We are often asked about the benefits that yoga can bring to children with additional needs, so we asked one of our Area Managers, Denyse Whillier, to tell us more. Denyse is running monthly Sunday morning YogaBugs classes for children with additional needs in North East London. (The clip above from Fox News shows the benefits of yoga for children with autism).
“I started to offer these classes following requests from the parents of a local disability forum, the majority of who have children on the autistic spectrum. There’s a shortage of suitable activities for children with additional needs in my area, and little for parents to do with their child. I wasn’t sure how our YogaBugs story-style adventures would work so I piloted a couple of classes over the Easter holidays to find out. If you watched Louis Theroux recent programme ‘Extreme Love’ for the BBC, you’ll have gained an insight into the rewards, stresses and challenges this condition brings.
Story selection was important. Because the classes attracted children of different ages, I chose stories that had broad appeal. We started with ‘Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone.’ For our second adventure, we took a trip around London and the kids chipped in during the class to tell us what sights they’d seen themselves and the best way of getting to each. Teacher, Sarah, was reminded that Charing Cross tube station is not on the Piccadilly line!
For some of the children, simply staying in the room with us and experiencing the class was an achievement. Others were delighted to show us postures they’d learnt beforehand at home. A number of children needed help to balance in Tree pose but gave it a go nevertheless. With consistent encouragement from parents and carers, by the end of the class all of the children were able to lie down in Savasana and enjoy a few minutes of relaxation.”
So here are some reasons why yoga is particularly beneficial for children with special needs:
Relaxation: Yoga soothes the sensory system, and the relaxation response (parasympathetic system) is engaged through forward bending. Encouraging deep, even breathing leads to greater relaxation.
Body/ spatial awareness: Better body awareness is one of the greatest benefits of the yoga practice. Standing and balancing poses help develop stability, strength, and coordination. Poses such as tree, eagle, and dancer provide joint compression. Moving from backbends to forward bends to twists gives the vestibular system (which controls balance) rich input, which helps a child feel calm and grounded.
Self-awareness: All yoga practices are aimed at developing better awareness – of the body, the mind and the breath. Yoga also inherently helps develop a greater sense of self, a feeling of more ease in the world, and a sense that “everything is okay just as it is.”
For further information, see:
“Sensory Integration and How Yoga Helps” from Yoga Chicago’s March/April 2010 magazine by Mira Binzen, E-RYT, RCYT, http://www.yogachicago.com/mar10/mira.shtml
“Yoga and Autism: A rewarding (and challenging) assignment” by Hannah Gould, Published in Yoga Therapy Today December 2010, http://www.nesca-newton.com/Yoga_and_Autism_Hannah_Gould.pdf
“Yoga for Children on the Autism Spectrum” by Jennie Ehleringer, Published in the 2010 edition of International Journal of Yoga Therapy, http://www.yogaforallpdx.com/uploads/IJYT-2010__Ehleringer-Final_.pdf