Managing Stress and Enhancing Engagement: Our Journey

During the last few months, the LIFESMART message is clarifying and organizing around the twin themes of managing stress and engagement in learning. This sharpening of our message has happened both due to the challenges we faced last year and through the solutions that seem to be emerging today.

Thanks to Dhrov Tikoo for the beautiful creative representation for the theme of this post. Movement and dance is one of the key tools for balancing stress management and engagement! We don’t have to lower expectations to manage stress. We can find ways to challenge neurodivergent ways without triggering the stress response!

Invisible Problems, Unexpected Solutions

Stress management is one of the most important issues in the invisible problems, unexpected solutions category. It was not talked about when Ananth was growing up. Even today, I see few people talking about the enormous amounts of stress parents and their neurodivergent children face daily.

We have been more fortunate than most people. Within a few months of starting public school, we knew it was not a good fit for Ananth. Our journey to homeschooling began. While we had not heard of this term, Ananth has been fortunate to learn in a low-arousal environment for much of his life. We lived in city where there were walking paths not only within the community but all through the city. Two daily walks has been a part of our lives for a long time. Daily lessons on the walk has been a mode of learning we have used for two decades. We also followed a movement-rich, arts integrated, and storytelling focus curriculum (Enki approach based on Waldorf). Ananth also loved folding with Wholemovement ( Later, he told me that this was a peaceful and relaxing activity. Because of our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) experience, we also did many activities together around the house and in the neighborhood.

So the solution was there for us before we even knew of the problem! We had a healthy daily routine that reduced stress and increased learning.

Managing Parent Stress

One important stress management tool for me was conversations. My neighbor homeschooled four children. She is very knowledgeable. I would go to her home several times a week. She would give me suggestions and resources. Now, there is a lot of information. The amount of information flowing through social media is overwhelming. I wonder how parents navigate this information and do anything!

Conversations are rooted in a knowledge of people and situations. My neighbor would give me specific suggestions based on where we were at that time. This is one reason that I am moving towards weekly workshops as a place where we gather and talk. I have been exploring this possibility for some time but LIFESMART development has reached a point where this is possible only now.

The divided circle (based on Ananth’s Wholemovement) has two sides – stress management and engagement. It has been formed into a tetrahedron with additional folds.

Balanced attention to stress management and engagement results in sustained progress.

Playing Chutes and Ladders

While we were fortunate to discover many stress management solutions without being aware of the problem, we were not always that lucky. After much progress through RDI, Ananth wanted to try a school. We chose a small Waldorf school thinking that Waldorf approach and school size would make it a good environment for him. Unfortunately, it did not work out and Ananth ended up in a highly stressed place. It took us a couple of years to get back on track.

In the meantime, we discovered MNRI (Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration) and Bharatanatyam. Again, we did not realize this at the time but now we had made another important transition. In addition to designing the environment and experiences for low stress, MNRI and dance had started developing Ananth’s own capacity for stress management and engagement. We continued on this path making steady progress until COVID times.

COVID lockdowns, uncertainty, sudden and unexpected changes slowly brought stress back. Other factors added to the stress. We had our second major movement down a big chute. But while this experience was difficult, it was different from our earlier experience. We had a whole set of tools and practices for managing stress. After 10 years of Bharatanatyam, Ananth was also better equipped to deal with it.

Theater Arts for Holistic Development: The Ramana Way

Again, a solution came when we were least expecting it. Since we knew that we would have to spend some time in Bengaluru each year to be with my mother, I was excited when Shri Ujwal Jagadeesh from the Ramana Maharshi Center for Learning (RMCL) taught a class for us in our Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) course. I asked Dr. Ambika Kameshwar whether Ananth could learn from him when we were in Bengaluru. Ujwal’s integration of Ramana Maharshi’s teachings, TAHD, and Bharatanatyam is opening doors to stress management that we did not know existed.

Ananth says these experiences are quietening his mind. He calls these experiences a vaccination against stress! It has only been a few months and we will know more over time.

Is it possible for autistic children and adults to practice emotional regulation and stress management and discover pathways to resilience?

I think the answer is that it is possible. But first we must recognize the debilitating effect of stress on parents and neurodivergent children. In my view, the rush to fix the child creates a lot more stress than we experienced when Ananth was young. My path is clear:

I want to help parents see that stress does not have to be a way of life. Neurodivergent children and their parents can have a peaceful life and slowly work towards development. Development is a lifelong process. Neurodivergent children may not be able to follow the traditional path but we can allow them to develop and flourish in their own way.

The first step is for parents to learn to manage their stress. Seek the right conversations. People who will help you find your way forward slowly. Parents need mindful conversations that show them the way and not more and more information. I have been struggling with the blog for this reason. Should I be adding to the information overload? I am now seeing a way to align my blog with conversations I am having with parents. My blog will be a place to harvest and synthesize learnings from conversations that I can feed into future conversations!


