Imagine a calm room with zen music streaming from the
speakers, and an instructor directs the people in the room to place their hands
on the floor and their buttocks in the air. You might recognize the pose as the downward dog, but it
might take a moment to realize it’s not your typical adult yoga class. Yoga instruction for children and
adults with disabilities is increasingly in popularity.
Special needs experts agree that yoga activities make a
positive impact on individuals with special needs. These activities improve mobility, strength, and digestion
for individuals with disabilities like cerebral palsy. The success of yoga programs is
catching the attention of parents, caregivers, and medical professionals.
Parents and caregivers of individuals with special needs
understand the value of a child with cerebral palsy being able to sit up on his
own. The basic fundamentals of an
activity like yoga require certain aspects, such as control of breathing and
For individuals with cerebral palsy, specialized yoga
instructors will cradle the individual and move their arms and legs to help
them relax. The instructors will
also ask individuals to touch their feel to the floor or lift their heads for a
few seconds. While these movements
might seem trivial to the average person, they are major obstacles and
successes for individuals with a disability. These activities are not only for individuals with cerebal
palsy, but also they are used for those with disabilities such as Down
syndrome, autism, ADHD, or learning disabilities.
Yoga is often a slow and meditative process, so it helps
these individuals slow down and increases attention and focus. Yoga is empowering because it meets the
individuals at their current level of functioning and moves forward towards
meeting achievable goals; the limits of individuals are accepted, and with the
help of the instructor, they work through those struggles. The instructors use typical yoga poses
such as the downward dog or cobra pose, and each one is adapted for a child’s
needs or goals.
Parents of children with autism, ADHD, or anxiety indicate
that yoga helps their children calm themselves down and creates better focus
and following directions. Yoga
activities take place in specialized centers and are even being utilized in
schools, all with the end goal of promoting wellness and improved functioning
even outside the classroom.
Yoga for the Special Child is an international program
developed in Evanston, Illinois by Sonia Sumar. Initially developed to help babies with disabilities, the
program has grown to a worldwide practice. As the evidence of yoga’s benefits continues to expand, many
similar programs are adapted for children and adults with disabilities. There really is no limit to the scope
of who can benefit from yoga.
Chicago Tribune, Yoga offers benefits for people with special needs
Photo by familymwr