Through my many years working with children with autism and special needs, I have noticed the profound disconnect many of them have with their own bodies, from having difficulty recognizing and identifying their own body parts to struggling with being aware of where their bodies are in space and how their bodies feel. Many factors can affect a child’s body awareness and connection to their body. Difficulty with language and vocabulary, memory and sensory regulation all play a part in body awareness. Children who experience sensory processing difficulties in particular, struggle with body awareness and sensory regulation. Our brain and the functioning of our brain plays a key role in sensory regulation and body awareness. Various areas of our brain process sensory information and sensory input. Sensory processing involves processing external information (the environment) as well as internal information (what’s happening in our bodies). The brain processes information through the 5 senses (smell, taste, touch sight and sound) as well as the 2 “invisible” senses, vestibular and proprioceptive. Children who have sensory processing difficulties are wired differently in their brains. Their brains often misfire and are unable to process or integrate sensory information correctly. They may be extremely sensitive to senses and internal or external stimuli. This over-stimulation can cause anxiety and cause the child’s nervous system to be in a constant state of overdrive and tension. This can affect the child’s mood, behavior, social relationships and participation in daily activities. Lack of vestibular and proprioceptive processing can cause the child to have difficulty connecting to their bodies, how fast they are going, where they are in space, balance and coordination. The practice of yoga supports children with sensory processing difficulties and limited body awareness by calming the nervous system, supporting the brain in processing sensory information more effectively, strengthening balance and coordination and teaching vocabulary connected to body parts. Turning their bodies into animals and shapes teaches children body parts and body awareness in fun and motivating ways and encourages language development at the same time! Here’s to getting our kids to be more connected, balanced and aware of their bodies!
Yesterday I was honored to be featured on Prana Yoga’s blog. It got me thinking about how there are so many people, teachers, friends, mentors, family in our lives who play a role in helping us manifest our dreams. No matter how passionate and driven we are, we NEED others to help us reach our greatest potentials. When we spend time with inspiring people who are passionate about what they do, this can ignite the flame within us and make us more driven, motivated and excited about our own cause. I recently had the opportunity to teach two workshops at the Boost Conference in Palm Springs. Talk about inspiring individuals who think outside of the box and are passionate about creating change and making the lives of children richer and more meaningful! I came back from the conference newly rejuvenated, inspired and ready to conquer the world! When I think about all of the steps I have taken along the way to reach my goals, manifest my dreams, so many people come to mind as influences, supporters and inspirations along my path. I think of my experiences in my yoga trainings and the people I have met along the way. So many of those people continue to inspire me and it’s exciting to see them on their path…moving towards their goals. I’ve been overwhelmed by the support and positive feedback from others. Community can be such a powerful thing! A small gesture, a positive note, a high five, a stimulating conversation with someone about each others passions, lunch with a friend, time with family, a hug, a date with your spouse, an inspiring training with inspiring people, these are the things that help us MANIFEST OUR DREAMS and keep us feeling hopeful and excited about what life has in store. I am grateful for the many individuals in my life, near and far, whom I see often or only on occasion that have played a part in bringing me closer to my dreams. Here’s to community, to learning and growing together, to supporting one another, to lifting each other up, to manifesting our dreams!
Today I practiced yoga with the children in our special ed program. Fridays are our “yoga” days where we get to practice yoga by playing games,making our bodies into animals and objects and releasing difficult emotions like fear, anger, worry and frustration through fun and interactive breathing strategies. The children shared what makes them feel afraid and we did breathing to release fear and show our courage. They shared what makes them feel angry and we talked about how when we get angry we feel hot, like a volcano and sometimes feel like we want to explode. We became volcanoes and released our anger and frustration through our breath…visualizing the heat and anger coming out of our mouths like hot lava and steam. It is incredible how we can release tension and emotions we store in our bodies through these types of fun and playful breathing strategies. Teaching children to release tension and difficult emotions in non-intimidating ways allows them to feel ok with expressing themselves and helps them understand that we all feel these emotions and we can learn ways to express them, release them and let them go. Children with language processing deficits in particular struggle with expressing their emotions. In many cases the struggle of trying to find the words or language to communicate how they feel becomes an even bigger frustration and can cause meltdowns, outbursts and distress over communicating their feelings. Specific breathing strategies can allow the child to release physical tension and stress from their bodies when they are feeling difficult or challenging emotions. Think back to a time when you were upset and just felt like you needed to let it out in some physical way. The visualization of letting the emotions out supports children in letting emotions go rather than holding on to them, releasing tension in the mind. The breathing strategies help children release tension and stress in their bodies in order to support better sleep, mood, behavior, digestion and overall physical and emotional well-being. Give it a try…the next time you become angry and feel like you want to explode…become a volcano…breathe out your anger…let it go. We can all learn so much from these amazing young people if we take the time to listen and pay attention. TGIF and Happy Breathing!
Many children with special needs experience heightened levels of anxiety. Due to difficulty with communication, sensory sensitivities and a variety of other challenges, these children can be in a constant state of anxiousness. The practice of mindful breathing, guided imagery and poses that calm the nervous system can support these children in developing coping skills, self-regulation skills and more effective responses to stress, both emotionally and physically. Heightened levels of anxiety can significantly affect children’s sleep, mood, behavior and health. My book ASANAS FOR AUTISM AND SPECIAL NEEDS coming out in January 2015 provides suggestions for poses, breathing strategies and visualizations to support children with special needs in reducing anxiety and releasing difficult emotions such as fear, anger and worry. Calming their nervous systems and releasing tension in their minds and bodies supports better sleep, digestion, mood and overall health and well-being. Read more on the benefits of yoga for children with Autism here… Yoga helps children with autism by increasing focus and decreasing anxiety
Did you know that there are several benefits yoga offers to children with Autism, ADD/ADHD, Fragile X, Prader willi, Down Syndrome, anxiety disorders, language processing deficits and sensory integration dysfunction and other related disabilities? By incorporating the practice of breathing strategies and yoga poses in fun and interactive ways such as using games, visuals and guided imagery, children can learn new vocabulary, self-regulation skills and strategies to calm their nervous systems and release difficult or uncomfortable emotions. The practice of yoga increases flexibility, strength, motor-skills, body awareness, balance, concentration and self-esteem.Take a look at what PBS Parents has to say about yoga for children with disabilities… Yoga for kids with disabilities
There are several studies coming out emphasizing the benefits of yoga for children with ADHD. Teaching children with ADHD mindful breathing as well as poses that calm the nervous system, support the child in self-regulation and increase focus and concentration is being discussed as a an alternative and complimentary therapy to medication. Check out what Yoga Journal has to say about it… Focus on ADHD
I am over the moon excited to be sharing my first blog post! It’s my desire to share my passion and knowledge for health, wellness and mindfulness with parents, families and caregivers of children with autism and special needs. This blog will provide suggestions and information on yoga poses, breathing strategies, nutrition, health and wellness for children with special needs as well as the families and caretakers who support and encourage them. It is my hope that this blog will encourage readers and their children to breathe more, worry less, connect to their bodies, embrace their circumstances, find laughter and live happier, healthier, more balanced lives. I hope you enjoy my blog as much as I enjoy sharing with you! Much love ~ Shawnee