Yoga for Persons with Special Needs
By: Leigh Maxey
I had the privilege of offering yoga and meditation to children and adults with special needs last summer. What a gift to see the joy and peace that it brought to everyone in the class! Each has their own beautiful spirit and, in my opinion, they are naturally more spiritual than most of us, who have to work at it. Possibly, because they are very quick to open themselves both internally and externally.
The students who had experienced yoga before, could not wait for the class to begin and the students experiencing yoga for the first time absolutely fell in love with it and wanted more.
I demonstrated some basic poses and assisted a few with techniques. I am always so impressed with how flexible people with Down Syndrome are, and they are very eager to show you!
During savasana , I shared the Tibetan Singing Bowl with each student so they could experience sound healing. People with autism either love the vibration of the bowls, or do not like it at all. It only takes a second to determine which is the case for each one, as their inherent senses are more open than the average person.
I am looking forward to more opportunities of sharing yoga and meditation with the special needs population. It is so beautiful to witness them glowing as their light already shines very brightly!
Not only do people with Down Syndrome and other special needs benefit from Yoga, but those who have autism can especially benefit. I have briefly explained 6 reasons why yoga is such a positive activity for those with autism.
Yoga & Autism: 6 Reasons Why It Works
- Advances Motor Skills
Often, those with autism have obstacles building their motor skills and dexterity. Yoga assists with building their muscles, flexibility, balance, responsiveness and attentiveness.
- Increases Self Confidence
Unfortunately, a person with poor coordination is often bullied or made fun of by others. Since yoga improves motor skills and balance, they tend to fit in better with their peers and can be more active and social. The more communication and positive contact they have with their peers then the more their self confidence builds and the more content and happy they become.
- Calms Sensory Systems
People who have autism have a very sensitive nervous system. They are often easily over stimulated with lights, sounds, too many bright colors, even tastes and smells. Since yoga emphasizes a calming atmosphere including low lighting, serene music, peaceful voices with closed eyes, their nervous systems become relaxed which leads to a tranquil state of mind and body.
- Calming Methods
Yoga teaches those with autism how to cope when getting stressed or nervous. Explaining new ways to breathe by focusing on the breath and teaching them how to visualize a positive situation brings a peaceful state of mind and body. These techniques can be utilized by not only the children but also the parents. They can be used anywhere and at anytime for self regulation.
- Focus on Feelings
Not only are the muscles stimulated for coordination, but the emotional brain is also. While in class the students are listening to the music, following directions and listening to their inner self. This focuses them on identifying how they are feeling. Parents can also use music as a therapy to help their child focus and become attentive of their emotions.
It is always helpful to a person who is autistic if their lives are orderly. Yoga with the same teacher and class time will help them feel organized. Similar class routines, poses and music can also be beneficial and will develop a sense of familiarity and consistence. These are always positive aspects to for assisting an autistic person to learn everyday coping mechanisms.
These 6 points I have mentioned for autism also apply to others with a variety of special needs. Everyone, special needs or not, can benefit from finding a peaceful place within themselves where they can identify with their emotions and find an inner connection.
For more information on Leigh Maxey:
Epiphysis Center, Denison http://epiphysiscenter.com/
Yoga Chikitsa, Richardson http://www.yogachikitsaayurveda.com/
Email: [email protected]