Two ladies from the US, living in India, connect on a social networking website and start a not-for-profit organization aimed at improving lives of children with special needs through yoga. Read about the journey of Sowmya Ayyar and Madeleine Sears, the instrumental forces behind Prafull Oorja.
Kami, a yoga teacher was inspired by the power of Yoga when her one year old daughter was diagnosed with hemi-paresis, a mild form of cerebral palsy. Kami enrolled her daughter in a variety of classes like swimming lessons, gym, music, and more. But nothing could bring a change in the situation. She then started sending her to Yoga classes and saw remarkable improvements.
After a couple of months of Yoga practice, Kami’s daughter started crawling and could demonstrate various poses.
Yoga has been practiced for centuries. It helps to reduce stress levels, combines physical activity with self-awareness and creates a mind-to-body connection which many children with special needs lack. Yoga also improves oxygen levels and increases lung capacity, and the various breathing techniques help in an increased flow of oxygen to the brain which has numerous benefits.
Prafull Oorja, an initiative by Madeleine Sears and Sowmya Ayyar, two women from the United States living in India, focuses on teaching and researching Yoga for special needs’ children.
Started in in 2011, it now has 15 Yoga teachers. They are first trained to make the yoga poses more child-friendly by including songs, dance moves and art in the classes.
This not-for-profit organization is self sustainable and generates revenue through the fees they charge for the classes. Says Sears,
We want to make this a legitimate career option and spread awareness that this is something that one can pursue as a full time career because a lot of children need such help.
Sowmya moved to Bengaluru in 2011 after getting her Master’s degrees focusing on Yoga, Domestic Violence, and the Environment, and was thinking the future would bring her a Ph.D. in Yoga and Ethnic Conflict.
Sowmya decided to start working with women and children in Bangalore, using yoga to work on their various issues. She got in touch with Madeleine through Facebook and they both started working together.
What do they do?
Prafull Oorja has collaborated with various schools and organizations where they teach Yoga. They organize two weekly yoga classes for about 50 special needs’ children at Tamahar Trust for Children with Special Needs. Classes include asana, pranayama, mantra, mudra and meditation, depending on the children’s physical and emotional levels.
They also have yoga therapy for conditions such as obesity, depression, diabetes, arthritis and other physical and mental health issues. They also offer acupressure for children with special needs.
They have also collaborated with Bubbles Centre for Autism where they teach yoga to around 80 students twice a week.
In the past, they have also organized yoga classes for HIV+ children in rural areas outside Bangalore.
Prafull Oorja offers 20-25 yoga poses which they customize according to children’s needs and abilities.
The biggest challenge is to keep the children engaged and motivated throughout the classes. Sears elaborates,
Sometimes they just sit and not do anything and sometimes they become hyper-active and actually start hitting the teachers and students around them. So, we have to take extra care and be well prepared for everything.
Another thing required is patience. You can’t be harsh with the children. “We have to come up with various interesting ways to keep the children active,” says Sears.
The organization plans to remain a not-for-profit trust in future. They are planning to organize art classes for children with special needs. “We will explore a variety of art forms including drawing, painting, sculpture and more,” Sears says.
Along with art, Prafull Oorja also plans to organize music therapy sessions, travelling yoga workshops and training in rural areas.
How you can help?
Prafull Oorja is looking for trained teachers of yoga, art, dance, music and more to share their passion and skills with any community who could benefit from their services. You can also help them with office support and organization, outreach and awareness building, research assistance, fund-raising and the like.
Go through their Facebook and Website for more information