Choosing yoga as a lifestyle will lead you and your child to success that has nothing to do with standing on your head and everything to do with balance. Doing yoga together with your child with special needs gives you peace of mind and will remind you to appreciate the most challenging moments.
How often do you think you live in the present moment? If you take a moment to realize how much you think of the past or the future, it’s interesting. Yoga is about the right now, and that is what creates true peace of mind.
Having the goal of living with peace of mind will have you appreciating the most challenging moments with your child with special needs. The yoga I describe in this article is for every body, everyplace, every age, all the time.
Surprise! You’re already doing yoga. Breathing is the most important part of yoga, which induces relaxation naturally. Now you can learn to be mindful and conscious of how you breathe—after all, it’s the only thing in life that we are in control of.
Understanding that yoga is a lifestyle, not just a form of exercise, is what creates time to do yoga. Choosing yoga as a lifestyle will lead you and your child to success that has nothing to do with being on a yoga mat.
As adults we learn tools to block out what is happening at the moment. Think about a young child when a fly presents itself, or a pigeon is close by. Children become curious, fascinated, or frantic, while we ignore them or shoo them away. Young and nonverbal children are affected by all that is around them, and the outcome can be a “negative” behavior, or they become distracted. Poses (asanas) and breathing exercises (pranayama) bring our minds to the present. We learn and retain information when we are not distracted.
When I first began working with children with special needs for 15-30 hours a week in their homes, I quickly got bored and frustrated. How could I expect them to stay interested and focused? How could I get past my own issues so that I could be there for them 100 percent? I began using my yoga breathing techniques during sessions. The breathing exercises got the children’s attention, and they began to attend to tasks for longer periods of time.
After I got certified as a yoga practitioner of Yoga for the Special Child, I was excited to use what I learned. Simply because I was excited, the children got excited. Since Hatha yoga is the same for every age, parents and children can take turns learning from each other. Parents took notice of their children’s new abilities to follow directions, to attend sessions, and to focus after yoga became a part of their child’s life. Some parents joined our sessions. This had me realizing the power of yoga in regards to behavior, self-esteem, and relationship building.
Parents and Kids as Students
Yoga is humbling. It can be physically and mentally challenging. Having a child see his parent being vulnerable creates growth and trust. Using breathing techniques and simple body movements can get parents through moments of frustration and anxiety. Children learn problem-solving solutions from watching their parents. Instead of reacting to a meltdown or tantrum, a parent can choose a way to take a break and heal her own body first. This leads to healthy solutions rather than a fight-or-flight response. Getting oxygen to the brain before reacting helps a parent make peaceful decisions that aid in handling any situation.
Kids: Naturals at Yoga
Yoga works with children with special needs because it’s fun and they are naturally good at it. You can catch newborns doing yoga. Many children sleep in child’s pose and relax in happy baby pose. Children turn upside down and twist their bodies around, flailing their arms. Going upside down or putting our legs up the wall may seem silly and pointless, but the benefits of inversion poses positively influence the cardiovascular, lymphatic, nervous, and endocrine systems and gets fresh blood and oxygen to the brain. Twisting our bodies and flailing our arms prepares the digestive system, increases blood flow to the spine, and helps gets the left and right brain hemispheres working together. We can all give our major organs a rest from the gravity that constantly pulls at them. Inversion poses also show positive effects towards having a healthy heart.
Seated Spinal Twist: Keep both feet on the floor, inhale deeply, sit up tall, and twist your torso; each exhale try to twist more. You can place your child on your lap, or physically help her twist.
Shoulder Bounces: Sit up tall in your seat, relax your shoulders. Lift shoulders slowly up to your ears and let them drop down. Gradually pick up the speed of your bounces, until you have a comfortable rhythm. This loosens up chronically tight shoulder/neck area, and teaches your child that movement doesn’t have to be structured or complicated to effect your state of mind.
Forward Fold: Sit at the edge of your chair, feet flat on the floor. Reach up, inhale. Fold over your legs and let your body fall between your thighs. To come up pull your navel in and bring your body up.
Learn more yoga poses to do with your kid...
Setting the Stage
A relaxed parent creates a relaxed environment. In a calm, relaxed environment a child can feel free to make mistakes and learn problem-solving skills on his own. Children want nothing more than to give and receive love from their parents.
Self-massage is a part of ayurveda, an ancient Indian system of medicine that sees the powerful connection between the mind and the body. Massage relieves your mind and body from many kinds of stresses and toxic build-ups. Giving a child a foot massage before bedtime, along with a loving sentence (mantra) sends him off to sleep in a safe, tranquil mind, which may be the opposite of what he feels during his school day.
A child gets so much satisfaction from “giving” to a parent. Allow your child to slather oil on your feet and give you a massage (yes even a 4-year-old can be good at this). Having a child massage her ears before listening prepares her to use the exact body part that should be active, and also releases headache-causing tension for adults. Smoothing out the eyebrows from the middle towards the temples releases tension, as does pressing the space on the cheek where the jaw hinges.
Using my imagination, I created “batman breathing”—otherwise known as Ujayii breathing or Ocean breathing. Typically this form of pranayama (breathing with awareness) is done by inhaling through the nose, the lips closed, and the exhale is a hissing sound made from the throat.
One of my young students, a boy who was motivated only by Batman, inspired and loved this idea. He exhaled the name “Batman” with a hissing sound from his throat. While doing this breathing he was able to complete non-preferred fine motor activities. Breathing in this style allows one to ingest more oxygen. An adult can use this breathing to stay in a yoga pose that is physically challenging, or to get over a stressful moment.
Another yogic method of breathing is brahmari, or bumblebee breathing—the humming sound helps the body release tension and quiets a buzzing mind.
(To be done with a straight spine and shoulders rolled back.)
Ujjayi/Ocean Breathing:Inhale through the nose and exhale, with lips closed, creating a hissing sound from the throat.
Brahmari/Bumblebee Breathing: Inhale through the nose and release a humming sound.
Lion’s Breath: Open eyes and mouth wide, let tongue out, inhale through the nose, and exhale with a hissing roar.
These simple yoga tools can be done while stuck in traffic, while doing homework with your child, and in bed at night. It’s a bonus if you and your child can actually get to a mat.
Make this moment an important one. Why wait for something to “happen” in order to alter your lifestyle? Choose now to create that change. Do something new, and show your child what it looks like to be open to new ideas! Happy yoga trails. Namaste.
Shane B. Kulman MS is the founder of Your Beautiful Child LLC. Tune in weekly to hear Shane on Your Beautiful Child Radio.