International Yoga day 2020

Yoga’s roots goes as far back as probably the Indus Valley Civilisation (BC 3000). Sage Patanjali summarised the wisdom of centuries in to 196 short verses called “Yoga Sutras”.

Yoga, although popularly symbolised by the body postures called asanas, has always been focused on “finding the inner you”. The whole purpose of the asanas is to still your mind so that you begin to see the real you.

Yoga has been put in to therapeutic context because of its profound effect on body and mind. There are a number of health conditions where Yoga has been used either as an alternative medicine or an excellent addition to other treatment modalities. The table below summarises some examples of these. It has to be said that although Yoga has been an excellent addition, its role is still being assessed for the extent of therapeutic benefit. Therefore people should not jump into yoga after abandoning other treatment expecting wonders from Yoga. Any benefits of Yoga emerges gradually over a period of time when it is practiced regularly under the supervision of a good teacher.

Health Condition

Anxiety Effect of yoga-based interventions for anxiety symptoms: A meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials
StressEffects of Yoga on Stress Among Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review
DiabetesDiabetes Prevention through Yoga-Based Lifestyle: A Pan-India Randomised Controlled Trial
Depression and other psychiatric conditionsEffectiveness of Yoga Therapy as a Complementary Treatment for Major Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-Analysis
ADHDInterventions Based on Mind–Body Therapies for the Improvement of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Symptoms in Youth: A Systematic Review
Asthma (as an adjunctive therapy)Effect of 6 months of yoga practice on quality of life among patients with asthma: A randomised control trial
Overall evidence is pointing to the role of Yoga as a health and well being activity rather than a treatment for specific condition. It as an adjunctive (an addition to the standard treatment) improves the quality of life and general well being which is very important.

Yoga in Autism

The core features of autism currently has no treatment. The use of various treatments is for helping autistic people to adapt to their surrounding better and reducing additional problems such as increase in anxiety or problem behaviours. Yoga is not an exception to this.

That said, Yoga has been found to be effective in the following situations

Teaching Yoga to autistic people

A Yoga teacher for children or adults with autism needs to take account of their ability level, sensory needs as well as other preferences. Knowing your students well is an important element of any teaching but most important in this context.

Some general tips as below (adapted from Teaching Yoga to people with autism)

  • Take time to ensure that people are comfortable in the personal space that they have.
  • Do not expect eye contact. They are listening even with out eye contact.
  • Break down the sequences in to simple components.
  • Teach each component by repetitive demonstration (Visual cues are important for autistic people)
  • Be prepared to repeat sequences until students have understood these well.

Yoga for Children in a fun way- please see it in youtube kids

Surviving this difficult time

As you all are experiencing, this is a difficult time. For children with autism in particular this period presents additional challenges (change of routine, loss of familiar people etc). I have been speaking to people (families, people with autism, special school teachers and health staff) both in UK and India about how families / carers are overcoming the challenges during this period.

I hear both positive stories of how people have overcome these challenges as well as how families are struggling. I spoke to Akshadhaa foundation in Bangalore and heard their inspiring experience of using technology to provide support and educational activities for the children who use their service.

Listen to the Akshadhaa foundation story.

I have heard how an organisation in UK has used video exercise lessons, online mindfulness sessions adapted to the needs of people with autism. They also used imaginative weekly challenges and prizes to keep service users engaged. I was impressed by their creativeness around this. Further information on this is not fully online yet but you can get a feel of this following the link below

Heroic care news

I spoke to a teacher from rural India who is leading an exceptional special school for children with a variety of disabilities. She talked about the efforts they have taken to contact families over phone, whatsapp etc. They provided instructions and then followed up the children’s progress over phone or whatsapp inspiring and motivating children to continue the work.

In spite of the above efforts, I am also aware of people with autism and their families really struggling to cope with the locked down leading to an increase in anxiety and behaviours and over reliance on medications to manage behaviours. There were also some extreme situations in India where some families had to lock up their children in a room even if it was for a short duration.

I hope that we can learn from the innovations which came out of this adversity but it is very important that we learn from the hardship as well. A society is considered developed when it is thinking of the most vulnerable members. I do hope governments and governmental organisations would consider the needs of people with autism and people who are similarly vulnerable as we continue the locked down and if we have to go down the same route in future.