Physical Therapy

YOU & ME Yoga for People with Learning Disabilities

The YOU and ME Yoga system can make a real difference to people's lives, according to a new book on the treatment and management of learning disabilities.

Learning disabilities Physical Therapy Treatment and Management – A collaborative approach, Edited by Jeanette Rennie includes a chapter on Complementary Therapies with a section on YOU and ME Yoga system, with case studies involving a person with Down's syndrome, autism and the case study below of a young woman with cerebral palsy.

The extracts below are taken from the book:
The YOU and ME Yoga for people with learning disabilities (Gunstone 1988) has been designed for individual needs to improve quality of life by:
  • coordinating the activities of mind and body
  • reducing the distracted state of mind
  • focusing the mind on the present
  • developing the adaptive behaviour
  • enhancing social behaviour
  • increasing self reliance
  • improving general health (Desikachar and Jeyachandran 1983 and 1988)
It is also used to increase students’ mobility, physical dexterity, coordination, communication, sensory awareness and self-confidence.


Programmes are planned in conjunction with the YOU and ME record keeping system, which enables the therapist(s) to see at a glance the condition, limitations and abilities of the student(s). A general health questionnaire is used as appropriate.

The recording charts are used for students’ health, safety and welfare and for keeping a record of practice, outcomes and progress. The colour coding of both the body and the related techniques makes record keeping easy enough for most students to complete their own practice record, and indicate their feelings by ticking the column beneath the most appropriate face (for example, smiling or frowning).

This Yoga programme consists of 22 exercises called ‘joint looseners’ and 20 postures.

She is 26 years old and has athetoid cerebral palsy (see Chapter 2). Initially she found it very difficult to control her involuntary movements.

The YOU and ME teaching pack explains everything very clearly with health and safety in mind. Thus trainers are enabled to select a suitable plan for people with or even without a learning disability. The colour-coded instruction pack for the postures was essential to give instructions for working out her programme plan of whole-body movement. Her programme was based on the green chest area for her main posture. It followed a similar warming-up, main posture and winding-down procedure to Table 17.5. Hence her programme benefited the whole of her body.


  • She can consciously relax completely during the relaxation period, keeping her whole body perfectly still.

  • There has been evidence of progress with other members of staff in other learning areas. She is more active and confident participation in the swimming pool; her upright sitting position in her own chair has improved; she has progressed to independent transfers from her wheelchair onto the toilet and back again although assistance to adjust her clothing is still required. She has an obvious feeling of achievement and improved dignity.

Whole-body movement is great fun, as well as motivation for learning. Everyone can join in, and anyone can perform the postures regardless of age or ability. Students develop imagination, expression and relationships.
Jeanette Rennie, BSc. MPhil. MCSP
Self-employed Physiotherapist for People with Learning Disabilities
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Yoga Research and Experience

From research and experience I found that no one Posture (asana) has a specific therapeutic effect without a general tone-up of the whole bodily system. With this in mind, the Whole-Body-Movement system was formulated. The basis of the YOU & ME Yoga system - colour coding of the body and Postures - enables trainers to teach appropriate yoga techniques to their clients with learning difficulties and special needs. This is done by reference to the seven coloured areas of the body and twenty appropriately coloured Postures - from which individual sequences of Whole-Body-Movement are determined. The techniques are organised to suit the needs and abilities of the individual. Each sequence contains Postures to ensure that the whole body is being toned while the client is made aware of each part. 

The aim of Whole-Body-Movement is to treat the whole person and not just a particular part in isolation. This is done by acknowledging the area of the body needing most attention, identifying the colour associated with that area and selecting a Main Posture in the same colour. Then, one of each of the six remaining coloured Postures is chosen to complete a sequence of Whole-Body-Movement. The value of practising Whole-Body-Movement is that it helps clients gain awareness of their feelings and bodily sensations, which leads to a greater sense of being in control.

Disabled people have unusual individual needs, and practice of Yoga Postures will vary from one client to another. Clients who have a normal range of movement can usually do the Postures in the normal way. In addition, clients with a limited range of movement can also practise some modified techniques as shown in ‘YOU & ME Yoga Postures and Variations for Special Needs’. However, prior to practice of any yoga postures or variations of them, it is necessary to understand the clients’ abilities, to be aware of what they must not do, and to establish a good relationship with them. This all adds to the inclusive spirit that exists within the YOU & ME Yoga System. Practice is aimed at improving general health, span of attention, motor coordination and social interaction.

