yoga therapists from America reach out to extra special children in the city
SOWMYA Ayyar and Madeleine Sears, both US born and raised, were destined to have their paths cross and converge in India through the curative properties of yoga. Their company, Praful Oorja, is geared towards helping children with disabilities through the ancient Indian science, and the story began in a quiet neighbourhood in Bangalore. Ayyar relocated to India in 2011 for a change of scene, and while working with a small consultancy firm that deals with environmental, water and mining issues, ran into a kid with an open, friendly manner in her neighborhood. She found him very different from the guarded children she was used to and later discovered that he suffered from a hyperactive disorder. Ayyar, a certified yoga teacher with a master’s degree in yoga, domestic violence and environmental studies, approached the parents with an offer of help. In a fairly short span of time, through breathing techniques and poses that require stillness, Ayyar was able to teach him self-awareness, of how his mind and body were connected, and the feeling of being still and calm.
The right moves
Buoyed by her success, she reached out on Facebook to connect with yoga specialists interested in working with children with special needs. That is when Madeleine Sears, another yoga teacher from the US, with prior experiences of working with adults with special needs, came into the picture.
After connecting on Skype, they discovered that they had both graduated from California’s Santa Clara University, shared similar interests, and believed that yoga was a way to help people in need.
Then Ayyar quit her job, Sears relocated to Bangalore and soon Praful Oorja (meaning radiant energy) was formed.
The duo works with children (six months and above) suffering from Down’s Syndrome, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), speech impairment, cerebral palsy, autism and other disorders. A typical session that lasts for 30 minutes with a break in between begins with breathing exercises, chants, and specific asanas. They use over 20 poses paired with music. “We sing songs as well. It helps them calm down,” clarifies Ayyar. “Structure is important for the kids because they know what to expect next, but if the child is not in the mood, we try to figure out what the need is at the moment,” says Sears, adding, “you can use any of the classic poses, but we also get creative — encourage them to ‘reach up for the stars’ or add animal references they would recognise for some fun,” clarifies Sears.
They have already helped over 250 children, improving their speech and motor and rational abilities, and have collaborated with Tamahar Trust for Children with Special Needs, Bubbles Center for Autism and more.
The duo shares an apartment in town and experiments with food both Indian and global, while pursuing their individual hobbies and interests like travelling and reading. They hope to expand the company globally and also add art and music therapy to the concept eventually.