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Meet the children

Most of you will have heard by now of the work I do teaching yoga to children with disabilities. I’ve blogged about it on a number of occasions, most recently here: Once Upon A Time

It’s life-fulfilling, challenging, even emotional work, and it happens mostly in private sessions and environments, so apart from the occasional physiotherapist and social worker who drops in and watches, not many people get to see what we do together. This includes most of the parents of the children that I work with, because mostly I see the children at a respite centre, where they and their families can have a night or two away from each other.

But the children do have regular attendance at the centre, and so I work with most of them on a weekly or near-weekly basis. And over the years, the relationships we’ve built together, and the practices they have developed, are profound. Because we wanted to share this, over the course of 18 months or so, my partner Phil and I worked closely with Canon’s House Respite Centre – parents and children – to produce a series of short films to introduce some people who are very important to me.

Some of these children have been practicing yoga for over 5 years now, some a lot less, and we want to tell their yoga stories to the world. When the films were finally finished, we celebrated them with parents, workers and the children at an event in the Council Chamber of Wiltshire County Hall in Trowbridge. It was a lovely night. Canon’s House is the last centre of its kind in the county, and there are so many more children that could be helped in this way with more funding.

All of the films have been shared on Facebook, but here’s a list of them in full. Each one is just a couple of minutes long. I do hope you enjoy meeting them. Please share the films, and this post as widely as you like.

The first one is a compilation that has been shared over 400 times on Facebook by yogis all over the world.

Here’s R, who at the time of filming was recovering from a serious operation, and so every session was carefully negotiated according to how he was feeling. He’s much better today – happy and full of energy. After seeing the film, he now knows he’s a star, and is very pleased about that (extra thumbs up and happy flapping hands!).

Owen loves his football, and hopes a little yoga will help him play better, just like his heroes. Here he’s exploring balance, coordination and breathing well.

Nathan is a very happy child, who has the chance to explore yoga at school and at the centre with me, and also practices Pilates at home with his mum. He’s easily distracted, but then so am I.

Myles and Ella are great fun, but their level of energy can be hard to keep up with. It makes the moments when they settle and relax even sweeter.

M is a young woman with limited movement and learning disabilities. She will always need specialist care, but a little massage and yoga can help her get so much more out of life.

Dan has autism and Down’s syndrome, and can be very anxious about the world. Since filming, he and I have become firm friends, and he is blossoming. He has a set routine for each yoga session to help him feel comfortable, and by now he knows it by heart. He still rolls up the mats for me, and he also scolds the staff if they don’t join in!

Charlotte is clever, funny and a wheelchair user. She also enjoys yoga. Now she’s turned 18, I don’t see her at the centre any more, but as much as we miss her at Canon’s I hear she’s doing really well at college.

Brandon is considered to have serious behavioural issues, and if he’s unhappy, he has a very physical way of communicating it. But when he’s happy, you can see how much he loves to stretch his body, and how affectionate he can be. Although he doesn’t talk, in this film you can hear him sing ‘yoga’ back to me. With patience and care, some of the most ‘difficult’ children can open up to you in the most wonderful way. They just need the time, and the chance.

For young women such as Amy, her experience of living with autism can look quite different from autistic young men of her age. Their symptoms can be very individual. Amy has behavioural difficulties, but she loves to dance, to sing, and above all she’s a dedicated yoga practitioner. She has now been practising yoga for 5 years, and you can see how far she’s come. Since the film we’ve been exploring breathing work, and we still always end with ‘namaste’.

When we shared the films of disabled children doing yoga, one set of parents asked if we could film just one more… Sam is profoundly disabled. This is his yoga practice.

One problem with writing about disability, and disabled people, is that often the voices of care givers and other people are included much more than the voices of disabled people themselves. I’m very aware of that, and my work includes a lot of communication, but most of it isn’t verbal. As a result, the little bits of framing I put on the films are written about the children, and with the help of care workers and parents, but not by the children themselves.

In return for that privilege, it is right for me to also boost the voices of disabled people themselves, and I encourage you to check out the following resources online. For these, I must also thank my friend and disability activist Naomi Jacobs. She recommends anything by Lydia Brown, especially this one about ableism , and this one also.

She also loves this manifesto for disability justice (created by a group of disability rights activists in the US) and the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida.

A harder read is this article by Harriet McBryde Johnson about the roots and practice of euthanasia as a call for the licenced killing of disabled people that persists to this day. It’s about meaningful choice, and oppression, and who gets to talk, and who gets to talk about the issues of disabled lives.

Finally, a quick note on language. I have attempted to the best of my understanding, to use non-ableist terms in the writing of this post. The one thing I know people will debate the use and avoidance of ‘person first’ language. Some people are certain that one is a ‘person with a disability’ and not a ‘disabled person’. However, other people disagree. Many of the people who prefer terms like ‘disabled person’ and ‘autistic person’ are disabled activists, and they have well-reasoned arguments for their choice of that identity. As the activists I am closest to here in the UK use these forms, I defer to their right to choose. I cannot ask the children in these films what they prefer, because such debates are irrelevant to the world as they live in it.

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