Kate Jacobson knows what it means to overcome obstacles.
She’s the parent of a child with special needs, and when she couldn’t find the educational resources he needed in South Carolina, she moved with her husband to Savannah so their son could attend the Matthew Reardon Center for Autism.
However, due to a bureaucratic issue, the longtime social worker and psychotherapist couldn’t open a practice in Georgia.
Undeterred, she decided to reinvent herself: She completed the 200+ hour teacher training at Savannah Yoga Center last year — a feat in itself.
“I was the oldest person in the class!” recalls the vivacious strawberry blonde, now 58. “At first I came up with all kinds of negative stories about myself around that, then it opened into this amazing process. I realized I could create a place where people could come and work with their obstacles using yoga.”
The result is Ganesha’s Place, a sunny former art studio on the corner of Barnard and 40th Streets. With all the hallmarks of a serene yoga oasis (colorful mats and pillows stacked along the walls, peaceful flute music flowing from an iPod, a basket to put your shoes), it offers a unique schedule geared to atypical yoga students.
Jacobson tapped Little Lights Yoga director Jamie Patillo to teach a class for special needs children after Patillo worked with Jacobson’s 16 year–old son, Mikyle, who has autism. An occupational therapist for 14 years, Patillo uses yoga in her work with kids with autism and ADHD and has seen firsthand the benefits of teaching deep breathing techniques and stretching.
“Yoga is a natural fit for special needs. It improves strength and coordination, it can improve attention and focus, it’s calming,” says Patillo. “Any kid who is exposed to yoga will get the techniques to cope with all that life throws at you.”
Consistency is key, she adds. While it can be a challenge to get them interested and keep them still, she’s had clients like Mikyle take big strides.
“At first, Mikyle and I could barely get through one pose a session. Now when I show up he already has the yoga mat rolled out.”
Coping skills are also taught as part of Jacobson’s Trauma Sensitive Yoga classes, which incorporate her psychotherapy skills and as well as her experience working with veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)as far back as the early ‘80s. (PTSD continues to plague thousands of vets; last week, Newsweek ran an article about the increasing number of suicides among soldiers who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
Jacobson also trained in trauma healing at the Kripalu Institute in Western Massachusetts, and her classes are appropriate for those with PTSD as well as anyone who has suffered high–stress situations, including abuse and natural disasters. Ganesha’s Place is the only location in the state to offer iRest, a deep relaxation technique also being used at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethseda, MD. Jacobson says she’ll offer free classes to any veteran.
“I had two brothers who were in Vietnam and they suffered horribly,” she laments. “I so wish they had had access to things like yoga.”
Also on the calendar at Ganesha’s are gentle yoga, the physically–invigorating Empowerment class, Restorative Yoga, Mindful Walking meditation and jubilant Hoop Dance.
Other services, including Thai massage and Reiki, are offered out of the space. Jacobson hopes to build a community based on compassion and self–inquiry, where folks can “tap into that deep part of ourselves we don’t often take the time to listen to.”
The name of the studio, which had its grand opening May 5, has a two–fold meaning for Jacobson: In yogini terms, Ganesha is the elephant–headed Hindu god whose task is to remove obstructions according to one’s karma and oversee new beginnings; he is often beseeched and thanked for prosperity and abundance. The colorful deity also has personal meaning in the form of a fuzzy stuffed elephant called “Ganosh” that accompanies her son just about everywhere.
“Ganosh goes upstairs at bedtime and comes back down when it’s time for school. He sees Mikyle off when the bus comes and greets him when he comes home,” she writes on her website. “He is one amazing elephant.”
As for the changes the elephant of karma has brought to her, Jacobson has nothing but gratitude:
“Learning to navigate the obstacles and embrace new beginnings has made us stronger and more resilient.”
For full schedule go to www.ganeshasplace.com.