Yoga for Children with Autism or Sensory Issues
Jun 05, 2014 02:52AM
Brian has autism. He is ten years old, but in many ways his six-year old sister, Lydia, is his model for behavior. They come to yoga class together and Brian follows his sister’s lead, hissing and stretching into cobra pose, squatting like a frog and stretching forward toward his toes. His favorite part of yoga is meditating and singing affirmations. “I am happy, I am good,” rings out enthusiastically, getting louder as he continues. Vocal modulation is not easy for Brian, but no one minds. He is happy. He is learning self-regulation, through the development of awareness, that is a natural by-product of yoga practice. And, most importantly, he is learning to be himself.
Brian visited with speech-language pathologist Linda Hagood, in Austin, Texas during a Radiant Child Yoga training course. Hagood had taken this course some years before and has had remarkable success using yoga with her children who have sensory processing difference. Brian has memorized much of the book Fly Like A Butterfly: Yoga for Children. He voluntarily uses the chanting and breathing to calm down in school and at bedtime.
Hagood offers this advise for parents who are seeking natural help for their children, “For children like Brian, whose autism profoundly impacts communication and social opportunities, yoga sessions can provide a very special time to share energy and pleasure with family and friends. ‘Time for yoga’ can be ‘time together’, for the child whose primary challenge is finding love, friendship and intimacy. Brian and others with autism often struggle with the dynamics of conversation and complex team sports, but can grasp the importance of connecting to their family and friends during yoga. For some families, it is the first or only activity they can all do together.”
People sometimes ask why children should do yoga. Twenty years ago, that question was most likely asked about martial arts. Now there are classes for children at martial arts studios around every corner. And, like martial arts, yoga develops many wonderful qualities in children. Beside the obvious benefits of exercising the physical body, yoga sharpens the child’s ability to calm down and focus. It cultivates confidence and self-discipline. Many find that yoga, when practiced regularly, helps children become more aware of their thoughts and feelings. From this awareness, changes and growth in new and positive directions can blossom.
Sensory processing differences are often present in autism, learning disabilities, and ADHD. An increasing number of pediatric therapists and teachers are being trained in children’s yoga with great results. Some obvious benefits are chanting and toning, using the breath, posture and exercises, deep relaxation and meditation/quiet time.
Use of sound vibration and vocalization is calming and helps to focus attention. This encourages development of language and the physical ability to speak. Deep breathing has a calming effect. Children are able to learn to use their breath to self-calm. Practicing breathing encourages the development of breath support for speech and postural stability. Postures and exercises help with all developmental aspects of gross motor skills, including general body awareness and position in space. Many exercises use cross-body movements which help with brain-balancing and organization of the nervous system. Even a few brief moments of quiet stillness can have beneficial effects for children who rarely stop moving. During deep relaxation, use visualization techniques. Meditation/quiet time improves attention span, removes anxiety and frees the mind from clutter, so that it is more available for learning new things.
Shakta Kaur Khalsa is one of the world’s leading experts on children and yoga. She is a trained yoga professional at the highest level (ERYT-500) and was named one of the top five Kundalini Yoga teachers in the world by Yoga Journal. She studied under the direct guidance of Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga. She is the author of five well-known yoga books, including the classic Fly Like A Butterfly: Yoga for Children and Kundalini Yoga. To learn more, visit ChildrensYoga.com.