Margaret Chung (R) and Hersha Chellaram (L) are using the power of yoga to help disabled children and adults in Hong Kong. Jointly they teach yoga at various special needs schools throughout the city via the “Art in your Life, Yoga in your Heart” creative program. Margaret is also the director of Beyond, a fund that subsidises complementary therapies for special needs kids, while Hersha is the director of the YAMA Foundation, a nonprofit that makes yoga accessible to people of all ages and abilities. They speak to Liv Magazine about how yoga helps to emphasise the body’s abilities, rather than its limitations.
H: My niece was born with a rare disease. I wanted to do something for her but because she lives in Spain I thought, why not do something for other children with special needs?
M: Psychologically, parents of special needs children in Hong Kong need to overcome a lot of hurdles before asking for help. I hope to reach out to the local community because I’ve been there [Margaret’s eldest daughter, Isabella, has a rare genetic disease, and her mother suffered from ALS].
M: I hope to show that there’s no shame or embarrassment in asking for help.
H: The government does its best to provide services, but there just isn’t the supply to meet demand. We want to present yoga as a complement to traditional therapies.
H: If a child is on a waitlist for once-a-month physiotherapy, it’s just not enough and they lose out on valuable early intervention. So send them to a yoga class – it’s faster and cheaper to train teachers.
M: Beyond is not just yoga. We also have physiotherapists, occupational therapy, speech therapy, yoga and craniosacral therapy. We can also help pay for equipment such as walking aids and wheelchairs.
H: We started teaching in 2013 when we met Christina Hellmann of the Joshua Hellmann Foundation for rare diseases. They had gotten a grant through Operation Santa Claus and they wanted to do something that combined yoga and art therapy.
M: It’s quite amazing to see how kids can express themselves, even those who are immobile or cannot communicate verbally. Just providing that opportunity allows the kids to open up. Through yoga we get to see what they can do instead of what they can’t do.
H: The most inspiring child – well, young woman now – is Catrin Anderson. She has quadriplegic cerebral palsy and communicates using a computer that she operates with her eyes.
H: Her mum is so inspirational in the community and she pushes herself and her daughter out of their comfort zone. Catrin is going to be an official spokesperson for the YAMA Foundation and is going to intern with us.
H: If you can make someone feel useful in their body, easeful in their mind and useful in their life, that’s all there is to it.