I started a baby yoga book with my son when he was 18 months old. His home occupational therapist from the school district lent it to us. I was into yoga at the time and thought it would be fun. He was just barely walking, so I mostly put him in the poses and held him upside down for calming effects.
Then life with autism pulled us away from yoga; school therapies increased, and I was driving him to Minneapolis three times a week for more therapy. I had another baby on the way, and I was doing my training to become a yoga instructor. Life got too busy, stress was high and although I was doing what I needed to stay calm, I felt disconnected from my son. Fast forward a couple years and my son was about to start a full-time therapy center after two years of in-home therapy, and I was worried about feeling even more disconnected.
After my yoga for autism training I wanted to try the practice with my son, now age five, and his two sisters, who were seven and two. It was wonderful to find something we could all do together. It was challenging at times when they just wanted to run around like crazy (the two-year-old), and make fun of poses (the seven-year-old), or just sit and stim (my son with autism). But I stuck with it, doing it simply for the love of it. Yoga is a life-long practice. A practice that can guide your life on an amazing path of gratitude, love and health.
I would like to say yoga has erased my child’s autism symptoms and helped him in every area. That’s not what’s happening on our journey. It has helped my children reach calm and gives them confidence. Plus it’s improved my son’s motor planning and muscle tone. These benefits ease our daily lives, but the true benefit is less tangible.
For me, it’s all about connection. I find it hard to get my son to play with me. Interacting in small, everyday ways just doesn’t happen. So, this is our way. We breathe together, move together and relax and enjoy it. It’s about being present with my children while we are here on this planet to grow and learn together. And it’s about teaching them to love yoga like I do. So, eventually, my kids will have something healthy to turn to in times of stress, when they need to calm and center themselves.
And yoga does have a ton of health benefits – mental, emotional and physical. It helps with muscle strength, motor planning, circulation, digestion. Breathing tools reduce stress, anxiety, depression and anger.
For calming we do “HA” breaths:
- reaching your arms up and out, take a deep breath in
- then sigh out HAAA as you bring your hands toward your belly
- This stimulates the parasynthetic nervous system and releases stress and anxiety
- Great to do with kids all the time
- help them understand when they can use it on their own to calm down
- in anxious moments, they have a powerful tool they can use
Doing these breathing techniques yourself when you feel stressed will not only help you, it helps your children too. They have a calmer parent and a model showing them how to actively practice calm daily. Well, more like 10 times a day for me. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I can get enough calming breaths in my day.
Bringing yoga into your daily life and practicing with your children is a wonderful way to connect, reduce stress and be healthier. That’s why I started teaching other families living with autism these strategies through my Au-some Family yoga classes. Connecting parents and children, getting them to breathe together, have fun together and relax. No therapy to work on, no school, just time to BE together. We welcome kids of all abilities and with other special needs as well. I can’t stress enough that even if your child isn’t doing what we are doing, even if they sit in the back and stim the whole class, they are still taking it in and benefiting from it. Siblings are also welcome to join in!
If you can’t make it to a structured class, there are a lot of great yoga books and relaxation books for kids. You can find them at yogakids.com and amazon.com. One of our favorites is Good Night Yoga and the Yoga Garden Game.