5 Benefits of Yoga for Children with Special Needs

5 Benefits of Yoga for Children with Special Needs

“It’s time to lie down and rest,” I say to a 5-year old student of mine with autism.

As I say that, my student gets ready to lie down and tells me where to place my weighted bean bags to help her relax. She lies there for a whole 10 minutes barely moving. I watch as her belly rises and falls as she focuses on her breathing.

In recent years, yoga has gained in popularity. Kids are now doing yoga in the community and in their schools. But for kids with special needs and autism, I’ve witnessed what an amazing difference it can make in their lives. Today, I want to share five benefits yoga has for children with special needs.

 

Yoga can reduce anxiety.

 

Many children with special needs and on the autism spectrum are in a constant heightened state. This is the body’s response to stress and sleep disruptions, which can be exacerbated into full-blown anxiety. This can be seen physically through their breathing. You can see them chest breathing or hyperventilating, which can worsen the anxiety symptoms. The yogic practice of breathing exercises, poses and guided imagery helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, an activity also known as “rest, relax and digest.”

 

Yoga can provide consistency.

 

The daily practice at home and weekly sessions in a group or privately can help provide consistency and an order. In a class for children with special needs, a visual schedule is generally used to ease anxiety about class but also provide consistency. Students learn yoga sequences that are performed in the same order and open and close a class in the same order. This supports their need for consistency. However, students can expect different poses or modified sequences to challenge them as well.

 

Yoga can increase self-awareness and improves motor skills.

 

As children practice mindful movement in various yoga poses and learn to identify body parts, they can develop a greater sense of self and their body. Practicing poses on both sides of the body, the students cross the midline. Poses such as tree, airplane (warrior 3) and seated twists can increase body awareness and develops gross motor skills.

 

Yoga can help with emotional regulation.

 

Children with ASD can have difficulty expressing their emotions and communicating in social settings. At this time, this can be seen in unexpected outbursts or inappropriate ways of communicating. Through the combination of movement, music and breathing exercises, the brain’s emotional region is activated. This encourages children to develop emotional awareness. Also, yoga teaches children that it is okay to feel emotions both positive and negative and how to express their emotions in a healthy manner.

 

Yoga can help improve confidence.

 

Sometimes, children with special needs have low-esteem due to being teased for not being able to move and behave like other children in school and social settings. By learning self-calming techniques through mindful breathing, movement and meditation, children are able to regulate their emotions and can become more confident in social settings. Especially in a group class, they’ll be able to learn how to work together in a safe space and learn how to interact with one another. Through movement and the development of motor skills, children grow more confident in being able to move comfortably in their bodies.

 

Join me in my upcoming classes in January 2019 for children with special needs. I’m also available for 1 vs 1 private session. This can be especially helpful for children that have not been to a yoga class before or those who need extra support.

What Is Restorative Yoga?

What Is Restorative Yoga?

Sometimes we think of the body, mind, and soul as separate entities, but in reality, they are interconnected as a whole. The interactions between the parts and how they influence us, guide us, and support us are much like a dance. Similarly, the way we do asana, the poses we use in our yoga practice, is the way we do life. We often dance between loving our practice, resenting it, using it as an escape, and so on. What is important to remember is that our practice is neutral, it simply mirrors who we are, our emotional state, and how we are in the world.

Being present in this day and age is often a challenge with all of the distractions within, and around us. One single breath of gratitude can change that. Restorative Yoga uses physical props and at the same time, your body is a prop for your soul. Some of the important questions to ask in Restorative Yoga are, “Who are you bringing to the mat today, what do you need, and what will you give? Where are you allowing your attention to go right now?”  Being present is essential to the practice of Restorative Yoga, otherwise, it’s just an exercise.

 

What Restorative Yoga is Not

 

Restorative Yoga is not simply stretching, it’s about opening oneself and one’s body. In fact, the emphasis is not on the pose, but on the opening. Who you are and what you bring to your practice is as important as the particular poses and postures used. We all bring a container, or vessel, ready to be filled with our practice. It’s different than Yin Yoga, which focuses on active asana, versus the emphasis in Restorative Yoga on holding and being still. Our focus is not on striving; we know you can do more, but Restorative Yoga asks the question, “Can you do less?” It is not about ambition, which is the opposite of relaxation; we do not need to do more.

 

What Restorative Yoga Is

 

In Restorative Yoga, we focus on the truth that we do not need to go anywhere else, do anything else, or be any different than who and where we are now, and what we are presently doing. We focus on the fact that what we seek is already here – the pose is right here, right now, as we’re present with it.

