In our current mainstream American culture, "yoga" is most often equated with skinny blonde women doing crazy handstands and putting their legs behind their shoulders. Yes, yoga builds strength, and yes, you can work your way up to a wide array of shapes, but the asanas (the physical poses) are not all that yoga is.
The point of yoga is to soften, expand, and integrate our whole being (body, mind, and spirit) - not just twist our physical bodies into shapes.
This integration of the body, mind, and spirit is precisely why yoga has proven to be such an effective support for children and teenagers on the autism spectrum.
People with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) find it difficult to express and receive communication, which often presents as struggles with sensory integration, understanding facial expressions, recognizing social cues, and expressing their emotions. This struggle with communication also often leads to high levels of anxiety.
Yoga's focus on listening to the body, connecting the body and mind together, and turning inward to observe what is happening within our selves makes an immediate impact on children and teenagers with autism who are struggling to understand the world around them and how to feel comfortable in their bodies.
Yoga and mindfulness have been proven to be very successful in helping teenagers with autism assess and monitor their emotions, as well as connect to their bodies in tangible healthy ways, so that they can have a safe space within themselves to go when the world is feeling overwhelming.
While anecdotal evidence is wonderful, and I have personally seen many children on the autism spectrum blossom through a consistent personal yoga practice, there have also been some amazing studies done to assess yoga's effectiveness in this area. Autism Parenting Magazine lists the 6 Benefits of Yoga for Children with Autism as:
- Increased Social Communication
- Awareness and Expression of Emotions
- Reduced Anxiety
- Reduction in Challenging Behaviors
- Increased Body Awareness
- Positive Sense of Self
Please read the entire article at the link above for more specifics about each of these sections.
Over the past three years, I have developed a deep passion for assisting teenagers with autism in creating their very own yoga practices that help them self-soothe in stressful situations and build their confidence in inhabiting their bodies.
I prefer to work with children and teenagers one-on-one (rather than in a class) so that we can develop a trusting rapport, and we can create a specific yoga series just for them that they do on their own every day. I have worked with some teenagers once a week and some just once a month, depending on the financial flexibility of their families.
If you know a child or teenager with autism who would benefit from having their own yoga practice, please reach out, and I will be happy to chat with you about my experiences and recommendations! You can also learn more about my private yoga offerings here.