There’s no denying that the Eastern practice of yoga has taken the West by storm. Depending upon where you live, you might find a yoga studio on every other corner. Many studios now offer yoga classes for children and adults with a variety of special needs. We’ve compiled some information about yoga, its many benefits, as well as some resources so that you and your child can access the practice.
What is yoga?
While there are many types of yoga, Hatha yoga is most widely practiced in the U.S. According to the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability (NCHPD) Hatha Yoga “emphasizes body-mind wellness through postures or asanas which tone and strengthen our muscles and increase our flexibility.” And good news—regardless of the degree of physical, developmental and/or cognitive disability, almost everyone can benefit from the 5,000-year-old practice.
Just ask Matthew Sanford.Sanford, an author, yoga instructor, inspirational speaker and founder of the nonprofit, Mind/Body Solutions, was paralyzed from the chest down after an automobile accident at age 13. He discovered yoga 12 years later and the practice was life changing for him. Nowadays, Sanford helps people with and without disabilities to experience the transformative effects of yoga.
What are the benefits of yoga for those with physical disabilities?
Many! According to Sanford, yoga practitioners can expect to enjoy “increased strength, balance, mental and physical flexibility, improvements in the quality of their breathing, a sense of lightness and freedom within their bodies, an increased ability to manage stress, a deepened sense of wholeness and connection with others and the discovery of a subtle level of mind-body sensation that is not impeded by disability.”
What are the benefits of yoga for children and adults with autism?
Scott Anderson, founder of Yogautism, teaches a specially designed yoga program for people with autism spectrum disorders. Anderson has found that in time, practitioners on the autism spectrum not only become stronger and more agile, but are also likely to benefit from a reduction in ASD symptoms such as pain, aggression, anxiety and obsessive and self-stimulatory behaviors. Additionally, says Anderson, many of his students develop an increased ability to regulate their emotions.
Does yoga have special benefits for children and adults with Down syndrome?
Yes! Yoga poses strengthen the low muscle tone common to those with Down syndrome while the breath work fundamental to yoga may improve heart and lung function countering pulmonary hypertension. Poses such as twists and abdominal exercises are believed to benefit digestion and bridge poses and shoulder stands may improve thyroid function.
Where can I find a class, practitioner or more information about yoga?