Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Yoga and Physical Literacy


For decades now, the Western world has turned to yoga as a sort of navel-gazing exercise, one that enhances the body as much as the mind.

So it's no wonder that instructors are seeing major benefits in yoga for children with special needs.

"The beautiful thing about yoga is you can choose how much information you get," says Claudia Crowe, an occupational therapist in Chicago specializing in yoga for children with special needs at OYT (occupationalyogatherapy.com).

What Crowe means by "information" is the amount of stimulation, through a variety of yoga poses and breathing techniques, one allows to their senses.

Imagine, for example, one of yoga's well-known pose-the tree pose.

Balancing on one leg while pushing the other against it creates a push-pull relationship. This "isometric" relationship may not be all that apparent to children with special needs, but it stimulates their sensory system, improving balance, strength and control.

Today, parents are turning to yoga for children with a range of special needs, from Down syndrome to autism to undiagnosed developmental delays.

Crowe says many of her students also have attention deficit disorder.

As with other fitness regimens, yoga is tailored on an individual basis, targeting strengths and weaknesses.

Crowe says evidence of success is clear: Yoga empowers children with special needs, helping them "trust" their bodies that oftentimes don't do what they want them to do.

Beyond the physical benefits, yoga's introspective side helps kids "learn personal insight," she says.

Physical Literacy for Children with Special Needs

It would be years before doctors could control Kiley Lyall's severe seizure disorder.
Diagnosed at 4 with autism, Kiley remained nonverbal until she turned 7.

Now, at 20, Kiley has a surgically-implanted vagus nerve stimulator that mitigates much of the impact those seizures have.

"She was probably in a huge fog before that when she was seizing all the time," says her mother, Kathy Lyall, who moved from Burbank to Bourbonnais four years ago.

And yet, despite the mystery that continues to surround autism today, Kiley and her family forged ahead, emphasizing one part of Kiley's life they at least could control: Her fitness and nutrition.

That decision was spot on.

For children with special needs, a population at great risk for obesity, staying active and eating well is more than just maintaining a healthy weight.

It's critical for their overall emotional, behavioral and developmental health.

"Fitness in my book goes to the top of the list," says Suzanne Gray, who founded Right Fit Sports Fitness Wellness in Willowbrook, a training facility for individuals with special needs. "It has been overlooked."

Experts agree: Working out and participating in sports goes a long way in helping those children who might otherwise feel cast out by their disabilities.

"Children with special needs can and should be integrated into mainstream physical education environments when possible," says Ed Thomas, a consultant specializing in physical education. "Physical literacy is a universal goal for all."

But being inundated with the daily grind of parenting and confronted with the challenges of raising a child with a disability can push fitness goals to the bottom of the priority list.

"The burnout factor is more a risk for parents," says Bridget O'Connor, executive director of Giant Steps, a therapeutic day school in Lisle for children with autism.

Still, parents have more resources today than ever before.

Professional organizations throughout the Chicagoland area, including Easter Seals, special recreation associations, Special Olympics and Caring for Kids through the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, offer families year-round fitness programs.

On the Internet, parents can access online communities, such as AbilityPath.org, that connect them to each other and to experts in the field offering solutions to common obstacles.

But, although families might find common ground in the pursuit of fitness goals for their child, there is no standard regimen. That's why many physical trainers first begin by assessing the child's abilities and limitations.

Perhaps the child has sensory issues, and is sensitive to activities involving a level of physical contact that may make them uncomfortable.

For others, fine motor skills are the trouble spot.

Whatever the setback, parents should set reasonable goals that can be tracked easily.
Some suggest making a chart the child can mark so that they literally see progress.
Others suggest treats and rewards. But be careful, candy and sweets, the obvious reward, can be a pitfall. If your child responds well to snacks, be sure to pick healthy varieties.
Sometimes rewards come in the least expected places. At Giant Steps, O'Connor says workout machines are affixed with television sets that play only when the machine is engaged.

Structure and routine also are key. But that's a combination that can kill anyone's motivation.

"Play for any age is the tool for intervention," Gray says.

Tali Eingal, an occupational therapist in Skokie and author of a children's book for those facing fine motor skill limitations, says pretending to act like an animal can get children using their bodies in unexpected and productive ways.

