Forty years ago Jyoti Joy Manuel had her first “Aha!” moment, discovering the healing powers of yoga. She initiated the Special Yoga Foundation in order to reach out to children with special needs. Her motivation began with her concern for parents who didn't have the resources, or the knowledge, to wholesomely interact with their children. Being a mother herself, the responsibilities and anxieties of a parent were not new to Jyoti. Children absorb the energies and attributes of the adults around them. If parents are troubled, it starts to reflect in the child’s behavior, growth and understanding of the world. Consequently, in order to draw out the best in children with special needs, Jyoti encourages their parents, caretakers and teachers, to practice yoga. Her therapeutic yoga involves breathing, meditating, stretching and massaging at certain points.
While browsing through social media, one often comes across videos promoting yoga as an exercise to achieve an ideal physique. Instructors demonstrate the various asans, being able to flex and bend any part of their body. But yoga is so much more. It is wholistic discipline, which when properly understood, allows an individual to achive a physical, mental and emotional balance. Jyoti proudly proclaims that she isn’t a skinny yogi, but she is ‘centred’ and has learnt to be comfortable in her own skin. She practises yoga daily, incorporating the techniques of breathing and mindfulness into her routine.
The fundamental aspects of therapeutic yoga are breathing and mindfulness. Breath triggers certain emotions, further altering our perspectives. It can transform mood and bring about a sense of calm. Mindfulness is to be aware; to pay attention to our surroundings and develop a sense of belonging in this world. It stirs up basic questions such as - How am I feeling? Where am I? What am I doing? Mindfulness requires us to ‘stop!’ from going about our errands, to make time for others as well as for ourselves. By simply placing our feet on the ground, and feeling the movement of the body while breathing deeply one can feel relaxed. This is the experience of feeling so firmly grounded in the universe.
Fighting cynicism and negative thoughts is also a concern among many. We live in a time of self-criticism, when people are pushing harder to get the best out of their work. Not being able to reach a certain goal gives rise to feelings of doubt and disappointment. At times, our cynicism is reflected in our interactions with people around us and damages personal bonds. Jyoti explained that this is how our minds take control of our thoughts and actions. It is easy to overlook that we can take control of our own minds and direct our thoughts towards positivity.
The Special Yoga Foundation introduces therapeutic yoga to children with special needs, the effects of which are eye opening and encouraging. Yoga helps in supporting them and in building up their confidence. It allows them to understand the world. On the other hand, the world also gets to see that these children have no limits and are brimming with potential. Likewise, a few minutes of meditation can help us to function well in society, as well as bring a balance to our lives, despite our hectic schedules.