Sunday, 25 May 2014

My Yoga Life

My health frequently reminds me not to push myself physically and I have found a lot of salvation through my yoga practice. I start my practice in bed in the mornings on waking by focusing on my breathing allowing the ebbing-and-flowing of the breath to come and go freely. I am sure that it is this powerful practice that has kept me from getting bogged down with the innumerable obstacles and challenges and helped me to keep my concentration on developing the YOU & ME yoga system over all these years.

Yoga has been a major part of my life, which started when I was twenty following a serious car accident. Since then my life has evolved through different aspects of yoga as follows:

1. Improving my health through regular practise of Hatha (physical posture) Yoga to increase flexibility and stamina.

2. Recognising healing taking place in my body through conscious relaxation techniques by becoming still, aware and revitalised. (Yoga Nidra.)

3. Supporting my mental and emotional needs through Pranayama (breath control) and increasing my vitality and ability to focus and to be calm with a sense of harmony within.

4. Overcoming amnesia through constant remembering and mindfulness techniques improving my ability to concentrate introspectively. (Pratyahara – withdrawing the five physical senses, and Dharana – concentration.)

5. Building my confidence through teaching Yoga. (Karma yoga – cause and effect.)

6. Applying selflessness and humanity through sharing my benefits of practice with other disabled people and their carers. (Bhakti – yoga of love).

7. Developing awareness of my thinking through ‘Science of Mind’. (Raja yoga is the yoga of the mind.)

8. Broadening my education and social skills through my Travelling Churchill Fellowship in India. (Meeting the great Yoga Masters.)

9. Intellectual development through writing about my investigations in India, inspired by the enthusiasm and guidance of Beatrice Hope Alexander (personal advisor).

10. Acquiring analytical skills through synthesizing my yoga knowledge and experience into the comprehensive YOU & ME Yoga programmes for students, trainers and tutor trainers. This motivated me to endure my mission, even though it unexpectedly took several years to accomplish. (Jnana – yoga of knowledge; Dhyana – contemplation.)

11. Attunement with my environment and experience being one with the universe through meditation. (Laya – yoga of merging of the Mind.)

12. Developing a training network in order to develop professional relationships among those who practise YOU & ME Yoga. (Bhavna – yoga of thinking, feeling and reasoning to reach the final aim). I am sure there will be those who will shine through to train the future Tutors of Trainers, which will mean the YOU & ME system shall reign beyond my mission this lifetime! Then I should like to think I shall reach a state of contentment. (Samadhi – Bliss ecstasy).

Extracted from 'The Origin of the YOU & ME Yoga System'
Maria Gunstone

If you would like to train with me in YOU & ME Yoga or require consultation, please contact:

Monday, 28 April 2014

Swallow that cough away

Recently going on holiday visiting a friend Luzia who I'd taught yoga 33 years ago, seeing first time since she moved to France 11 years ago. Having boarding my flight to Poitier, sitting comfortably in my seat. When just before take off a lady sat next to me who started coughing endlessly. I was not so worried about catching her germs, as it was a dry cough, but was more bothered by her discomfort.

Sitting in close proximity soon after take off I casually mentioned, "You have a nasty cough." She replied, "Yes I caught it in England looking after my grandchildren. I shall go to the doctors as soon as I get home to get some antibiotics.” I could not help comment "I do not like such medicine I believe in more natural methods." She looked at me with intrigue and raised eyebrows.

I continued to explain how swallowing hard rather than coughing could help stop feeling the need to cough. Because every time you cough a message gets sent to the brain to create more saliva which in turn causes us to cough. She chuckled and laid her head back on the headrest.

The short flight was soon over - 75 minutes in total - and we were instructed to remove our seat belts. I realised I'd not heard her cough more than twice since we spoke. So I commented on this and she looked round at me with a smile saying, "It worked I haven't felt the need to cough anymore.” I was so pleased to be assured that natural methods can work so quickly and well!

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Guidance and Support

The YOU & ME Yoga system of sound colour and Whole-Body-Movement is a very effective yoga system for persons with learning disabilities. Evidence shows that staff and parents can practice this regularly together for mutual benefit and progress.

To acquire further yoga knowledge, skills and confidence to teach this clientele Maria Gunstone welcomes you to address your learning needs and send her your questions for guidance and support.

Training and teaching materials readily available:

Monday, 20 January 2014

My Son has Down's Syndrome

I met Professor Thomas, who was wearing a vivid yellow bow tie. Out of the blue He mentioned, "Life is very different these days." I enquired if He was referring to the IT evolution. "Not just IT, it's everything. Life as it is now isn't any better or worse, it's just so different." 

I courageously announced that I am digitalising my books for IT platforms and He asked, "Are you an author too, have you written more than five books like me?" I replied "I have written seven books on the subject of Yoga for disabled people." He revealed his recent book was on the History of Radiography. "Not as appealing as Yoga", he added. He then further explained his personal interest was because he had a 29 years old son with Down's Syndrome.

I casually commented about there's not so many Down's syndrome babies being born these days. When instantly He raged about the expulsion of them before birth is outrageous and such an appalling lose to humanity!