To be relaxed we need to be still, quiet, dark and warm.  Restorative Yoga takes us toward sleep. To be still where we are, our body sleeps and our mind watches. As we practice, we learn to relax enough, without falling asleep. This is valuable because our bodies are used to moving around constantly and therefore, stillness is a radical thing. It’s something we’re not used to pursuing in our hectic lives. This is why Restorative Yoga emphasizes spending time finding a comfortable shape where we can be still. We find quietness, without music; pursuing darkness, which is difficult because even if you close your eyes, light filters in. Darkness is good for the organs below the diaphragm, irregular periods, our livers and our digestion. Finally, we pursue warmth, even using swaddling blankets around our hands, feet, belly, back, or anywhere! There is a reason this is comforting to babies as they enter a new, seemingly chaotic world – we can receive the same comfort as we pursue stillness in our active environment.

 

Why Is Restorative Yoga Important To Do?

 

The reality is that most of our nervous systems are hyper-stimulated as we suffer from a lack of sleep, improper diet, and stress. The intention is what makes Restorative Yoga different. Our bodies sleep while our mind watches as we sense our way through our practice, without thought. The use of props is to support our bodies in positions of comfort and ease; that is, to facilitate the relaxation response, which is where healing begins.

Restorative poses work with the rhythm of the body. They are powerful for removing blockages, to allow our body to heal. Restorative poses are often helpful in recovery from cancer, and poses like legs up the wall can even aid lymphatic drainage. Back bending is helpful in opening the front body for digestion, posture, and breathing. Semi-inversions like legs up the wall are effective for relief of jet lag, restless leg syndrome, and jobs where you stand a lot. Gentle forward folds are great to initiate the relaxation response. The focus of Restorative Yoga can be summed up as, “Heart up, brain down.”  As we let go of our thoughts, we will begin to notice changes in our breathing and a more relaxed state, as we drift toward the present moment.

 

How Can We Start A Restorative Yoga Practice?

 

Doing Restorative Yoga 20 minutes per day releases tension and lets us gently sink into the present, without judgment, ambition or needing to do anything. In our practice, we are truly with ourselves, for ourselves – we are just simply being.

Restorative Yoga is what our hearts and our souls cry out for in our busy lives. When there are fewer choices, we have more time. We pursue meaning based upon our presence, versus our busyness. Through our practice, we not only relax our bodies, we learn to relax and create space in our lives.  As we develop our deep relaxation practices, we gently manipulate our nervous system into the relaxation response, putting it into a place of comfort whereby healing and restoration can take place. Through our practice, we can live with peace and rest, even in the midst of the busyness and turmoil of our daily lives.

 

May we live like a lotus at home in the muddy water.

 

I hope this article helps explain what Restorative Yoga is, and how it might be helpful to you. I’m excited to announce that we will be starting a regular Restorative Yoga class at Alongside You in January 2019. If this sounds like something you’d be interested in, please click below to check it out on our website. We’re taking pre-registrations now and we’d love to have you!

Click here for more information about our Restorative Yoga class!

How Yoga Therapy Can Help You Recover From Trauma

How Yoga Therapy Can Help You Recover From Trauma

Reality is that life is not peaceful.  Trauma can arise from any number of daily things, seemingly small to one person, yet overwhelming to another. Having experienced trauma, whether recently or in the past, one can feel like something is broken within us, wrong with us, or we feel damaged.  This is not so but is a part of the healing process and a normal response to internalizing a traumatic experience. Trauma Sensitive Yoga Therapy is not about fixing or changing anyone.  It’s about learning how to find healing and support within, by empowering yourself to feel safe in your own body and mind and seeing the potential in yourself. By separating yourself from the traumatic event, you are able to witness and self-observe. Through witnessing awareness, you begin to look at it objectively and come to realize that you are not the trauma, it is something that happened to you.

Through your yoga practice, you can return to wholeness by seeing the experience from a place of comfort and safety within your own body, and in time, finding meaning in it. This will arise when the time is right for you. Post-Traumatic Growth will evolve, remembering that people don’t become great in spite of their challenges, but because of them. Eventually, your yoga practice will take you to that inner place where you can be the witness, and know that you can return to that place anytime during your practice or in your daily life. The change will come from that untouched true nature when you are operating not from brokenness, but from wholeness.

Trauma activates our Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) for survival but leaves us frequently stuck in the fight or flight response. Yoga practices that can help us get back into the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS) include Therapeutic Yoga, along with talk and physical therapy, and meditation. In The Relaxation Response: Yoga Therapy Meets Physiology published in Yoga Therapy Today, Summer, 2017, Maggie Reagh, Yoga Therapy International renowned founder and teacher, lists restorative procedures under topics of Relaxing through Positioning the BodyRelaxing through Lengthening the BreathRelaxing through Stilling the Mind and Balancing the Nervous System.

