Yoga and autism

Yesterday I posted about Spectrum Yoga Training. Today I write more about why I see yoga as beneficial for those on the autism spectrum. I have no scientific backing, but rather my own experience.

Autism is a learning development disorder that effects a 1 in 88 children in the US (CDC). It occurs on a spectrum, meaning it effects people on different degrees, allowing for high functioning and lower functioning individuals. It does not discriminate based on race or economic background, but perhaps by gender; the prevalence appears to be greater among boys. Autism is usually diagnosed as children reach school age and the symptoms vary from case to case. (See the CDC webpage for more information on statistics and diagnosis.)

There are many theories on the cause of the disorder and scientists and psychologists alike are engrossed in the study of how this disorder develops. Though a cure would be ideal, treatment of the symptoms is where the focus is for most people. For those living with autism or with a family member with autism, simple life tasks can be out of reach. Social interaction is difficult for many on the spectrum as social cues, such as facial expressions and sarcasm, can escape them. Motor function is often limited.

All this being true, how does yoga fit into the life of someone with autism? Isn’t yoga a fitness routine? Can individuals with autism really follow and benefit from the poses? Is it necessary?

No yoga is not only a fitness routine. Yes individuals on the autism spectrum are able follow and benefit from the poses. And no it is not necessary but it has been witnessed to be an effective therapy, a great tool, to help start to bring more peace into the lives of all.

Research is beginning in the field of yoga for autism. There are other programs out there besides Ashrams, all pioneering the way through alternative therapies. The most powerful measure, though, comes from the parents and teachers, those who witness the changes in the children they love and admire.

Yoga is thought I be a highly developed science. Through research people are coming to realize how much wisdom the ancient kriyas (cleansing techniques), asanas (postures) and other meditative techniques hold. If done correctly and practiced over long periods of time, yoga has the power to heal ailments and bring the body back into balance.

Balance is one thing a body that carries autism seems to lack. The nervous system, digestive system and most likely other organ systems have become unbalanced and processing information becomes difficult. Through specifically tailored yoga sequences, we can help restore some balance to the brain and help to calm the nervous system. Te digestive system is aided through light twists and compression postures. The same benefit that our bodies receive from these postures can be modified for those on the spectrum, as well as adding movement and dancing to integrate both sides of the brain and release excess tension and energy.

Speaking from my own experience, I see not only physical improvement in my students as the weeks progress but behavioral improvement as well. In class, they have the freedom to explore techniques that will make them feel more relaxed. They are also interacting with peers in a safe environment. It is a great social tool in addition to the individual benefits.

Every time I walk into class I am amazed at how excited everyone is to start. It has become part of the routine and thy look forward to it. The class is a set series of poses that we rarely ever stray from, save for a few interchangeable poses. There is also a time for chanting (my favorite part) and for final relaxation. In some classes we dance. This all depends on the sensitivities of the class. In some classes we perform reiki on the participants as they lie in savasana.

Teachers and parents are amazed to see the children sit calmly and participate. They marvel at how stims(stimulating behaviors such as writing in the air or flapping the hands) often lessen or completely subside in final relaxation. It is truly miraculous.

So I don’t have much proof but I know that yoga helps. Sharon hopes to continue research through ashrams. She is interested in the healing practice of yoga and expands on this through diet and nutrition. Eventually she hopes to build an ashram, a place where people on the spectrum and those who love them can come together in fellowship. She wants to bring information and programs to as many people as possible as autism does not only effect the body that is hosting it but family and friends as well. Visit Ashrams for Autism for more information.

Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Yoga and autism

  1. As a mom of a boy on the spectrum, as well as a new yoga student, I can see how this makes sense. Thanks for this post. I’m going to look into it more.

  2. Such cool work! THanks for sharing your perspective and expressing the breadth and depth of what a yoga class can offer to children with ADD. With or without the “scientific research” the real evidence is the enthusiasm of your students and their willingness to engage with you and their classmates in a meaningful way. Yay for yoga and Yay! for you, Jennifer Elise.

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