This guest post is from a former colleague, Jensen Wheeler Wolfe, a certified yoga instructor in New York City. Jensen is the creator and owner of The Little Yoga Mat, a compact, eco-friendly mat for kids under age 4—used by, among others, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in their children's ward. Jensen's a lovely, smart lady who has a lot of great insights into yoga, including poses that can benefit kids with special needs. Max is a fan—he's done yoga at school for years. Check out her suggestions:
Children's yoga is a growing trend worldwide. Yoga is beneficial for all kids, but has enormous therapeutic benefits for special needs children. For example, a 2012 New York University study at an elementary school in the Bronx compared two groups of autistic kids for sixteen weeks. One group did a daily 17-minute yoga program, the other group didn’t. The students who did yoga displayed a reduction in aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity—likely because the activity played to the strengths of kids with autism while also reducing stress. Said study leader Kristie Patten Koenig, NYU associate professor of occupational therapy, “Anxiety can fuel negative behavior, and a yoga program gives them a strategy to cope with it.”
For kids with physical disabilities, yoga can encourage stretching, posture and body awareness. Motor skills can improve. Most kids love yoga because it's fun and non-competitive. For all children, it can help with focus, listening skills, confidence and peace of mind. Moms love it because kids get calm and are less reactive.
Try any of these poses with your child, gradually evolving into the full sequence of five. Yoga can be done anywhere but it helps to have a quiet space and a mat. Wear comfortable clothes, no socks. Gently talk your child through each pose and if necessary guide their body to the position—or stand behind them, holding their hips for support as together you go through the motion. The sequence below works in order, but after a few sessions kids can feel free to mix it up. Om on!
Stand tall and straight like a mountain. Press your feet into the earth and your palms in front of your chest. Take five deep breaths through your nose. Feel your mountain power and strength!
Singing star pose
Create a star with your body by separating your feet as wide as you can and stretch your arms out. Sing or hum one stanza of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” while slowly rocking back and forth from one foot to the other. One foot may lift off the floor. Keep the arms wide for balance. Imagine you are up in the night sky dancing with your star friends.
Sit on your mat and put the soles of your feet together, knees wide. Hold your toes and gently flap your knees like butterfly wings. Can you touch your nose to your toes?
Kissy knees pose
Sit on your mat with legs out front, hands next to you. Bend knees slightly and bend forward kissing each kneecap a few times.
Lie on your back so your whole body is resting on the mat. Now tighten up your entire body including your face and make your body as tense as possible. Hold for a few seconds. Release with an exhale. Relax, close your eyes and rest for a few minutes.
Jensen's got a Little Yoga Mat Kickstarter going on; she's raised close to $20,000 so far to create The Little Yoga Tree Mat for kids ages five to ten, and plans to donate half of the first production run to children's hospitals because she is awesome that way. She hopes to hit her goal of $35,000 by August 7.
Image: Flickr/Pioneer Library System