"If you cannot relax - you cannot concentrate. If you cannot concentrate - you cannot meditate. And without meditation how will you ever find happiness?"
Swami Satyananda Saraswati
These words of wisdom clearly indicate that at the basis of our human happiness lies the need to relax, and without it progress and fulfillment are not possible. Children unfortunately, are at a disadvantage as they are confronted with countless impressions which they certainly register subconsciously, however, without conscious rationalisation ability. They see, hear, feel and sense many things and whatever they are unable to understand they simply have to file away in the big subconscious storeroom. This is an automatic mental process which seems to clear our way from whatever we cannot come to terms with at the moment. The problem is, that all impressions stored in the subconscious surely have been removed from the surface or conscious plane but still affect and limit our behaviourism, personality and creative abilities.
Fruitful study, concentration, intellectual comprehension, self-expression and self-actualization, there fore, depend on our state of receptivity which in turn requires a relaxed state of mind. Accordingly, children grow up to be a product of their environment, and this is where the greatest responsibility in regard to education lies. Love, understanding, encouragement and inspiration flowing from parent to child is first ranking. School education executed by a teacher ideally should be nothing more than a specialised extension of the same.
In 1979 we were approached for help by Sister Rose, a nun in charge of St. Aidan's Children Centre, a branch of St Aidan's Convent in Bendigo, Australia. Having learned of the specialised work being done at Satya Centre Yoga Ashram, Sr. Rose came with a 12 year old girl named Theresa, who was a 'state ward' child in care of the convent. This means that due to a physically and/or emotionally unfavourable family situation, the courts of the state, upon recommendation of the social welfare department, had ruled that Theresa be put into the care of an approved institution to secure her unharmed upbringing.
According to the information received from Sr. Rose, we learned that Theresa was a twin, jealous of her sister, removed from a bad situation at home. She could not relate to her schoolmates, had no friends, seemed to like searching through garbage bins, was mocked by others, and suffered from insomnia and puberty symptoms, all of which reflected negatively on her school performance. Her teachers and 'cottage parents' found her almost impossible to handle and even psychotherapy had been unsuccessful in the attempt to bring about a change. Now, Theresa had been brought to yoga as a last resort.
In the first of many private sessions we were able to form our own opinion of the child. There was an unhappy little girl, who had been deprived of what others are given freely and take for granted: a loving family. The many negative impressions which she had been bombarded with throughout the 12 years of her young life had come to a peak. But, under the mask of restlessness, disinterest and aggression there was an innocent child, hoping, reaching out and desperately looking for love and security.
Our first yoga nidra practice was shocking. Theresa's body lying in shavasana was the battlefield of her inner tensions. There was continuous rapid eye movement and involuntary physical jerks. At one time her whole body was lifted as if ejected by the floor. We have seen many demonstrations of the physical release of tensions, but this show, without any doubt, was the saddest one that we had ever witnessed. We saw our duty in coaching Theresa to help herself to cope with her lot in life, to develop self-confidence, or simply to feel more comfortable from within. We felt everything else would happen from there. The first task was to gain Theresa's confidence and friendship. Once this was achieved we could gradually and playfully introduce the yogic disciplines that were required and suitable to this special case.
In weekly sessions lasting one hour, we taught and practised with Theresa various techniques as systematised by Swami Satyananda of Munger. The girl was initiated into pawanmuktasana, shakti bandhas, majariasana, bhujangasana, paschimottanasana, vipareeta karani mudra and shashankasana, which was followed by a few minutes of relaxation in shavasana. Then we went on to simple nadi shodhana pranayama, Om chanting, sometimes kirtan and finally a yoga nidra practice. Of course, the whole practice time was mixed with chats and jokes in order to avoid the creation of intensity which would have developed dislike towards yoga, defeating the purpose.
We also advised Theresa's cottage parents to make sure she had a shower every morning (which was new to their idea of hygiene) and night, as well as encourage or even practise with Theresa a little yoga at least once, preferably twice a day. We also put forward our recommendation on dietary considerations, which meant to avoid processed, artificially coloured and flavoured foods and excessive consumption of red meats.
The whole therapeutic program was designed to release physical, mental and emotional tensions, to establish a balanced hormone production (a prerequisite for emotional balance), to tone the nervous system and to re-establish sound mind-body correlation and a dynamic state of relaxation. The total time devoted to asanas, pranayama and Om chanting did not exceed 15 minutes, as these were the techniques which the child could easily practise by herself at home.
However, as Theresa was not encouraged by her cottage parents, she hardly ever did her sadhana at home. The dietary considerations were not adhered to either as 'the extra load would have made life too difficult' for the cottage parents. In spite of all this, we could notice a gradual progress taking place. Yoga nidra is always a good test. After some 3 months, the child was able to follow that practice for approximately 15 minutes without movement. After 6 months her teachers and the convent social worker remarked about an obvious change in Theresa's personality and behaviour. Her private tutor employed by the convent told us that the girl's studies have made remarkable progress and that his own findings were in full agreement with the feedback he received from the school; After 9 months of yoga therapy, Theresa's ability to relax in a guided yoga nidra session had increased from a near 5 minutes at the beginning to some 50 minutes, without bodily jerks or rapid eye movement.
Sometimes she went to sleep which is not the aim of yoga nidra, but in regard to her original insomnia problem, it was quite acceptable as it indicated improvement. So, after 9 months with the help of simple yogic sadhana, Theresa had found her own level and acted like any other ordinary child whether in regard to her school performance or whatever. At this time we decided to discontinue the private lessons as there was no longer any need for their continuity. But we recommended regular practices at home and group classes.
If we consider the number of disorders Theresa had been suffering from for so long, which conventional medicine and psychotherapy had failed to treat, that dietary considerations were ignored, and that throughout the whole time of yogic treatment she was still subject to the same unfavourable circumstances, then it is astounding to see that even occasional performance of yogic disciplines was successful in this relatively short length of time. We dare to imagine how much more could have been achieved and in a quicker way, if Theresa's whole environment would have been more conducive to the process. We have not seen Theresa since then, but a year later we learned from Sr. Rose that she was still doing fine at school as well as socially. She had taken up playing netball, had made many friends and was getting on well with everybody. Sr. Rose said that she was certain that it was yoga that had brought about this beautiful change in Theresa and she was full of gratitude.
Education begins at home. We, the adults, prepare the ground for the flowering of our children. We can give nourishment through love, understanding and selfless involvement in the child. Or, we can ignore all but its physical needs, resulting in someone like Theresa. We are therefore, the doctors (latin 'docere' - to teach) and inspirers of our children's happiness.