Niyamas for Children with Special Needs

By Yonit Roth - September 27, 2018

The word “Niyama” can be translated as “positive duties” or “observances” and are advocated as healthy habits for living a spiritual life. Traditionally the Niyamas are seen as an inward practice, concerned with our inner reality. However, this inner reality can affect our outer world too. There are a total of 5 Niyamas composed by Pantanjali.

The first of the Niyamas is Saucha. Saucha describes the purification of our habits that we cycle through that may not serve us. Practicing Saucha can teach us to be aware of what does and doesn’t serve is to come to a reality where whatever we do actually benefits our livelihood and spiritual progress. By practicing purification, we learn to be more happy, healthy, awake and aware. Saucha is similar to that of using a strainer; we sift through our pollutants so that we can get to the strain of what will bring upon the most benefit. When we begin our practice we often times take the initial moments to release these impurities. In this sense, we are expending extra energy. If we can rid of these impurities before our practice starts, beginning with every day habits, then our practice becomes much more medicinal from the very moment you step into it. When we purify ourselves, we begin to see our bodies as temples. These temples must be well maintained to keep a high level of divinity. We often identify with the physical aspects of the body. However, our body is just a vehicle that guides us from one place to the next and must be properly kept up for optimal functioning. We begin Saucha by ridding of negativity within the body, mind, and spirit. We extract the toxins from our mind, diet, and practice. These toxins are only doors that block us from Self-realization and awareness.

Saucha plays an integral role in teaching children with special needs how to properly care for their bodies. When working with children with special needs, they must identify with a certain flavor of exercise that will help them rid of their personal toxins. By becoming aware of what does and does not serve an individual during a yoga practice, a child with special needs can learn how to utilize these exercises, whether physical or mental, off of the mat. This practice of Saucha can help influence them to rid of habits that may not serve them in their everyday lives so they can increase their happiness and energetic vibration. These practices teach them how to be self-analytical, to be aware of the sensory stimuli that informs them what is and what isn’t working. Learning to care for oneself in one area of his or her life can influence the care to project into other areas of life as well. Self-awareness leads to self-care and self-care leads to a thriving body.

The next Niyama is Santosha, which is translated as contentment. Santosha influences us to have a positive relationship with ourselves in order to form authentic relationships with the outer world as well. Many of our problems stem from the desire to fill a certain unfulfilled sense. In Hindu philosophy there are three gunas, or physical attributes, that have always had an influence on every being on this world. The three gunas are sattva, goodness or purity, rajas, passion or action, and tamas, destructive or inertia. The three gunas play a large role in the sensory stimuli that feeds our lust and cravings, our fears and worries. Due to the nature of this impermanent in flow and out flow of desires, we strive to fulfill them. As we strive to become “complete” or “whole”, we lose contentment in the nature of what we already have. It is our true nature to always seek more. The primitive animal within each of us has a current of desires that seeks a temporary fulfillment. These desires lead us to the various states of sattva, rajas, and tamas. When we learn to detach from these desires, we reach the state of sattva. Through Santosha, we learn to be content with whatever we presently have. In yoga it can be finding contentment with where you are in a posture in the progression of a posture. Santosha isn’t about the releasing the need to do, yet it’s accepting and appreciating what we have and who we already are. From this point of acceptance, of our present truth, then we can move forward.

It teaches us to be adaptable to change, the shifting realities from day to day life. In yoga, Santosha teaches us to allow our practice to be at peace without beginning a competition with ourselves or others. Our bodies try to defend themselves when we are not ready to go to a certain place physically or mentally. Santosha allows us to accept this. We cannot give or love completely without doing that to ourselves first. Finding this love roots itself into a foundation where happiness exists as it is, without waiting for something to come to make it better. Every moment of every day we have an opportunity to learn to be content with our inner world and outer surroundings.

This aspect is huge for children with special needs. Many problems stem from the feeling of incompleteness. That is because he or she is lacking an ability in one area of their body or mind, they are not content or happy. Santosha teaches children with special needs to be happy exactly as they are. To love themselves exactly as they are. To not change themselves for what they are because society labels them as different. Santosha is a path for salvation, to surrender to your truth and learn to see your truth as personal bliss. Allowing the imperfections of children with special needs to unfold in a yoga class with love and acceptance can teach them how to find this state of happiness in other areas of life where they appear to be different or appear to be subordinate. Without worrying about what she or he is lacking, these children can start from the foundation of their truth with contentment and progress on their healing journey.