Greg loves to go to school, but he barely looks into his teacher’s eyes. He hardly knows what it’s like to interact with his classmates. In many cases, he prefers not to interact with any of his peers anyway. Instead, he lives in a world of his own. This example summarizes the challenges in education faced by many autistic children and their teachers and parents, each day. However, there are all-natural techniques that can make huge differences in their daily lives. Did you know yoga asanas, meditation and pranayama techniques and practices can be highly effective for helping children diagnosed with autism?
What is Autism? The Basics
“Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 54 children in the United States alone, today.
We know that there is not just one type of autism but many subtypes, and most are influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Because autism is a spectrum disorder, each person with autism has a distinct set of strengths and challenges. The ways in which people with autism learn, think and problem-solve can range from highly skilled to severely challenged. Some people with ASD may require significant support in their daily lives, while others may need less support and, in some cases, live entirely independently. Generalizations of autism cannot, and should not be done. However, in most cases, the greatest problems lie in children’s interest and ability to connect, communicate, and interact socially with others.
Yoga Asanas, Pranayamas, Meditations, and Mudras Can Help Autistic Children by Increasing Bodily Self-Awareness, Motor Skills. Communication Skills and Interactivity
In this post, we explain how asanas, pranayama and the mudras that can make autistic children a little more sociable and interactive. Physically, it will increase motor skills, coordination, and flexibility, too! Let us elaborate on the most effective yoga asanas, pranayama breathing techniques, meditations, and mudras listed below.
We have started the sequence with 2 pranayama breathing techniques: Anulom Vilom Pranayama or Alternate Breathing and then followed by Bhramari Pranayama or The Humming Bee Pranayama.
Next, we have 3 standing yoga Asanas: The Tadasana or the Mountain Pose , Vrikshasana or The Tree Pose, and Trikonasana or Triangle Pose.
Next, we have 3 seated yoga asanas: Gomukhasana or Cow Faced Asana,Vajrasana or Thunderbolt Asana, and Vakrasana or the Spinal Twist Asana.
Finally, we end with 1 lying yoga asana: Makarasana or Crocodile Pose.
As a bonus meditation technique, try the Chin Mudra with Om Chanting before, during, or after the recommended sequence for up to an additional 30 minutes.
Here is a highly effective and recommended sequence for children with autism that combines pranayama breathing exercises, yoga asanas, meditations, and mudras:
- Anulom Vilom Pranayama or Alternate Breathing (5 minutes initially and then, slowly, take it up to 10 minutes)
- Bhramari Pranayama or The Humming Bee Pranayama (5 minutes)
- The Tadasana or the Mountain Pose (2-3 minutes)
- Vrikshasana or The Tree Pose (2-3 minutes)
- Trikonasana or Triangle Pose (2-3 minutes)
- Gomukhasana or Cow Faced Asana (2-3 minutes)
- Vajrasana or Thunderbolt Asana (2-3 minutes)
- Vakrasana or the Spinal Twist Asana (2-3 minutes)
- Makarasana or Crocodile Pose- (5 minutes)
Total Time of Sequence: 30-40 minutes. The time assessed is just a rough estimate. Practice at your own pace, and feel free to take more time if you are a beginner.
*Bonus Tip: Add the Chin Mudra to this sequence (with Om Chanting for best results) for up to an additional 30 minutes. This mudra can be done at any time and in any order.
1. Anulom Vilom Pranayama or Alternate Breathing
Anulom Vilom Pranayama or Alternate Breathing helps ground and calm children with autism. It also helps them concentrate and focus.
Let us commence with Pranayama. Pranayama is the inhalation and exhalation of breath and the ensuing state of mind that follows post this breathing technique. This is our initial step in our series of asanas and mudras that will help a person with Autism.
Pranayama and the different techniques of breathing help bring about a calm emotional state for children with autism
First, sit in Sukhasana or Swastikasana or normal squatting position. Then, slowly, keep the left hand in the Chin mudra while the right hand should be in the Nasik mudra. These two mudras are integral to the Nadi shodhana Pranayama or the alternate breathing techniques that is so very important for the asana mood to set in. The inhalation commences with the right nostril, where the left nostrils closed. Then, exhale through the left nostril, and at the same time, close the right nostril. This is called the alternate breathing method and this is important in flushing out the toxins from the lungs as well as the system. This pranayama is the foundation for a stable set of asanas to rest upon.
This gives the much needed grounding for a person who is autistic, by making them steady minded, focused and acquire the much – needed ability to reach out to the instructor to get into the actual mode of things. It was observed in most cases that once the person was instructed to commence with the pranayama, he or she would automatically look for reassurance from the instructor.
By looking at the instructor, the person has just initiated the first step towards interaction and relationship-building.
