Yoga is often practiced in order to improve one’s overall health and mental relaxation. Yoga can provide many benefits for children with special needs including improvements in but not limited to, overall mood (decrease depression and anxiety), motor coordination, gross and fine motor skills, positive thinking/behaviors, decreased muscle tension, improves sleep and assist with sensory modulation. One of the most important life skill the practice of yoga can teach, is the ability to self cope, and respond to stress and tension, which can directly affect the above listed benefits.
Many times children with special needs face difficulty with their ability to modulate their emotions and anxiety/depression levels, making yoga a very important practice to integrate into their lifestyle. When we become anxious or nervous about something our body activates what we call the sympathetic nervous system, also known as the “fight or flight response”. During this response our body goes through various changes such as increased height rate, which in turn can lead to anxiety attacks or hyperventilation and the blood is going away from our internal organs in to our larger muscles. As a result of an anxiety attack or hyperventilation we can develop side effects such as irregular sleep, tension throughout the body, increased agitation, and withdrawals.
When a child experiences any of the above they can turn to the practice of yoga to decrease the occurrence as well as side effects in the event an anxiety attack or hyperventilation occurs. Some specific exercises or activities you can do would be breathing techniques, cat/camel, knees to chest, rock and rolling, and saying positive affirmations to yourself. For cat camel you maintain a hands and knees position and round your back up and then arch your back and let your belly hang down. Hold each position for 5 second holds prior to moving into the next position. With knees to chest, lay on your back and bring both legs to your chest and wrap your arms around your legs and give yourself a big hug while focusing on breathing. Rock and rolling you want to maintain the same knees to chest and rock forward up to sitting and back down which will receive sensory and proprioceptive input. Some examples of positive affirmations you can say to yourself is “I am smart, I am kind, I am nice, I can do this, I am a great problem solver, I am happy to be unique”, along with so many other things.