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Yoga practice in the United States is exploding, and yoga for kids with special needs & disabilities, while not yet “a thing” is definitely entering the picture. For good reason, too. Yoga helps with physical, mental and emotional development – pretty much everything kids need! In many ways, with an experienced yoga teacher, it can also work like physical therapy.
It’s pretty amazing.
Yoga for Kids with Special Needs & Disabilities
For us, we wandered into it mostly because I like yoga a lot – kundalini yoga in particular – and wanted to share what I love with the kids. I’ve been fascinated with how bendy and flexible Moxie (my daughter with Down syndrome) is, and with articles I’ve read about yoga and people with Down syndrome .
This was highlighted oh, about a billion times after we moved to the Lost Coast, because one of my neighbors has Down syndrome. He’s my age (born in 1973) and kicks ass in his yoga practice. I mean, he’s cut, and he does some of those super-hard poses like there is no tomorrow.
With that inspiration in mind, we’ve moved forward with some family yoga. Or more accurately, ‘mom-and-kids-yoga’ (cuz Mikey thinks yoga is for hippies).
Tips That work
Bearing in mind that I do yoga with my 6 year old daughter who has Down syndrome, my 4 year old who is (so far) pretty typically developing, and my gifted 8 year old who has special needs that are as-yet undefined.
None of my kids have physical issues.
My daughter is absurdly flexible, but my sons are not.
Golden rules that I abide by:
Keep it fun
I’m going nowhere real fast if I make them do things that are just dead-boring to them. I know that, because I tried meditating the way that I like to meditate with them, and boy did that ever blow up in my face!
It needs to be 85% fun, with maybe 15% of focused concentration or things that are not as fun in it.
If you’ve got a kid with physical disabilities, this is just as important to keep in mind as if you don’t have a kid with physical disabilities – because kids are kids, and they want FUN.
2. Pay Attention
I’m deaf and need lots of visual cues in yoga, but my kids are not deaf like me. They are also not physically disabled, and the yoga that we do requires no accommodation for my daughter with Down syndrome. She can follow along just fine.
But sometimes my 4 year old or my 8 year old boys might need some attention, praise or extra motivation to continue with the program. I just need to keep my eyes open and my mouth full of encouraging words.
3. Emphasize the sections
We do the “Ommm” with gusto; paying attention to “namaste” and the breathing work in yoga. I sing and lead by action.
Vocalize animal sounds, make sound effects, and “Om” or “Hmmmm” as much as you can. Talk less, and sing, demonstrate, and do more. I really work through breath awareness with them, trying to get them to understand control and the value of breathing exercises. This is really important with all 3 kids, as if they get upset, being able to have them take some time and breathe in and out deeply a few times is GOLD.
4. Positive encouragement
I praise these little people to the moon and back for their awesome yogi-ness! Super important, I think, for them to feel great about their hard work and dedication to breathing and all the rest of it. I’m proud of my small buddies, and I want them to know it.
With the yoga, I’m noticing from them:
- Better focus
- Greater physical confidence
- A more relaxed state of being
- A sense of playfulness and fun
- Less antsy-ness on rainy days (and there have been a lot of those recently!)
What I use
I’ll go for free-style teaching the kids in a pinch.
Yoga Blast Off is for kids that are a little older -5+
All of my kids go for all of these.
That means my highly cerebral, lego-loving Harry-Potter Star-Trek nerd boy loves it, my daughter with Down syndrome does and so does my littlest.
WIN. Total, complete win.
We’ve never had the opportunity to join in real-live yoga class, with other kids present. I think that would be awesome if we could, but in the meantime, we go for the Gaiam Yoga for Kids DVD’s.
For More Information:
I liked these articles (but not always the language therein):
- Yoga for the Special Child (whole lot of “special” going on there, if you know what I mean, but some of the content and videos are fantastic)
- Yoga Instruction for Children and Youth with Disabilities (dry, like a cupcake that forgot butter, but good info)
- 7 Tips For Teaching Yoga For Kids with Special Needs (some cringe-worthy lingo there but great tips)
And this –