OT Corner: Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Special Needs

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by Sari Ockner, OTR/L

Occupational therapists help children with special needs build the underlying skills necessary to promote their success and independence in daily activities.  This includes building their physical strength and endurance, while regulating their activity level, behavior, and emotions.  Additionally, occupational therapy facilitates and feeds each child’s creativity and imagination.

Now lets talk yoga:  
If you are a yoga enthusiast, such as myself, you can likely already imagine all the benefits of incorporating yoga into a child’s life.  I have recently been trained and certified by Shana Meyerson, owner of mini yogis®, to teach yoga to children.  I have started to incorporate yoga activities within my typical OT sessions, and WOW, not only do the children love it but I clearly see progress in each child with a few simple additions to what we were already doing.

Physical Benefits
Yoga promotes physical strength & muscular endurance, encouraging children to use all of their muscles.  It helps to build balance, coordination, flexibility, and body awareness.  Almost every position or asana incorporates the use of the core muscles, which ultimately promotes better posture.  Yoga also teaches a child how to feel their breath and how the breathing physically impacts their bodies.

Motor Planning
Yoga positions incorporate using the body in different ways and across all planes of movement.  Repetition, an important key in building new motor skills, is incorporated to help children master new movements.  An important part of praxis or motor planning is coming up with novel ideas.  Yoga encourages ideation skills and imagination, as children assist in picking different asanas and stringing together different sequences.

Emotional
Yoga can help to build a child’s self esteem, as no positions or ideas can be “wrong”.  Unlike many physical activities, there is no winning or losing when practicing yoga.  It is fun and playful!

Behavioral
So many of our children with special needs have difficulty regulating their arousal level, which leads to hyperactive and perceived aggressive behaviors.  Yoga incorporates teaching breathing techniques and poses that require stillness.  Yoga teaches a child to become more self aware of how their mind and body are connected and what it feels like to be still and calm.

Social
Yoga teaches individuals to be thankful, present, and kind to others.  When building sequences children take turns and can build upon the ideas of others.

There are a variety of ways to work with children and incorporate yoga.  Yoga with kids, especially younger ones, does not look like an adult class.  It is all about incorporating a variety of fun tools to entice a child to be an active participant.  Such components may include toys, games, songs, story books, or an obstacle course.

A session may start with sitting in a cross legged position and working on breathing, what a fabulous time to bring out whistles or bubbles to give that child sensory feedback on how their breath works! Maybe creating a sequence on how a tree grows (leading up to a one-legged tree asana) or how a super hero flies around the world to save his friends from trouble (flying on stomach with legs and arms raised high).  A child’s yoga practice in this context is not “acting out” the actions but using yoga poses in a sequence to tell the story.  Lastly, often the best part, shavasana.  A time for stillness & teaching children an appreciation for quiet time, a skill necessary in school during teaching instruction or when going out in the community to places like a movie theater.

As the school year begins and parents are deciding which after school activities are best for their child, yoga is a fantastic option.  Its fun, creative, and active!

Footnote:  Shana Meyerson founded mini yogis® yoga for kids in March 2002. A pioneer in the children’s yoga community, Shana has taught teachers all over the world how to teach children in a fun, safe, and mindful way. Her intuitive and integrative approach to teaching allows her to positively change the lives of both typically developing and special needs children. Trained in classical yoga by one of the world’s most renowned yogis, Sri Dharma Mittra, Shana considers her teaching an offering to the sweet innocence of children and the lives that lay ahead of them. You can find out more about Shana’s mini yogis program and sign up for her yoga tip of the week by visiting http://www.miniyogis.com.

 
 
Featured Contributor:  Sari Ockner, OTR/L and Kidz Occupational TherapySari received her degree in Occupational Therapy at from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1998, in their extended Occupational Therapy program with an emphasis in her fieldwork studies in the scope of pediatrics. Sari began her practice in New York City and is currently living and practicing in the Los Angeles area. She has over 13 years of experience working with children with special needs in schools, clinics, and home-based settings. Sari is certified in Sensory Integration Theory and Practice (SIPT) and specializes in handwriting and child development.Follow Kidz Occupational Therapy on Facebook or follow Sari on Twitter at Sari_KidzOT for on-going information to support children in school, at home, and in the community. For further information visit : www.KidzOccupationalTherapy.com

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One Response to OT Corner: Benefits of Yoga for Kids with Special Needs

  1. Yelena says:

    Excellent article! Ever since my son started doing yoga, I’ve seen big improvements in his balance, motor planning, confidence level and ability to calm down and stay focused. And it’s not just me; his OT and PT noticed it as well. Now they incorporate yoga into his therapy sessions, especially OT ones. For example, before he has to do writing or coloring, he gets to hold a downward dog pose. The accuracy of his writing, coloring, lacing, etc work done immediately after has improved and he’s happier to do it too.