Distance learning is not without its challenges. As a school-based physical therapist, I applaud all the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are doing their best for our students! We’re all in this together, and I’m looking forward to the day when we can safely return to the classroom. In the meantime, it’s more important than ever to take care of our bodies by getting up and moving, and checking in with our stress levels. I love using yoga as a stress-reducing physical activity, especially for my students with autism.
Yoga is a cost-effective intervention for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). It helps counteract the sedentary nature of distance learning, and it’s a comprehensive, whole body exercise – meaning you get more bang for your buck! In a systematic literature review of yoga interventions for children and youth with ASD (Cahill 2019) there was evidence for the use of yoga to address:
- Mental health concerns of anxiety and depression (strong evidence)
- Social participation (strong evidence)
- Self-regulatory and prosocial behaviors (moderate evidence)
In addition to addressing mental health, social participation, self-regulation and motor skills, yoga also improves postural stability, imitation, and coordination. These are powerful benefits bundled into one activity! And the great news is that there are tons of free resources available to get you and your child started!
Before you get started, here are some tips:
- Start simple: Teach your child simple yoga poses and breathing exercises. (e.g. balloon breaths, downward dog, butterfly pose, etc.)
- Encourage success: Choose poses and breathing strategies that will allow your child to feel successful. Practice those first 2-3 poses before adding new poses and/or breathing strategies.
- Utilize supports: If needed, use a visual schedule with pictures of poses so your child knows what to expect.
- Have fun!: Incorporate yoga breaks throughout the day in order to encourage movement, stretching and breathing. There are lots of fun yoga games to play. For example, you can make Yoga Bingo with different poses, or play red light/green light where your child chooses a yoga pose when red light is called! Have fun and make it your own!
Here are a few of my favorite yoga videos for kids:
- We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: A Cosmic Kids Yoga Adventure
- Yoga for Kids
- Yoga for Kids with Autism
- Yoga for Kids with Animals: Smile and Learn
A foundational element of yoga is mindfulness and breathing. Here are a few of my favorite breathing exercise videos for children:
- Balloon Breaths with Fablefy
- 4-7-8 Breathing video by Fablefy
- Rainbow Breathing by GoNoodle
- Five Finger Breathing by MyLife
- Belly Breathe with Elmo by Sesame Street
If you’re wanting to reduce screen time, here is a great poster to print out and hang up in your designated yoga space: Yoga Alphabet Poster.
I hope this helps you and your child get moving, relax and breathe easy!