My son, Miguelangel, is 3 months old. He has Down syndrome and was born prematurely. I started him on a daily yoga practice when he was a month old, and I am pleased with the results.
Many families with special children are embracing alternative therapies, including yoga, to complement conventional approaches.
According to Mayo Clinic, “anecdotal reports suggest that yoga can calm children, reduce obesity, enhance concentration and help children manage certain health conditions, such as headaches and irritable bowel syndrome. Studies suggest that yoga may also benefit children who have various mental and physical disabilities.”
Marsha Wenig is the founder of YogaKids and spoke to Integral Yoga Magazine about her work with children.
“Yoga increases children’s self-awareness, self-care, self-esteem and compassion and improves their overall health,” she said. “Yoga also improves a child’s posture, flexibility, strength, balance and coordination. Educational kinesiology implies that yoga postures and breathing practices actually change the neurophysiology of the brain. Yoga is a noncompetitive activity that can increase the imagination and readiness to learn.”
Yoga teacher Sonia Sumar developed a program for Roberta, whose daughter was born with Down syndrome. In her book, “Yoga for the Special Child,” Sumar shares the success she’s had with Roberta, and later with many other children with special needs who helped achieve their full potential through yoga.
Sumar’s book can be used to design a fun and effective routine according to the developmental age of the child. Suitable, safe and fun for those of a variety of ages and with many physical abilities, yoga is an option for children with special needs including cerebral palsy, microcephaly, Down syndrome, ADD, ADHD or other conditions. The poses can be modified to meet the needs of the child. The routine can be performed either on the floor or seated on a chair or wheelchair. A regular class for children lasts from 30 to 45 minutes.
The first stage will focus on stretching muscles and promoting flexibility of joints. It is usually a passive therapy, meaning it is the teacher or caregiver who performs the exercises for the individual. This stage is the groundwork for practicing regular poses during the intermediate and advanced stages.
Consider the tips below to establish an effective at-home practice:
Designate a warm and quiet room or space.
Avoid noise and visual distraction.
Play soothing music.
Be enthusiastic, encouraging and flexible with your child.
Be consistent. Intensity and frequency play an important role in the success of your practice.
Use a clean mat to prevent slipping.
Be sensitive to your child’s interests and needs and adjust routines accordingly.
Wait two to four hours after a meal before starting the practice.
Allow siblings and friends to join the session.
Make it fun.
If parents don’t feel at ease doing yoga with their child due to the severity of a disability, they should ask for help from a certified yoga teacher in their area to design a customized plan and work one-on-one with the child, or join a group class.
It is important to consult with a health-care provider before starting a yoga routine, particularly if heart diseases, spinal problems or other health related issues are present. Yoga is not intended to replace any medical treatment or therapy program.