This seems a small and inconsequential step, but let us not underestimate this. By looking at the instructor, the person has just initiated the first step towards equation or relationship-building. This is looking for a kind of connection or reassurance and emotional support. This is a lot, taking into account the fact that social interaction of any kind, even meeting the eyes is not possible for those who fall under the Autism spectrum. After about five minutes here, we should guide the person to slowly disengage from this pranayama session and then go on to doing the asanas. Initially the pranayama can commence with a span of about 5 minutes. This can be increased to ten minutes gradually.
2. The Bhramari Pranayama or the Humming Bee Pranayama
2. The Bhramari Pranayama or the Humming bee Pranayama is highly effective for calming children with autism and increases focus on the breath. The noise of the humming bee helps to nullify all the thoughts in the head
This pranayama is a breathing technique that helps with calming the mind, shutting out all other sounds, and bringing focus to the things of the NOW, or the present time. First of all, be seated in the sukhasana or the swastikasana. The vajrasana will also be ideal. However, the best thing would be to be seated in the position where you are at ease. Slowly, inhale through the nose, as much air as you can.
Now, take the fingers, place them on the different points on the face and exhale as long as you can. While exhaling, make sure to make the sound of a humming bee. The noise of the humming bee helps to nullify all the thoughts in the head; removes any dispersed or distracted focus, and allows us to focus only on the breathing being done. It increases the nitrogen level in the lungs, which is ideal for immunity building.
3. The Tadasana or the Mountain Pose
The Mountain pose or the Tadasana is an excellent asana, although quite simple. This is highly recommended for those with the Attention Deficit Hyper- Active syndrome, or with Autism. The reason is that this asana helps to coordinate between many different parts and systems of the body and mind. In this asana, the person has to stand on the toes, and raise the arms way beyond, all the way up, and clasp the palms together. This should be done for a minimum of two inhalation and exhalation cycles. This gives the person balance, the ability to be judicious in everything, starting from the mundane to whatever else is going on. So, this is not only an excellent asana for balance but also one that stretches the spine as well.
Stand erect, with feet together; lock your knees, and firmly entrench your feet on the ground. Slowly, raise your arms. As you inhale, raise yourself up on your toes, raising your arms in a clasp and stretching them nicely. As you do this, make sure to look in front of you. Focus on an object , steadily, and continuously, for a focused concentration. This will ensure that you don’t lose balance. It also makes sure your attention span is fixed for a long period of time. This sustained attention span is our objective, for the ones who run low on attention, through this asana.
4. Vrikshasana or the Tree Pose
The Vrikshasana or the Tree pose is again an asana that offers a steadiness unlike any other asana. The asana is one that every teacher of yoga has always focused upon, while instructing the students, in other yoga asanas. This asana helps in bringing about a focused approach in everything; a balance and a firm footing, without faltering or falling.
The sustained practice of this asana will help children diagnosed with Autism overcome many symptoms and constraints. There will be a visible difference in just a few short sessions. Staying in the Vrikshasana without losing the balance is a great feat, and with continuous practice, you can acquire expertise. This is another of the asanas that will help bring about focus and an interactive approach.
5. Trikonasana or the Triangle pose
The Trikonasana or the Triangle pose is again an asana that requires balance and flexibility to be able to bend one side and touch the toes of the opposite foot. Before we discuss the method of doing the Trikonasana, let us look at why this asana is beneficial. The Trikonasana involves the engagement of the spine, the lower back, the arms , especially the biceps, the pelvis , the spine and the abdomen, not to forget the head and the eyes. Only if there is a perfect coordination among all these body parts, can we hope to arrive at a perfect Triangle pose.
The Trikonasana or the Triangle Pose Helps Build Focus, Coordination, Strength, Stability in Children with Autism
In a person with autism, this asana is of immense assistance- it helps to stabilize that person. It also helps to stretch the spine and even give it that brief twist, which adds to the core strength building, so imperative for a strong healthy body. Additionally, it improves focus and immersion in an autistic child’s thoughts and actions. It results in better digestion with less hunger. It also opens up of the pelvis. Consequently, many yoga teachers with expertise with special needs highly recommend children with autism and ADHD to add the Triangle pose to their yoga routine.
Stand with feet slightly apart; stretch your hands sideways; then take the right foot, bring it pointing toward the right side, instead of in the front. As we start to do this asana, try to take the torso a little towards the right side, then take the tight arm down, towards the right foot. Now, touch the right foot with your right palm, while your eyes are looking at the raised palm of the left hand. Slowly, bring the left arm down, and hold on to the right ankle; then take the right arm up and look up at the right arm. This is a twist to the original Trikonasana. Doing this as already mentioned above, brings both substantial balance and steadiness. This translates to total focus.
6. Gomukhasana or the Cow Faced Asana
From this stage, slowly, inch towards doing the Gomukh asana. Begin by sitting properly. Now, sit down with your back straight and your legs stretched outward, and straight. Then bend only the left leg first. While bent, make sure the left knee faces the front. Next, place the right knee over the left bent knee and now it appears like the face of a cow. Your right knee is on top of the left knee.
