The shy little 9 year old sitting before me looked exhausted and depleted physically and emotionally. “I just want to eat what all my friends eat and do what they do,” she explained. Ayla had food allergies and was still wetting the bed, which was stopping her from joining in at parties and participating in sleep-overs. She wasn’t sleeping well, was becoming withdrawn and fearful. Her mum told me that her self-esteem was low and her little light was slowly dimming.

They had seen doctors, specialists, sleep nurses, naturopaths and were presently visiting a child psychologist, without any success. A friend had told them about yoga therapy and they wanted to give it a go.

“Yoga will help,” I assured them. On assessment, it was clear that Ayla’s digestive system was weak, specifically her large intestine so she wasn’t absorbing nutrients well or eliminating properly. Her bladder was also underfunctioning and weak, which was resulting in bed wetting and tiredness. We practised specific yoga therapy exercises to help these organs gain function and made a list of foods that contributed to the problem: namely fruit, flour and sugar and instead switch to food that helps to bring back contraction and function.

Within three days, Ayla had her first dry night ever, her self-esteem blossomed immediately and her little spark came back.

This is the power of yoga therapy, in that it works fast, effectively and often where nothing else has.

What is yoga therapy?

The yoga therapy being referred to is meridian-based yoga therapy. A traditional medical system that brings the body back into balance. It is this balance which is the key to health. Once the body, breath and mind are balanced, healing naturally occurs.

The body is a phenomenal healing system. When you cut yourself, the body heals and it will do the same for most issues if you give it the right conditions and information. Master Oki’s definition of yoga is that, “The breath is involved in the movement and that is what differentiates it from calisthenics.” It is the combination of mindful activity along with using the breath, that creates the calm mental and emotional state we experience in yoga classes.

Yoga therapy takes this one step further. Andzej Gospodarczyk, the head of Ryoho Yoga and one of the early pioneers of yoga therapy in Australia explains, “By coordinating targeted therapy movements, focused breath and directing the mind into the required part of the body, yoga therapy creates balance, and balance is the way health is generated.”

“Asana is not therapy. It has a goal. It generates something that is beautiful, comfortable and majestic, co-ordinating the mind, breath and the body. In therapy, rather than that goal, we want to isolate a particular thing, in a particular way, for a particular time. Then you stop. Asana you never finish with. Therapy you finish with quickly if you are doing the right thing.”

The key is using specific exercises to create a specific effect, impact or function on the body, mind and emotions. In Ayla’s case we chose exercises to strengthen her large intestine and help the bladder function correctly. She did these every day until there were no more symptoms and she didn’t need to do them anymore.

Therapy works well and quickly because it is targeted and specific. This unique style of yoga therapy provides the benefit of being able to diagnose, target and fix issues relating to organ function, energy flow and body structure.

Why is it so effective?

Over 20 years of working with children and yoga therapy, I have witnessed the profound impact of this system of yoga and the rapid results never cease to amaze. From watching a seven year old boy with daily debilitating belly pains be free from pain in 24 hours; a four year old boy who suffered from diarrhoea his entire life have his first solid stool in 24 hours; to a fifteen year old girl whose ovarian cyst disappeared in three weeks or a fifteen year old boy who suffered from eating disorders and self-harming stop cutting himself and ate his first solid meal after his first yoga therapy session.

The impact of yoga therapy on children and teens suffering from physical problems, such as asthma, diabetes, digestive issues and back problems is profound and it is just as effective with cognitive and emotional issues. Children with ADHD, Asperger’s, autism, behavioral issues, stress and anxiety also benefit.

Yoga is widely accepted as an option for sport in schools throughout the whole of Australia and some schools are starting to experience the profound effects of yoga therapy on their students. One special needs school on the northern beaches of Sydney has weekly yoga therapy classes for the children with autism, Asperger’s, down syndrome and many who also have intellectual or physical disabilities. The teacher, when asked what impact he thought yoga was having replied, “The fact that there are never any behavioural issues in the class or violent episodes, is the biggest sign of success.” Apparently many of the students regularly had emotional outbursts in the classrooms, threw chairs or punched their classmates and teachers, but this never occurred in yoga. He then shared a touching story. Jake is one of the calmest students in yoga, but apparently not so throughout his normal school day.