The suitability of yoga techniques for people with special needs have been worked out with careful consideration. This includes simple yet effective techniques involving the Joint Looseners for establishing the range of joint movements and the related Yoga Postures for safe practice. These 42 techniques do not require too much balance or physical effort and have been found adequate in dealing with a wide range of problems. Apart from being simple to grasp and relatively easy to perform, they lend themselves well to adaptation. It has also been found that using simple techniques allows the teacher to be more effective.

YOU & ME Joint Looseners and Variations for Special Needs (with 247 variations) and YOU & ME Yoga Postures and Variations for Special Needs (with 462 variations) are now on offer here.

In this 7-minute video I explain a set of five YOU & ME Yoga teaching materials for use in the classroom and/or for individual needs and abilities:

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Trainee Yoga Teacher's Testimonial

Gary Walshe with his YOU & ME Yoga modular training materials

I recently received my YOU & ME training materials, which consists of the 3 levels. I was initially impressed by each level's individual colourful folders and the bright, positive imagery within each module. Upon taking a deeper look into the contents of the programme, I was amazed by the amount of extensive information given through a variety of mediums i.e. audio-visual elements, workbooks, colour coding with fantastic illustrations, instruction cards, extensive case studies within the textbooks and the reproducible activity sheets. It appears that absolutely every angle is covered within the content, in supporting all individuals’ capabilities and clear instructions on how to devise person centred yoga programmes for each individual.

From the outset I was looking for a method of combining a number of my personal interest including: Yoga, Art, Creativity and my Career in working with individuals with both physical and intellectual disabilities. While I had experience teaching yoga to people from a mild to moderate range of intellectual disability, I struggled greatly with even considering teaching yoga to people with severe autism or extreme challenging behaviour. Upon further research I found Maria Gunstone and was immediately drawn to her, because of her own personal life story and her studies in India, as I hold a great connection with the country. I felt this was somewhat serendipitous and synchronised. I was in the early stages of planning my trip to India to explore a method of incorporating Yoga and Disability. I was then however very lucky to encounter Maria Gunstone's YOU & ME Yoga System. I now feel I have a positive guide with an array of experience who will assist me with this new journey. She is exactly what the disabilities sector in Ireland needs at this time and in the future.

I am now beginning my studies and am currently reading "The Origin of the YOU & ME Yoga System". Maria writes from the heart in an open, honest and loving manner that is truly inspiring. Her words invoke memories of my early experiences, why I began my path in yoga, the incredible lessons that I learned on that path and also from each of my masters. I am thoroughly excited about continuing my journey with my new inspirational teacher, Maria Gunstone.

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Yoga for Children with Special Needs

A recent statutory job I had was piloting teaching YOU & ME Yoga within the Occupational Therapy department for children and young people of a Central London hospital.  With 22 cases inc. babies, toddlers, children and teenagers diagnosed with:

severe learning and physical disabilities, PMLD, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, developmental coordination disorder (dyspraxia)

presenting poor: mobility, coordination, core stability, attention span, concentration and difficulty with organisation, and clumsiness, etc.

Project scheme:
The Team Lead invited parents/carers within the catchment area to bring their children to the yoga project. Involving an initial one-to-one meeting with the Yoga Therapist (me) to establish a suitable individualised yoga plan for each child. With the option to attend a short course in a group with other children to motivate learning and on going yoga practice together. Or if unable to attend the group meetings after the individual assessment session, it would be possible to continue practice at home with their individualised yoga plan.

Initial Consultation and Assessment:
A health questionnaire was completed by the client’s parent/guardian before our one-to-one session. To establish the child’s condition, character, communication, physical abilities and any health needs.

The parent, therapist or carer was expected to accompany the client. We discussed the individual client’s medical and health condition, and the main problem areas and goals were established and agreed. 

Then I assessed the client’s joint range and ability for practising yoga. A lesson plan is always planned in conjunction with the YOU & ME Whole-Body-Movement recording system that provides - at a glance - the condition, limitations and abilities of the client. From which the most suitable and safe techniques can be selected for that clients’ yoga lesson plan, for reference and on-going practice.

Group Yoga Sessions
Eighteen children continued attending the weekly group yoga sessions, that were arranged into A, B, C, i.e. equivalent to mild, moderate, severe disabilities. The remaining children and parents had a few more one-to-one sessions with me to reinforce the yoga plan instructions for their home practice together.

It was possible to hold group classes incorporating these clients’ individual yoga plans. Simply because with YOU & ME Yoga we include a technique for all the seven different areas of the whole body, i.e. the legs, hips, waist, chest, arms, alternate sides, upper and lower body. Hence, in class we can work all together on the same body part including each client’s particular technique.

