I’m excited to introduce you to Lauren and Claire, who are pediatric therapists and writers of The Inspired Treehouse blog. As many of you work as health professionals or have children who attend early intervention sessions, I asked them to share with us what they see as the benefits of yoga for kids and how they use yoga in their practice.
We are always looking for creative ways to work on developmental skills without a child realizing how hard they are actually working! Yoga has become one of our favorite tools for disguising this kind of hard work because it can target pretty much every developmental skill under the sun and because it’s FUN!
What are the Therapeutic Benefits of Yoga for Kids?
As pediatric occupational and physical therapists, it is our job to focus on the development of a child as a whole. We look at how a child is interacting with his environment and what he might need help with to make that interaction easier and improve his independence.
In our therapy sessions, we address gross motor skill development, fine motor skill development, self-care skills, sensory needs, behavior, and attention. We also introduce strategies and interventions to support learning and development in all areas of a child’s life – from home to school to the community and beyond!
We frequently use yoga in our school-based therapy practice to target a broad range of skills, including:
Yoga poses are designed to provide a whole-body stretch from head to toe. This can be a big advantage for children with neurological and physical disabilities who develop muscle tightness. But we find that working on flexibility is important for all children, as they spend much of their day seated at their desks in school, developing tight hamstrings, shoulders, and more!
If you’ve ever held Chair Pose for more than a few seconds, you know that yoga requires a great deal of strength! That burning in your legs means that your muscles are working hard! Working with kids on developing strength is an important part of many of our therapy sessions and yoga does it all – from core strength to leg strength to upper body strength…there’s a pose for everything!
3. Body Awareness, Balance, and Coordination
Getting into (and out of) yoga poses requires a strong sense of where your body is in space (the vestibular sense) and how your body parts are moving in relation to one another (proprioception). Yoga poses also require complex combinations of movement to be performed in a smooth and fluent manner (coordination).
4. Attention and Behavioral Regulation
Yoga never ceases to amaze us with its ability to calm and relax even the most active and inattentive kids. Breathing techniques commonly used in yoga are the perfect tools for children who struggle with impulsive behavior and inattention. Teaching calming breathing and visualization techniques can empower all children – letting them know that they have tools they can use anytime and anywhere to calm their bodies and minds.
5. Cognitive Skills and Language Development
Our speech therapist and teacher friends often use yoga and other movement activities to work on direction-following and language processing. In order to follow along with a yoga sequence, kids have to be tuned into the teacher and following along with their instructions.
Doing yoga as a group only enhances the experience. Kids can feel one another’s energy, follow the example of others, and learn to be leaders. Practicing yoga in the classroom or in a smaller therapy group is great for this and partner yoga is another great way to work social skills into the mix!
How Do We Use Yoga in Therapy?
During therapy sessions, we like to incorporate yoga by using yoga games and apps or yoga cards. We also embed yoga poses in play in different ways to target different skills. We use Bridge Pose or Downward Dog Pose to see if the child can hold the posture while we roll a ball underneath. We play Mirror, Mirror to see if a child can mimic the same pose we’re doing and move smoothly from one pose to the next.
Yoga can also be used as preparation for other functional activities. We may use poses like Forward Bend or other upside down postures to provide kids with vestibular input that helps them attend and stay focused. Or we may use Downward Dog pose as an opportunity to provide weight bearing and proprioceptive input to prepare kids for handwriting activities. We also recommend yoga as movement breaks in the classroom for children who have difficulty sitting still for longer periods of time.
As therapists, we’re also able to modify and create new poses to meet the needs of our students who may be limited cognitively or physically. This way, everyone can join in the yoga fun!
Often, we work together as a team (speech, occupational, and physical therapists and teachers) to provide group yoga sessions in classrooms. Giselle’s Kids Yoga Stories are perfect for this kind of approach, as the children use their receptive language skills to listen to the story and then use their bodies to carry out the suggested activities.
We can’t say enough about the amazing and positive impact yoga can have on child development. We’d love to hear about how you use yoga in your therapy practice or classroom!
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[Interview] Tips for Teaching Yoga in Occupational Therapy Sessions
About the Authors
Claire Heffron MS OTR/L and Lauren Drobnjak, PT are pediatric therapists and the co-creators of The Inspired Treehouse where they share useful information about common developmental issues along with activities for kids designed to promote healthy gross motor, fine motor, and sensory development. Follow The Inspired Treehouse on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and Instagram!