Yoga Therapy for Mentally Handicapped Children

M.P. Pathak, Ph.D, & K.L. Bajpai, Kundalini Yoga Research Institute, Lucknow

Yoga sadhana is important for freeing the mind of various psychogenic diseases and mental illness. It may also improve rehabilitation of mentally handicapped people, which is a burning problem of modern society. The mentally retarded children can be treated up to a great extent with the help of yogic techniques.

What is mental retardation?

Mental retardation refers to subnormal general intellectual functioning, which originates during the development period and is associated with impairment of either learning and social adjustment or maturation or both. The criterion of mental retardation should be based on assessment of IQ (intelligence quotient), and evaluation of patients' developmental history and present functioning, including academic and vocational achievements, motor skills and social and emotional maturity.

There are many causes, known and unknown, of mental retardation. It may have genetic causes or may be due to some abnormality of chromosomes resulting in mongoloid children. Mental retardation may also be caused during the pregnancy period. Some infections, like German measles, etc., and excessive radiation caused by X-rays, can damage the brain of the foetus, when it is less than three months in the womb. Insufficient oxygen given to the child at the time of delivery or lack of blood in the body resulting in jaundice, may also damage the brain cells. The postnatal infections of encephalitis, meningitis, measles, typhoid and extreme malnutrition are the main causes of mental retardation.

Therapeutic methods for the mentally handicapped

Although modern medical approaches are being used to cure the mentally retarded, they have achieved only a small amount of success. In comparison to some treatment given to such children yogic therapy has been found to be more beneficial, because the mode of action of many psychically active drugs is not fully clear. It is probable that this is because the role of neurotransmitter agents themselves in mental disorder is poorly understood. Mostly major and minor tranquillisers, antidepressants and anti-convulsants are given to children during mental disorders. It has been observed that many of these drugs have wide actions and a considerable number of side effects, some bad and some very serious.

Certain yogic techniques, for example, specified asana, some of the shatkarmas- such as trataka, kapalbhati, etc., may be very useful for the development of mentally handicapped people, and have no side-effects. They act immediately, and are the most useful tranquillisers, which can be given very safely to each and every mentally retarded child. This may also become very useful for family members. However, parental training is necessary.

Yoga training may be started from as early as 5 years of age in certain cases, though usually 8 years is sufficient. Eight to ten year old children may be easily given training in dynamic asanas, such as surya namaskara, under expert guidance. Twelve to twenty year old mentally retarded cases may be taught yogic practices gradually, from easy to difficult. They may be taught halasana, sarvangasana, shavasana, kapalbhati, trataka and vipareet karani mudra, moolbandha, jalandhara bandha and uddiyana bandha. These practices have been found to be most useful for them.

In a survey done by the author (1983)*1 it was found that mildly retarded children were mentally improved by regular practices of sarvangasana after only three months. The regular practices of kunjal and milk-neti up to at least 40 days have been found to improve mental retardation. The famous Indian psychologists like Dr. S.S. Nathawath, Dr. Singen and Dr. D.N. Roy (1983) and some others, have also observed the effect of yoga on mental patients. Raman (1981)*2 and many others have expressed the importance of yoga asanas and breathing on increasing the efficiency of the nervous system and thus helping in the rehabilitation of mental retardation.

Yogic practices for physical and mental health

When any type of asana is done, the body becomes flexible and the vital organs function in proper working order. With the help of asanas, memory, concentration, learning power, curiosity to learn and the way of thinking are improved. Any type of sitting asana provides greater blood circulation in parts above the waist. Thus the vital organs will be energised, giving increased stimulus to brain functioning. In the case of sarvangasana, halasana, sirshasana and bhujangasana, the brain gets more blood supply which improves mental sub-normality, IQ and social adaptability. Tranquillity of mind and diminishing of hyperkinetic behaviour can be increased permanently by yogic practices, which improve brain functioning. It is well known that language and intelligence are highly correlated. Only when a person learns to use a language is he able to think, and it may be true that the mentally retarded cannot think without a training in language. Simhasana improves stammering, stuttering and some ear, nose and throat defects of the children.

From recent experiments in this area, we can rightly say that mental retardation can be improved to a great extent with the help of regular yogic practices. Improved socialisation will tend towards rehabilitation of mentally retarded people, but a trained yoga teacher should initiate and guide yoga training from easy stages to difficult.


*1. Pathak, MP (1983), Yoga Chakra. Published from 'Kundalini' Yoga Res. Institute, Lucknow. Vol. II. Feb - April pp. 8.
*2. Raman, S.J. (1981). 'Effect of Yoga Asanas & breathing on Nervous System with reference to Rehabilitation of Retarded Children', Bangalore.