Presentation + Questions & Answers
For ADD-Holistic Discussion Group
Date: Sun, 25 Oct 1998 22:26:33 -0500 (EST)
From: Mark Gold
Subject: ADD Introduction of Visiting Expert
I am excited to introduce our next honored Visiting Expert, Sonia Sumar.
Ms. Sumar uses a special type of yoga therapy to help transform the lives
of children with ADD/ADHD, Down's Syndrome and other disorders. She is the
author of "Yoga for the Special Child."
Sonia Sumar has taught yoga in Brazil for more than twenty years and is
internationally renowned for her pioneering work with special children.
She began experimenting with yoga as an early intervention therapy shortly
after the birth of her second daughter, Roberta, in 1972. Roberta was
born with Down Syndrome, a genetic disorder characterized by mental
retardation and other developmental delays. Sonia's teaching work expanded
to include infants and children with Cerebral Palsy, Attention Deficit
Disorder, and various other syndromes and disorders.
Her life dream is to help the world's special children to achieve their
full potential and become active and productive members of society.
Nothing can better express her success than the letters from the parents
of her students.
Ms. Sumar holds a Bachelor's Degree in Education and has taught at the
elementary school level. She has conducted workshops and has addressed
special education programs and symposia in Portugal, Brazil, and
throughout South America. In 1980 she founded the Integral Yoga Center of
Belo Horizonte, Brazil, where she continues to teach yoga to both children
and adults and offers specialized training courses to yoga teachers and
other professionals who wish to learn her methods.
In recent years she has expanded her teaching and mentoring in the United
States. She is assisted by her 27-year-old daughter, Renata, who has a
degree in Speech Pathology. Sonia's programs are coordinated by Jeffrey
Volk, who also supervised the English translation of her book.
Most persons I have seen who began practicing yoga experienced health
improvements or a health transformation. The program that Ms. Sumar has
put together to work with parents and children/adolescents to extend
yoga's benefits to special needs children is very exciting. It is an honor
to have Ms. Sumar visit our discussion group and share details about her
Please join me in welcoming Sonia Sumar! [clap, clap, clap!]
Please feel free to ask followup questions after her initial post on
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 1998 00:28:02 -0500
From: Sonia Sumar
Subject: Yoga for children with ADD
Thank you for the beautiful introduction, Mark.
My work with children with ADD began in 1975, at a special education institute
in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Children with Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy and
other developmental disabilities also attended this school, so I had the
opportunity to observe how yoga worked as a therapy with children at varying
ages and levels of development. In almost all cases, yoga stimulated the
children's development--the crucial factor most often being the parent's
involvement with and support of their child.
Children with developmental disabilities often posses many ADD/ADHD
characteristics. One of the participants at our September, 1998 Ten-Day
Certification Program in Central Virginia brought his three-year-old daughter,
Madeline, along with him. Madeline was born a "blue baby" and was
being "globally developmentally delayed." She was extremely distractible, and
it was almost impossible to get her to focus long enough to follow any of my
instructions. My opportunity came on the seventh day of our program when I put
on a piece of music that seemed to capture her attention for a moment.
Immediately I began to sing along with the music and to clap her hands together
and swing her arms to the rhythm. An entire yoga routine flowed out of this
single piece, posture by posture, as she swayed to the rhythm of the song. All
of the participants were amazed to see what this little child could do when her
mind was focused.
Yoga is a scientific system of physical postures, breathing exercises and deep
relaxation techniques designed to balance the body's energies and to promote
mental, physical and spiritual health. Yoga's benefits extend to persons of all
faiths, ages and abilities. Because it is gentle and non-competitive, even
persons with chronic diseases and degenerative conditions can practice it. In
applying the yoga modality to infants and children with special needs, I have
created a system of progressive yoga programs, each one corresponding to a
successive level of childhood development.
To be a yoga teacher of special children, you have to love your work. I feel
like every child I work with is my own child--this is the foundation of our
practice. Yoga means "union," and through the bond that develops out of this
union, you can accomplish seeming miracles. So the techniques are the tools;
but the foundation is love and a firm, unwavering belief in you child's innate
Before getting into our case history, I would like to say a few words about our
book and our programs. "Yoga for the Special Child" can be purchased at local
bookstores, as well as through our website at
http://www.specialyoga.com. The book contains case
histories, including the biography of my daughter, and a workbook section that
explains the principles and practical applications of yoga as a therapy for
special children. All our programs and special events are posted on our
website. We're still working on our 1999 schedule; as soon as these dates are
confirmed, they will be posted.
I look forward to your questions.
