The Sutras and the Serenity Prayer in Special Education

Sample from the Summer 2005 Issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

By Swami Lalitananda

The challenges of working with Special Ed kids often need creative approaches. Swami Lalitananda, a senior monastic disciple of Sri Gurudev, shares her work with her Special Ed students who affectionately call her “Ms. Swami.” It will become apparent why these kids claim that Ms. Swami is their “most best and favorite teacher in the whole wide world!”

As a special education teacher, I work among third grade students with serious emotional and behavioral problems. My students are intelligent, thoughtful and as capable as any others their age, but some of these children come to school with unbelievable traumas and difficulties that no little eight or nine year old should have to bear. Although children, by nature, want to please their teachers, parents and others they care about, sometimes in their frustration and rage, these children just don’t know how to go about it. So, the first thing I do each morning is gather the children together to review the classroom rules. Then the children observe, on a posted chart that records their daily behavior, how they’ve been doing over the past week. The children can then choose the area(s) of behavior they need to pay special attention to.

A teacher must be creative when reviewing the same material every day of the school year, especially with these children who can get bored very easily. So one day the inspiration came to write down on the board the “Four Keys to the Four Locks” outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Sri Gurudev used to speak about these concepts, reminding us that there is a Yogic way of approaching all people, no matter what behaviors and attitudes they may be exhibiting at the moment. I felt these concepts were simple enough for my students to understand and that we could explore various ways the four keys could work in their lives and their correlation to the classroom rules.

As we began to discuss Key #1, Friendliness Toward the Happy, the children learned that it means being able to share in another person’s happiness or good fortune, instead of being jealous or trying to destroy their joy through a “sour grapes” attitude or negative verbal comments. I asked them to think about this and give an example in which they could practice this first key. After a couple of minutes, one boy raised his hand and said “I know! If someone goes to Disney World on their vacation, we should be happy for them and ask them to tell us all about it, instead of saying ‘so what’ or ‘that’s no big deal’ because we are jealous!” As he said that, I could see big smiles of understanding spread across the faces of the other children as they “got it” too! The Light of Wisdom was starting to dawn!

They came up with other similar day-to-day examples, and we then moved on to study the other three keys and their meanings. The children came up with their own examples as we explored and discussed each one in detail over the course of several days. Ultimately, their general understanding of how to implement them in their own lives were is follows:

Key #2: Compassion Toward the Unhappy. “When you see someone is upset, try to help them or comfort them if you can. If they need space, then leave them alone after letting them know you will be there for them when they are ready. Don’t take pleasure in seeing someone else get scolded or punished, but remember how it felt when it happened to you and have compassion for them…”

Read the rest of this article in the Summer 2005 Issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.

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