Teaching Yoga to Children with Special Needs

Yoga teachers interested in working with children with special needs will find it to be a very rewarding and gratifying act of service. Yoga therapy for children has proved to be an effective healing and learning tool for children with special needs, such as those with Down’s syndrome, cerebral palsy, autism, attention deficiency disorder (ADD), attention deficiency hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and learning difficulties.

One of the leading yoga therapy training programs for children with special needs was developed by Sonia Sumar, author of Yoga for the Special Child. Ms. Sumar started using yoga  for children with special needs more than 30 years ago as intervention therapy for her own daughter, who was born with Down’s syndrome in 1972. Realizing that most learning and development disabilities are linked directly with nervous system dysfunctions, Sumar developed yoga therapy training programs that would help instructors enhance physical posture as well as teach breathing and deep relaxation techniques to special children. Over time, Ms. Sumar found, the systemic dysfunctions could then be addressed.

Dr. Dean Ornish has called Ms. Sumar’s Yoga for the Special Child program “an excellent therapeutic program–clear, comprehensive, and compassionate.” He notes that he “was particularly impressed by the profound transformation in Sonia’s students, which came as a direct result of their practicing yoga.”

The yoga therapy training offered by Ms. Sumar train participants to teach yoga to chyildren with special needs and to set up an environment that is supportive and promotes quick learning. The yoga therapy training is aimed for yoga teachers who wish to work with special needs children as well as the childrens’ own parents, special education teachers and even health care professionals. Prospective teachers of yoga for special needs receive personal instruction from Sonia Sumar herself, whose techniques of yoga therapy for children have since gained international acceptance.

The yoga therapy courses for special needs children usually take the form of 3-5 day workshops and tend to fill up early. While they don’t provide any yoga therapy certification, most participants find them extremely valuable. Ms. Sumar uses hands-on sessions, supplemented with video material, to train participants in her techniques for using yoga therapy for the special child. Before anything else, participants are guided through the successive physical and mental development phases that special children undergo from their infancy until they reach adolescence. This gives perspective to all subsequent efforts to employ yoga therapy for children.

Other aspects covered in the yoga therapy training include different yoga routines, how to select the most effective routines for particular needs, how to create the best learning environment at home or in the classroom, and techniques for working with the various disorders and disabilities.

Sumar’s techniques of yoga therapy for children are designed to enhance their self-esteem and self-discipline, promote socialization, develop normal muscle tone, and heighten mental clarity. Prospective teachers of yoga for special needs will learn exactly how to achieve these aims in Sumar’s yoga therapy training programs.

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