Many American’s have caught on to the yoga craze, including myself and many of my friends. Why? Because its relaxing, fun and makes you more attune to your body, while building strength and flexibility. When I learned that yoga teachers were offering classes for children with autism (not too common, but hopefully there will be more!), it made complete sense to me, because there are so many benefits. First, many children with autism are constantly moving, have a lack of coordination control and low muscle tone. The calm nature of yoga and the strength building exercise involved could do a lot of good in building these skills. Resent research supports that yoga can also improve posture through imitation (Radhakrishna 2010). By learning how to correctly complete a pose, the child must follow mimic the body movements of the teacher or parent, and this skill of imitation can be carried on to teach other movements or expressions.
If you’ve ever gone to a yoga class, you’ll know that many of the poses are named after animals. While it may seem difficult to get a child interested in doing yoga poses, when they are named Downward Facing Dog and Cobra, the task seems a lot more fun. In learning these poses, children will also develop skills such as paying attention for long periods of time, and patience. Parents can refer to these poses outside of yoga classes when the children are required to sit still or stand still. For instance in a school reading circle, the teacher can remind the child to sit still by saying, “Be a lotus while I’m reading.” Remember: you can always make up a yoga position or change the names to make them more kid friendly!
There are many ways for children to learn the yoga poses as well, from videos to books to classes. These yoga classes are set up in a “Mommy and Me” structure, allowing bonding time between the child and parent, while provide a community of families that understand one’s situation. Parents, who already know these poses, could also teach their kids at home, whenever the child is in need of a soothing activity. This could be a great way for Mom or Dad to relax while also helping out the little one!
Radhakrishna S. Application of integrated yoga therapy to increase imitation skills in children with autism spectrum disorder. Int J Yoga (Jan 2010) ;3(1):26-30.