CASE STUDY OF LUISA
I first met Luisa in 1992, when she was six years old. Her mother Nair had
read about my work in a local newspaper and wondered if yoga might be able to
improve her daughter's condition. At that time, Luisa was diagnosed with
Prader-Willi Syndrome. According to Borland's Medical Dictionary,
Prader-Willi Syndrome is a congenital disorder characterized by a rounded face,
almond-shaped eyes, strabismus, low forehead, hypotonia, insatiable appetite,
failure to thrive and mental retardation. In my opinion, she also exhibited
many of the characteristics of ADHD: When I attempted to teach her, she became
easily agitated; she was also extremely hyperactive and distractable. Due to
her lack of balance, she was unable to walk up and down stairs without
assistance. She suffered from daily convulsions and sometimes went into
multiple seizures so severe that she needed to remain in the hospital under
observation for a week at a time. To help control her seizures, Luisa took
various anti-seizure medications. However, none of these medications was
adequate in controlling her seizures, no matter how often they were adjusted.
Our first yoga sessions were spent in creating a strong bond of trust and
friendship-- between Luisa and myself and her mother. Once this bond of trust
was established, we were able to open up new channels of communication and
proceed with our work. At this early stage of Luisa's yoga practice, I had to
guide her body through all of the yoga postures (asanas) because she did not
have balance, motor control, or physical strength to imitate my movements. One
of the paradoxes of Luisa's condition was that she experienced stiffness in her
joints and a resulting lack of flexibility, even though her muscle tone was
very low. Children with hypotonia usually have a greater degree of
After several months of yoga therapy, twice a week, the intensity of Luisa's
seizures began to diminish. Although her school class performance was not up to
par, I noticed that she was quite intelligent. This apparent contradiction was
due to her extreme distractibility and impulsivity. Often, the only way I could
reach her was to go into her own world and meet her on her own terms. For
example, in order to keep her attention focused during our yoga sessions, I
found it necessary to increase the speed at which she performed asanas. Not
until I discovered her own natural rhythm was I be able to begin slowing her
down. The same approach applied to music and sound therapy.
Our yoga sessions always began with about five minutes of chanting and hand
clapping, followed by rapid breathing exercises (the bellows breath). Both of
these exercises helped to capture her attention, focus her mind and enliven her
spirit. The asana portion of our class was interspersed with short intervals of
deep relaxation to keep her from getting too excited and speedy. In the
beginning, almost all the asanas were difficult for her to perform, but even
so, she persevered--a tribute to her mother's encouragement and our strong bond
with one another.
Once Luisa was familiar with all the asanas in her yoga routine, she showed her
great enthusiasm for yoga by beginning each asana even before she had finished
performing the previous one. In other words, she was always one step ahead of
herself and unable to hold any pose for more than a second or two. I struggled
to curb this tendency by bringing her attention to the muscles that were being
stretched or strengthened during each particular pose. While she was holding
the pose, I always reminded her to bring her attention back to her body and to
Another aspect of Luisa's condition was her need to talk incessantly. My
instructions and comments during our sessions were often met with replies on
totally unrelated topics. I finally made an agreement with her: We could speak
about anything she wanted for a period of up to ten minutes, either before or
after our yoga session. But during our class, she promised to follow my
instructions and to allow me to guide her without interruptions.
Another challenge I faced with Luisa was her inability to remain upright in a
seated position. She would always sit slouched over with her pelvis tilted
downward. I focused on poses to open her rib cage and chest area, and to relax
the muscles of her back. In order to bring her hips into alignment, I gave her
a variety of poses which began from a seated position. While she was holding
these poses, I always talked to her and encouraged her to bring her mind back
to the asana.
After approximately one year of yoga therapy, Luisa's body awareness and
control had taken a quantum leap. She was now able to sustain a prolonged
period of deep relaxation and learned to love this quiet time. She was finally
able to walk up and down stairs unaided -- and even run! She was working on
perfecting her standing poses and had added the Skull-Shining Breath and
Alternate Nostril breathing to her repertoire of breathing exercises.
In 1993, after about a year and a half of yoga therapy, during Luisa's school
vacation, Nair asked me if she could bring Luisa to her adult group class,
because she did not have someone to take care of her. These classes last
approximately one hour and fifteen minutes. My private yoga therapy sessions
with Luisa lasted only forty minutes. I was not sure if she would be able to
sustain her concentration for the extra 35 minutes. I seated her at the front
of the class and she surprised us all by completing the entire routine. In
fact, she did so well that I allowed her to continue attending our adult class
twice a week for the remainder of her school vacation. Luisa loved this class
and the other students were greatly impressed with her new-found ability to
perform these advanced asanas, as well as her overall attitude and maturity.
She became the darling of our class.