At the back, slowly bring the right palm from behind and the left palm from the left shoulder top. Clasp both the palms together. Then interchange the hands by bringing the left palm from behind and the right palm from top and clasp them. After staying here for two inhalations and exhalations, change the position of the legs. Now, place the right palm first. Then place the left on top of the right, and repeat the hand clasping exercise as you had done for the earlier one.
Gomukhasana or the Cow faced Yoga Asana Helps Children With Autism by Increasing Stability, Coordination, Focus, and Communication Skills
Why is this recommended for the autistic person? Well, first of all, it again adds some stability to the person doing it. Then, the engaging of so many muscles means the engagement of the brain in trying to bring a near- perfect coordination among all the body parts. This done regularly will enhance the focusing skills of the person. This skill is very crucial for the person to avoid impulsive and erratic thinking and behavior, which otherwise could eclipse one’s critical thinking and communication skills.
7. Vajrasana or the Thunderbolt Asana
When we come to the seated positions, the Vajrasana, or the Thunderbolt pose, is the mother of all the seated postures. This has the ability to give the abdomen enough strength to digest almost everything. There is no movement in this asana. Sitting is the only requirement. So, once the transition happens, from the Gomukh asana to the vajrasana, it is imperative that the person doing it is instructed by the teacher to stay for two inhalations and exhalations sequences. This asana gives strength to the digestive organs, adds strength to the core, makes the person stable in action and also in thoughts. It helps keep the mind calm and stable, adds strength to the thigh muscles and the back muscles.
8. Vakrasana or the Spinal Twist Asana
Practice the vakrasana while sitting with both the legs stretched, and the back straight. Now, bend the right leg while you keep the left leg straight. Take your left hand and place it on the right knee, where the elbow of the left touches the right knee. Now, turn the body behind, as if in a twist. Place the right hand is behind, as if to bring about a nice extended stretch and a twist to the body.
Why is this important for the person with autism? Because, the very act of stretching the spine combined with this seated position gives the body and mind a very relaxed feeling. For many, a sense of calm descends over the person while they do it. This state of mind is important for the people who need reassurance most of the time, as in the case of those with autism. It brings a great deal of focus, a pleasant demeanor and the ability to think independently. Over a period of time, one will also act less impulsively and instead behave more responsibly.
9. Makarasana Or The Crocodile Pose
The Makarasana is also called the Crocodile pose or asana. Just as the crocodile makes strategic decisions, while in its position of being on the stomach, the practice of this asana, adds a lot of calm to the person, relaxes him or her and being able to be completely grounded, and stress – free. We are able to make more decisions while in a relaxed state, than in any other state of mind.
After the series of asanas done as above, it is important that the child or the person who has been practicing them relaxes, and brings the body and the mind to a relaxed state completely. This is the reason why one needs to do the Makarasana. Practice this asana by lying on your stomach with your head and hands raised a little from the rest of the body (torso and the legs). This pose imitates how a crocodile typically appears.
Bonus Tip: The Chin Mudra:
The Chin mudra is very effective to add to the sequence of yoga asanas and pranayama techniques listed above. Practice The Chin Mudra by joining the tip of the index finger and the tip of the thumb. Stretch out the rest of the fingers. Both hands are in this mudra and the hands rest on the thighs. Practice this mudra at any time of the day, and even for long stretches of time. Practice it consistently and continuously for at least half an hour everyday for as many days as possible. This helps the person to get over their tiredness. It also connects them spiritually to their higher self. This allows them to be more receptive to the positive energies in the universe.
Overriding every benefit is the fact that it helps bring a lot of attention, focused approach to things and an extremely calm demeanor to the personality, once we start practicing it. People of all ages, and backgrounds practice the Chin Mudra. It has universal and an almost timeless appeal. This mudra, in its total simplicity, belies the fact that it has benefits that are everlasting. This mudra is very symbolic as well. The index finger represents the individual consciousness, the thumb, the collective consciousness of the universe. When we join the tops, we are in an oblique way, in communion with the universal consciousness. For maximum effect, children with autism should practice the Chin Mudra along with Om chanting to improve self awareness, calm, and focus.
Conclusion: Yoga Asanas, Pranayama and Meditation Causes Long-term, Positive Changes for Children with Autism and ADHD
Autism is one of the most common life-long neuro-developmental disorders diagnosed in early childhood. It is characterized by restricted, stereotyped repetitive activities, impaired social interaction, difficulty in communication, forming relationships and finding it hard to understand and make sense of the world around them. Yet, in spite of all the problems that an autistic person goes through in his or her unique way- there are a whole gamut of problems that one goes through, in purely individualistic ways. Still, with the sustained practice of these asanas and the pranayama and the mudra, we can expect a sea change to happen to the person and for the positive.
*This article was originally published at L’Aquila Active and was reposted with full permissions.
You can read the original article here: “Yoga, Meditation And Pranayama For Children With Autism”