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Yoga and SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder)

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Have you ever thought about doing yoga with your child who has SPD (sensory processing disorder)? If you haven’t, this blog will explain why you should consider using yoga as part of your daily sensory diet.

Yoga isn’t just helpful for getting stronger, or more flexible. It’s not only great for those who need to find a way to unwind and change up their exercise routine, but it can be extremely beneficial for those with SPD. 

Sensory of Yoga

Yoga poses provide a variety of different sensory inputs from vestibular to proprioceptive. It also addresses balance, coordination, and body awareness which many of our sensory kids struggle with. 

Yoga incorporates mindfulness and deep breathing, and if you read the blog Benefits Of Deep Breathing for Sensory Processing you know why this is important. 

Vestibular

We get input into our vestibular system from the movement and position of our head. Our inner ear communicates this information to our brain. Some children with SPD can be more sensitive to movement and some may seek more. 

Yoga can be helpful for both. For the seeker, it can be another way to get the type of input they need. For the avoider, it can help them to be gradually exposed and participate in different types of vestibular input, helping them learn to process it more effectively. 

With many yoga poses your head moves up and down, or side to side. These types of movements provide great vestibular input to our system. 

Yoga poses that provide vestibular input:

  • Cat/cow: start on all fours (crawling position) look down at your knees then up at the ceiling. 
  • Triangle: stand with feet apart, reach down and touch one foot, the other hand reaching towards the ceiling, look at the hand reaching up, then switch.
  • Downward dog: hands and feet on the floor, push your bottom up. Look towards your feet with your head down. 

*Modify the speed of movement to work best for your child. The avoider may need to move very slowly and possibly through less motion. They may also do better starting with a pose that holds a position (downward dog) rather than one that is actively moving (cat/cow). The seeker may move fully through the motion with no difficulties. 

Proprioceptive

Proprioceptive input comes from our muscles, joints, and tendons when they are activated through use. Proprioception is where you are in space without using your vision, it is body awareness. Activities that help to stimulate our proprioception are ones that make our muscles work: pushing, pulling, lifting, and carrying. 

All yoga poses engage muscles in one way or another, some are more direct and impact certain muscle groups or body parts which may be more helpful for your child. 

I always like to suggest activities that work the shoulders, arms, and core as we don’t get input into these areas as frequently in our day.

Yoga poses that provide proprioceptive input: 

  • Boat pose: Sit on your bottom, lift your feet off the floor, place your hands to the side of your knees, and try to balance without falling over.
  • Tabletop pose: Start on your bottom, place your hands and feet on the floor and push yourself up, keep your body as straight as possible, like a tabletop. Hold and increase the time as you are able.
  • Plank pose: push yourself up onto extended arms (push up position), and keep your back flat. Hold and increase the time as able. 

Body Awareness and Coordination

As mentioned above body awareness is proprioception. And I’d say that all yoga poses work on both body awareness and coordination in some way. Each pose asks you to move and hold your body in a controlled way, which addresses each of these areas. Some poses may challenge both body awareness and coordination a bit more than others. 

Each child will be at a different level. A child that really struggles with coordination and body awareness may need to start very simple with something like, touching the floor, then reaching towards the ceiling. But as a child progresses, you will want to find more ways to challenge them. 

Yoga poses for body awareness and coordination:

  • Bird dog: start on hands and knees, lift one arm and the opposite leg, and hold. Repeat with the other arm and leg. 
  • Superman: lay on your stomach, lift your arms, chest, and legs off the floor. You can also try lifting the opposite arm and leg for a bit more of a challenge.
  • Windmill: Standing with legs apart, and arms out to the side, bend over and touch your hand to the opposite foot, and come back to standing. Repeat with the other hand. 

Balance

Just like the last category most poses also incorporate some aspect of balance. When a child struggles with proprioceptive input they can also struggle with balance and appear clumsy. Poses that challenge your child to work on this aspect of proprioception can be helpful.

Yoga poses for balance:

  • Tree pose: stand on one foot, place your foot on the opposite knee, place hands on your hips, and try not to fall over.
  • Airplane pose: stand on one foot, lean forward with the opposite foot kicked out behind you, arms out to the side. Try to keep still and not fall over. 
  • Chair sit: keep both feet on the floor, and squat down, like you are going to sit in a chair, then stand back up straight, move slowly and controlled. 

*For all of these, try to increase the time you are balancing as your child improves.

Resources for Yoga

There are many free online resources to help you start using yoga as part of your sensory diet.

Cosmic Kids Yoga is a YouTube channel that uses storytelling in its videos as you perform yoga poses. 

There are many online websites showing poses, or that have free printable posters or cards. Just Google ‘free printable yoga for kids’ and see which one your child may connect with more. 

Check out your local yoga studios, they may offer classes for children, which could be another great place to start!

Yoga tips for SPD

Yoga makes you slow down, work to calm your body, and be mindful of how you are moving. For kids with sensory processing disorder, this can be a very beneficial aspect of performing yoga. 

Your child may need help to learn how to be successful with this new activity. Help to guide them to take slow, deep breaths, slow down their ‘engine’, and move carefully. This helps them become more aware of their body and how they are moving which allows them to be successful. 

Each child will be at a different level and have different needs. The poses presented in this blog are just a few examples to try. You may have noticed that poses often address multiple sensory areas (more bang for your buck!), which is something I love about yoga for SPD. For example, the downward dog pose provides great vestibular input, and proprioceptive input while also working on body awareness and balance. 

Give it a try!

There are so many benefits to using yoga with kids who struggle with sensory processing. From the input to multiple sensory systems, to the mindfulness, deep breathing, and body awareness that it promotes. These all help a child learn to regulate and be more in touch with how their body feels. Yoga is also great exercise for adults too, so it’s something the family can do together!

Check out our other blogs:

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