Utilizing guided meditation of Yoga Nidra allows healing to begin by building resilience to challenging circumstances that arise in our daily lives. In the International Journal of Therapy, No.19 (2009) p.123, David Emerson et al. state in Trauma-Sensitive Yoga: Principles, Practice, and Research, “Trauma exposure is ubiquitous in our society. Over half the general population report having had exposure to at least one traumatic event over their lifetime…research has shown that Yoga practices, including meditation, relaxation, and physical postures, can reduce autonomic sympathetic ac­tivation, muscle tension, and blood pressure, improve neuroendocrine and hormonal activity, decrease physical symptoms and emotional distress, and increase quality of life. For these reasons, Yoga is a promising treatment or adjunctive therapy for addressing cognitive, emotional, and physiological symptoms associated with trauma, and PTSD specifically.”

When we get stuck in the SNS, the brain is affected, the amygdala grows, making us more reactive, the hippocampus shrinks and we may lose perspective on time, the frontal cortex goes off-line, making it harder to make decisions or think things through. Trauma often makes us feel detached from our body, and sometimes feeling unsafe in our body. Dr. Herbert Benson of the Benson Henry Institute has found in Harvard University’s research that spending 20 minutes a day in the relaxation response can lower or turn off our stress genes. Through comforting Therapeutic Trauma Sensitive Yoga we experience the relaxation response of coming back to our body and mind. Yoga and guided meditation also help one to understand the significance of the breath. Controlled, yet easily learned, breathing is a powerful trigger to engage the relaxation response. Yoga Nidra supports organization of thoughts and flow of memories and puts us in touch with our physical self.

I hope this article helps explain some of the benefits of a yoga practice, particularly when we’re hoping to recovery from trauma in our lives. You may not think that yoga is for you – and you know what, I don’t blame you. For many, it’s an entirely new concept and outside of the box in terms of thinking of treatment. The research is showing that Yoga Therapy and Trauma Sensitive Yoga can be effective in helping reduce symptoms of trauma and change the physiology of our brain.

At Alongside You, we work as a team and I’m pleased to be able to work alongside the other staff in helping clients, many whom have benefitted from yoga therapy as an adjunct in their recovery. If you’re curious, please give me a call at (604) 283-7827 ext. 709 or contact me through the website here and I’d love to speak with you about how I might be of help.

What is Mindfulness?

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a term you may be hearing a lot lately as it is being brought into everyday conversations, in response to our stressful lifestyles, and increased alienation from other people. This is due to many reasons, not the least of which are our busy lives, work hours, use of technology, cell phones, texting, and video games, just to name a few.  Mindfulness is paying attention to the here and now with acceptance and non-judgement, kindness and curiosity.

Mindfulness Meditation has been a part of Hatha Yoga practices for thousands of years, so it’s not new, but thankfully is being rediscovered. It’s for all of us: children, teens and adults.

Have you ever found yourself repeatedly telling a child to “stop doing that?”  It’s no wonder they either continue doing it or find some way to avoid not doing it. What we really need to do is teach them how to stop.  This brings it back to you, the parent, to start integrating mindfulness into your own life, by practicing and showing your kids how to respond rather than react. By being compassionate first to yourself, you are resolving your buzzing thoughts, which will magically get passed on to others.  Try an experiment: pick a time during the day and check where your mind is, past, future or the present?

Many seeds of mindfulness are planted early in life, but need to be tended and nurtured. As children, we lay on the grass staring up at the blue sky, watching clouds, hearing birds chirping, noticing the breeze gently caressing our face. Nowadays, we enjoy the moment, but most of us never learn how to integrate this into our life.  Notice what you are doing already to set an example to children, teens or other adults. What do you do daily for self-care, relaxation and reflection?

Our children also need to be encouraged to have time to themselves to reset.  As parents, we spend hours driving our children to countless extra-curricular classes and sports activities, as well as driving ourselves to the gym to work out on the way home from our jobs, texting frantically to communicate and at end of the day feeling more burned out than ever. Through mindfulness practice we can learn to stop – Stop, Take a breath, Observe and Proceed (STOP). Sometimes we don’t realize that all of the extras we take on can have issues attached, whether it’s with a coach, a team mate, feeling inadequate, comparing ourselves to others, and so on. So, the tough parts of the day don’t always end after school, they can confront us wherever we go and in our interactions with others.

