The popularity of yoga has been on the rise, at least in part because it’s accessible to everyone – including children – regardless of physical ability. And if you’re a physical therapist or occupational therapist seeking creative ways to increase engagement and awareness, yoga poses for children with special needs may very well be the answer! Practicing yoga has been found to help children with attention and sensory challenges to calm their minds and energize their bodies, and can be particularly beneficial for children with developmental disorders such as Autism or Down syndrome. For children who are wheel-chair bound, yoga has been shown to improve memory and concentration and strengthen muscle tone. There are lots of yoga poses to choose from, so we’ve selected our favorites! Each of the following yoga poses has been selected for its ability to be utilized for both beginners AND children who are seeking a bit of a challenge.
Cat-Cow is a gentle sequence of two poses that stretches the spine and prepares the body for activity. For special needs children who are wheelchair-bound, this pose can be easily altered by focusing on the expansion of the chest and neck while taking long deep breaths.
Here are step-by-step instructions, as provided by Yoga Journal.
- Start in a tabletop position on a mat (modify as needed), Knees are set directly below the wrists; elbows and shoulders are in line and perpendicular on the floor. Head will be centered while eyes look towards the floor.
- As you exhale, round your spine toward the ceiling, keeping your shoulders and knees in position. Release your head towards the floor.
- Inhale back to neutral tabletop.
- Start on your hands and knees in a “tabletop” position with knees set directly below your hips and your wrists, elbows and shoulders are in line and perpendicular to the floor. Center your head in a neutral position, eyes looking at the floor.
- As you inhale, lift your sitting bones and chest toward the ceiling, allowing your belly to sink toward the floor. Lift your head to look straight forward.
- Exhale, coming back to neutral “tabletop” position on your hands and knees.
A resting position, “Child’s Pose” provides a deep stretch for the hips, legs and thighs, while relaxing the mind. This is often a natural pose for special needs children, particularly those on the spectrum, as it relieves external sensory inputs and stimulation they may be experiencing.
Instructions from www.flowandgrowkidsyoga.com.
- Starting on hands and knees, press your hips toward your heels.
- Stretch your arms and heart forward and down into the ground while you keep your hips back and down toward your feet.
- Breathe deeply and relax.
This slightly more challenging position focuses on concentration and balance. The folks at www.gogoyogakids.com provided these great instructions:
- Begin in a standing position. Cross your right thigh over your left leg.
- Try to tuck your right foot behind the calf of your left leg.
- Bring your arms straight out in front of you, and then cross left arm over your right arm at the elbows.
- Bend left arm at elbow and bring palms of hands together. If palms do not touch, then have the backs of hands touch.
- Bend your knees and hold your arms out in front of you with fingertips toward the sky.
- Squeeze everything tight.
- Repeat on the other side.
The cobra pose is great for children with low muscle tone, as it provides an overall body stretch. It’s very easy to work into your therapy session. In fact, most pre-school aged children will unknowingly get into this pose! Be sure to add a snake hissing sound for more fun.
Here are step-by-step instructions from www.flowandgrowkidsyoga.com:
- Lie on your tummy with legs stretched out behind you.
- Place your palms beside your shoulders on the ground.
- Join the legs together, tightening them and imagining they are together as one.
- Inhale deeply. Press into your palms and begin to lift your upper body. Gently lift your head, chest, and shoulders off the ground.
- Tighten the abs, buttocks, and thighs.
- Look up to the ceiling and then straight ahead. Make sure your neck and arms remain straight.
- Take a few deep breaths and stay in the pose.
Have you incorporated yoga into your pediatric therapy sessions? If so, what are your favorite “go-to” poses? Please share in the comments section below!
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