Yoga is a growing industry, and the physical and emotional benefits that come with regular practice are well-documented.
In 2013, more than 24 million American adults took a yoga class, and the joys of this wellness activity are even spreading to our youngest generations.
For parents of children with special needs, encouraging your child to practice yoga can be especially useful in aiding his or her physical and mental growth.
Yoga is a discipline that’s aimed at creating perfect harmony between our bodies and our minds. When children with special needs learn how to be aware of their bodies, this physical self-awareness will also be carried over into their emotional and psychological worlds, leading to improved self-control.
Autistic children who practice yoga are said to experience a reduction in anxiety, aggression, pain, obsessive behaviors and self-stimulatory activities. And, if your child struggles with his or her motor skills, yoga is a highly feasible physical activity because its motions occur slowly, calmly and smoothly.
Enrolling your child in a special needs-geared group yoga class is a great way to reap these physical and emotional benefits—all while developing his or her social skills.
I know every child is different, and it often isn’t easy to find activities that yours loves to partake in. So here’s some advice on introducing your child to the relaxing and widely beneficial world of yoga:
Ease your child into yoga.
Some children have a hard time functioning in a group setting, so for them, it would be wise to begin with one-on-one instruction, then introduce them to group sessions later. Nevertheless, a yoga environment is quiet and peaceful, so you need not worry about the loud, upsetting noises that generally accompany group activity classes. The light music that accompanies yoga exercises has proven to be a powerful instrument for soothing children.
In one yoga teacher’s words, “The yoga classroom may very well be the only place a child with a disability is really able to relax during the week.”
Don’t give up if your child is hesitant to try yoga or the first class doesn’t go well. Try encouraging his or her participation through positive affirmation, doing yoga alongside him or her in the classroom or practicing at home in your spare time.
No one knows your child better than you do. I’m confident that you can find the right motivation that gets him or her excited about doing yoga. And once your child begins regular practice, you both will immediately begin to see the physical and mental benefits.
Create the best yoga curriculum for your child.
I strongly recommend steering your child with special needs toward hatha yoga. It’s one of the safest forms of yoga, and nothing is done using force. Instead, yogis learn how to slowly progress into postures by using gravity and their own body weight.
Please keep in mind, though, that any type of yoga needs to be customized for children with special needs. Be sure you find an instructor who is trained and experienced in working with children who have different types of disorders. Before classes begin, it’s crucial to explain your child’s condition to the instructor and give general advice on how to best approach and communicate with him or her.
Ultimately, yoga needs to be fun for your child. This shouldn’t be an activity that he or she dreads participating in, so make sure the class you select incorporates games and other entertaining elements.
Parents and children should go into yoga sessions with patience and flexibility. It’s a great tool that will surely help your child get the physical exercise he or she needs—with added emotional and mental benefits to boot!
Author: Rebecca Dean
Apprentice Editor: Taija Jackson / Editor: Catherine Monkman