Yoga: Yoga and Asperger’s, with Keval Brooker

Mike (Keval) Brooker is a longtime yoga practitioner who also has Asperger syndrome, a condition that affects social interaction and can often contribute to a feeling of stuckness. We interviewed him to find out how yoga helps him with getting unstuck. The name Keval, by the way, means “whole” or “absolute”.

Parvati Magazine: In your own words, what is Asperger’s?

Keval Brooker: It’s a form of autism, part of the ASD (autism spectrum disorders). I feel it is like having a major part missing. I feel frustration that I don’t get many unwritten social rules that come naturally for most people — I may take figurative speech literally, can’t read body language, and may not understand [for example] that the person I am talking to really does not want to hear about George C. Scott’s portrayal of General Patton.

In addition, noises, temperatures, smells, etc. can cause meltdowns for people with Asperger’s. We have a preference for sameness — no surprises, no sudden changes — and a need for quiet space.

PMAG: What drew you to yoga initially?

KB: My first introduction to yoga was at summer camp in 1970 or 71 when I was 10 or 11 years old! I started doing yoga again in 1989, at first to help recover from an injury. I wasn’t sure whether I would keep doing yoga, but in late 1989, as I watched the Berlin Wall be demolished, I recognized that there was a wall within myself that I had to tear down. I felt the need to open up to some real growth from within.

PMAG: How has the practice of yoga poses helped you manage Asperger’s?

KB: It gives me a quiet space where I can just be me, where I can discover that my body isn’t always clumsy (poor motor skills are common with Aspies). I experience some softening in my body, once I become aware of where I am holding on to frustration. I feel a little more grounded afterwards.

PMAG: In which way could you see Aspergers perhaps helping your yoga practice?

KB: I’ve built yoga and mantra japa into my daily routine, so the preference for sameness helps me to be regular with my practice.

When I’m doing yoga, I can concentrate on getting into and out of the asana, and what it feels like when I hold the pose.

PMAG: Do you find that Aspergers in any way hinders your yoga practice?

KB: Not with yoga per se. Maybe socializing with other people in a class, or if I get overwhelmed with loud music or high-power incense in a yoga studio.

PMAG: Do you notice a difference in how you relate to yourself and Aspergers since beginning yoga?

KB: I am more gentle and compassionate with myself, at least when I am doing yoga (and by “yoga” I also include doing meditation, mantra, pujas, and other sadhana). I know that Asperger’s affects my social skills, but in no way does it affect my yoga skills! I am at least a tiny bit more accepting of my disability.

PMAG: Do you have any advice for others with Asperger’s who are considering taking up yoga?

KB: My reminder to all beginner yogis is that if you are just starting out, it’s best to find a good teacher, not do it yourself at home. For Aspies, if at all possible, try to find a teacher who has experience with autism/Asperger’s. If that isn’t possible, it might help to explain Asperger’s to your yoga teacher, so they know what you are dealing with inside — and if you are touch-sensitive, make it known.

Since most Aspies like having a standardized daily routine, it shouldn’t be hard to fit yoga in, whether going to classes or practicing at home at a particular time of day.

Remember that yoga is not just a hobby. It’s something you can really practice 24/7.

You can follow links to more of Keval’s interests at his Google Plus page.