Co-Founder, Room Designer, Recipient/Volunteer Coordinator
Martha has been working as a Senior Physical Therapist since 2002 in a New York City District 75 public school for children with multiple handicaps. The students are challenged with a wide range of disabilities including cerebral palsy, Down’s Syndrome, spina bifida, mental retardation, autism, and other neurological impairments and they range in age from 9-21. There are approximately 600+ students in the school, with about 300 who are wheelchair dependent. In addition to providing individual therapy sessions to her students, Martha was inspired by all the wonderful young individuals she works with, as well as her own personal yoga practice, to create a yoga program at the school in 2003, which she has affectionately termed “Yoga Wonderland. The program has evolved and flourished within the school and has spread outside the walls of the school to other settings and populations. It started with five girls with mild to moderate cerebral palsy doing yoga and has grown to almost half of the students in the school experiencing yoga regularly. Some of the larger yoga classes that she presently leads are composed of as many as 50-60 students with mild to moderate disabilities in attendance. The children really adore the classes and can’t get enough of yoga and movement class with Martha and Martha has found her life path and can’t get enough of sharing yoga and movement with the students. For many of the students with severe disabilities, this is the only opportunity they have to socialize with other students who attend the school and to feel as though they are truly a part of a group experience. She has also trained and inspired other therapists within District 75 schools to develop and lead their own yoga/movement classes, to which they bring their own personal style and creativity. Many yoga programs within the five boroughs began (and continue today) in various schools as a result of her innovative and imaginative training.
Martha is a NYS licensed physical therapist and graduated with her Doctorate degree in Physical Therapy from NYU in 2001. She has taken several continuing education courses in various massage modalities and that coupled with her intuitive healing skills and compassionate nature has led to her to add massage therapy to her repertoire of skills, which she also brings to her students. In her private practice, Martha works with clients of all ages and particularly enjoys working with individuals who are facing medical/physical challenges and/or are recovering from life threatening illnesses or accidents. She draws from her background of physical therapy, massage therapy and yoga to make an individualized plan unique to each and every person she works with. Martha was the proud recipient of a scholarship from Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in 2005 to become a Certified Kripalu Yoga Teacher and routinely takes continuing education classes, which encompass topics in physical therapy, yoga/children’s yoga, yoga therapy, dance/movement therapy, etc.
Martha is continually seeking out opportunities to learn and bring inspiration and growth to her work and yoga/movement classes. Her classes are based on traditional yoga guidelines, including practical techniques to teach breathing, asanas (yoga postures), meditation and relaxation. The sessions are imaginative, fun and include warm-up exercises and yoga sequences choreographed to music, singing, dancing and creative movement activities.
Her intention is to one day establish a home base for Yoga Wonderland, which will bring yoga to children of ALL abilities, focusing on children with special needs. She envisions this center as being a safe haven and community, where children of ALL abilities can come to participate in yoga classes and other complementary modalities (Dance Therapy, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Massage Therapy, Physical Therapy, Adapted Sports, Pet Therapy, Creative Expression/Self-Empowerment/Self-Esteem classes, and tools to encourage healthy lifestyles etc.,) which will empower and encourage them to shine their lights brightly. She expects the offerings at Yoga Wonderland will evolve and grow as she learns from her students because they after all are her greatest and wisest teachers.
Martha believes that an environment such as the one that Yoga Wonderland will provide is something that is truly needed. Many young individuals with special needs, especially if they have severe physical challenges that preclude them from being independent with activities of daily living (ADL’s), have little to no opportunities for extracurricular activities. While NYC special education public schools provide nicely for their students while they are of school age and during school hours, there is essentially few, if any, places for them to go after school or on the weekends. Young individuals with disabilities miss out on the chance to socialize and have leisure time, which we all know is so important for one’s health and wellbeing. This becomes even more crucial after these students graduate school. More often than not, graduates with disabilities are deemed unsuitable candidates for employment or Adult Day Programs because of the high level of assistance they require with ADL’s and because many programs are not hospitable to wheelchairs. As a result, their futures are hopeless, depressing and sad. The concept for Blissful Bedrooms and Yoga Wonderland was conceived because of this unfortunate reality and together with her husband. she founded the not-for-profit, 501(c)3 corporation, Passion for Compassion, Inc, which encompasses these two programs.
Young individuals with physical challenges rarely have the opportunity to engage in group sports/activities with others, especially “typical” or “able-bodied” ones. Sadly, inclusion usually means that the person in the wheelchair sits on the sidelines and watches as their able-bodied peers run around and have fun. If they happen to be in the way, they are simply pushed aside. Yoga Wonderland will be a community where everyone will be made to feel comfortable, at home, and as an active and involved member. It will be a place where individuals with special needs can interact with their peers, learn new and creative skills, feel empowered and valued and simply have fun! Yoga Wonderland will foster an atmosphere where laughter and smiles abound, friendships are forged, and encouragement and respect come natural. In addition, Yoga Wonderland will be unique in that young individuals with disabilities will interact, without boundaries, with “able-bodied” or typically developing individuals. Both will learn enormous lessons, such as compassion, patience, acceptance and teamwork. It will be obvious to anyone who is part of, or visits, the Yoga Wonderland community that our differences aren’t as great as our similarities. Yoga Wonderland – A place where young individuals of all abilities unite to shine their light!
It is Martha’s belief and the core tenet of Yoga Wonderland that every being has a life purpose, regardless of their physical/mental challenges and abilities. She has found that many of the young individuals with disabilities that she has worked with feel like they are “mistakes” and that they have no place in this world, nothing to contribute. Many feel like they are a burden to their caregivers/society and that they deserve very little. Martha knows this is completely untrue and she wants them to unequivocally understand that as well. She believes that by exposing our children to the ancient and spiritual practice of yoga, as well as other healing/creative arts, we are promoting balance and equanimity in our young ones and encouraging them to follow their heart’s desire or life path, without the need to compete or measure themselves against others abilities or accomplishments. In this way, they will come to feel empowered, and will know that there is room for all of us to succeed and be prosperous in this world and it doesn’t have to be at the expense or misfortune of another. It will become clear through their positive experiences at Yoga Wonderland that we are all unmistakably connected and one. This understanding leads to adults who are tolerant, compassionate, responsible, and contribute to strong communities and eventually world peace.
If you would like to contribute to our mission and have resources and/or ideas you would like to share, please do not hesitate to contact Martha at Martha@blissfulbedrooms.org. Please read more about our vision for Yoga Wonderland by visiting our sister website Yogawonderland.org