After all this theory we should now turn to the II. 'Doing' (the practical field) and show the possibilities of a yogic approach in speech therapy. So we have to answer the questions: "Where to teach?", "What to teach?' and especially "How to teach?"
Every lesson should have the atmosphere of a celebration. You can create this easily through some candles, flowers, pictures and music. For special events (maybe a show or a party) the children can also colour their faces and dress in funny costumes, which have been made together beforehand. The class should not be serious, or boring at all. Excitement is the key.
The main attitude of the teacher should be one of a gardener as he is carefully digging around the little flowers and plants in his garden to provide their roots with a breath of fresh air. The therapist should free the energy of the handicapped child, so that his potential and abilities can blossom beautifully. He should never try to stuff any kind of knowledge into him because 'education' in its original sense means "to let come out". Therefore he should always try to encourage the qualities of the child, even if they are very small, and try not to see only his disabilities. He should not assume anything, because this is an obstacle to the child's growth. All his images are prejudices and show only his own limitations.
Most preferable is an integrated approach, as we experience in our ambulance. We combine single lessons (traditional speech therapy, once a week, one child, 20-30 minutes), play-group activities (with or without parents, once a week, 6-8 participants, 45 minutes) and workshops (1 or 2 days on the weekend, including cooking together, being in the nature, counselling sessions for the parents). Setting, structure and other advice are mostly the same everywhere, but I am going to discuss play groups for pre-school children here.
- Play-groups should first be structured according to age: 2.5-5.5, 6.0-9.5, 10.0-14.5. The best of course is to start in early childhood.
- The room should be as big, empty and nice as possible, probably not so easy to find!
- Teaching-aids depend on your style, but should include balls in all sizes, balloons, soap-bubbles, clothes pins, cushions and blankets, mats, ropes, different papers and colours, clay, rhythm instruments and maybe a trampoline and a video set.
Very useful in speech therapy is a finger-puppet, maybe a clown through which the therapist can communicate. This puppet acts as the 'master of ceremonies'. He is the centre of attention for all the children. 'John' or 'Peter' can tell stories, give instructions, he can be happy, sad or angry. Whatever he does the children will love and follow him. They will recognise him at the beginning of every lesson, so that the connection to the week before, the focus and the concentration are there.
- We found Team-teaching was very valuable- like on a big ship, where Captain and First Officer guide the boat together through the stormy sea; one is responsible for keeping the main structure of the session going, for leading and demonstrating. The other's duty is to take care of those children, who run away and make mischief, and to bring them gently back to the main stream.
- The structure and the flow of energy should be the same in every class, so that the handicapped children slowly get used to a little bit of discipline. Also, every lesson should have one particular theme, which unites the different activities and stimulates the children's' imagination, like: 'A day at the zoo,' 'Visit to a strange island' or 'Wild monkeys in the jungle'.
Every minute of the class time the teacher has to be aware of the child's unity. The child cannot be cut mechanically into pieces of body, senses, mind, emotions and spirit. His abilities have to be trained as a whole. So, even if the teacher is giving some special training with emphasis on one or the other level, he has to have in mind the interdependent connection of doing experience, mind/cognition, and speech.
The Russian scientist Vygotsky pointed out very clearly in his brain research, that the experiences of action on the imaginative sphere develop in the child into more abstract thoughts and mental operations, and are then transformed into speech. That is why he also suggested that play is the leading source of development in the pre-school years, and for the child, play is purposeful activity.
Therefore a yogic approach in speech therapy should be presented to the children through play (but no competition!). All the knowledge of the therapist must be transformed into games and imagination: the gym becomes a wild jungle, a rope stuck on your back is a tail, asanas are animals and there are trees and cycle rides.
But it is very important that at the same time the teacher is aware, that behind the play there is a clear-headed theory of learning and development. As Maria Montessori says, 'modern' techniques are not on the right path, they just try to deliver the child from presumed repression: 'To let the pupils do what they like, to amuse them with wild occupations, to lead them back to an almost wild state, does not solve the problem.' Therefore, therapy is no simple entertainment, but utilising the playful atmosphere for freeing, re-channeling and expressing the blocked energy to unfold and balance the total personality of the child.
The next key word in class is activity. Keep moving all the time, so there is no place for boredom, withdrawal or violence. Your hyperactive students (who are sometimes under heavy tranquillising drugs) need redirection of their restless energy, and the depressed ones need permanent stimulation through changes of activity and rhythm. Rest is rust.
