Yoga has its role to play in the lives of people of all denominations, ages and nationalities, whether handicapped or not. For those who are handicapped, however, it has particular benefit, because it works on three levels- the physical, the mental and the spiritual.
The exact application of yoga techniques depends largely on the individual physical disability. If a limb is missing or very much deformed, then of course the best initial treatment is most likely to be the application of medical engineering to provide an artificial limb or assist the functioning of a defective limb. But certainly yoga asanas and pranayama can often be utilized to improve sluggish blood circulation in defective limbs, to improve and stimulate nerve functions and to develop weak muscles and bring them under conscious control.
Many handicapped children come to our ashrams and usually, by tailoring yogic practices to suit their individual needs, much is gained in the overall health of the body. For example, a young man of 17 who came to our ashram had practically lost the use of both legs. He had previously been able to hobble around on his knees, but even this capacity had been lost. His distress was elevated by the fact that through lack of exercise of the lower areas of the body, his blood circulation was very poor. This led to numbness and extreme discomfort. Also, his lack of exercise had led to stiffness and pain in the lower back. Over the next three weeks, he practised a series of special asanas adapted for his specific condition and within this short period all pain and numbness had gone, blood circulation was normalized and the limbs were regaining normal functioning.
In another case, yoga therapy dramatically improved the condition of a man who had been suffering from paralysis of both legs. This problem had arisen soon after he had been bitten by a dog and had been given the standard preventive treatment against rabies. Whether this was the cause or not is uncertain, but within one day he had totally lost the use of both legs. He could not move them even slightly. He tried many remedies with no success and ultimately lost all hope. He came to the yoga ashram more as a desperate last resort than with any real belief that yoga would help him. Slowly, however, over a period of months, he regained the use of his limbs and now they are 90% normal. Today this man is jubilant, and he has become an ardent supporter of the yogic science.
Polio is another common problem which has proved amenable to yogic treatment. With polio, the degree of improvement depends largely on the sincere effort of the patient and the severity of the case. Yoga training from an expert is essential, and regularity in practice on the part of the patient a must.
The science of yoga is not only for the body, it is also for the mind. Even though a child or adult may be crippled in body, he or she is more than likely to be perfectly sound in mind. Yoga helps these individuals develop their latent mental faculties and intelligence to the fullest possible extent.
Many handicapped children have brilliant minds and the capacity to reach the highest degree levels. Yoga can definitely help them to realize their potential and to lead creative, productive lives, so that they can be of maximum use to themselves, their families and society as a whole. One handicapped young man who often comes to our ashram has now earned an M.A. degree in English and has undertaken to teach others in his home. He has had great success in this endeavour and has gained much from yoga, both physically and mentally. From being in a state of depression and hopelessness before starting yoga practice, he is now bubbling with optimism and confidence about his life and his future.
In spirit, there is no handicap whatsoever. Many people who are physically handicapped practise yoga in order to go deeper into themselves. Through yoga they find the way to free themselves, and they come to realize that there is much more to their nature than the limitations imposed upon them by a mere physical defect.
Medical science has done wonders in this technological era and has achieved a high level of sophistication and utility. It should be combined with the science of yoga to further optimize the benefits that can be obtained by the handicapped.