A sample Yoga Plan for Student 1 case-study:
Main Problems:
Severe athetoid quadriplegia; Stiffness of limbs; core stability weakness; neck extensor spasm.
To help free stiffness in body with practice of whole-body-movement sequence
Strengthen core stability with suitable techniques
Tune into the diaphragm to articulate lungs and tone abdomen
Establish suitable sitting and or holding techniques for mum and baby
Assist child to relax, using massage and relaxation techniques.


The originally planned short course of group sessions extended beyond one term to nine months of three weekly classes for the eighteen students.  The staff, parents and children seemed to enjoy and appreciate the sessions. The audit forms I kept with the outcomes of each session show how many of the set goals were addressed and helped reduce the problems of most of the children. Involving improved: body awareness, coordination, mobility, flexibility, strength, core stability, sensory awareness, self-confidence, adaptive behaviour, communication and confidence. Some parents even joined a yoga class for themselves, and most have since reported how much they enjoy practising yoga at home with their special child!
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Yoga and Special Education in India

I am deeply grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust that gave me a unique opportunity to gain knowledge and insights into yoga for disabled people in India. I travelled over 6,000 miles in seven Indian states where I meet and learned from some of the renown yoga masters and eminent educationalists.

The highlight of my Fellowship was meeting Education Psychologist, Dr P. Jeyachandran, Director of Special Education in Tamil Nadu. 

We met at Vijay Human Services, a small school for special children in Madras (now Chennai). He greeted me with pleased surprise, because we had just learnt that we had both introduced yoga to people with severe learning difficulties around the same time, even though we were at opposite ends of the earth. His book ‘Teaching Yogasana to the Mentally Retarded’ (pub. 1983) showed me that we used the same yogasanas (yoga postures) with breath and relaxation. 

He told me about the facilities at his training centres, as the Director of Balar Vihar Special Education programmes for teacher training special educators, the children in special schools, and the parents of special children in day care.

My visit was such good timing because in January 1985 Yoga was just being implemented into the National Curriculum of Special Education, under the auspice of Dr Jeychandrans’ pilot programme, with approval from the Department of Education. (Details of this ‘Report on the pilot yoga study programme’ can be found at the end of this article.)

Six years previously in 1978, Dr Jeyachandran had initiated yogasanas (yoga postures) training for his special educators to teach small groups of special children as an experiment at Vijay Human Services. Two other educational psychologists assisted him managing this project in collaboration with the Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, a yoga therapeutic centre registered with the Health Ministry.

The following three videos show interviews with these three psychologists: Dr Jeyachandran, Ms Vimla and Ms Lata in their respective training centres, along with demonstrations of the special educators’ and childrens’ yoga training sessions.

Note: At the time of my visit in January 1985 and up to quite recently, people with learning difficulties / intellectual disabilities were termed ‘mentally retarded’. In this report I will use the terms special child and children with learning difficulties, however mentally retarded is mentioned in the accompanying videos. Please allow 20 minutes for viewing these videos below, showing the unique yoga teacher-training programme, yoga being taught to groups in a special school, and the children’s pilot yoga class.

Bala Vihar Teacher Training Centre
Here I was invited to attend the teachers’ yoga training class. Both Dr P Jeyachandran and the Principal Ms V. Vimla greeted me warmly and escorted me into the long hall. Where four male teacher trainees were standing, and on the other side of a wall-divider about twenty female teacher trainees were, all waiting to start their weekly yoga class. The two groups inhaled during the expanding movements - which opened out their lungs - and exhaled to the sound of ‘ha’. I was very impressed with the beautiful atmosphere and unison of the groups.

Dr Jeyachandran said, “Our special children do not all understand the teachers’ instructions to breathe out, so what we now do is instruct then to make a sound as they breathe out. This has been the greatest innovation in the yoga programme, because the key to success in yoga with disabled students is the breathing, which is a means of controlling the vital life force. Also using sound ensures that all students are breathing out together, which helps them to perform in time with each other while at the same time it helps to govern the pace of the groups’ practice. If a student gasps for breath, this would indicate fatigue, and he should be stopped immediately and told to rest. “

Every week for one-hour the teacher trainees were taught the next lesson on yoga. Their yoga teacher showed then illustrations of the sequence to practice, and at the end of the session they had to copy these into their exercise books. So they could continue practice on their own each day, and gain experience to teach the same yogasanas to the children the following week.

At the end, some of the trainees told me of their personal benefits gained from the yoga practice such as: overcoming emotional problems with yoga breathing and relaxation; relief from severe back-ache caused by spondylitis; increased flexibility in hips; improved breathing and relief from chest infection; sense of enjoyment from the practice; and one man said he had considerable relief from various pains since practising yoga.

I was thrilled by their enthusiasm and thanked them for allowing us to video their yoga training.