When we want to teach yoga to handicapped children, we have to forget all that we have learned about how a formal yoga lesson should be. (Even if you should try the regular order of asana, pranayama, relaxation, meditation.)
Every child is unique, and every class will differ from what you have carefully planned before.
It is important that yoga cannot be forced on anyone, so it is up to the teacher to find ways of introducing the techniques gently and playfully. Nevertheless, when properly adapted and taught, yoga will benefit every speech-handicapped child. Here are some suggestions:
Asana: Lethargic children first need energising, so all dynamic asanas are advisable, i.e. rocking and rolling, cycling. The shakti bandha asanas especially are important for removing physical and emotional blocks. Later on you can introduce surya namaskara.
Pranayama: In the diagnosis you will see that most depressed children breathe predominantly through the left nostril (right hemisphere). So nadi shodan is important to balance the 2 hemispheres.
Relaxation: Yoga nidra
Meditation: Trataka (candle gazing) is very useful for increasing the concentration of the child. The different types of attention (slack, uneven) can be treated according to the specific state of mental development (dullness, dissipation, oscillation), and a better evolution of the brain can be achieved.
Kirtan: It is very important for withdrawn children to learn happy songs.
Asanas: With aggressive, hyperactive children you should do all the asanas which open and strengthen the lungs and the whole body, but especially the lion pose (simhasana). Additionally, you should introduce asanas related to manipura chakra, like shashankasana, which is very easy and helps to conquer anger. It stops the flow of excess hormones from the adrenal glands (related to manipura), which are responsible for the loss of self-control. When these children become 7 or 8, you can teach them more difficult combinations like surya namaskara - to rebalance the energy, and the Rishikesh Series, including sirsashana, tadasana, sarvangasana/halasana, matsyasana, bhujangasana, shalabhasana, dhanurasana, ardha matsyendrasana, shavasana. You can also make them familiar with the shatkarmas- kunjal and neti. It is best is to do it together in a playful atmosphere.
Pranayama: All pranayama techniques are very important to cope with aggression in children. With the younger ones you can start with ujjayi, abdominal breathing and brahmari, because they help to release tensions like anger, anxiety and frustration. If you check the flow of breath you will find that in aggressive children the right nostril (the left hemisphere) is predominant. So nadi shodhan is again advisable. Later on you can teach bhastrika and kapalbhati to transform the aggression.
Relaxation: Yoga nidra is very important, because negative impressions locked in the unconscious mind will float to the surface and be dissipated. It also shows the child how to induce calmness within himself.
Meditation: Trataka from age 8 and shambhavi mudra, which is related to ajna chakra and is essential for maintaining the health of the pineal gland, can be taught.
Another suggestion: A good idea is to put a picture of manipura chakra on the wall and try an organised ram chanting. It will help to express and control the excessive energy within them.
For the older ones it is also helpful to use their favourite medium- the video. You can show them tapes, which deal with themes related to manipura, but having a high spiritual background, i.e.: 'Karate Kid' I-III- (Guru - disciple relationship)
Asanas: For children who stutter the combination of very dynamic, energising asanas followed by relaxation is very good, and for opening and strengthening the lungs, a combination of the standing pre-pranayama practices is important. This series should be followed by some motionless animal asanas, which open the lungs even more. Most important is simhasana, because it releases tensions from the area of the larynx and the face, and it also cures the diseases of the upper respiratory tract. Chopping wood and naukasana release tension from the whole body and balancing postures strengthen self-confidence and equilibrium.
Pranayama: Brahmari and ujjayi are important to relax the vocal cords and the whole area of the throat. They are also helpful in overcoming throat and nasal infections and stop the children from mouth breathing. Abdominal breathing is good for beginners to change the disturbed breathing patterns into a deep, calm and regular rhythm. Nadi shodhana can be introduced later.
Relaxation: Yoga nidra
Meditation: Trataka is very good to stimulate ajna chakra- the 'command-center'- which also controls and monitors fluidity of speech.
Asanas: For mute children those asanas are very important which free the blocked energy within and lead them to communicate with the outer environment in general.
Pranayama: Ujjayi and brahmari.
Relaxation: Yoga nidra should tend to heighten the sense and body awareness. Because of their lack of love these children need a lot of touching, so that you should combine the rotation of consciousness with a soft and gentle massage.
Meditation: Antar mouna (stage 1) is most important to eternalise the consciousness of mute children.
All these techniques should be presented to the children with constant encouragement and simple, specific instructions to reduce the complexity of the postures. To give you some idea, we want to continue with a short class transcription.
