Many have sworn by the prowess of good-old yoga in defying age and gaining nimble bodies. But when explored, yoga could be much more than what meets the eye. Putting across the point is Prafull Oorja, a Bengaluru-based organisation that uses yoga as therapy to treat children with special needs.
“Yoga has the power to transform individuals and bring happiness and peace to the world. And who could be better catalysts than children, the future of a society?” asks Sowmya Ayyar, founder and executive director of Prafull Oorja.
Founded by Ayyar in 2011, the organisation through the ‘uBloom Yoga for Special Needs’ sessions has taken yoga to about 300 children with autism, cerebral palsy, visual and speech impairments and chromosomal abnormalities in Bengaluru.
Raised in a spiritual family in the US, Ayyar, a postgraduate in Yoga, Domestic Violence and the Environment says her karma drew her to India where she wanted to introduce people to the healing side of yoga.
She met Madeleine Sears, her partner at Prafull Oorja, in early 2012 through a facebook post. “There was an instant connect between us as both of us were Santa Clara University graduates and I had already worked with special kids in the US,” says Sears.
The uBloom sessions are tailored to develop the motor and cognitive skills children by calming their agitated nerves.
“A class starts with chanting of the ‘Om’, smoothly graduating to therapeutic asanas like the Badhakonasana (or the butterfly pose), Balasana, Bhujangasana and Matsyendrasana, taught according to the endurance level of a child,” says Ayyar.
And, no uBloom class is complete without music or story-telling. “We sing the butterfly song when the butterfly pose is in progress and have a ‘crocodile song’ and one on ‘rocking a fire log’ to croon to,” chuckles Sears adding, “sounds funny, but most of the kids are non-verbal ones, susceptible to bouts of
hyperactivity. A song or a story along with the asanas keeps distractions at bay.”
According to Sears, small gestures like addressing them by their names and encouraging them on their steps also gives them a morale boost.
Although initially at sea, Ayyar says the children catch-up in few-sessions, exhibiting extraordinary results in a matter of weeks. “One of them was a five-year-old child with cerebral palsy who used to take therapy for speech and walking. A few weeks later her mother was ecstatic with joy. She said her daughter could utter ‘Om’ by herself and is teaching it to others. I later realised that ‘Om’ was actually the first word the girl has ever uttered since she was born. We put her on a therapy through mantras to improve her speech,” says Ayyar.
Most of the sessions—30 minutes to one-hour long—taken by Prafull Oorja trainers are spread across 10 different centres in Bengaluru including special schools like Tamahar Trust for Children with Special Needs and Bubbles Centre for Autism among others.
The ‘uRise Yoga for Empowerment’, flagged off in 2013, on the other hand conducts yoga workshops in rural areas to identify potential yoga leaders, especially women who could teach yoga in their respective areas, and create a sustainable source of income for themselves. The organisation is currently conducting sessions in Arakonda village in Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh with support from Apollo Total Health and Gownipalli village in Kolar district of Karnataka with the help of NGO Rores.
“We devote eight weekends to one village teaching residents basic yoga postures and helping them bare their bottled-up selves through discussions on yoga,” says Kranthi Kiran, the programme director. It has identified six leaders so far.
A self-sustainable project, Prafull Oorja also conducts dance and acupressure classes for children with special needs and yoga therapy for health issues such as obesity, depression and diabetes at their studio in Bengaluru apart from imparting training to yoga therapists, special needs teachers and parents.
“Whatever be the audience, our focus is to awaken one’s awareness on where they stand in the great scheme of things in the cosmos, through yoga. Awareness clears the vision and a clear vision make things in life fall into place,” adds Ayyar.