had enough experience yet, and privately, made a promise to myself to search more purposefully for meaning in my budding yoga practice. I no longer think that is true. Though I am quite new to yoga, and I realize its meaning for me could change, having had time now to reflect on this experience, I find that yoga does, in fact, have meaning to me. For me, yoga is about becoming in tune and developing a connection with all parts of the self – mind, body and soul. I see this as an ongoing process that requires constant seeking, pushing past and stumbling upon new limits and challenges. I believe this constant evolution can teach us to have patience, treat ourselves with kindness and trust the process. Then, we become better equipped to put these virtues back out into the world. Our patience with others improves when we learn to be patient with ourselves. We can spread more kindness to others when we first learn to accept it from ourselves. Finally, the ability to be accepting of others comes naturally with a deeper understanding and acceptance of our own true self – gifts, quirks, limitations and all – and, I think, it is what makes our relationships even richer and more meaningful.