Coming from a place of mindful self-compassion it’s important that we check in throughout the day to appreciate the taste of food, notice our bodies, and notice where our thoughts are and bringing them back to an anchor. Our anchor is often our breath, but an anchor can be a colour, a body part, a word,  there are endless choices.  I encourage you to take a moment in the morning before checking your e-mail, and think of the acronym R.A.I.N.: Recognize and be with your feelings, Allow your feelings to be as they are, Investigate your emotions by becoming curious as to why you feel the way you do, and Notice the troubled thoughts are Not you, it’s not personal to you.

Mindfulness is not about being self-indulgent, weak, selfish, irresponsible, or having self-pity.  On the contrary, it’s about not beating ourselves up when we fail and being more likely to try again. It’s about taking more responsibility for ourselves and our families. It improves our perspective and brings awareness that we are not alone.  As we take action we gain perspective and empathy for others.  It has been said that 80% of life is just showing up. All we have to do is SHOW UP, and be in the present! The words medicine and meditation are both derived from the same Sanskrit word for “Inner Measure.”

 

May you experience an inner measure of mindfulness and self-compassion this week as you go about your life with intentionality. If you’d like to learn more about mindfulness and be introduced to how you incorporate it into your everyday life, I’d love to have you at my Introduction to Mindfulness class on Friday, July 28th at 8 pm. Register today and I hope to see you then!

Registerwww.alongsideyou.ca/store

Pre-Natal Yoga: The greatest gift a mother gives her family

Pre-Natal Yoga: The greatest gift a mother gives her family

“The greatest gift a mother gives her family is a commitment to her own self-care” Cheryl Richardson.com

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new,” and so in you the child your mother lives on and through your family continues to live… so at this time look after yourself and your family as you would your mother for through you all she will truly never die.”― Osho Shree Rajneish

Caught your interest?  Tell me more you might be asking!

Pre-natal Yoga can provide the tools to access and connect with all the resources you have to birth your baby.  You, as a mother can unite with your breath, body, inner knowing, and the new life you are carrying inside.

Coming to a Pre-natal Yoga class can help you check in with how you are feeling.  Pregnancy can be an isolating experience, so our classes are also a great opportunity to make new mom friends! Aside from the relaxing and the physical experience, your “Mom Tribe” can come together, discuss feelings, fears, release emotions that may be building, and share resources. Pre-natal Yoga is also about building strong, capable, and competent mothers who are preparing to face some of the major changes ahead. The changes may be in relationships, like with the father of your child who may have been enjoying an exclusive relationship with you prior to the 1st born, and now is going to be sharing you with another family member.

What other ways can Pre-natal Yoga help me?

Pre-natal Yoga can provide benefits on every possible level: physical, mental, and spiritual bonding with the baby, balancing hormones, learning pain coping techniques, learning self-regulation through stress reduction and the using your nervous system, and conscious relaxation (relaxation on purpose)!

Practical application of Pre-natal Yoga knowledge

Pre-natal Yoga can help you have a powerful birth experience and help you to feel inspired and empowered, by overcoming fears about the birthing process.  You will learn about contraindicated poses, (whether to avoid or do in a gentler manner) or to avoid altogether. You will learn breathing techniques that can provide pain relief, control energy, teach you to find a focal point, and work synchronistically with the challenges of labor and childbirth, connecting the body and the mind.

But I’ve never done yoga before?

You can safely begin a Pre-natal yoga practice at any point through your pregnancy as long as you have clearance from your care provider.  You will be free to modify your poses with whatever props you want, and your teacher will give you lots of safe options, right up to delivery.

You are not done yet, and you are not alone!

This is just the beginning of your yoga journey.  Once your body has had a chance to recover from delivery, you can progress to your Post-partum Yoga. You might be thinking, “But I have already been through everything, what else is there?”

Delivery of that lovely baby is just the beginning of the journey.  You are now responsible for this new little life.  You may feel a desire to reintegrate with your Post-natal Tribe.  You have all gone through a unique experience, and now have a series of new experiences to come, in common.  You share in a spiritual companionship with other women.  You might build a community of moms, sharing new resources, building confidence in yourselves as moms.  You may be feeling blue, or even mildly depressed, often simply due to lack of sleep, which is not at all uncommon. Not to mention the physical rebuilding of pelvic core strength, regaining core strength and stability.  Repairing your posture, and maybe losing a few pounds.  There are other physical issues you may need to deal with, slight urinary incontinence, diastasis recti abdominus (DRA) which often presents as “Mummy Tummy.” Post-natal Yoga and Pelvic Rehabilitation can continue what you started in Pre-natal Yoga class to help you recover, and be your best in your new life as a Mom!