Laura Znajda, who helped develop community-based programs for Easter Seals DuPage and the Fox Valley Region, says aquatic therapy, wall-climbing and martial arts can be fun and engaging ways for children with special needs to isolate and stretch their bodies in new ways to build strength and balance.

Parents should talk to trainers, therapists and teachers to make sure their child's progress is well charted and goals continue to be refocused as needed. The work needs to continue at home.

Remember, progress comes with great effort and small steps.

Kathy Lyall recalls taking Kiley for a hike and coming upon the Kankakee River. At first, Kiley refused to dip her foot into the water. Just try, her mother urged. She did.
And the water didn't seem too bad after all.

"By all means, don't give up," says Susan Friend of SEASPAR, one of 29 special recreation associations. "If something doesn't work, it could be the time, it could be the day."

Dimitrios Kalantzis is a Chicago-area freelance writer.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Classes are about to begin and I am very excited!

Classes are small only 5 students.Parents and caregivers must attend. Please see below cost and schedule.

Beginning May 27 and ending the week of July 2, 2014

Cost $40 per child for 6 week session


Tuesday 4:45-5:30p: ages 9-13
Thursday 9:30-!0:15a: ages 4-8
Thursday 4:45-5:30p: Yoga for children with special needs and their siblings

please email me wendy@yogaingreenboro.com for more information and registration

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Breath in Yoga

Breathing is an expansive part of a yoga program. By inhaling through the nose the breath can be guided more deeply and directed more skillfully. Nasal hairs filters and mucosa moisten the air that is taken into the body. When breath is coordinated with yoga postures, previously constricted portions of the body can receive increased blood flow and improved oxygenation. The maximal benefit is accomplished by coordinating the breathing pattern with the physiological flow of the body. As yoga postures are guided, the cycle of inhalation and exhalation is explained. A well oxygenated body relaxes and brainwaves may alter, contributing to an overall feeling of well being.

Many children diagnosed with special needs have experienced difficulties breathing because of structural impairment or physiological compromises. Frequently their chosen resting posture does not allow for maximum intake of oxygen.  These children often hold their breath when moved out of their habitual postures. Some children have learned to breathe with their head and neck in extension, while other children demonstrate a shallow breathing cycle with the mouth open. Training a deeper and sustained breathing cycle during yoga poses can break through previous patterns that have become a physiological habit.

Bubble blowing provided visual feedback for the child as she observes the bubbles moving further through space, and becoming larger as exhalations are sustained. As a child learns to guide a deeper breath through her nostrils, she also observes the advantages of graded exhalation with improved breath control for bubble blowing. As she engages in this respiration activity she benefits from increased oxygen as it moves through the vascular system.

Children begin to feel the natural flow of breath in relation to their body. A deep inhalation is easier with an open and extended body and it is natural to expend breath as their body folds into flexion. With reminders throughout the yoga session of when to breathe, the child may experience the natural rhythm of a smooth cycle of inhalation and exhalation.

(excerpt, Nancy Williams)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Creative Yoga Games for all Children

Children learn through play. All children even those with wonderful exceptionalities will love this yoga inspired game.

Magic Animal Knapsack. 

This is the best tool for teaching yoga to kids under 4 years old and for children with special needs. For many children on the spectrum it is difficult for them them to articulate what they are imagining or how to act out what moves and noises an animal makes.

Get a big sack and fill it with all kinds of animal toys (plastic, wooden, fabric, smooth or textured) or small stuffed animals. Go around the circle and let each child on his turn put his hand into your magical sack and take out a toy. Then, of course, do the movement, noise and pose or poses of this animal with him and then with the whole group.  You can build on each animal that is picked by placing the toys in the middle of the circle and creating a vinyasa with the toys...make a storyabout the desert, mountain hiking, swimming in the ocean etc...

Friday, February 7, 2014

Why Children should Meditate

Introducing children to yoga, meditation, and spirituality is one of the greatest gifts we can give them. It can set their future on a nourishing and creative course. As teachers, we need to know how to present this knowledge so that children of different ages will receive the most benefit from it.

By Swami Shankardev Saraswati, Ph.D.

When we teach meditation to children, we need to choose age-appropriate techniques that foster their total growth and development. The word "meditation" is an English term for a wide range of practices and techniques. Meditations for children cannot be the same as those taught to middle-aged business people or spiritual aspirants seeking higher knowledge. Rather, in this context, meditation is a process that supports the growth of the body-mind of the child, fosters the development of each child's own unique personality, and supports creativity and expression.

