Islington yoga teacher starts classes for children with special needs

Denisa Nenova teaching yoga to students at her centre in Holloway

Denisa Nenova teaching yoga to students at her centre in Holloway - Credit: Archant

The Mahadevi yoga centre in Holloway Road is unlike any other in the country.

Denisa (L) and Jia (R), 4, who was born prematurely and has speech delay and learning difficulties

Denisa (L) and Jia (R), 4, who was born prematurely and has speech delay and learning difficulties - Credit: Archant

While it offers the same sessions you might find in most yoga centres, it also boasts a unique class – and a unique teacher.

“I come from a very poor background,” says Denisa Nenova, who opened the centre on October 6. “Once you’ve been in a place where you have nothing, you know how it feels to not have. And then when you have, you know how to give. When I see someone suffering I have to give.”

Denisa, who is originally from Bulgaria, is giving through her exceptional work with children with special needs.

Yoga for the special child is a method of teaching pioneered by renowned yoga therapist Sonia Sumar. It focuses on one-to-one sessions with children with special needs ranging from autism to cerebral palsy.

Denisa Nenova (L) with Sonia Sumar (R)

Denisa Nenova (L) with Sonia Sumar (R) - Credit: Archant

While the method has been practised all over the world for some 40 years, it only came to the UK this year through the opening of Denisa’s centre.

The centre may be young, but it is already making waves in the community.

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“We started off with about 20 children and currently we’re working with 31,” she says. “And we’ve had wonderful feedback from the start. We don’t advertise, we operate on word of mouth – so to see more and more children coming in for the classes is really encouraging.”

So what is it about this method of yoga that works so well with children with special needs?

Denisa explains that while the basics of yoga such as breathing techniques and muscle strengthening help the children’s mental and physical development, it is the one-to-one training they receive that is the key to the method being so successful.

“A child with cerebral palsy might need more muscle training,” she explains, “whereas I had a child with autism who said that when he gets worried he tries to focus on his breathing, which he said helps ‘his head gets quiet’ and makes it easier for him.”

Judging from the feedback Denisa is receiving, it is clear that her methods are working.

One parent, who preferred not to be named, said that their child “is always very calm and happy after a session”.

The opening of the centre was the culmination of several years of hard work for Denisa.

She had been working in local schools and doing home visits for eight years up to that point, yet always wanted to open up a centre where children could feel the community benefits of her teaching.

The only thing holding her back was acquiring the funds, which, tragically only became available to her following the death of her mother.

“My mother would have wanted me to do something worthwhile with it, and I hope that’s what I’ve done.”

Not only has she put every penny into helping those with disabilities, but Denisa has also set about creating a trust for the children she helps.

While the price she charges for an hour-long session is very little when compared to professional therapists, she knows that some parents still can’t afford even that. So she puts aside all of her profits so that, if a family can’t quite afford a session, she can supplement their fee with money from the trust.

“We as adults have the ability to deal with emotions, whereas these children don’t, and these methods help them with that. I don’t want to turn a single child away, and so if I can help with that I will.”

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