Necesidades Especiales Plaza Famila Primaria - Elementary

Yoga for Children with Special Needs

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Photo: Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz. All Rights Reserved.

Both of my children started yoga a few months ago.  For years I have heard that yoga can be beneficial for children with special needs and especially for kids on the autism spectrum but I wondered how my children would do. My little man can’t sit still for more than a minute and has a hard time staying focused, getting distracted by objects in a room and sounds outside. On the other hand my daughter struggles with motor planning, has low muscle tone and difficulty with coordination and balance. I practiced yoga a few years ago and I really felt that yoga had helped me manage stress and anxiety better and had improved my flexibility but I do believe it’s all depends on finding a good teacher so I was thrilled when, without looking for it, I met someone who seemed like the perfect fit for my children.

Every child with special needs is different and has different challenges so it’s important to find what works for each individual child weather they are in a private or group class. Instructor Inga Balciuniene, from Yoga and Massage Studio in Cape Coral, tells us: “In my classes we practice breathing, yoga postures and relaxation. I observe my students looking for what works for them and what does not. I make my classes easy and enjoyable for them. Every student is discovering their body through yoga and has to find what is most comfortable and suitable for them. And every class, step by step, we are doing more and more… You just need to be patient. I let them know that they have to be patient with their bodies, too. Nobody is perfect and you just have to work on your body from were you are today, and the most important part is to enjoy your yoga practice!

Yoga classes for children with special needs usually include an integrated series of balanced yoga poses, specialized breathing exercises and relaxation techniques. Because children are visually oriented, many teachers add a visual element like using yoga cards for children or having a colored picture of each pose so that the child can have it near his or her mat. This is also helpful for children who may have language-based learning disabilities.

Benefits of Yoga for Special Needs Children

  • Calming benefits: children learn self-calming through breathing techniques specifically intended to help children contend with their escalating emotions.  Yoga helps them relax their body and their mind.
  • Self-Awareness: yoga helps children become more self-aware of their bodies and of their emotions, and gives them coping skills when they feel anxious, afraid or stressed. Kids in the yoga classes become more aware of others as well, interacting and making eye contact more often.
  • Health benefits: yoga is a healthy exercise that helps with cardiovascular fitness also improving strength, endurance, balance and flexibility.  Yoga can even help improve digestion
  • Enhancing Concentration: yoga can improve concentration and reduce hyperactivity. Children learn how to sit still in one place and focus on what’s important as opposed to letting their mind wander and be distracted easily increasing their attention span.
  • Self Esteem: when children improve their agility and flexibility, it does wonders for their confidence.

In the few months since my children started yoga we have seen a huge improvement in my son’s ability to focus, he is more aware of his feelings and his ability to self regulate has improved. My daughter gas gained strength, improved her balance and flexibility and we have seen some improvement in her ability to motor plan. Yoga was the right fit for my children, maybe your children can benefit from it as well.

Before beginning a yoga program, or any program involving physical activity, consult your child’s physician.

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Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz was born and raised in Guatemala and studied in a bilingual school, which is why she wanted the same for her children. She is a very passionate advocate for disability and Latino rights, loves cooking and loves going to the beach with her children. Paula is the founder and editor of the blog GrowingUpBilingual.com. She lives in Florida with her husband and two kids.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jenna.tomaszewski.35 Jenna Tomaszewski

    I’m still not too knowledgeable about yoga but am skeptical about how it works for people who can’t focus. I get that it helps with flexibility but if you can’t sit still how are you going to focus enough to make and hold the positions? I am glad though that it helps your kids.

    • http://www.facebook.com/paulabendfeldtcatalyst Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

      Jenna,
      I was skeptical about it too.  My 4 year old can not sit still, for the most part. As you can see on the photo he is wiggling around in his mat.  I am truly amazed by how he has improved his self control and is following instructions better and better each day.  It has been a learning process,  he has gone from doing 10-20% of the class to being able to do most of it.  I don’t know if you read Inga’s reply but she also explains how yoga classes for kids are very different combining music, singing and active and passive poses.  Instructors will also give children sensory breaks, like letting them run for a few seconds every 10 or 15 minutes or wiggle like noodles on their mats.  Inga is a great instructor and she will try different things with different children until she finds what works.  

  • Inga

    Kids yoga is very different from adult yoga. In kids yoga class I combine active, playful poses and passive, concentrating poses. Step by step kids are able to sit still and concentrate longer and longer. Yes for some kids it is difuculte to concentrate, but this is why they are going to yoga class. We learn yoga through games for example when we do breathing excerises we do special breathing techinques including bunny breath, snake breath, balloon breath, and many more differnt types. When doing balancing poses we pretend we are planes or even birds. I also include alot of kids yoga songs conected with the movements. There has been many theories about how yoga benefits kids with special need which can be found online.
    Namaste,
    Inga

    • http://www.facebook.com/paulabendfeldtcatalyst Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz

      Thanks Inga for telling about the differences between yoga for adults and yoga for kids. :)

  • Cindy Caraway Knoke

    Cindy wrote: “Wonderful article. I know my own autistic 22 year old daughter has loved going with me to Inga’s regular classes. Inga, you are a great teacher and very patient with us all. I hope to be getting back to a regular practice very soon!”