Meditation techniques for children can help them relax and focus better during school, so that they can concentrate and memorize more effectively. From the spiritual perspective, good meditation techniques teach children self-awareness, encourage them to be themselves, and help them face life with greater belief in their potential.

There are three broad age groups that we need to consider when teaching yoga to children: those below the age of eight years, children between the age of eight and puberty, and post-pubertal teens.
Meditation for Children Below Eight Years

From the point of view of yogic physiology, children below age eight do not need much formal meditation training. It is more important for these children that their parents learn yoga and meditation and carry yogic principles into their homes. Children absorb the energy of the environment. If their parents practice some form of self-development, their children will grow up in a healthier, more relaxed and aware environment.

Parents need to practice meditation techniques that increase their own capacity for awareness in the midst of their busy lives, so that they can be more present and available to their children. The child needs to know that a parent is really interested in them, is really listening to and attending to them. At the same time, parents need to learn how to allow children to be themselves and to foster each child's own unique being and abilities.

One meditation technique can be used with children in this age group, however. A modified practice of yoga nidra is a deep relaxation practice in the Corpse Pose (Savasana). In this practice we cannot ask the children to feel individual parts of the body, but rather we work with awareness of larger parts. For example, we may playfully instruct the child in body awareness by saying, "Feel that you are a statute until I count to 10. Now bend your elbows and now straighten your arms." We give similar instructions with the legs and may ask them to wiggle their toes, and so on. This takes their awareness through the body.

Once children have developed a little body awareness, we can teach them to listen to and follow outside sounds, or to visualize imaginary realms, or we can read stories that stimulate their imaginations.
Meditation for Children From Eight to Puberty

By the age of eight, a child's fundamental personality has formed and his or her body begins a process of preparing for puberty. Changes begin to occur in children's brains around the age of eight, and these changes reach a peak during puberty. When we teach meditation to this age group, our main aim is to support balanced physical and mental development. This helps the child be better mentally prepared for the onslaught of feelings, desires, and urges that arise during puberty. It also supports the child's ability to take in knowledge at school, and to develop a relaxed focus and good memory.

Eight-year-olds in India learn three practices to foster total physical, mental, and spiritual development. These are Sun Salutation for the body, alternate nostril breathing for the brain and mind, and mantras for the deeper mind and spirit. These practices can slow the onset of puberty and balance its effects by acting on the subtle channels that flow in the spine. Mental development then has time to catch up to physical changes.

Yogic physiology explains how this occurs. A child's physical changes during puberty are under the control of pingala nadi, the spinal channel that carries prana, the life force. Mental development occurs under the control of ida nadi, the spinal channel that carries psychological force. Excessive stimulation of the physical channel alone, as tends to occur in the normal social environment, causes imbalanced development and can make puberty a rough process. The yogic practices taught children at this time stimulate both channels equally, to stimulate physical and mental growth at the same time.

The practice of Sun Salutation balances the life force, prana, preventing it from becoming jammed up in the sexual centers (swadhisthana chakra). One note of caution is to teach children only asanas that are playful and that do not put too much pressure on the endocrine system. Never hold the major poses for extended periods, as they will overstimulate the physical systems and can cause imbalanced development.

Alternate nostril breathing is a pre-meditative practice that balances the flow of energy in both ida and pingala. This pranayama directly affects the physical and mental systems by balancing both sides of the brain. Do not teach breath retention to children. Simply get them to observe the flow of the breath in on one side and out on the other, alternating sides. This will calm and balance them.

Mantras are the main meditative practices taught to this age group, as they powerfully affect the brain and its development. The main mantra taught is the Gayatri mantra. This mantra has 24 syllables, each of which stimulates a different part of the brain. Gayatri is the mantra to stimulate our intelligence.

All of the practices listed above, including yoga nidra as detailed for younger children, will support a child's ability to learn, to take in and digest information at school, and to develop individual interests.

Our students in the post-pubertal stage of adolescence can engage in more classical forms of meditation. We can teach them techniques that further support their mental development, for example, so that they can stay relaxed and able to concentrate during these most important learning years.

Again, one of the best practices to teach is yoga nidra. This time we can use the adult form, rotating the awareness through the body parts and then taking awareness deeper into the breath and mind.

