Interview to Sonia Sumar, founder of Yoga for the Special Child,

by Gemma D’Alessandro, Fightthestroke

Sonia is the founder of Yoga for the Special Child Method and was in Milan, Italy, for an intensive week of training addressed to parents, Yoga teachers, Physical and Occupational Therapists and other professionals interested in Yoga and the population with special needs.

She greets me with a great smile, after an entire day spent in teaching.

I told her about FightTheStroke organization, the first in Italy that advocates rights for young stroke survivors, and how it all happened with the birth of Mario and his parents’ strong will to go beyond doctors’ responses and find the best therapy.

She says that it’s good to be positive and learn from the situations life brings to us. She did the same as well 45 years ago, when her second daughter Roberta was born with a genetic chromosomic condition known as Down Syndrome.

Why Yoga for children with special needs?

Because Yoga is not just an amazing way to work on all the systems of your body, enhance the brain areas and to keep your mind peaceful, but also, it is an excellent complement to all the other kind of therapies allowing the child to understand and assimilate them easily. Through the practice of specific types of breathing exercises more oxygenation is brought to all the brain cells stimulating all its areas and improving attention and concentration. Asanas or Yoga positions combined with the breath, improves metabolism, calms nerve system and better sleep.

Let’s talk about pediatric stroke, can you tell about your experience with children who survived a stroke at young age?

I have worked with children and adults who have stroke with magnificent results. By oxygenating the brain areas, we can awake up brain areas which where damaged. Neuroplasticity is proving that we can awake such brain areas by stimulating them positively. In the past, it was believed that brain areas when damaged could not be recuperated. However, this kind of belief is totally changed by Neuroplasticity.

After birth, my daughter had to be three days in the incubator with oxygen due to complications during labor. She aspirated much amniotic fluid and as a result, a lack of brain oxygenation. It was so serious that her physician thought that besides Down Syndrome she also would have a brain damage. And perhaps, she had some brain damage which was completely cleared because I had started stimulating her daily through Yoga.

That is the reason why I started to direct Yoga to my daughter as well. I was already practicing Yoga myself and experiencing its benefits for quite a while and at that time there was not such a thing like early intervention yet. All children with special needs would be indoors doing nothing until they reach age 7. By that time, precious years would be lost and they would have great difficulty to learning anything! And that was not the kind of life I could visualize for my daughter. Since Yoga was the only thing I knew at that time I decided to give it a try. I wanted something that could work my child from deep inside out and as a Practitioner, Yoga sounded perfect! 45 years ago, back in Brazil there were much prejudices against population with special needs. A child born with Down Syndrome for instance would be called retarded, mongoloid and other diminishing labels. Yoga would give her the emotional balance and peaceful mind to cope with all those challenges she would have to. 

Can children with special needs practice Yoga in groups?

In Yoga for the Special Child Method there are two ways to work with the child with special needs:

-         On the individual basis: children who have more severe conditions as for example, severe autism, severe cerebral palsy, stroke, brain damage, and others.

-         Group classes: those who have a mild condition of the diagnose above. Or those who have already being worked on individual basis.

Is your Yoga for the Special Child Program addressed also to the parents?

Yes, it is addressed to all the professionals on the field, parents included. It is important to understand that this Program does not only prepare people to work with infants, toddlers and adults with special needs but also, trains the participants to practice Yoga themselves. I do not believe in Yoga teachers who do not practice. You must learn first, experience first, understand the dynamics of Yoga so that you can teach. Each participant is trained that way. Experience will be improved after the Program by applying those tools first thing first, with themselves and later, with their students. Yoga is a very serious practical approach.

Your background experience in Yoga is impressive. What would you say about your approach: is it recognized in India, the land where Yoga was born?

I have been teaching Yoga for the Special Child Programs in India for about 8 years. First in Delhi and then, invited by three doctors of the PSG Hospital in Coimbatore. There I taught a Program to 24 doctors and nurses. They were very impressed with the results they could see during the week I spent there working with the most severe conditions. Nowadays I still go to Coimbatore every year but I teach at the Yoga Center founded by my Master Sri Swami Satchidananda. There is my spiritual second home.  

Is your method practiced in Italy?

Well, although I have been teaching Yoga for the Special Child Programs through Europe for a long time, specially in London, Holland and Denmark, this is my second time in Italy only. Last year I taught a Program in Firenze and this year, here in Milano. Hopefully it will grow and spread around. That is my deep wishes, although very little now. Will be back to Milano next year if that is also God’s will. Love Italy! 

For more info: www.specialyoga.com

Milano, June 2017