Yoga can help those with autism increase their ability to focus, calm overactive minds, and reduce anxiety.
Yoga can indirectly improve cognitive, communication and social skills.
Yoga improves motor skills. Kids with autism often experience delayed motor development, which can be improved as yoga tones muscles, enhances balance and stability, and develops body awareness and coordination.
Yoga improves confidence and social skills. Poor coordination often yields low self-esteem among other kids. Once kids with autism improve their body awareness and coordination, they feel more confident to interact with other kids.
Children with autism often suffer from a highly sensitive nervous system and are easily over stimulated by bright lights, new textures, loud noises, strong tastes and smells. Yoga’s natural settings of dim lights, soft music, smooth mats, and “inside” voices create a comforting environment largely protected from unknown or aggressive stimuli. Yoga’s physical poses allow nervous energy to be released from the body in a controlled manner, also leading to a calming sensation.
Yoga is particularly instrumental in helping kids with autism learn self-regulation. By becoming aware of their bodies and aware of their breathing, yoga provides them with the ability to cope when they start to feel anxious or upset.
Yoga is orderly and consistent. Ideally, the class will be scheduled at the same time and same day of the week, with the students’ mats in the same layout, in the same room, with the same instructor. The class should also have an opening and closing routine or practice – that further supports the students’ need for order.
Yoga engages the emotional brain through music, movement and breathing.
But how can children with autism effectively participate in yoga classes, which require a certain level of focus and relaxation?
Sometimes a child with autism can attend a yoga class with developmentally typical children, if the kids in the class are a few years younger than the student with autism. In these situations, it is best for the child to have a parent or therapist shadowing him
For children with autism, the complicated names of poses should be made easy to understand. Some are already easy to follow such as tree, mountain, down dog, and cat poses. Labeling more of them this way, as animals or objects from nature, can make the experience more kid-friendly.
Using music or guiding children to participate in an interactive game at least once per class can help them remain engaged.
Encouragement can have a major impact on the success of students. Emphasizing the child’s accomplishments can work wonders for students’ confidence.
Taking a break or two during class may help, and preparing the child by practicing at home should give her more confidence.
If joining a yoga class or participating in a semi-private lesson is too ambitious, teachers and therapists can practice yoga with students for several minutes before teaching sessions and during breaks to prepare children better for learning.
Children who cannot yet participate in yoga classes can also do yoga at home with parents, who can demonstrate poses with Yoga cards or maybe DVDs.
It is amazing to see that Yoga does miracles also to kids with special needs.