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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