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Reach Out camps are enabling disabled people to experience the magic of yoga

January 16, 2019

In the last few years, awareness about the many benefits of yoga for people with disabilities, children and adults, has grown. From mobility, strength to digestion, yoga makes a positive impact in varied ways, something that is catching the attention of medical professionals, parents and caregivers.

Among those at the forefront of bringing yoga to disabled people in Mumbai is Rekha Balgi, founder, The Reach Out Camp. Balgi started the initiative in 1997 along with two other people, one, parent to a child with a disability and the other a paediatrician, who treated disabled kids.

"Our aim was to create an inclusive platform where people with and without disabilities could come together in these sessions," says Balgi. "The aim was to create opportunities for people to come together and build inclusion."

In the initial years, Balgi and the other founders would hold yoga camps in a city school with college students as volunteers, In 2005, when her partners left India, she started looking for avenues and found a supportive environment at the well-known The Yoga Institute.

Since then, Balgi regularly holds these camps twice a year for children and adults with all types of disabilities. She also hold camps for institutions, customized to their needs.

We enrol people of 10 years of age and above and we include all types pf disabilities The idea is to give everyone an opportunity and we hold them in April when schools are closed or in the Diwali/Christmas holidays so everyone can attend. - Rekha Balgi, Founder, The Reach Out Camp

The cost of the camp is kept low so everyone can afford to sign up. "We charge for the food, including lunch and snacks, which comes to about Rs 150. This way people who do not have the means can enrol as well," adds Balgi.

Creative approaches

The two-day camps are a huge hit, and no wonder given the approach adopted. The asanas are woven together in the form of a poem or a story and done in a singsong manner. "We tell them to imagine that they are walking through a jungle and see a cobra and then do the cobra pose or a crane pose," says Balgi, who has a team of volunteers dedicated to the cause.

For Yojana Wavikar, mother to Kimaya, who has Down syndrome, the camps are a not-to-be-missed event. "All the volunteers are wonderful and amazing and make a tremendous effort to put together a great camp."

Sentiments echoed by Nirmala Champa, who has been attending the camp with son Saideep for over 20 years.

"I started attending the Reach Out camps when my son was 3-4 years old. Today, he is almost 25. What he experiences in four months at other centres, he feels here in a day. The asanas, pranayama and dances are nothing less than transformative. Every child has a volunteer attending to him or her so it is very personalized. This one on one attention gives the child a lot of confidence."

Among the dedicated volunteers is Abhay Champaklal Jain. Jain, a qualified yoga teacher, has considerable experience working with children with disabilities. He has been a part of these camps for five years now and is convinced that yoga has the key to unlock the potential in people with disabilities.

"They may take some time to pick up, but when they do, it makes a great difference to their concentration powers. Given correct exposure and guidance, they can overcome many of the challenges that disability brings."

This feeling of confidence and empowerment is something Reach Out camps have enabled thousands of people with disabilities to experience.

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