Arielle Simons, one of the BAC's Occupational Therapists, is also a yoga teacher and has been teaching online kids yoga classes while BAC therapeutic groups are paused. She’s excited to share why she’s so passionate about utilizing yoga in OT sessions and how you can bring the benefits of yoga into your child’s daily life too!
You may be wondering, what is yoga in the first place?
Yoga is an ancient holistic philosophy and practice from India, with a rich, nearly 5000-year-old tradition that includes much more than the typical postures most Western yoga schools teach. The word yoga means union, and is commonly understood as the union of body, mind and spirit. Ancient yogis understood that emotional and mental well-being were possible through yoga practices.  As B.K.S. Iyengar said, yoga is “the method by which the restless mind is calmed and the energy is directed into constructive channels.” The practice of yoga is a therapeutic and preventive science; yoga is not a religion or a cure. It is a holistic approach with an emphasis on balancing the mind, strengthening the body, and nurturing the spirit.
Who can benefit from yoga?
Children with Cerebral Palsy, Down Syndrome, ADD/ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Developmental Coordination Disorder, neuromuscular impairments, challenges related to self-regulation and emotional regulation, and any developing child! Yoga is also beneficial for siblings and caregivers of those with special needs. It’s a great activity the whole family can do together, and it has been proven beneficial in school settings too. In short, yoga is great for all of us! What I love most about yoga is its accessibility and inclusivity. You (or your child) don’t need any certain skills or abilities to start practicing yoga. It can be done anywhere, with just your body and your mind, exactly as you are.
What are the benefits of yoga for children? 
Maintains smooth functioning & health of body systems
Relaxes body & mind
Reduces stress & anxiety
Increases energy levels
Improves ability to self-regulate behavior & improves sensory modulation
Tones muscles, tissues, ligaments
Promotes joint stability and mobility
Improves balance, posture, coordination & agility
Improves body awareness & sequencing movements (motor planning)
Improves memory & ability to follow directions
Boosts metabolism, lymphatic circulation & hormonal circulation
Increases the production of endorphins which enhances mood
Improves sleep patterns
Increases lung capacity & better breathing
Increases speech production
Can develop trust & teamwork
Promotes self-awareness, self-acceptance & self-efficacy
A child may experience some of these benefits after just one yoga class (or practice, as we call it). In general, the beneficial effects of a yoga practice are cumulative; the more you practice, the more effective it is. Twice a week may be best to experience physical and systemic benefits. It is important to consult with your Occupational Therapist or treating clinician to determine an appropriate dosage for your child. I always remind my yoga students – some yoga is better than no yoga! Even if your yoga practice is a brief mindfulness activity or meditation, that counts.
What about mindfulness?
Yoga is an excellent way to practice mindfulness. The essence of mindfulness is being present. It is often described as being in a “flow” state and can be the same as meditation but can also occur during other aspects of a yoga class, such as during breathing exercises (pranayama), yoga poses (asana), rest (savasana) and specific mindfulness practices.
Benefits of mindfulness  include the following:
Develops the habit of focusing on the present moment and ignoring distractions, which can improve attentiveness and impulse control
Teaches to stay calm in the face of life’s stressful times
Creates good habits for the future. When faced with life’s challenges, a child knows they can find peace by taking a few moments to meditate/do a mindful activity.
Promotes happiness by lowering social anxiety and stress
Can improve executive functions in the brain like cognitive control, working memory, cognitive flexibility and result in better grades
There are a few essential aspects of yoga that make a cohesive practice. These can be practiced all together or separately, though they do sync up quite well to form a complete holistic yoga practice. I try to include each of these aspects into every yoga class that I teach, both in-person and online, so participants receive the most benefit for their efforts.
Focus, Connection (Dharana, Mantra)
Rest, Relaxation (Savasana)
Meditation, Inner Focus (Dhyana, Pratyahara)
Ready to get started?
Join me on YouTube @ArielleRoseYoga for live and recorded yoga classes! You can also ask your clinician about incorporating yoga into your child’s therapy sessions. They will create a yoga program specific to your child’s needs and teach you about any precautions/contraindications you should be aware of. You may be surprised by how engaged your child can be when they are having fun doing yoga!
TESTIMONIALS from parents of BAC yoga group participants...
"After yoga, my daughter was able to self-regulate when her emotions were getting out of control, and she enjoyed practicing poses at home."
"After yoga, I notice that my daughter is calmer and wants to stretch her body. This class has been a wonderful addition for our child."
ARIELLE R. SIMONS, MSOT, OTR/L, 200 E-RYT, YACEP
Arielle is a licensed, registered Occupational Therapist with clinical experience in an outpatient sensorimotor gym at Boston Ability Center and inpatient at Boston Children’s Hospital. Before completing her graduate degree at Tufts University, Arielle worked as a Registered Behavior Technician for 4 years, providing ABA services to children in the greater Boston area. She is passionate about working with children and their families and promoting participation in meaningful activities. Arielle is also a Registered Yoga Teacher (E-RYT) and certified Flow & Grow Kids Yoga Teacher, with additional training in teaching yoga to improve sensory modulation, self-regulation, and motor skills in kids with Autism, ADHD, Developmental Disorders, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. She has logged over 1000 teaching hours and has designed a therapeutic kids yoga group to promote strength, flexibility, coordination, and body awareness with a special focus on social and emotional development for neurodiverse children. She also teaches accessible 1:1 and group yoga classes for children with neuromuscular impairments. She has presented on the benefits of yoga as an OT treatment tool and the development of a community-based caregiver yoga program at Tufts University and community events.
 Weintraub, A. (2012). Yoga Skills for Therapists: Effective Practices for Mood Management. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company  Cammisa , K. “Yoga to Improve Sensory, Self-Regulation and Motor Skills in Kids: Autism, ADHD, Developmental Disorders, Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy.” Nanuet, NY. 23 Oct. 2019, PESI Lecture.  Hocheiser, L. (2019). Flow & Grow Kids Yoga Teacher Training Manual.  Ramseyer, A. (2017). A Therapist's Guide to Yoga in Pediatrics: A Sensory Based Approach (1st ed.). Torrance, CA: Pediatric Therapy Network.  Wedge, M. (2018). 7 Ways Mindfulness Can Help Children’s Brains. Retrieved 23 May, 2020, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/suffer-the-children/201809/7-ways-mindfulness-can-help-children-s-brains