Our Yoga For Adults With Special Needs course leader, Richard Kravetz, talks about his journey with the Special population. You can join Richard on our next training course on November 8th – 10th in London. Information and booking here.
My interest in teaching Special Needs Yoga started when my second son was born with Global Developmental Delay. This event subsequently shaped my life and my yoga journey, and since then I have experienced all sorts of emotions. Through the highs and lows, I’m grateful to him for opening my eyes to a world around love, hope and trust. Teaching Yoga to Adults (and children) with Special Needs is a very rewarding experience; I hope to continue working with these very special people for a long time to come.
My yoga knowledge has broadened over the years, and the opportunities to teach people with special needs has increased. I have taught in mainstream and specialist schools and day centres for adults with learning difficulties and special needs; These include Mencap, Sense (a deaf/blind charity), Norwood and different outreach centres. By working with these groups I have been able to explore the potential of yoga to enrich their lives.
“Yoga provides special people with an opportunity to detach themselves from their normal day, and find an intuitive direction which connects them with the divine in every moment.”
It is pleasing to watch my students embrace yoga with passion and enjoyment. I’ve observed them developing care, trust, confidence and a connection with themselves and those around them. When they move their bodies to stretch, smile and laugh, they feel happy and content. I feel humbled and rewarded.
It is generally recognised that Yoga sets the foundation for learning by unifying body, mind and spirit. It does this through established practices that help balance the mind, strengthen the body and nurture the spirit. People with learning difficulties often present symptoms where they are trapped in their bodies, disorganised in mind and their breath is shallow. The effect of medication and past trauma often results in a heightened state of stress and reactivity. The subsequent stress can lead to being in a state which is resistant to change, and in a “survival mode” of flight, fright and fear. The result is a dulling of the senses and a tense, anxious disposition. Luckily yoga provides the perfect antidote to address these adverse effects because it invites change, adaptation and growth on all levels. So it helps to benefit our motor, sensory, emotional, immune and psychological wellbeing.
“Yoga resets the nervous system, reduces stress and reactivity and helps people to move from survival mode to inner safety, calm and coping.”
The physical benefits of the asana (yoga postures) I teach include increased flexibility and mobility. Someone who is disconnected, can become more self-aware and acquire a deeper understanding of their body and the environment. Over time, the person learns the poses that can be adapted to their unique situation. This means yoga is inclusive to people of any ability, making use of props such as chairs, blocks, bolsters etc. and treating the body with trust and compassion.
Pranayama (breathing practices) affect areas such as circulation, cardiovascular, metabolic, endocrine, vascular and autonomic homeostatic. It is essential and it is free! Respiratory patterns reflect life; the way a person breathes is symptomatic of their emotional state, stress levels and state of mind and body. With a conscious breathing practice, that same person has the ability to change their emotional state and nervous system.
People with learning difficulties are often in a state of sympathetic arousal, and so a deeper breathing practice helps them move from fear and anxiety to emotional and mental stability. A practice which is helpful is chanting, which is harmonious and increases breathing capacity, oxygenation and circulation. The practice of chanting can have the dual effect of energising or calming as appropriate. Chanting helps regulate the breath, improve lung function and promotes concentration and integration while clearing emotional blockages.
When I was first approached to teach special needs yoga classes, I was naturally uncertain about how I would manage. I was especially concerned with the illnesses and issues that the people were presenting.
“With trust, intuition and an open mind my practice has developed and everything I have learnt is from the people I have taught.”
Having taught yoga for many years, I was confident in my delivery. I also believed that people would have faith in themselves and their ability to do what they could, benefitting accordingly. And they did! I’ve been inspired as they have continued to do so, which makes me feel humbled and privileged.
Richard is a certified Yoga for Special People therapist and Chair Yoga instructor. He is a course leader of specialised training courses at Special Yoga and The British Wheel of Yoga. For more information check out.
Alongside Karuna, Richard will be leading Yoga For Adults With Special Needs in London November 8 – 10th 2019. For more information and booking head here.