Yoga for Children with Special Needs

Why Yoga for Anxiety?

Yoga helps alleviate stress and allows the anxious child to become centered and calm, while promoting self-confidence through balancing and strengthening asanas.

Yoga is an effective practice for anxious children because it soothes their bodies’ stress response. Yoga can lessen the feelings of anxiety and stress in the mind, which gives the body the signal to slow down all the physiological arousals. A calm mind translates to a calm breathing pattern, a slower heart rate, and lower blood pressure. In addition, when children with anxiety engage in a regular a Yoga practice, they become more confident in themselves and in the strength they possess.

Studies noted by Harvard Health Publications showed yoga to be an effective tool for alleviating anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and even bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

 

 

Why Yoga for ADD/ADHD?

Yoga helps children with ADD/ADHD calm their bodies and increase focus and attention while reducing anxiety.

ADHD is a disorder of the executive functions of the brain relating to regulation of emotion, impulse control, attention, self-restraint, organization, behavior management and time management. 

Yogic breathing techniques (pranayama) work to balance the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system and engage communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain.  Yoga connects breath with movement, and helps sustain attention and control. This helps our brains to slow down and create space between thought and action.  Restless energy is eased both through cleansing breaths, and muscle contraction and expansion.

 



Why Yoga for Cerebral Palsy?

Yoga relieves tension and encourages flexibility for tight muscles. It helps digestion and stimulates the immune system.

The practice of Yoga helps to reduce high muscle tone, which is typical of most children with cerebral palsy. Asanas (poses) stretch the muscles and tendons, relaxing and strengthening the muscles around the spine. Rotating and stretching the spine creates space around the vertebrae, thereby relieving muscular tension and allowing for more flexibility. Yoga asanas also provide enough resistance to help those areas of the body with low muscle tone.  

 

The lymphatic system, an important component of the immune system, relies on muscle activity and movement for circulation. For children with cerebral palsy, this is not always easy to achieve. Yoga asanas build strong muscles that encourage lymph movement. A regular practice of Yoga breathing techniques help expand the thoracic cavity and create a pressure change that facilitates lymph flow.

 

In addition to the physical benefits, Yoga offers a way for children with cerebral palsy to relax and learn proper breathing techniques that help relieve stress. The deep relaxation portion of a Yoga session allows the body to slow down and absorb all of the energy created.

 

 

 

 

Why Yoga for Sensory Processing Disorder?

Yoga has a calming effect on the central nervous system and helps develop self-regulation and body awareness. Yoga also fosters coordination and balance and improves motor skills.

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is a neurological disorder that causes difficulties with processing information from the five senses. It also impacts the vestibular system (balance and movement) and proprioception (awareness of body position). For a child with SPD, the brain receives sensory information, but it is processed in an unusual way that causes distress, discomfort, and confusion. Children with SPD often have problems with motor skills and other abilities needed for school success and typical childhood activities.

Better body awareness is one of the greatest benefits of a Yoga practice for Children with SPD. They get excellent proprioceptive and vestibular input through asanas like downward facing dog and triangle pose. Twisting poses that compress the muscles also provide joint compressions. Standing and balancing poses help develop stability, strength, and coordination. Moving from backbends to forward bends to twists gives the vestibular system rich input, which helps a child feel calm and grounded. Pranayama, or breath control, is helpful for calming the central nervous system. By using correct breathing techniques, a sensory seeking child can be calmed. Deep breathing also helps with self-regulation and improving self-awareness, both key components to helping sensory avoiders be at peace in their bodies.

 

 

 

Why Yoga for Children with Down Syndrome?

Yoga builds muscle tone and improves balance and coordination, while strengthening the immune system.

Children with Down syndrome often have hypotonia, or low muscle tone. Hypotonia contributes to a delay in developing motor skills, and can even cause digestive issues and constipation. Other medical conditions that may occur more frequently in children with DS include thyroid problems, respiratory problems, obesity, and an increased susceptibility to infection.

A Yoga practice for children with Down syndrome helps to build muscle tone and improve balance. The Yoga asanas (poses) also help internal organs by stimulating the endocrine glands, aiding in digestion and strengthening the immune system. In combination with breathing exercises, which calm the central nervous system, asanas facilitate the development of body awareness and concentration.





Why Yoga for Autism?

Yoga helps children with ASD to feel more calm and comfortable in their bodies, making it easier for them to control their behavior, learn new skills and enjoy social interactions.

Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders often have different, intense sensory experiences. Because of this intensity, their sympathetic nervous systems are often in overdrive and stuck in a “flight or fight” response. The stimulation of the sympathetic nervous system causes increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels, while diverting blood flow and oxygen away from the digestive organs towards the skeletal muscles. As the heart rate speeds up, breathing becomes shallower. These physical reactions frequently lead to an agitated emotional state.

A Yoga practice serves to neutralize the sympathetic nervous system by activating its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system slows the heart and lowers blood pressure, letting the body get back to its work of breathing and digestion. Yoga encourages deeper inhaling and exhaling, which calm the nervous system. It builds core strength, supporting deeper respiration, and a healthy body.

Physical symptoms of autism can also include Hyper or Hypotonia (muscles too tight or too limp), and digestive problems. Yoga asanas help to combat these conditions by stretching, toning, and strengthening the entire body.

 

 

Testimonials

  • “Yoga makes me feel happy. I can balance better and I’m calmer since I started Yoga with Miss Jessica.”

    ~ Ryan P., age 7

  • “I’ve only been practicing Yoga with Jessica for a few months, but I feel like the yoga has changed me physically and mentally and I love it! I have better posture and I am more balanced and strong. I feel calmer and more laid back now.”

    ~ Sophia Z., age 13

  • “Since practicing Yoga with Jessica, I’ve started seeing a change in the way my daughter carries herself. She practices deep breathing and I see her taking more initiative with her friends.”

    ~ Colette Z., Mother of 13 year-old daughter with anxiety

  • “Yoga makes me feel like I can do anything. I feel relaxed and cool.”

    ~ Anna D., age 13

  • “By doing Yoga, Jessica was able to improve my daughter’s balance, attention and overall disposition. She handled my daughter with care and expertise.”

    “Jessica very skillfully conducts a 45 minute class for children with autism and varying abilities as if it were a piece of cake.”

    ~ Val P. mother of 15 year-old daughter with autism (“non-verbal”)

  • “I love to do inversions. Yoga makes me feel calm and relaxed.”

    ~ Michael T., age 9

  • “I have seen my daughter blossom this year due to her yoga practice. She has learned to calm herself when she is anxious and I see she has also learned to control her balance, and coordination. After only nine months, (my daughter) has gained confidence and a love of something that I know will last a lifetime.”

    “You don’t have to know Jessica long to know how much she cares for the children in her classes.”

    ~ Tracy F., Mother of 9 year-old daughter with Sensory Processing Disorder

  • “I have been practicing Yoga with Jessica for 3 years and I notice I am calmer and have more patience when I practice. I learned how to breathe the right way, too. I have better core strength and stronger arms now. I love Yoga!”

    ~ Emma D., Age 14

  • After a year of practicing Yoga with Jessica, my son has gained core strength, balance and his fine motor strength has improved. I’ve also noticed his attention span has improved.”

    “Jessica is connected to the children in class. She has a true understanding of their needs and struggles.”

    ~ A.T., Mother of 7 year-old son with ADHD and low muscle tone.

  • “When I do yoga with Jessica, my whole brain relaxes and doesn’t rush around. My body feels strong.”

    ~ Kira R., age 8

  • “Jessica can soar into unknown bodies peacefully.”

    “When we chant, I answer from the inside. I see colors when we sing. Yoga makes introductions to body parts I didn’t know that I had.”

    ~ Danson M., age 14 “non-verbal” with autism (via RPM – Rapid Prompting Method)

  • "Jessica is one of the best things that has happened in my son’s lifetime! She is a brilliant and knowledgeable teacher, but more than that, she loves what she does and she loves her students. In his weekly yoga sessions, my son was able to learn so much about the asanas and grow physically. He learned about balancing his own body and finding peace, which is not easy for an adolescent with autism. His teacher has also told me that my son is calmer and able to concentrate for longer periods of time following his Yoga for the Special Child® sessions. Jessica taught him to meditate and we now meditate every night for 20-minutes at bedtime. It helps us both to let the stresses of the day go. Jessica is like sunshine--she lights the world, celebrates every little thing a student does, and enriches the spirits everyone she meets. Jessica is the essence of yoga and lives the principles--so much so that my son embraced her the moment they met, which never happened before. They connected on a soul-to-soul level immediately.  Quite simply, I love Jessica Zander and we are forever grateful!"

    ~ Michele B., mother of a 14 year old son with autism and epilepsy

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