This article originally appeared in the Sioux City Journal.

No one passed out bubble gum cigars or champagne flutes when a baby girl was born. “I’m sorries” replaced smiles. All celebrations ceased because Sawyer had Down syndrome.

Ryan Allen looked into his daughter’s slightly slanted eyes and thought she was beautiful, but at the same time, the diagnosis was devastating.

Healing began on a yoga mat.

His wife, Meghan Nelson, a physical therapist, has been bending, breathing and bonding with Sawyer on the mat since she was 3 weeks old. At first, it was all about getting her into a low-impact exercise routine for toning and strengthening, but it became so much more.

A month before Sawyer’s first birthday last fall, they started Lumin Therapy to provide yoga-based community workshops and private in-home sessions for individuals and families with special needs.

They’re already expanding and reaching out to other underserved populations.

What helped was receiving $4,000 from Dream Big Grow Here, a statewide grant competition for Iowa entrepreneurs, and $5,000 from finishing first in Innovation Market, a social think-tank put on by the Sioux City Growth Organization.

The fifth grade class at Clark Elementary School also raised $350 for the startup. Allen and Nelson were presented with a novelty check in the form of an 11-by-14-inch sheet of paper decorated with rainbows and a unicorn.

The grant money will help pay for equipment marketing, research and training.

In the spring, Allen went to Kansas City for a three-day intensive workshop, focused on mindful resilience for trauma recovery, hosted by the Veterans Yoga Project. On Memorial Day, he led a donation-based class at {be} Yoga Studio, 1101 Fourth St., to introduce trauma-sensitive yoga to the community.

Bringing yoga to every body, Allen, an associate professor of English at Briar Cliff University, teaches a kids yoga class on Saturdays, and Nelson teaches yoga for special abilities on Sundays, plus a regular vinyasa flow class on Tuesdays, all at Evolve Yoga & Wellness, 411 Pearl St.

They’ve also been doing an all-ages yoga class at Gigi’s Playhouse, a Down syndrome achievement center, on the second Thursday of every month.

For now, Lumin Therapy operates as a mobile business and that’s how it will continue for the next couple years.

“We want to do it right,” he said. “We want to meet the needs and meet them very effectively. If it organically grows from there, great. That’s where we’ll go. If it doesn’t, then we’re doing our little small piece of the pie to help our community be a better place to live.”

As for Sawyer, it’s hard to tell how much she’s benefited from yoga because she’s being doing it her whole life. She’s 18 months old now. Her development is delayed, a symptom of Down syndrome, but she scoots around on the floor and gets into everything that she’s not supposed to touch, just like any other toddler.

“She’s not walking at this point, but she’ll do this all on her own time,” Nelson said. “She’s not saying as many words as the boys were at this age, but she says momma and dadda and her other first word was book.”

That makes the professor proud.

“If her next word is yoga, then I’ll know we’ve done our job,” he said. “Books and yoga, that’s all we need. That’s my recipe for being happy.”

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