One day, when Jake started a violent outburst, the teacher decided that instead of locking him in the safe room, where he normally banged his head and body against the walls and harmed himself, he ran Jake outside onto the field. Once there, he had Jake lay down on his back and practice the belly breathing exercise from yoga class. Jake followed the teacher’s actions, breathed fully and instantly calmed down. They stayed there for a while enjoying the peace and calm and connection. They both learned a valuable and empowering lesson that day.

Can you imagine if every teacher had these tools and techniques at their fingertips and every child in every school had the basic and profound ability to look after their physical health, self-calm, manage their stress and anxiety, deal with negative self-talk and boost their confidence.

These examples are not isolated incidents. The hundreds of teachers I’ve trained in yoga therapy are having the same results. One of the most recent success stories came from Di, a special needs teacher in South Australia, who wrote that the yoga therapy exercises, “have assisted two little special needs kids to walk for the first time. A miracle! One being a four year old with cerebral palsy and seven year old with complex disabilities. Their medical teams and parents were amazed.”

When asked why this form of yoga therapy exercise works so quickly on children and adults, Andzej Gospodarczyk put it down to three main reasons.

“Why yoga therapy works where nothing else works is because the idea is very different to everything else. Firstly, you’re the one doing the healing, relying on nothing external. What that causes is functionality that wasn’t there before. Secondly, there is nothing as effective as yoga which has the tools of the mind and the body and the breath being coordinated. But the biggest reason that it is the most effective is its focus on dynamically directing our energy and life force: using the force that created us to heal us.”

Meridian-based therapy shows us how to use the right movements that bring functioning back to organs through impacting the life force through the meridians in the body. Once the organ functions correctly, energy flows effectively and efficiently through the entire meridian, impacting the whole body.

Why do children change quickly?

When working with children the healing process seems to speed up. The great privilege of working with children is that you often see the healing impact straight away during your session or class. One of the reasons for this could be because they are much more open to new ideas and change than adults. They listen with great interest when you tell them about their bodies and they feel empowered learning knowledge that gives them control over their body, health and healing. Andzej believes it is this eagerness, openness and willingness to grow and learn that encourages change and success. It is immensely fulfilling working with kids and teens who are so inspired and eager. A stand-out moment was meeting Meg, a fifteen year old girl who had spent the last two years suffering with ticks. At school she was bullied and her self-esteem had hit rock bottom. She had been to see healers, naturopaths, doctors and specialists, but nothing worked longterm. If anything, it was getting worse. By the time Meg came to see me, it was at crisis point. Her mum called because the medication the hospital had put her on resulted in seizures and they couldn’t continue but had run out of options.

Meg was the most beautiful and brave teenager, who had endured years of appointments and therapies, but with no answers or success. Her mum shared how scared they both were and the suffering Meg had endured. After a diagnosis and lots of listening and confidence boosting, Meg went away with her yoga therapy corrective exercises to work on the meridian associated with her tick issue — the Gall Bladder meridian and organ. Foods that negatively impacted the gallbladder were eliminated from her diet and whole foods to calm the energy of the gall bladder were introduced. Within three days, Meg’s ticks disappeared and they are a thing of the past a year later. Her skin glows, she feels stronger, happier and more confident. Most importantly, she learned the empowering lesson of how to heal herself.

In Meg’s own words,

“Yoga has helped me so much with eliminating my anxiety and feeling more relaxed. Using the techniques I’ve learnt in yoga has helped me cope much better with school and daily life. Yoga also successfully got rid of my eye blinking tics where all else, including medication, had failed. I now feel much happier and more confident.”

Learning yoga therapy is one of the most valuable gifts you can give yourself, your family and the people you teach. Making a difference where nothing else can will inspire, fulfil and motivate you now and for years to come. Yoga Therapy for adults transforms their life: with children it creates their life.

Australian Yoga Life March – May 2018