Visualization techniques are wonderful for this age group, and techniques that develop memory and mental power are particularly useful. For example, we can ask a child to visualize an imaginary blackboard and ask them to see themselves writing the letters of the alphabet on this board in colored chalk. Or in this day and age, to visualize a computer screen and see themselves creating their own computer game, following their hero through any story they want to create.

Breath meditations are useful for helping students who are at home studying. It is important for students to remain relaxed and receptive, and to take regular productive and relaxing breaks from study. They can, if they wish, use that time to mentally review their work.

Dr. Swami Shankardev is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for ten years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

OT and Yoga

When I see another great article about yoga for children that have special needs I always like to share what I have read. It also supports current research about how how all children benefit from a yoga practice.

Please enjoy:

by Sari Ockner, OTR/L

Occupational therapists help children with special needs build the underlying skills necessary to promote their success and independence in daily activities. This includes building their physical strength and endurance, while regulating their activity level, behavior, and emotions. Additionally, occupational therapy facilitates and feeds each child’s creativity and imagination.

Now lets talk yoga:
If you are a yoga enthusiast, such as myself, you can likely already imagine all the benefits of incorporating yoga into a child’s life. I have recently been trained and certified by Shana Meyerson, owner of mini yogis®, to teach yoga to children. I have started to incorporate yoga activities within my typical OT sessions, and WOW, not only do the children love it but I clearly see progress in each child with a few simple additions to what we were already doing.

Physical Benefits
Yoga promotes physical strength & muscular endurance, encouraging children to use all of their muscles. It helps to build balance, coordination, flexibility, and body awareness. Almost every position or asana incorporates the use of the core muscles, which ultimately promotes better posture. Yoga also teaches a child how to feel their breath and how the breathing physically impacts their bodies.

Motor Planning
Yoga positions incorporate using the body in different ways and across all planes of movement. Repetition, an important key in building new motor skills, is incorporated to help children master new movements. An important part of praxis or motor planning is coming up with novel ideas. Yoga encourages ideation skills and imagination, as children assist in picking different asanas and stringing together different sequences.

Yoga can help to build a child’s self esteem, as no positions or ideas can be “wrong”. Unlike many physical activities, there is no winning or losing when practicing yoga. It is fun and playful!

So many of our children with special needs have difficulty regulating their arousal level, which leads to hyperactive and perceived aggressive behaviors. Yoga incorporates teaching breathing techniques and poses that require stillness. Yoga teaches a child to become more self aware of how their mind and body are connected and what it feels like to be still and calm.

Yoga teaches individuals to be thankful, present, and kind to others. When building sequences children take turns and can build upon the ideas of others.

There are a variety of ways to work with children and incorporate yoga. Yoga with kids, especially younger ones, does not look like an adult class. It is all about incorporating a variety of fun tools to entice a child to be an active participant. Such components may include toys, games, songs, story books, or an obstacle course.

A session may start with sitting in a cross legged position and working on breathing, what a fabulous time to bring out whistles or bubbles to give that child sensory feedback on how their breath works! Maybe creating a sequence on how a tree grows (leading up to a one-legged tree asana) or how a super hero flies around the world to save his friends from trouble (flying on stomach with legs and arms raised high). A child’s yoga practice in this context is not “acting out” the actions but using yoga poses in a sequence to tell the story. Lastly, often the best part, shavasana. A time for stillness & teaching children an appreciation for quiet time, a skill necessary in school during teaching instruction or when going out in the community to places like a movie theater.

As the school year begins and parents are deciding which after school activities are best for their child, yoga is a fantastic option. Its fun, creative, and active!

Footnote: Shana Meyerson founded mini yogis® yoga for kids in March 2002. A pioneer in the children’s yoga community, Shana has taught teachers all over the world how to teach children in a fun, safe, and mindful way. Her intuitive and integrative approach to teaching allows her to positively change the lives of both typically developing and special needs children. Trained in classical yoga by one of the world’s most renowned yogis, Sri Dharma Mittra, Shana considers her teaching an offering to the sweet innocence of children and the lives that lay ahead of them. You can find out more about Shana’s mini yogis program and sign up for her yoga tip of the week by visiting http://www.miniyogis.com. Featured Contributor: Sari Ockner, OTR/L and Kidz Occupational TherapySari received her degree in Occupational Therapy at from the University of Wisconsin – Madison in 1998, in their extended Occupational Therapy program with an emphasis in her fieldwork studies in the scope of pediatrics.