As an occupational therapist, I have used yoga in a variety of ways with clients I’ve worked with. Yoga is a great way to build strength and body awareness and also improves sensory processing and regulation. Yoga can be used with clients young and old.
For example, I have used “cat” and “cow” postures to help an adult stroke patient who was unable to use one side of his body to be able to weight bear through his affected arm. Weight bearing in this position helps to retrain the neurological system so that communication improves between the brain and affected limb. The proprioceptive input the body receives during weight bearing improves the patient’s awareness of the affected side. Engaging both arms in the activity improve the patient’s ability to use both arms together. After participating in activities such as this, the patient starts to be able to move his arm in a more coordinated manner and hopefully will eventually be able to use his arm for functional activities such as dressing and bathing.
Children with a variety of learning disabilities or behaviors can benefit from yoga as well. For example, children with autism and sensory processing impairments frequently have symptoms such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, difficulty calming, and difficulty attending and focusing on activities. This can be caused by impaired processing of the vestibular (sense of movement), tactile (sense of touch), and proprioceptive (sense of muscles/joints) systems. Yoga uses all of these senses simultaneously to get into different postures, thus improving the ability to process this information.
In addition to improving how the sensory systems are functioning, yoga also improves sensory regulation. Regulation refers to the arousal state of the nervous system and includes the ability to attend to tasks. Children with poor regulation have difficulty attending to tasks, which can impact all daily life activities (for example, sitting at a table to eat or sitting in a classroom). By using the body to get into various postures, while at the same time bringing conscious attention to breathing, yoga can greatly improve the ability for children to maintain an ideal state of regulation and attend to daily activities.
Although it is obvious that yoga has invaluable benefit for children and adults with a variety of diagnoses and disabilities, yoga can be just as beneficial for adults and children who don’t have any impairments. For me, it is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, and it helps me to focus my thoughts and intentions so that I am more productive and feel more satisfied in my day to day activities. For more information, research yoga programs and studios in your area or contact your local occupational therapist to see if he or she has a yoga program that could benefit your child.
Bio: Andrea is an occupational therapist who earned her Master’s Degree in Health Sciences from the Medical College of Georgia in 2006. Her areas of expertise include autism and sensory processing disorder (SPD). She currently owns her own private home-based practice in the North County San Diego area and is passionate about providing humane, effective treatment based on the most current research and treatment practices. For helpful techniques, tips, and information, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. To find out information about how to qualify for services with her, visit her website at www.sensorysolutionsinc.com.