Reduce Stress and Enhance Engagement through Imitation – I

Why use imitation?

  • Imitation reduces stress by reducing use of verbal prompts, instructions and directions, and performance demands, reduces stress: Many neurodivergent learners experience considerable stress and anxiety. Low arousal techniques have evolved as a way of teaching neurodivergent learners. See an overview here. Some techniques are reducing demands, reducing talking, providing quiet time, and including movement. An imitation-based approach can be used to create low-arousal environments.
  • Imitation expands opportunities for engagement: Learners can engage in many ways by moving their body, using facial expressions, hand gestures etc. Imitation is based on observation and use of the body Mindful use of imitation changes communication between teachers and learners. Imitation provides a opportunities for those with language processing and other challenges to stay engaged in lessons.
  • Imitation creates opportunities for parent engagement: When a guide uses imitation as the core teaching process, there are many opportunities for parents to engage their child in simple and meaningful ways. Lessons taught through imitation can be repeated by the parent with the child. As the learner gets used to this process, the parent can routine use this process to provide predictability and variation in the learning process.

Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise

Varied experiences over the last two decades have brought us to our basic learning process:

  • Imitate
  • Repeat
  • Memorize
  • Improvise

In today’s world, three of the four steps in this process (imitation, repetition, and memorization) seem unfashionable. The push is for creativity and innovation! However, I believe that imitation, repetition, and memorization support creativity rather than hinder it. We learn from a model, practice repeatedly, store things in memory and eventually improvise and use in our own way.

So I was very happy to read this blog post by Simmi Vasu on imitation. Imitation is not just the first step towards learning for babies and small children, it is a process we can use throughout our lives!

As Simmi notes: “Imitation skills are one of the most important developmental milestones. It clearly shows that the child is environmentally present, he is aware of his surroundings and is responding to the stimulations he receives from them.”

As Ananth learned Bharatanatyam for over ten years, this process slowly came back into focus for me. As I see it being used repeatedly in Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) lessons, I am learning more about this process and applying it in a more mindful way. Here is an example of a video demonstrating imitation. Imitation is often used to teach movement and dance.

While imitation is a poweful way to teach any individual, there are additional benefits for neurodivergent individuals such as stress reduction and expanding opportunities for interaction beyond speech. It can also be challenging to implement imitation with neurodivergent individuals because they may have difficulty reproducing movements, gestures etc.

Learning Drama

Ananth’s drama teacher, Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna of RASA India uses this process to teach drama to differently-abled adults. Students prepared for the RASA Day performance on February 23, 2023 using this process. Movements, gestures, and facial expressions were learned through imitation in class. Then, Ananth repeated these movements, gestures, and facial expression at home. Repetition led to memorization. Finally, one has to be well-prepared but be ready to improvise as things unfold on stage. Read about Ananth’s drama experience using this process here.

Learning Dance and Storytelling

Ananth also uses the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process for learning dance and storytelling. Parents use imitation and repetition with young children. However, we often do not use it for older children or adults. Neurodivergent children may have missed developmental milestones and have language processing and other challenges. Hence, it is useful to implement the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process in a more deliberate way.

Here is Ananth’s first story of the month created using this process:

Enhancing Learning with SMART Projects

Our basic process is

Imitate –> Repeat –> Memorize –> Improvise

The monthly SMART project focuses and organizes this basic learning process.

Key benefits:

  1. Ananth has a SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-framed) project to complete each month. Having a SMART project keeps him focused.
  2. Since the stories are attached to aduvus (basic movement patterns in Bharatanatyam) or hastas (hand gestures), Ananth has a narrow and clearly defined set of skills to practice each month. He practices other skills but the targeted practice for the story of the month is proving to be a very helpful part of learning.
  3. Ananth is practicing the story until he can narrate it fluently. This process is creating opportunities for memorizing and recalling language, thus growing his oral language capacities.

Author DrDasaratha Rama

Creative representation for this blog is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Shubh Pathak


The Story of Vivekananda – The TAHD Way

RASA Day 2023

RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya) teaches theater arts to individuals with different abilities. They use the Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) approach developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, founder of RASA. I have been learning theater arts with RASA since 2020.

This is my second performance for RASA Day and my third drama performance with the Ramana Sunritya Aalaya (RASA) theater group. The previous two plays (Jatayu Moksham and Krihna Dootam) were in Tamil. But this play is in English with a Hindi song!

Thank You CreativeSaathi Morpheus Nag for the beautiful portrait of Swami Vivekananda.