After two years of yoga therapy, Luisa was able to raise her straightened legs
off the floor in both a supine and prone position. Her attention span and body
awareness were vastly improved. She could even remember the names of most
asanas, about twenty-six in all, in both Portuguese and Sanskrit. After three
years of yoga therapy, Luisa was finally able to join a children's group yoga
class, which included children at all levels of development. In this class she
learned to perform many of the more advanced asanas without assistance, such as
the Shoulder Stand and the Sun Salutation. All her other poses have improved,
along with her flexibility and motor control.
Although Luisa is still subject to occasional seizures, they are not nearly as
severe or often as they once were. Her doctors were finally forced to
reevaluate their diagnosis of Prader-Willi Syndrome because she is still thin
and agile, and never developed a compulsive eating disorder. During yoga Luisa
is usually attentive and cooperative. She goes out of her way to help new yoga
students and is her very popular in her group yoga class. During an entire
forty-five minute yoga session, she remains fully concentrated and absorbed in
her yoga routine. The benefits of her yoga practice also carry over into her
daily life. At her school this ability to concentrate has allowed her to learn
to read, write and complete math exercises.
Luisa still practices yoga twice a week at our yoga center in Brazil; she is
steadfast in her attendance. When I am away in the United States, she writes to
me and often tells my daughter Renata that she can't wait until I return to
Brazil. When I had my book signing of the English edition of Yoga for the
Special Child at our yoga school in Brazil, Luisa was the first person to
receive a book from me. She showed the book to all of her school friends,
reminding one and all that the child in the painting on the cover of the book
was none other than herself! I know how proud Luisa is to be on the cover of
our book and I am equally proud of her.
From: Mark Gold
Subject: ADD Questions for Visiting Expert Sonia Sumar
Thank you very much for your detailed and inspiring post and case
histories. It gave me much to think about because I had not known until
quite recently that yoga therapy is being used to help special needs
I hope you have received the posts including Barbara's question. If I
may, I have a few short question for you.
I am very glad that I found out about your work. It is encouraging that
you will be offering workshops at a number of major conferences related to
ADD, Cerebral Palsy, and Down's Syndrome. Along with the sharing of
information through the web and other means on the Internet, this will
help tremendously in having your techniques more widely available.
- For the adults with ADD and similar disorders, would there be
any differences in the workshop program or suggested treatment?
Do you offer workshops or classes for adults?
- Do older children (e.g., 8-15) enjoy the workshops and classes?
- Some of us are probably aware of a few of the postures used in
yoga classes. You mentioned a couple of breathing practices
in you post. I would greatly appreciate it if you would
talk briefly about a couple of the exercises and their short-range
and long-range benefits.
> Before getting into our case history, I would like to say a few words
> about our book and our programs. "Yoga for the Special Child" can be
> purchased at local bookstores, as well as through our website at
The web page is wonderful. I found the "Comments From Graduates of Our
Programs" section of the newsletter particularly inspiring and I hope that
you eventually put more of those on your web page or in the next addition
of your book.
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From: "Barbara Cesmat"
Subject: Re: Yoga for children with ADD
Date: Fri, 30 Oct 1998 11:06:45 -0800
Thank you so much for sharing your work with ADD children and adults with
us. As we know ADD does not discriminate age, race, or social status.
I believe that as long as there are caring people like you out in the world
there is hope for the victims of ADD and those that love and care for them.
Does yoga also help the parents and care givers of Add patients?
Where are you located, I am interested in your bi-lingual abilities.
Date: Sun, 1 Nov 1998 12:45:17 EST
Subject: ADD Questions for Sonia Sumar
First let me tell you that I think that the work that you do is wonderful and
truly a God filled inspirational service to humankind. Thank you for doing
this work with so many children and spreading your love and light out into the
world! You are bringing hope and encouragement to so many!
How did you establish that bond of trust in the first meeting with Luisa and
How do you know the amount of time and intensity level of yoga to use with the
children? Is it trial and error or have you been able to develop some
What type of yoga are you a practitioner of?
Have you gotten much harassment from the medical institutions in working with
these special children, especially around their drug/medication usage? Or are
Thanks again for the wonderful work that you are doing & for sharing your time
with us in this way.
Rev. Nadine Cotton
Date: Sun, 1 Nov 1998 21:57:45 -0500 (EST)
From: Mark Gold
Subject: ADD Visiting Expert Sonia Sumar
I just wanted to let you know that Sonia Sumar will be on the list for a
while longer to answer some of the questions that were asked. Thanks to
everyone who provided feedback and asked questions!