In earnest I replied, "Down's syndrome people are the nicest people I know. For they have the natural human qualities of inspiring, endearing affection.  Furthermore, they take to Yoga like 'ducks to water' with their flexible bodies and ability to be 'in the present moment' more so than most of us." The professor nodded and grinned in agreement.

This conversation inspired me to write about Down's Syndrome and Yoga.

The hallmark of people born with Down's syndrome is that they have: characteristic facial appearances,  hyper-mobile joints,  a variety of associated medical conditions, some degree of intellectual disability and variable self-care skills.

Up to the last decade or so, this condition occurred in every 700 births, more often in boys than girls. Most of the people with Down's syndrome I know are good-natured with a good sense of rhythm, however some do have a stubborn personality.

Congenital heart disease is present in approximately half born with Down's syndrome. In which case, care is needed with techniques requiring lying on the back and must be avoided in severe cases.

Down's syndrome people respond very well to Yoga. Because they are good mimics and can copy the yoga movements quite well with their flexible joints. 

Their supple mobility is not a problem, but there is a need to be aware of possible atlanto-axial instability (misalignment between the first two vertebrae of the neck, just below the skull) hence care is needed to limit extending the neck. 

People with Down's syndrome often have tight heel cords. Yoga movements that stretch the heel cords are very beneficial to people with Down's syndrome. They tend to have weakness, especially in the abdomen with poor core-stability, and limited strength in the shoulders and the hips, as well as the ankles. 

Usually they have poor isolation of movement, which is more to do with their awareness of limbs. If you instruct them to move the leg, they can copy you, but if you say 'move the leg', it's the understanding of where the leg is, and to isolate that movement, that is their difficulty. Terms such as 'back', 'other side', 'turn round' are difficult concepts for people with Down's syndrome to understand. 

The practice of YOU & ME Yoga Postures will definitely help improve their understanding and improve their performance of the movements in quite a short time. As well as help strengthen their muscles and control of the joints. Needless to say, the most important aspects to teach people with Down's syndrome are: body awareness, spatial awareness, coordination and breath control. 

Here is a young man performing his Ostrich, Twist and Lotus Postures.

  • The Ostrich helps with progression towards achieving full arm extension. Using a chair to support bending forward assists balance and promotes confidence. 
  • The Twist Posture is excellent for improving awareness of 'behind'.
  • Usually the Lotus Posture is quite easy for persons with Down's syndrome to do, because of their loose hips. The aim for this posture is to sit up straight while focusing on breathing. When sitting back to back with a teacher or a peer the feeling of the breath can be experienced in the partner's back.

Excerpted from the YOU & ME Yoga Modular Programme.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Introduction to YOU & ME Yoga – DVD

Fabiola Wiseman recently joined the YOU & ME Yoga Modular Training Programme. On her very first day of home study she watched the 24-minute Introduction to YOU & ME Yoga – DVD, completed and submitted her first assignment explaining what the film meant to her. She was pleased to allow me to include it in full as follows: 

While watching the Introduction to YOU & ME Yoga - DVD, I noticed firstly how my enthusiasm for starting the YOU & ME Yoga Course increased, and that I have, no doubt, chosen the correct course. I think this was due to the fact that there were marked benefits and improvements in all aspects for the students – proving that the YOU & ME Yoga system works!

The fact that the colour system is so simple and yet so effective, struck me
immediately. I am beginning to understand how the students can identify the
colours with the different body parts and how that in turn allows them to
identify which part of the body is being strengthened. Allowing the students to match the cards with the body parts and then move their bodies into shapes on the mat, really encourages them to take part individually and as part of the group, and begin to follow precise instructions. Allowing students to describe how they feel also gives them greater awareness of body and mind and confidence in their practice. The 20 postures are such that every one allows for variations to suit the individual student, which is absolutely essential due to all the clients having differing abilities and challenges.

The wonderful use of sound was very interesting too, as this feels so natural, for example when breathing out, saying ‘Ah’. This, and the use of words, pictures and song to help people of all ages and abilities enjoy the benefits of yoga, is marvellous.

I think the thing that struck me most was the clear and proven benefits that the YOU & ME Yoga system continues to provide for people. This is to do with the fact that every posture can be modified to fit individual physical needs, but the modifications are also possible on an emotional and mental level, so that every person can have a version of yoga that improves their life.

As a teacher it is crucial that I can assess a student and modify sequences according to what they can do, what they need to improve on and what will be most beneficial to them. The fact that students found the YOU & ME Yoga enjoyable, relaxing, gained more muscle control, are more responsive and observant in their activities; and in general appear to be healthier is the perfect incentive for me to succeed in the course.
Fabiola Wiseman, YOU & ME Yoga Module 1.1

Extracts from 'Introduction to YOU & ME Yoga' - DVD

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Starting to Teach Special Needs Yoga

You can contact me for yoga teaching tips and guidance for working with individuals or mixed abilities groups with learning difficulties/disabilities, right across the age range.