Now, I am familiar with how RASA theater productions work. When I did my first play, it was much harder because I had no idea how the process worked. I also did not know anyone in

RASA. I was an online student and had not met other students. But now I go to RASA and know many of the students there.

I enjoyed RASA Day 2023. I liked hanging out with my RASA group before the performance. I also met people from the Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning (RMCL) group. When I was with the RASA group waiting for the show, teachers from RMCL also came and said hello to everyone. I was also happy that my two grandmothers, aunt, and my mother’s cousin’s family attended the event. Some of my relatives watched the performance by livestream.

Watch the recording of RASA Day 2023. My play Swami Vivekananda starts at 2 hours and 1minute into the video.

Preparing for the performance

My aunt volunteers at the Ramakrishna Math. As soon as she knew that I was going to participate in this theater production, she got me some books about Swami Vivekananda.

I started reading the books. I also watched a video of a prior performance. I listened to the audio and learned my parts.

Imitate, Repeat, Memorize, and Improvise

This is my third drama performance. In each performance, we follow the imitate, repeat, memorize, and improvise process.

Imitate: We learn by imitating Dr. Vaishnavi Poorna, our drama teacher. We have to learn how to position ourselves on stage, how to coordinate movements with other students, and how to coordinate movements with music. We learn these elements through imitation.

Repeat: I repeat my part daily with the video. My mother helps me practice at home. Sometimes, she stands in the place of other characters to help me practice.

Memorize: As I practice, I memorize my part. I check and make sure I remember my part completely.

Improvise: Even if you are well-prepared, we have to be prepared to improvise! Things don’t go exactly as planned on stage.

Swami Vivekananda and Ramana Maharshi

Since I learn about Ramana Maharshi in my dance classes, I am curious about Swami Vivekananda and Ramana Maharshi. How were they similar? How were they different?

100 Days of Reading

After finishing this performance, I will be starting a 100 Days of Reading project. During this project, I plan to read about Ramana Maharshi and Swami Vivekananda. I also want to read the Ramayana and Mahabharata since my previous performances were from Ramayana and Mahabharatha. I will start my reading from what I have learned through Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) experiences. First, I will finish reading the books on Swami Vivekananda that I started during the play.


Ray I. 2006. The Story of Vivekananda. Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata 700013. ISBN 978-81-85301-65-5

Swami Raghaveshananda. 2022. Swami Vivekananda Pictorial. Sri Ramakrishna Math, Chennai,

Theater arts is not just about performances. Once you know the tools of TAHD, you can use them in many ways. For example, I am planning to use my TAHD experiences to enrich my reading experiences. As mentioned earlier, interactions with family member and community. To learn more, join our group here.

Author Ananth Raghunandan


Your Child is not a Problem to Solve!

“मन – day की बात SpecialSaathi के साथ”

Enriching Family Interactions with Theater Arts

A therapy mindset, constant stream of information on problems and challenges, and many other factors can get parents into a constant problem-solving mode! Your mindset matters! I was delighted to hear from two parents last week that after being in the LIFESMART group for a few months, they have started relaxing and starting focusing more on rich interactions with their child. Remember, your child will develop for life. So will you.

The question to consider is:

How can you bond with your child, have enjoyable interactions and support his development?

Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) offers a pathway. Theater arts provide a set of tools for engaging and enjoyable interactions between family members. The five tools of Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) developed by Dr. Ambika Kameshwar include movement and dance, music and rhythm, storytelling, drama, and arts and crafts. Parents of babies and young children intuitively sing to their child, move with their child, tell stories to their child, use dramatic expressions to interact with their child, and do arts and crafts with their child. So we have all encountered TAHD elements in one way or another.

Enhancing Family Interactions: The TAHD Way
The ingredients are familiar but how do we use them in a mindful way to achieve different outcomes?
How can we weave in TAHD throughout the day to enrich interactions between the parent and child?
I am starting with this question in the second part of our 100-Days of Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) Lab to shift attention from “fixing” the child’s challenges to creating the right family interactions to help the child grow in the long-term. Join the TAHD 100-Day Lab here.

1.TAHD is not a drama course!
It is a way of teaching, learning, and living!

2. Your child is not a problem to solve.
TAHD gives a way of engaging your child in a more joyful way while addressing varied learning and development needs.

3. Evolve a more intuitive parenting style
One of Ananth’s therapists used to say that much of parenting is subconscious. It is very difficult to parent with ease with thousands of objectives and challenges running around in our brains all the time. TAHD can help you discover a more intuitive approach while addressing your child’s challenges.

A Guided Tour of TAHD
We are starting from Day 51 this week. As my goal in starting this group was to encourage parents to think about TAHD and support them, I will organize my daily shares as a guided tour. While TAHD is new to me, I have used elements of the framework for years because of our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) experience, Waldorf/Enki education experience, and because of Ananth’s Bharatanatyam experience.

