Manahprasad Yatra – Journey into Happiness

Premdhara (Laura Gallagher), USA

Common Senses

I don’t see what You see
But I do see You
I don’t hear what You hear
But I do hear You
I don’t feel what You feel
But I do feel You
I don’t sense what You sense
But I do sense that You want what I want:
Understanding, Respect and a Joy-filled Life

Approximately eleven years ago, I was teaching hatha yoga in my home studio on Long Island, New York. I received a phone call from a director of an Autism Community Program, asking me if I would want to teach yoga to children with special needs. I said yes to a small group class although I had never taught this population before. Six mothers came to my class with their six sons. What I picked up on immediately was their deep longing and desire for their kids to be out in the community doing typical activities without being judged. These moms were so dedicated to finding a place for their sons. They completely won my heart.

I didn’t have any plan for the class. I didn’t know what to expect, but intuition took over and I let the little boys take the lead. I knew immediately I needed them to teach me how to teach. From that day on my fate or my lesson in life was set – I will take the cue from the student.

Over the next three and a half to four years, we met weekly in that small group. It worked like magic, performing simple basic poses: cat, cow, cobra, yoga stories (invented by them), making magical invisible cakes, even sun salutations. Each child became the teacher and took turns by picking another to teach them. We created connections. In 2012 I took a small break but this path called me back again in 2014. The kids weren’t kids now but young adults. No longer suitable to make pretend cat and cow animal games. The practice transformed into individualized personal instruction to adapt to their individual abilities. It was more appropriate to respect them with grown-up instructions. We no longer made imaginary cakes but baked the real deal and cooked nutritious food. These guys are grown-ups. More students were coming and classes were moving along over the next few years.

At the end of 2017, I was deepening my personal practice and increasingly interested in yoga nidra. I was ardently searching Youtube for true yoga nidra, not guided imagery, true yoga nidra. I landed on yoga nidra and ajapa japa by Swami Niranjan. I couldn’t get enough of him, leading me to daily antar mouna practice, watching all his videos and then to the BSY website.

I could not wait to meet Swamiji in person. My husband Joe Hanshe and I signed up for Raja Yoga Yatra 1 and few out to India to deepen our practice and also to ask how to best serve those with special needs including autism.

One step inside the ashram and my goal was met. BSY opened up more energy and positivity then I had hoped for or imagined. Swamiji has coloured my life with his brush of happiness and I know that happiness has influenced my next level of teaching and learning from the young adults.

My meeting with Swamiji was the greatest moment of my life. My husband and my daughter understand this! I am not going to make an attempt to find the words to describe it because then this paper will not be written! Swamiji did give me the support and blessing to return to New York to continue my work.

I brought home the practices of yoga – pawanmuktasana, TTK, yoga nidra, bhramari pranayama and yantra colouring for the next phase of working together with my fifteen or so students. Oh yes, I also brought back a never-ending supply of happiness.

The happiness factor

Yes, I came home with happiness, I deeply appreciate that this specific energy has transformed my centre. Within no time, the practice more than tripled. Just add happiness!

  • Students respond to happiness and love.
  • Students respond to the practices.
  • Students respond to being comfortable in a stress-free zone.
  • Students respond to a smile when they complete the task, like completing pawanmuktasana 1. They are confident that they are doing a typical class without judgement that their mothers longed for years ago.

These young adults are never spoken to like little children or as less than intelligent people. They are some, if not the most, intelligent people I know. They deserve to be shown care, respect and patience. They have been misunderstood long enough.

Let’s remember that we all have special needs and may be easily triggered by some memory or expectation. What gets us through is a smile and comfort. They are no different than me. I am offered an insight into a world, a fascinating world and I owe them my gratitude and service. In fact, they are my heroes, courageously facing adversity moment by moment, somewhat trapped in a body out of sync with the mind. One young man describes it on his letter-board as ‘we are tortured souls’. I am in awe of these folks.

It seems I have four year cycles. My vision for the next phase of the manahprasad yatra is to bring together their families for family-community classes. My sankalpa is to give, love and serve with positivity, courage and creativity.

Some testimonials from my friends

Dede (Down syndrome, transition challenged), background – Mom said D does not want to leave home once she arrives home after school. She will not get out of the car, she will not move. Now, on her yoga days, on her way to yoga class, she waves her arms in the car at the other cars to try and push them out of the way so she can get to yoga faster! When Dede arrives, she jumps out of the car to hurry to class.

(I hear this over and over from care-givers that the students are so happy when they pull into the driveway. They point at the centre and smile.)

Kevin (Autism/non-verbal, focus challenged) – His mother was called to a meeting at school because he was not performing tasks. Mom brought in a video of him at the yoga centre to prove that they were wrong and he is happily doing his tasks in yoga.

He himself wrote on a letter-board – ‘Yoga is wonderful because it makes me feel relaxed’.

Cathy (Autism/non-verbal, physical challenges) – She wrote on her letter-board that she loves Swamiji’s voice when listening to the ‘yoga-nap.’ Yoga makes her happy and relaxed.

Gary (Autism) – High functioning, he works as a janitor. He asked me to thank Swamiji for the yoga nidra. Gary took and failed his driving learner’s permit test twice. Before his third attempt, he stopped by the yoga centre for yoga nidra to help him relax. During the session, his support staff read him the study lessons. He left, took the test and passed. You go, Gary!!

James (Autism, self-injuries challenge) – He wrote on his letter-board ‘Yoga keeps me from hurting myself’.