Maria Gunstone is now offering private training and online supported learning.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

YOU & ME Yoga with Autistic Children

This report is by Lynn Bhania who was Deputy Head at Radlett Lodge School. It is backed up by an accompanying video showing Lynn teaching yoga to a small group of children after school.

Autism is a very complex condition which can manifest itself in many different ways, but all children with autism exhibit the same three impairments -a) they lack empathy with othersb) they have severe communication problemsc) they show ritualistic and obsessive behaviours and suffer from anxieties and fears.

I worked with autistic children at Radlett Lodge School, Hertfordshire for four years.  Children with autism need lots of gestures, signs and pictures to help them understand the spoken word, especially in situations where they are asked to interact with each other in a socially acceptable way, and they often learn by copying.  They also need a predictable and structured routine where activities have a definite beginning and end, in order to allay their anxieties.  I feel that the YOU & ME system provides all these.

When I first heard about it I was impressed by the way it encouraged people to work together as a group in a calm and controlled atmosphere.  Dealing as I do with children who are full of anxieties and often switched off from the rest of the world, it seemed to me that this might be a way of working which would increase their awareness of others and give them some purposeful control of their bodies.

I decided it would be best to arrange a session in our residential unit after school time.  This gave the added advantages of providing more comfortable surroundings and allowing me to work with a much wider range of ages and abilities.  Initially I worked with a group of four children for several weeks and extended the group to include any who chose to join in.  If numbers exceed I have the help of a residential social worker as well.

The children are aged from twelve to fourteen and vary in ability.  One has speech, but his understanding is quite limited; two can repeat words but have little spontaneous speech; and one boy communicates by signing.  All have problems with comprehending the spoken word and find it difficult to concentrate for long periods, but they can copy body movements accurately, and they enjoy physical activity.

I worked gradually towards a full set of movements by first choosing the movements with names that would be familiar and recognisable to the children.  I brought along photographs, and two of the children drew pictures themselves so that we could link them to the movements.  I also made sure they could link the sounds we made when breathing out to our photographs and drawings.  We use pictures, gestures and signs in all our communication work, to give them as many clues as possible towards understanding the spoken word.  

I chose Dog, Cat, Crocodile, Cobra, Palm Tree and Chopper for our first movement programme, as these were easy to link with pictures and were good for choosing noises that they could make.  We chose noises that were appropriate, e.g. woof for Dog or meow for Cat, and personalised them by using the names of the children’s own pets, e.g. ‘Jasper’ for the Dog and ‘Candy’ for the Cat.

Each session begins with a simple greeting to each member to build up the concept that we are a group.  We then do a group-breathing activity which brings them together physically by holding hands.  We raise our arms to breathe in, and lower them slowly saying the word ‘Yoga’!  This allows us all to regulate our breathing to the others in the group, and signals when it is time to make a change for the next stage of movement.   Once they have begun to breathe together and have gained control and calmed down, we begin to work through the movements.

I first show a picture card of the movements we are going to do and remind them of the sounds to make.  We then work through each movement six times, linking each one to the pictures that provide a structure and order to our sessions. Hence they can work through a set of pictures and perform tasks independently and in the correct order without any verbal prompting from me. We can also alter a picture or change the order without increasing their anxiety, because they can see what is coming next and so can relax and perform well.

After six repeats of each movement we repeat our group-breathing using the word ‘finished’, as we breathe out.  This signals the end of the session and is often followed by a short period of relaxation during which the children sit or lie down quietly while some relaxing music is played softly.

Finally we say ‘goodbye’ and ‘thank you’ to each other before we break up.

These children usually find it hard to watch each other while working as a group.  The breathing and the Postures encourage them to do this and to time their responses so that we all make our sounds together.  Most of the children make strange and inappropriate noises, particularly those with speech problems who have difficulty in controlling the pitch and volume of their speech - not to mention choosing appropriate subjects to talk about.  For these children to make a sound like ‘woof’ when asked is a big enough achievement;  to time it to fit in with a sequence of Whole-Body-Movement and keep in time with the others in the group is a real step forward for them.  Lack of motivation to do any form of physical exercise, despite the fact that they have no physical disabilities and are mostly robust and healthy-looking, makes autistic children generally very unfit.  They are lethargic, and their Posture and general muscle tone is poor.  Yoga gives them regular exercise in a controlled stress-free environment, and helps to improve their Posture and muscle tone, as well as giving them control over their breathing, which in turn helps blood circulation and lung function.

The children enjoy it because they smile and laugh.  They sustain concentration for longer periods than normal, and do not wander off or become disruptive.  They watch each other and try to work together, as well as making appropriate sounds when asked. They seem better able to coordinate their bodies when performing the movements, and feel secure in the structure imposed by the YOU & ME Yoga Cards, pictures and familiar routines.  Obsessional and ritualistic behaviours are reduced during the session, and a general sense of calmness and control seems to prevail.

Video showing Lynn Bhania teaching this yoga group.

Extracts from the YOU & ME Yoga Modular Programme:
  • Introduction to YOU & ME Yoga - video
  • Learning Difficulties and Associated Conditions with Yoga Case Studies
  • YOU & ME Yoga Postures and Variations for Special Needs