Diary: Special Yoga in Sri Lanka, July 2016
Text: Jo Manuel | Illustration: Ingrid Sanchez (@creativeingrid)
After arriving in Colombo and having dinner with the Astanka Yoga Mandir team, I travelled to Trincomalee where I was greeted by Mr Kaliyuga, the ultimate connector and man of service, and Dr Arul, a local and committed paediatrician from the health service.
I arrived at a Hindu school to offer a workshop for teachers. Eight of ten teachers from the local SN units were there together with five local government officials. There was a lengthy ceremony before getting to the mats. I speak about the way we work with the children; starting with breathing exercises, teaching them some basic stretches, a few pressure points and talk about the need for relaxation – they are all delighted.
The first stop was a Special School Unit where only two kids were there, which sadly is typical as most children can’t afford to get to school every day. I spent time discussing with the head of the school and the teacher of the unit about the need for self-regulation with some of the children that aren’t there that morning, and their desperate need for help. I do a yoga session with the two boys, one deaf and the other with learning difficulties, everyone’s happy after the session and the head and the teacher ask for further help.
I then travelled to a Hindu school where schools had gathered together for a large workshop with parents and children. This was probably the most equipped school I saw and many of the teachers from the day before were there with children. We went to the school hall with the intention to get the parents and teachers as involved as possible.
I spent the afternoon at a University faculty of Ayurveda to discuss the possibility of hosting a 7 day training they hope for, and now have to present to the national body for approval.
I arrived for lunch at Tapovenaham; an ashram where they have a home for orphaned and abandoned children. There’s around 65 kids there ranging from 4-18 years, they’re very well taken care of but very traumatized. I led yoga with them which was a wonderful experience.
I visited a Muslim school where we started with speeches but this time parents were given the opportunity to speak to the local officials about their needs; an exceptionally moving moment. This school is out of the way in the middle of nowhere and had been completely cut off during the war. The teacher of the special needs unit is amazing and so committed to the welfare of the children. We went into the hall and I began a workshop including the parents. I showed them how to breathe with their kids and how to move them – they were mesmerised and gradually began to engage.
After the workshop, I led two one-to-one sessions. The children were brought in from the fields, the first was deaf and dumb and had never received any intervention. I got him making sounds following my mouth movement and his mum wept, so I showed her how to help him develop speech. It would be great to connect to a head organisation here who could get him a hearing aid.
The second child arrived tied up; a very strong, aggressive 16 year old who had a history of self-harming who had also had no previous intervention or had ever been to school. He was nonverbal and on the Autism spectrum, and his amazing Father joined us for the session. I got him untied and helped a bit with his nervous system, his Father said he loved the session. We even got a smile a couple of times and he made strong contact with me. It was a truly moving experience with the father and the child, there was such deep love present. He walked out untied(!), although they had to put binds back on to keep them safe for the journey home.
Days Five & Six:
I returned to Colombo and spent two days offering workshops at the Dream Centre, the resource centre of Cerebral Palsy Lanka Foundation (CPLF), with the teachers, mothers and children. It was a wonderful experience, again, everyone was touched, grateful and moved. A 7 day training is being scheduled for November for their therapists, doctors, and teachers.