DbI Review


In this article Dipti Karnad describes the way in which the teaching and learning of yoga is making a real contribution to the lives of deafblind children at the Sadhana Unit for Deafblind Children at the Clarke School for the Deaf, Chennai, India.

Yoga is a scientific system of physical and mental practices that originated in India more than three thousand years ago. Its purpose is to help each one of us achieve our highest potential and to experience enduring health and happiness. With yoga, we can extend our healthy, productive years far beyond the accepted norm and, at the same time, improve the quality of our lives. Because yoga works on so many different levels, it has great potential as an effective therapy for chronic diseases and conditions that do not respond well to conventional treatment methods. For this reason, children with disabilities who practice yoga often surprise their parents and teachers with their quick mastery of basic motor, communicative, and cognitive skills. The same yoga routine can help children with learning disabilities develop greater concentration, balance, and composure in their daily lives.

Yoga requires quiet, consistent application. It does not require that we transform ourselves overnight into something beyond our capacity. Yoga begins by accepting our limitations, whatever they may be, and working with this self-acceptance as a base. In our daily practice, we gradually learn to transcend our limitations, one by one, and in this way, real and lasting progress is possible.

Yoga helps one achieve a balanced state of mind, a healthy body and work efficiency through concentration, alertness and emotional stability. Yoga means " to join or yoke together thereby bringing the body and mind together in one harmonious experience." The whole system of yoga is built on three main structures: exercise, breathing and meditation. In yoga, the body is looked upon as the primary instrument that enables us to work and evolve in the world. Hence the exercises of yoga are devised to put pressure on the glandular systems of the body thereby increasing its efficiency and total health. Breathing techniques are based on the concept that breath is the source of life in the body and through yoga one increases breath control to improve the health and function of both body and mind. Regular practice of all three parts of this structure of yoga produces a clear bright mind and a strong and capable body. An integrated series of balanced yoga poses increase body awareness, strength and flexibility. Specialized breathing exercises and relaxation techniques improve concentration and reduce hyperactivity.

Yoga and deafblind children

Just as normal children can benefit from yogasanas, disabled children too can derive many benefits from learning to do yoga. However, teaching yoga to the disabled especially to people who are deafblind, is a Herculean task, which when achieved pays rich dividends. Deafblindness is a sensory impairment where both vision and hearing are affected. Although the degree of impairment differs from child to child, it might be accompanied by other physical or mental anomalies. Some deafblind children may require assistive devices such as spectacles, hearing aids, mobility aids, as well as augmentative and alternative communication like sign language, communication boards, Braille, or large print. Many may need these facilities throughout the day, all the seven days of the week, twelve months of the year, in fact all through their life. Parents, teachers and all concerned with the life of the deafblind require patience to work with such individuals.

While introducing yoga to the deafblind, multiply handicapped students of the "Sadhana" Unit for the Deafblind, at The Clarke School for the Deaf, Chennai, India, the staff had in mind the following aspects -

  • to help children co-ordinate the activities of the mind and body.
  • to reduce the distracted state of mind and help the mind to dwell on the present activity.
  • to actively increase the ability to concentrate on the present activity.

Every morning the deafblind multihandicapped children meet together for Morning Assembly during which time incense is burnt and prayers said. At the end of the assembly, children are told "time for yoga" and guided to take off their shoes and socks. Then they are led to their places in the yoga hall with two older children taking up their positions in front of the group. Four staff consisting of three special educators and one occupational therapist, take up their positions in front of, behind or alongside four totally blind children. Of these four children, one is totally deafblind and three are totally blind with auditory processing problems. The students with low vision follow the older children while the staff work with the totally blind students. As they do this they also monitor the others in the group.

Each yoga session starts with pranayama or breathing techniques. Due to individual differences, adaptations of pranayama, asana or exercises are done. Each asana consists of three sequences namely preparation, main pose and compensation or counterpose. After each asana, the students are given rest so that they do not become breathless or tired. Each yoga session culminates with meditation in which the students sit cross-legged with their palms facing outwards, index finger folded to touch the thumb and eyes closed.

The special educators use various strategies suitable to each individual child. Some of the strategies are

  • Individual instruction. This has been found necessary due to the difference in degrees of dual sensory impairment, cognitive levels and physical abilities.
  • Modelling. This is being used in different ways. The totally deafblind child needs to work in close physical contact with the teacher, where as the low vision child imitates his peer or the more able low vision child can follow photographs or cue cards.
  • Peer tutoring and peer reinforcement. This has shown good results.
  • Positive thinking on the part of the teachers' has shown positive results. Objectives selected are within the capacity of each student, but not so low that they would be too easy to achieve. This, along with the physical ability of each student, has been the priority during planning.
  • Communication. This has been the key to the success of our yoga sessions. Teachers make sure that they use the most appropriate communication mode - either "on the body signs", total communication, signs, gestures or oral language.
  • Regular practice by the teachers themselves. This has been enabled them to better understand the difficulties and given them an insight into planning strategies for teaching.

Yoga has become a popular part of the routine in the Sadhana Unit and no child wants to miss it. Parents report that their children have motivated them to do yoga and that they have enrolled themselves in yoga classes. We have noticed that that forty five minutes of yoga every morning has enhanced performance in the activities involving movement of our deafblind students.It has taught them sequencing and now they can understand vocabulary like "first, next, last". We have seen an improvement in their sequential memory. Most of them can tell which asanas follow one after the other. Our students have developed spatial and body awareness, confidence and concentration. Our totally deafblind children have learnt that there is a world beyond their fingertips.

Our staff has endeavoured to prove that yoga can be taught to the deafblind and multihandicapped as well - hard and challenging work but well worth it!


The Yoga Review Vol.V, No 1 & 2 1985- Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram-Chennai.
Yoga for the Special Child: A Therapeutic Approach for Infants and Children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, and learning disabilities by Sonia Sumar
Yoga and the Special Child - www.specialyoga.com
Articles by Sumar Sonia,Sumar Renate - Courtesy Internet

P.Srinivasan shares her thoughts on teaching Vijay

Vijay and Yoga
Teaching yoga to the deafblind has been a thrilling experience for a special educator like me. Vijay Krishna aged twelve is a totally deafblind boy to whom I have imparted yoga since June 2001. He has learnt six types of Asanas for which I have followed these steps.

  • Before starting the yoga class I sign to him, "Time for yoga" and make him stand straight in his place.
  • I stand behind him so that he feels the movements of my chest and stomach while breathing in and out.
  • Then I sign, "Start yoga".
  • In order to teach Asanas I stand just opposite him and perform the movements allowing him to touch me so that he can copy my body movements.
  • I have made him aware of certain cues like when I touch his elbow he raises his hand and when I touch his head he bends.

In this way I have successfully inducted Vijay into the beautiful art of yoga. Vijay makes use of his residual vision as he can see the silhouette of others in a bright room at a distance of five feet and residual hearing using his hearing aid to listen to the drumbeats. By encouraging the use of residual vision and hearing I have faded physical prompting. My aim for Vijay is to make him proficient in yoga for developing concentration, attention, and relaxation.

My advice to everyone who wishes to teach yoga to the deafblind is

  • Fix realistic goals
  • Reach the target
  • Stick with the time
  • Use appropriate reinforcement
  • Demonstrate to the student
  • Provide immediate feedback
  • Think positively
  • Communicate with the student appropriately
  • Practice yogasanas planned for the student, yourself
  • Never lose your patience.

These are the main steps to teach yoga to the deafblind.