As someone who is learning yoga for the first time (along with many of our students), I can tell you this: it’s amazing what a little physical movement can do for the mind and soul.
I can also tell you: yoga has serious benefits, no matter how bad you are at it. (And I’m pretty bad.)
Regardless of my own abilities, I am amazed by the transformative power yoga has over our students here at The Quaker School, where children engage in the practice at least once a week. It’s astonishing to watch students who were with us last year gracefully flow from pose to pose, aligned with their breath, as well as see our new students embrace this practice for the first time.
For children with complex challenges, the positive effects of regular yoga practice can reach into many aspects of life, offering benefits such as:
#1: Increased gross motor strength
It’s no secret that yoga can be physically demanding and, over time, the practice builds strength and muscle tone. For students with complex learning challenges, yoga also provides a way to increase the skills, attitudes and understanding necessary to participate not only in advanced yoga levels, but also in a wide variety of other physical activities.
Through regular yoga practice, students learn how valuable physical fitness can be and experience how personal fitness affects their bodies.
#2: Increased emotional awareness
For children with conditions like autism and ADHD, yoga promotes a growing awareness, acceptance and understanding of emotions and emotional states.
As the National Institutes of Health reported in a study on the effects of yoga on Autism Spectrum Disorders, ASD children often find competitive sports frustrating because they typically display decreased coordination, body awareness and sensory integration. However, because the yoga environment is noncompetitive and focused on individual experience, qualities like risk-taking and self-confidence can flourish.
Yoga offers students with autism and ADHD a mindful approach to identifying and managing their mental states, often resulting in improvements in self-regulation, self-esteem and self-control. As students gain awareness of their personal choices, they have more opportunities to learn supportive self-care and stress management in their lives.
#3: Increased external awareness and respect
Building healthy bodies and healthy emotions through yoga leads to a heightened awareness of those around us. An important effect for our students is learning how to respect different perspectives and the greater community. Children with complex challenges are able to cultivate essential skills like communication and conflict resolution through the practice of yoga.
For students diagnosed with autism, ADHD and learning disabilities, dyslexia, dyscalculia, auditory processing disorder, sensory processing disorder and more, yoga can be an excellent complement to educational interventions, speech and occupational therapy, and psychopharmacological care.
But beyond those benefits? Yoga is also really, really fun.
Are you interested in trying yoga for your child or family? For those local to The Quaker School at Horsham, I suggest Dig Yoga. Nationally, I recommend Grounded Kids Yoga, which has programs in place in schools around the country and offers teaching training programs.