According to our theory of development the main intention of this kind of therapy is to rebuild the structures of the 'house'. The integrated approach therefore includes four interconnected steps, which you will recognise in the lesson below:
Activity : Four speech-handicapped children, their mothers and the two
teachers are standing in a circle in the middle of the gym holding hands.
John, the finger puppet, welcomes everybody with his name. Then he asks
for a few seconds of silence, before he introduces the theme for today:
"The magic island".
- Weekly repetition of the opening ceremony to induce calmness and attention
- Awareness of unity in a group
Activity: John explains the first game : "treasure-hunt". The
room is a strange continent, because all the mothers and the pupils live
in one group together, and all the teachers in the other. (They gather
in two different corners of the room.) Because the children need some
money for their holidays, they try to rob all the treasures from the adults.
(The "treasures" are about 100 clothes pins the mothers put
on their sweaters, skirts and socks.) Now everybody runs around, and the
children try to grab the clothespins and put them on their own clothes.
Energising everybody through constant activity and having fun together
- Training of eye/hand co-ordination
- Separating mother and child (opening old patterns), to make new ways of physical and emotional contact possible.
Activity: When the game is finished, the mothers hide on an island in
the middle of the "sea" (mats in the centre of the gym). The
children stay with the assistant in one corner. They think about what
to do next. Then they decide to make a journey to the island. (To encourage
themselves the children put a red mark on their face with their finger,
and then the mothers sit in a small inner circle on the island, and the
children in a bigger outer circle, facing each other.)
First the children are cycling (asana) through a deep valley and up on a hill. When they reach the sea they go by boat (asana) to the island. But as soon as they reach the island, a 'magician' (the finger puppet) comes. He is angry, because he feels disturbed, and so he turns everybody into all kinds of animals, big ones and small ones (i.e. butterfly, crow walking, cat stretch pose, cobra twist, lion pose, crocodile...).
- Intensifying the energy with special emphasis on the asanas (physical level)
- Introducing the regressive medium of the finger colours
- Stimulating the imagination
Activity: At the end all participants have become lions (simhasana).
The lions are very loud and wild. They start screaming and shouting loudly,
and turn to fighting. (A bench is put in the middle, each group, mothers
and children on either side.) They throw all kinds of things towards each
other that they can find on the island. (All soft materials: pillows,
cushions, balls, balloons.)
- Releasing the energy of the whole physical body, which had built up
- Releasing the tensions in the vocal cords through intense screaming
- Experiencing all different kinds of materials and sizes, (soft -hard - big -small -heavy - light) to stimulate the senses and mental development
- Possibility of melting emotional blocks in the mother-child relationship, rechanneling stored aggressions on both sides
Activity. John will stop the game after some time and everybody will
calm down in shashankasana.
Then all will lie down in a big circle (shavasana). John will create the atmosphere of total relaxation. First he makes some soap-bubbles, which will float above their heads. Then he asks the children to close their eyes and for a few seconds he introduces abdominal breathing, putting a little cushion on everybody's navel area. Then he gives a short yoga nidra with rotation of consciousness and creative visualisation. (He can describe all the sensations around the 'fireplace'.)
- Shashankasana to learn how to control anger
- Relaxation of the eyes through following the movements of the 'raining' soap bubbles
- Pranayama to learn breath awareness and rhythmic nose breathing
-Yoga nidra to induce calmness, develop body awareness and imagination, and release samskaras.
Activity. Everybody in the circle sits up and watches the burning fire
in the middle (a candle). They try to be quiet for a few seconds.
- Tratak to induce attention and concentration and to stimulate ajna chakra
- Raising the energy again
Activity: After the fighting the two groups make peace now. First they
start to colour each other (always one mother and one child), so that
everybody has a little blue and red colour on his face. Then 1 or 2 songs
will be sung together.
- Social experience of unity and peace after a quarrel
- Chance for deep emotional contact between mother and child induced by touching the skin
- Encouraging non-verbal expression with colours and kirtan
Activity: After singing John will turn to talking. He asks the children
what they have done today, how the island looked and what animal they
liked best. Maybe some discussion or role play will happen spontaneously.
- Chance for verbal expression (change of channel) through stimulating the level of communication. Then the circle of activity - experience - cognition - speech comes to an end.
Activity: Again all participants make a big circle by joining hands.
John says good-day to everybody and they practise Om chanting three times.
- Weekly repetition of "Centering" at the end.