Within a few weeks, her 1999 workshop schedule should be on the web page,
http://www.specialyoga.com/ -- I will let you know when it's available. In
addition to the workshops and certification programs in various locations
around the country, Ms. Sumar will be attending the CHADD conference in
Washington, D.C. in 1999. Hopefully, we'll see her conducting workshops at
other ADD conferences in the near future.
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Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 23:36:40 -0500
From: Sonia Sumar
Subject: Re: Fwd: ADD Questions for Visiting Expert Sonia Sumar
>>1. For the adults with ADD and similar disorders, would there be
>> any differences in the workshop program or suggested treatment?
>> Do you offer workshops or classes for adults?
A- MY PROGRAMS ARE ESSENTIALLY THE SAME. WHAT VARIES IS THE LEVEL OF
DEVELOPMENT OF THE CHILD OR ADULT, AND HIS OR HER COOPERATIVENESS. I DO
OFFER WORKSHOPS AND CLASSES FOR ADULTS, BUT NOT JUST FOR PERSONS WITH ADD.
>>2. Do older children (e.g., 8-15) enjoy the workshops and classes?
A: I WORK WITH CHILDREN OF ALL AGES AND, YES, THEY DO ENJOY OUR CLASSES.
DURING PROGRAMS, CHILDREN DO NOT NEED TO STAY ALL DAY. THEY COME ONLY FOR
THEIR INDIVDUAL CLASSES, WHICH LAST FROM A HALF AN HOUR TO FORTY-FIVE
MINUTES. WE ALWAYS HAVE CHILD CARE PROVIDERS AT OUR PROGRAMS TO CARE FOR
THE CHILDREN WHILE THEIR PARENTS ARE IN THE CLASS.
>>3. Some of us are probably aware of a few of the postures used in
>> yoga classes. You mentioned a couple of breathing practices
>> in you post. I would greatly appreciate it if you would
>> talk briefly about a couple of the exercises and their short-range
>> and long-range benefits.
A: I COULD MENTION THE FACT THAT ALL YOGA POSES WORK ON THE CENTRAL NERVOUS
SYSTEM, WHICH BENEFITS EVERYONE, WHETHER THEY HAVE DISABILITIES OR NOT.
ALSO, GLANDS AND ORGANS ARE COMPLETELLY REJUVENETED AS WE PERFORM THE
POSES, ESPECIALLY WHEN WE BREATHE PROPERLY. WITHIN YOGA THERE ARE SPECIFIC
ASANAS FOR STRENGTHING MUSCLES (THE LOCUST POSE, STANDING POSES) AND
INCREASING FLEXIBILITY (ALL THE POSES). FOR MORE INFORMATION ON SHORT RANGE
AND LONG RANGE BENEFITS, I SUGGEST THOSE INTERESTED READ CHAPTER THREE OF
THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT, MARK
WISHING YOU LOVE AND LIGHT.
Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 23:23:26 -0500
From: Sonia Sumar
Subject: Yoga for children with ADD
Thank you very much for writing; also, for the sensivity you expressed
about my work.
Fortunately, there are many other professionals, in different areas, who
also are doing a good job in helping people with ADD and other disabilities.
Yes, Yoga can definitely help parents, care givers and everybody else who
is seeking for a better quality of life. The wonderful thing about Yoga is
not only its power for healing the body, but also the incredible way it
works with the mind, helping us to develop our potential and understanding.
Then we can understand life better and also be better equipped to serve
society and our own selves. I could write many pages about the various
benefits of Yoga. As an yoga practitioner, I experientialy how it can make
you feel more vibrant, calmer and happier. That's why I love to share it
Wishing you peace and joy,
Date: Mon, 02 Nov 1998 23:28:03 -0500
From: Sonia Sumar
Subject: Re: Fwd: ADD Questions for Sonia Suma
Dear Rev. Nadine,
Thank you so much for your beautiful letter.
Once the mother is open to trying Yoga herself , she also opens the channel
for me to connect with her child. That's why it is so important to make it
clear to the mother that 50% of my work will depend on me and the other 50%
will depend on her. If we can work in this way, everything will proceed
well and we will get great results.
Once I have established a strong bond, I try to connect with the child's
innate potential for growth and development. Based on this connection, I
posit my total trust in that child. It is not my body working with another
body, but my soul working with another soul; in this way, we both learn and
grow together. Because I work through my intuition, the child is able to
guide my hands, so I always know just how far to go into a pose or
exercise. All you have to do is observe the child attentively and never
going beyond the resistance point of the child's range of movement.
The type of Yoga I teach and practice is Hatha Yoga. Of course, I have to
adapt it to the needs of each practitioner.
Unfortunately, I have not gotten much support from the medical profession.
Some doctors are very supportive and some are not. Several have taken my
workshops and programs in the United States.
Wishing you peace and light,