Since LIFESMART is my way of looking at development of neurodivergent (and neurotypical!) children and adults, I will use LIFESMART elements too in my presentation
L: Learning daily | I: Interests | F: Family interactions | E: Engagement with Community

Worksheets and Resources
I will also start sharing a few worksheets and resources that I am developing for parents to think about TAHD and its application in a systematic way. Please review and respond to posts when you can as it will help me develop such resources for parents

About Our Journey

Ananth started his journey with RASA (Ramana Sunritya Aalaya in November 2020). I discovered TAHD and decided to do the four levels of TAHD courses to help parents learn TAHD, work with TAHD professionals, and realize the benefits of RASA programs. Dr. Ambika Kameshwar is featured as the changemaker for February. Read about her journey here.

I completed level 1 of my training this week.

Many parents get certified in Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) etc. Until I found TAHD, I was not moved to get certified in anything. Theater Arts for Holistic Development (TAHD) is the only approach I have been moved to get certified in even though I know nothing about arts. I do know something about parenting neurodivergent children and I think TAHD is a pathway for more joyful parenting.

Dear parents,

My message to you:

Yes, you can! It is possible to experience joy and happiness while parenting neurodivergent children while addressing their challenges and putting in enormous effort every day for many years. It is question of how you see your role as a parent, what you prioritize, and where you invest your time and resources. Choose well!



The Changemakersaathi story of Dr.Ambika Kameshwar Founder-Director RASA

Dear community members,

We feel honored and privileged to announce our February changemakersaathi story, featuring the renowned danseuse, vocalist, scholar, and teacher, Dr. Ambika Kameshwar. She is a true artist with international acclaim, who has shared her art with people all over the world.

With over 50 choreographed dance dramas and 10 complete Bharatanatyam Margams, Dr. Kameshwar is a true master of classical dance. As a music composer, she has composed music for several dance dramas and devotional albums, making her a well-rounded artist.

Join us in celebrating the work of Dr. Ambika Kameshwar, a true changemaker in the world of classical dance and music. Let her story inspire you to pursue your passions and make a positive impact in our community. Presenting “Margdarshi- The story of Dr.Ambika Kameshwar “

Ramana Sunritya Aalaya
Kalaimamani Dr. Ambika Kameshwar is a noted danseuse, vocalist, scholar and teacher of international acclaim who has travelled the world sharing her art with all. She is a choreographer who has choreographed over 50 dance dramas and more than 10 complete Bharatanatyam Margams. As a music composer, she has composed music for over 50 dance dramas and several devotional albums as well. She is a loved and respected teacher of classical dance and music and is well known for her ‘pattu class’ on Raj Tv and earlier on Jaya tv.

Dr.Ambika is held by all in high regard as the Pioneer of Applying Theatre Arts as a tool of Holistic Development for people with multiple challenges.

Her Ph.D. was on Natyabhinaya and she did her Post Doctoral Fellowship on the Application of Natya as a holistic developmental tool, as a Senior Fellow of the Govt. of India. She guides PhD Scholars as a registered Guide of scholars pursuing their Doctorate degree at Vel’s University, Pallavaram, Chennai.

Her dance and music career spans 50 years and her teaching career, 35 years.

“Dr. Ambika is fortunate and blessed to have imbibed and experienced the richness of spirituality, the joy and strength of which she expresses continually in all spheres of life”.

She served as a Member of the Advisory Board of PRASAR BHARTI & of SOUTH ZONE CULTURAL CENTRE till 2010, and as a Board Member of The KALAKSHETRA Foundation till December 2013.

She is the Founder Director of RASA – Ramana Sunritya Aalaya the organisation through which she fosters the holistic empowerment of one and all – with the inclusion of people with diff abilities – by the structured application of Theatre Arts and its tools.

She has been honoured with several awards, including the highest award of the Rotary – namely the ‘For The Sake Of Honour ‘Award, the Bharata Kala Ratna, Stree Ratna, Acharya Choodamani and the prestigious Kalaimamani Award for the year 2004 by the Tamil Nadu State Government., to mention a few.

Team RASA takes immense pleasure to inform that our Founder, Director Dr Ambika Kameshwar has been awarded the “Puratchi Thalaivi Dr. J Jayalalitha Sirappu” Kalaimamani award from Honble Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu Mr Edappadi Palanisamy and Tamil Nadu Iyal Isai Nataka Mandram.

She had received the Kalaimamani Award in the year 2004 from Dr. J. Jayalalitha.

Story source:-

Video source- RASA India

Creative representation for the ChangemakerSaathi story of Dr.Ambika Kameshwar is done by our extremely talented CreativeSaathi associate Dhrov Tikoo