What better place to unwind, revitalize and “let go” and find that sense of belonging, than in the safe environment of your Post-natal Yoga class, with your fellow moms, your Yoga Tribe.

 

Stay tuned for information on Post-natal Yoga classes coming soon!

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We’re celebrating the opening of our new yoga studio by offering Pre-Natal Yoga classes as a 6 week Progressive Series! Pregnancy is a time to keep your workouts fun and safe! Experience with yoga is not necessary.  These classes are fun and educational and are open to all stages of pregnancy.

Sign up for you pre-natal yoga class today!

Have questions? Call Brenna at (604) 283-7827 ext. 709 or email brenna@alongsideyou.ca.

 

Alongside You Is Expanding – Check it out!

Alongside You Is Expanding – Check it out!

There’s a lot of excitement around here at Alongside You! Anyone who knows us well knows that we’re always looking to fill gaps, improve services, and find more ways to help our community. This is why we’re expanding! Here’s a taste of what’s been going on, and what to expect in the coming months!

 

Brand New Yoga Studio

Surprise! We’re almost finished building our new yoga studio (the trim is being put in as I write this). Why are we building a dedicated yoga studio you might ask? Aren’t there enough around already? Well, in short – no, there aren’t enough, and they aren’t like ours is going to be. We’re providing a different service here at Alongside You, and we need a space that reflects that. We focus primarily on yoga therapy and trauma sensitive yoga here in our clinic, and our studio will be set up as an ideal environment for these highly personal, individual sessions with our lovely Brenna Jacobson. As great as our art studio and private offices are, they aren’t ideal for this kind of work so we’re creating what is needed to serve our clients better.

What about yoga classes you might ask? Well, we’re going to have those too. But they’re going to be different. We’ll be focusing on small class sizes, because we hear time and time again that the size of classes is overwhelming for people. We’re going to focus on specific topics and build customized yoga programs to suit. I’m not going to let the cat out of the bag completely, but we’re going to start with kids, prenatal yoga, and Hatha Yoga 101 for Beginners. Coming down the pipe are things like yoga for anxiety, chronic pain, and much more. But one thing at a time! Stay tuned to our website and social media for all the details!

We also wanted to bring the outdoors into the studio. So, as always, we’re working with the fabulous Tyler Garnham, and we’ve found an image local to South Delta that will be installed in our studio, filling up the entire north wall. This will give us, and our clients a feeling of space, and connection to our local surroundings even while inside. I can’t wait, it’s going to be amazing!

Occupational Therapy

We love our OT, Kristin Beare, but she’s busy tending to her own kid right now. Our yoga studio is going to do a little bit of double duty and be a space for our OT to work with clients. The larger space will give much more freedom for mobility-related concerns, sensory work, and so much more! We’re also building customized storage into the new wing so that we have more tools at our fingertips. She’ll be back later on this year, and I can’t wait to see what she does with the new space with her clients. Stay tuned!

Clinical Office

Ok, this isn’t super exciting to you maybe, but it’s exciting to me. We’re building a new office that is set up more ideally for neurofeedback for clients, and for our Neurofeedback guru, Jonathan Wieser. Our other offices have worked fine, but this is going to be better. It will also be used by other counsellors, which gives us more available office space and flexible times for clinicians so that we can be more available to you as we expand! Growth is good, and we’re growing our hours to serve you better!

Group Therapy

So, the studio is also going to be used for group therapy. We already run a Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) group, but we’re expanding our group therapy offerings. Between our art studio where we do our DBT, and the new group room in the yoga studio I’m pretty sure we’re going to have the coolest group therapy spaces around. Why is this important? Because I hear all the time how much our clients appreciate being in creative, beautiful spaces while they’re in our care. It makes a difference! I can’t yet reveal the new groups we’re going to be running, but we’ll be using the new space for our Adult DBT Group, Youth & Family DBT Group, and soon enough, some others!

 

This is awesome, so when do we get to see the new spaces and use them?

You’re not going to have to wait long! We’re opening March 1st, and our individual yoga clients will get to use the space right away, as will our neurofeedback and counselling clients. Stay tuned, because we’re opening things up throughout March for Kids Yoga over Spring Break, and following that up with Prenatal Yoga and Hatha Yoga 101 for Beginnings toward the end of March and into April.

I hope you’re excited because we are! We can’t wait to show you the new spaces, and more importantly, be even better equipped to serve you well. South Delta is our home, and we’re growing thanks to your help! Whether you’re in Ladner, Tsawwassen, North Delta, or beyond, please come check out our new digs and see what we have to offer. We’d love to meet you!

To be the first to find out about all of the new things going on, make sure you follow us online at Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.