I have been doing private yoga sessions with a 25 year girl with Autism. On her first visit to yoga she brought her Sponge Bob stuffed animal. When I think of my own experiences with stuffed animals as a child, I remember the softness and familiarity, even the smell of them as giving me comfort through the night and in essence providing me with a sense of safety and support. In my last session with her she brought her Hello Kitty. She has a familiar pattern to her sessions. At first meeting she clings to her stuffed animal and begins to express her thoughts, most often repetitive worries or happenings in her day. I’ll take my shoes off and she will proceed take her shoes off and place them neatly under the bench. I’ll let her know that her mat is ready for her and she will sit down with her stuffed animal still clutched in her hands. As we begin yoga I will ask her if she wants Hello Kitty to sit next to her or if she would like mom to hold Hello Kitty. Most often mom is chosen as the watcher of her beloved stuffed animal. When we first begin her session she wants to share and repeats thoughts that seem to play over in her mind like a record player. I am able to capture her attention with images and modeling and we begin the session with belly breathing. As I breathe in and out audibly she follows my lead. In each session there has been an ebb and flow of showing attentiveness then displaying feelings of anxiety, repetitive thoughts, expression of anger, worry or frustration. Patiently I stay engaged and calm and as she displays her anxiety and expresses her worried thoughts, I breathe in and out audibly. The poses that have the most impact are the restorative poses with soft blankets and bolsters to provide her with that sense of comfort and support she gets from her stuffed animals. Even when there are times of hesitation or frustration in moving into a pose when she finally gets there I can see an automatic sense of calm that comes over her. She may continue to repeat worries and thoughts but the more I breathe audibly in and out, exhaling each breath with a haaaaaaa sound, her repetitive talk diminishes and she begins to soften, repeating the haaaaaa following my breath. With each haaaaaa sound, I can see her soften a bit more. Every session I have observed her come to a place of complete CALM. As she lies in her pose, now even more open to receive, I express to her how calm she looks, that this pose she is in helps her FEEL calm. So many individuals with Autism struggle with extreme anxiety and have difficulty knowing what calm looks like and even more difficulty knowing what it is to feel calm. It is my hope through her practice of yoga that she is able to feel a sense of support, a sense of grounding. It is my hope that she will learn to use the tools from yoga to help her cope with anxiety and when she is in need of support and comfort, she will turn to her mat, her blankets, her bolsters and her breath so she may know what is is to experience a more peaceful life and so she may know what it is to truly FEEL calm.
In Gratitude to the many lessons learned from beautiful teachers like her.