Diary: Special Yoga in Sri Lanka, November 2016
Text: Jyoti Jo Manuel | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez (@creativeingrid)
After spending 20 hours travelling, I eventually arrive in Trincomalee and rest before my journey unfolds.
I arrive at a workshop for teachers from special needs units based in Trincomalee and up to 30km away – the eastern province is the poorest in Sri Lanka with the least government support and provisions. It’s a noticeably mixed area with all religions sitting alongside each other.
I worked with some of the teachers during my previous trip in July, others new. Those I worked with in July have already implemented yoga in their classrooms daily, of which have already made a noticeable difference, and they have returned for more guidance. It’s amazing that they had taken so much from witnessing a two-hour workshop and a few family classes back in July and the huge impact these have already led to.
I had such fun with this group! There was a boy with autism who was wandering around; eventually he came in so I worked with him in the group, showing the teachers how to empower the kids. His Father arrived and was so happy to see his son beaming and sitting up so open and happy. They all asked for more training.
The need for intervention is very great here. Yoga works well because it costs nothing, all you need is your body and the ground, and it’s very powerful. Everyone is extremely grateful at the end of the workshop:
“I feel fantastic.”
“Wow I can do this.”
“How can I learn more?”
“Can I have DVDs from you?”
“I can’t wait to do it with the children.”
“Thank you for coming and helping us.”
I spent that evening meeting with Paediatric doctors, planning how to create sustainable programmes here for the community where children with physical limitations don’t ever leave their homes. I’ve agreed to return in April 2017 to run our flagship ‘Special Yoga for Special Children’ 7 day training alongside the communities in Jaffna in the north. I just have to figure out how to get funds to bring the teachers to the north for training.
I’ve also agreed to do a two-day workshop in April for the midwives, social workers and families to help the impoverished children in the community. We also planned for me to go into the community to house visit with families this week.
Awake at 3am due to jet lag.
The first stop today is a Muslim school. I run a workshop with the children, their parents and the teachers and officials. Plenty of smiles in the room and everyone’s happy. I spent time with the parents at the end to help them support their child(ren).
At 11am, I arrive at another school where there’s 60+ parents, teachers and children waiting for us. A crowded and chaotic workshop followed but all kids are rested at the end.
We host talks afterwards about how yoga is now in 7 special needs units post the workshops in July and today will take this further. They realise that they can do the basic elements of yoga which have a massive impact and they don’t need anything to do it… simply the body, the breath and the ground. I am so touched that so little has made such an impact. It was also lovely to see the bonding between the families, teachers and children.
One teacher said she has learned how to be with the kids from watching me.
They tend to be quite rough with the kids here which I find quite upsetting so this was fantastic to hear.
We paused for a well-deserved lunch break.
Chaos followed again as midwives and families were waiting for us in one place and we were in another! We eventually managed to meet two families in their houses. One child with severe autism responded really well. I look up to see a sea of faces watching me. Neighbours, aunties, cousins etc and now mum, aunt and neighbours have some practises to use with him… everyone’s happy. In the second house, there are two kids with special needs. We decide to return on Friday as we ran out of time.
Today we spent 3.5 hours travelling to and 3.5 hours travelling back from Kilinochchi – the main battleground in the war where chemical warfare was used… there’s such deep trauma and wounds evident here.
There is an amazing woman there who lost her husband and sons in the war. Her daughter lost her legs but is training in IT thanks to Padma’s charity: Heart of Living Yoga Foundation. She has created a set-up for the injured and people with special needs.
I went and met 36 of them and ran a session. Upon arrival, the trauma and pain were tangible: 8 men had lost a limb, one blind man, woman with one limb, women with disfigured arms and hands, a child with Down’s Syndrome, a child with a piece of his leg missing, lots of learning delays and much more.
I took a deep breath, prayed for guidance and we began.
By the end we had them sitting straighter and breathing more deeply and there was a small glimmer of joy. They came and kissed me and Padma at the end; it was deeply, deeply moving.
They will now chant and stretch at home in their chairs (if they have) or on the ground if they don’t. We have asked them to do so for 10 minutes every day.
The chanting was so powerful; the whole thing was so powerful.
I’m feeling really full in my heart.
This morning started early with a big meeting with the minister of education, several people from the health ministry, paediatricians, social care heads, teachers, the Bishop of the eastern province, the head Hindu priest, the head teacher of the local Muslim school, the Trincomalee Soccer Masters charity people, and loads of others – there were around 60 people in the room. Julie and Swami Ji presented the holistic education programme and I presented Special Yoga.
We were very well received, there’s so much support here for our work. The Bishop suggested we train up teenagers to work with the younger children with special needs and how it would help to overcome the stigma.
We then went into the local community to meet a midwife, three mothers and their children who have special needs. We showed the mother of a boy who is deaf how to teach him to speak and she was really surprised at how quickly he was singing Hari OM with me. We also met a lovely 7-year-old girl with cerebral palsy whose mother was very happy.
The next stop was a house visit to a family with a 2-year-old with Down’s Syndrome. The mother and father were shown Special Yoga techniques to help strengthen him and said they’ll do the practices daily. I promised to visit again when I go come back in April!
Overall, it’s been another great day of service and understanding of how to share the Special Yoga programme.
Today I travelled back to Colombo to offer a workshop on ‘Special Yoga for Special Children’ at the Astanka Yoga Mandir, who are part of the drive to help in the north and east.
Three amazing kids came in. There were tears, gratitude and more. The room was full of people from all over the world: Vietnam, Bosnia, Portugal, China… I love opening this work up to new people and new cultures.
I had such a lovely, heartfelt morning and can’t wait to offer the full 7-day training in a few days at the CPLF National Centre for Children with Cerebral Palsy and other Developmental Disorders.
In the meantime, I’m now checking out for a few days to retreat and restore.