Yoga therapy for children with SEN celebrated

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Members of a unique yoga community joined together for the first international conference on a pioneering yoga method for children with special educational needs.


Denisa Nenova set up the MahaDevi Yoga Centre in north London, which practises the method created by Sonia Sumar over 40 years ago

The inaugural international Yoga for the Special Child conference celebrated the teachings and method of its founder Sonia Sumar, who attended the conference along with her daughter Renata and many other Special Yoga practitioners.

The Yoga for the Special Child method was created by Sonia Sumar over 40 years ago in her native Brazil after her second daughter Roberta was born with Down’s Syndrome. Sonia began doing yoga with Roberta from infancy and the physical and cognitive results astounded doctors.

Word spread and Sonia went on to work with hundreds of children and adults with special needs, including the most common conditions of Down’s Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy and Autistic Spectrum Disorders.

The conference was held at the new premises of the MahaDevi Roberta Sumar Yoga Centre in North London.

The centre was recently granted the community space on Holloway Road after putting in a bid to Islington Council and Unite student union who own the building.

Denisa Nenova, the founder of the centre, said, ‘It was such an honour to host the first international conference for Yoga for the Special Child. I did my first training with Sonia in 2011 and immediately realised the power of the method and how much the children love it. It helps them on so many levels, physical, mental and emotional. We currently have 50 children visiting us every week for one-on-one sessions.

‘Now we are very blessed to have moved into our new, much larger premises and look forward to welcoming more children and young adults in the new year. What better way to celebrate than to host Yoga for the Special Child practitioners from all over the world, sharing their experiences and supporting one another! We had guests from Belgium, Holland, Spain, Saudi Arabia, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, US, and Canada and India. We would also like to thank Islington Council and Unite student union for their support.’

The conference was titled ‘Teaching through the Eyes of Love’.

Sonia Sumar told delegates, ‘Our motto is teaching through the eyes of love. And this is kind of hard work because there are so many happenings in the world that make people think that love doesn’t exist. But when you talk about the population with special needs, they have a special way to love. So we have lots to learn from them. Teaching through the eyes of love is something you have to train in everyday. Not judging others, accepting people the way they are, accepting yourself first.’   

Other speakers included Hersha Harilela Chellaram from Hong Kong, whose talk ‘Empowering Exceptional Children to Lead Purposeful Lives’ explored how when a special child grows and evolves into a young adult, maintaining a healthy self-perception is key to their future mental health.

Ryoko Ohtaki, a psychologist in trauma care and treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, as well as a Yoga for the Special Child therapist from Tokyo, spoke about how yogic practice and the philosophy of yoga can help overcome trauma.

  • For more information on the MahaDevi Robert Sumar Yoga Centre visit
  • Watch a short film from the BBC about the centre here
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