Children with learning difficulties benefit from special classes at Stroud Yoga Space
IT'S Saturday morning at a yoga centre in Stroud and the resonating sound of the aumkara fills the room.
Oliver Hills is one of five children sitting attentively on their mats, eyes focused on teacher Lucy Clarke as she leads the chant before taking the group through a variety of poses.
The six-year-old is clearly having fun flexing his body into cobra and dog positions and clapping his hands.
For his mother, Julie, however, the benefits of these Saturday morning sessions of yoga for children with special needs extend far beyond entertainment.
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"Oliver is on the Autistic spectrum and has learning difficulties and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder," she explains.
"We've been coming for about a year and yoga has made a lot of difference to Ollie, who has very high levels of energy, is very compulsive and has a short attention span.
"It makes him calmer and improves his concentration.
"He wouldn't be able to cope with sessions organised for mainstream children – he gets too excited and that's perceived as being naughty. "Here he is with other children with various disabilities, all of whom are given lots of patience."
For eight-year-old Patrick Holland, who has dyspraxia, yoga helps to build core strength and improve his concentration span.
"He's quite weak and struggles as a result, but we've noticed how practising some of the poses has made him stronger and has helped with his co-ordination," says his mum, Hayley.
"When he started he couldn't copy anything but now he's become quite good at things like the 'dog' and 'twist' poses.
"Although to anybody else it might not seem very much, to us it's a big deal."
Despite the enormous benefits experienced by youngsters like Patrick and Oliver, yoga sessions organised especially for children with physical and developmental challenges are not widely available.
In fact, there are just two places in the UK that hold them – the Special Yoga Centre in London and its first regional hub, based at the Stroud Yoga Space in Nelson Street.
Both offer one-to-one and group sessions using the Sonia Sumar methodology for babies, children and adults with physical and developmental challenges such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Cerebral Palsy and Down's Syndrome.
They cater for people of all ages and abilities and there is even a class for carers and parents
Up until now, a grant from the National Lottery's Awards for All has enabled sessions at the Gloucestershire group to be available to families on a donation basis, regardless of their means.
But with this money due to run out shortly, the Stroud group is hoping that a special art auction at the Special Yoga Centre in London on May 15, together with applications to various charities, will yield enough funds to help it to keep going.
The annual event has been held for the past seven years. Last year it attracted high profile support from big names such as Damian Hirst, Banksy, Peter Blake, David Bailey, Gilbert and George, Antony Gormley and Stella McCartney and raised more than £100,000.
Several Gloucestershire-based artists have already donated pieces for the 2013 auction in London, including Tony Meeuwissen and Ana Bianchi, and there is still time for others to contribute.
For special child yoga practitioner Camilla Aslett, whose son, Gabriel, has Down's Syndrome, the benefits the sessions bring represent a lifeline to many families.
"It brings about positive and transformational change and it's a very social and supportive environment," she says. "The children who go are accepted for who they are and what they are.
"We are very excited that the Special Yoga Centre in London has given us an opportunity to include some works by Gloucestershire artists in its annual auction and we'd be delighted to hear from any artists who would like to support us."
To make a donation to support this work or for further details about any of The Special Yoga Centre's classes in Gloucestershire, contact Lucy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07951 499436.
For more information about the Special Yoga Centre's annual art auction visit specialyoga.org.uk/