A special kind of yoga
Special Yoga transitioned its courses online during lockdown without losing any of the heart and soul connection to the children it supports. Founder Jyoti ‘Jo’ Manuel explains how it was done
For some time, I have wanted to take our training online. Until this year, however, I wasn’t able to see how we could best connect to our students; to see how their practice was evolving, while wholly supporting them. But, as we all know, Covid-19, and the ensuing lockdown response, changed everything. Suddenly, we had no choice but to transfer our courses online. I had no idea how that would work, I just knew that the pathway to do this was opening up, and we had to walk it while learning along the way.
As we undertook this project, I knew what my priorities were. We had to ensure that the quality of the work remained high and find ways to make sure that the students were really studying and embodying the practice. It was also paramount that the students were held, and for us to find a way to replicate the peer support that’s so vital.
Special Yoga isn’t your ‘normal’ yoga training outfit, rather, we share tools and practices for students to be confident and empowered to bring the best of yoga and mindful practices to children with special and additional needs. People who study with us could be educators, paediatric professionals and parents who may have little or no experience of yoga. As well, of course, as yoga teachers that may already teach yoga to children and want to expand their knowledge and practice to support the children with additional needs in their classes. There are also those yoga practitioners who have a calling to work with children with special needs. All are welcome and welcomed. Having such a wide range of students from different backgrounds with different knowledge enriches everyone’s experience.
I have felt excited and scared by this new process of delivery. At the same time, my long-term desire to create a legacy that means the work continues beyond me, is finally becoming a reality (or at least a possibility). The gratitude that sits with me is immense, and it also brings a sense of relief.
It feels as if we’re still navigating uncharted waters, and we’re certainly gaining fresh insight all the time. We are all deeply listening to our students to understand their journey, what works, and what needs adjusting. The more we do this, the more we can offer a useful and valuable learning for everyone. It’s a beautiful creative process converting our training to online.
The beauty of the blended, online learning is that it offers students time to absorb and embody the practices. Studying in your own time, with the support to learn and practice within peer buddy groups, having one-to-one mentor support, I actually believe you get more than you would have done in a ‘live’ training. There are also webinars with the opportunity to learn with the special yoga team and myself directly.
Rather than just offering what we were doing in person, over days of sitting in front of the computer, our courses are made up of lessons that provide a wealth of tools, knowledge and wisdom that are both available and ongoing to the students. I especially love this opportunity, as we know that we can only ever receive what we are open to at any moment in time. When we revisit the practices over and over again, there is the opportunity for fresh learning. It’s like opening a book and reading a page; when we come back to that same page, sometime later, something may strike a chord that totally missed us before.
The practices start with heart meditations and other meditations to develop self-compassion, self-care and self-kindness. These underpin all our work, as I genuinely believe that any tools used are only as useful as you are. How we show up for the child is possibly the most crucial aspect. I particularly feel that our self-care in these times becomes more and more valuable to increase and support our energetic vibration. We are clearly in a pandemic of anxiety, fear, stress and PTSD, and our biggest job is to keep ourselves balanced so that we can be the most useful for ourselves as well as for others.
Our lessons also include an extensive catalogue of videos which were filmed in London, Mexico, Peru, Spain and Sri Lanka. The recordings show the different practices and how to use them. There are talks from myself on various aspects of Special Yoga, always emphasising how our state matters as the adult.
The lessons are supported by films of live sessions with different children with different needs. These offer the opportunity to learn, consider and see what’s happening in the moment of each session, understand why the specific practices have been used. They also give ideas on how to adapt the methods for children with different needs, different energy, and different behaviours.
Audio recordings include simple chants with video lessons to show how to use the chanting well for motor planning and coordination. Added to that are Yoga Nidra practices for both the teacher and the children to use, as well as guided relaxation practices.
There is an equally extensive catalogue of written handouts that give students scientific understanding as to how the practices work plus an explanation of why and how we adapt yoga as we do.
Finally, there are videos of individual practices to explore. These include specific massage points using acupressure, simple Indian head massage techniques and key reflexology points that are relevant for the children we work with.
I feel like our greatest challenge is to make sure that students feel connected, both to us as Special Yoga and to each other. I realise that when we are online, we have to work harder to connect, as we are not directly in the same energy field where we rely on watching and feeling people close up. With 20–40 little faces shining out at you on the screen, I have found I have had to delve much deeper inside myself to connect to their hearts and souls as I can’t always read the energy in the same way I used to. I have to say that they feel like an enormous blessing, because the deeper I connect with me, the deeper I can connect with another.
One of the other beautiful experiences of teaching online is the global Sangha that is created. On our current courses, we have people coming together from so many parts of the world including Australia, Russia, Canada, Israel, Mexico, Germany, Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Dubai, the Middle East, France, and Switzerland.
We are also starting to make our courses accessible for the hearing impaired by adding subtitles to the videos. And, early next year, we will launch our first Spanish language course, which means that we can offer our training in most of South and Central America as well as Spain.