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Yoga and Childhood Disabilities
Some of the benefits of yoga are said to be physical conditioning, increased flexibility, sounder sleep and stress relief. There are dozens of books and DVDS that offer an introduction to the simple positions and moves for those who wish to introduce their families to yoga at home. However, like other exercise regimes that may be more physically demanding in real life than in theory, being taught by a trained and reliable professional can get individuals and families off to a better start so yoga can become a comfortable habit at home.
Many communities have private or community center yoga classes specifically for children, and some offer classes for children growing up with developmental delays, physical challenges or disabilities. As with other physical activities for children, there are personality, safety and health issues that should be considered when comparing instructors and programs. The space should be clean, airy and uncrowded and the yoga instructor should be knowledgeable and encouraging. Children with disabilities should be enrolled in inclusive yoga classes so accommodations made for their mainstream peers are provided as naturally as those for a specific disability.
Some community organizations and local parks departments offer Mommy and Me or family centered yoga classes that are especially comfortable and beneficial for children with disabilities. They may help adults remember the diversity of the children they knew growing up and remind us that every child is unique and interesting. And unlike therapy, parent or caregiver participation ensures that we understand that nothing is as easy or manageable as it looks when an instructor is describing or modeling the movements.
Yoga is a personal experience that should not be viewed as a competitive sport. Some families will want the most stylish gear and to achieve perfection in every movement; others will be supportive of one another and help the instructor build self confidence and relaxation into the experience. Many of those who practice yoga in the latest fashions are as apt to create camaraderie and trust in a class as those who are wearing worn out gardening clothes.
My son decided to enroll in a parks department yoga class and I signed up at the same time to make sure it was appropriate for him and to monitor his blood sugar. Because I had injured an ankle the instructor showed me helpful accommodations to avoid pain or further injury. I was not the only person who enjoyed the support and encouragement. My son assisted the instructor several times after the initial classes and enjoyed being a support for others.
One woman undergoing treatment for cancer was supported by a small circle of friends who added to the positive and peaceful atmosphere. We were not aware of the special circumstances until well into the season when my son noticed she had missed a class or two and said he was glad she was back. In regular life, a great deal of diversity is subtle and does not need to be explained or commented on.
If you have not been to a yoga class or experienced yoga techniques, you may be unaware of the less glamorous side effects of stretching and bending bodies or holding positions. Bodies make noises and let go of some constraints of civilization when they are freed to do so. Sometimes children, teens and adults have what would ordinarily be inappropriate reactions during a yoga class that observers might not understand. For this reason, as well as other benefits that are described in the literature, I urge parents to participate in yoga classes with their children or in adult classes.
Browse at your public library, local bookstore, or online retailer for DVDs featuring Yoga for children, cards like Yoga Pretzels and books like: Yoga for Children With Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents and Caregivers or Yoga for the Special Child: A Therapeutic Approach for Infants and Children with Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, or Learning Disabilities.
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