Yoga can strengthen the body and the mind
For many, yoga is seen as a series of poses or postures that are held for varying lengths of time with the goals of toning the body and increasing relaxation. However, yoga in its true form has vastly more benefits. It is a practice that was developed between 5000 and 6000 years ago and used by high priests and scholars in their quest for higher levels of insight and knowledge.
Yoga is a unity of the body, mind and spirit. It strengthens the body, balances the mind and nurtures the spirit. I have been practising yoga since 1974; my first class was like an “ah-a” moment where I understood that yoga offered the possibility to bring about my personal healing. It was like every light bulb in the room had been switched on.
Over years of regular practice, I started to understand how to bring myself into balance and peace, and when I started teaching yoga in 1990 I was able to share those experiences with the children and adults with additional needs who found their way to my classes.
The methodology I use includes the classical yoga practices of movement, breathing and deep relaxation, combined with sound, rhythm, massage and sensory integration techniques. However, each child is different and we need to focus on what the child can do rather than what they cannot do. We need to embrace every child as the magnificent being that they are, even when they are displaying challenging behaviours.
Whether in individual or group sessions, it is important to approach every child with a pure intention to create a practice that encourages them to their fullest potential, celebrating the strength within each child and working from there. Taking the child out of stress and into a relaxed state creates the optimum conditions for positive change.
Feel the benefits
Many studies have shown the impact that yoga and mindfulness can have on the wellbeing of all who practice it. Specific benefits can include:
- reduction in stress and anxiety
- improved resilience
- developing the ability to self-regulate across environments
- developing balance and the ability to relax and release tension, fear and frustration
- improved self-awareness
- improved motor planning and control
- improved immune function
- improved sleep
- enhanced respiratory ability and capacity
- enhanced sense of wellbeing
- creating emotional balance.
The breath is a very important part of our yoga practice. Breathing is one of the few body functions which occurs both at conscious and unconscious levels. The way a person breathes reflects their emotional state and is impacted by and can remedy stress and anxiety. Control of the breath has a profound impact on our health and wellbeing.
Breathing exercises in therapeutic yoga serve to connect the body and mind. When we slow and deepen the breath we change the physiological response. By consciously slowing the breath, especially the exhalation, we can facilitate the relaxation response even more, and develop some control over how our nervous system responds to our environment. The practice encourages the child to develop breath awareness. We can use any number of different techniques to help the child with this – through our own breathing (entrainment), touch-supported breathing, movement-supported breathing, use of sound and using specific massage points to release the tension in the breath and diaphragm.
Specific, simple but powerful yoga moves can help balance the body’s energy and bring strength and focus where it is needed.
Jo Manuel is the founder of the Special Yoga Foundation:
Photo by Gaia Visual.