We are committed to serving the highest potential of all children, realizing that many individuals have significant challenges.
What if the starting point for our humanity is not ability but vulnerability? Viewed through this lens, dependance or lack of certain ability is not a flaw that detracts from our human nature. Rather, vulnerability is accepted as part of the ground, perhaps even the beauty, of being human. From this vantage point, we discover our humanity through the expression of our interdependence rather than independence. Beneath our vulnerability is our need for one another and the truth that we are at our best when we belong to each other.
Our certified teachers, as well as many pursuing certification, have successfully completed training and practicum on best practices teaching yoga to the special needs population. We define special needs yoga in this context as anyone with Anxiety Disorders, ADD, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Learning Differences.
Here are some of the most recognized benefits of Grounded Kids yoga for those with special needs.
- Motor planning. Motor planning involves transforming an idea or thought into a neuromuscular code that the muscles can understand. Motor planning is highly involved in speech production and feeding. Gross motor planning (e.g. in the muscles of the core) must be stable in order for fine motor planning (such as speech or eating) to occur successfully. Yoga gives children practice with motor planning both for gross motor movements and for fine motor movements.
- Core strengthening. The muscles of the core are highly important for overall movement in the body, but core muscles drive breath support for speech production.
- Grading muscle movement. Muscle grading involves recruiting the right amount of force needed for a motor task. Yoga teaches children how to grade their muscle force so that they move body parts with the right amount of speech and intensity. Yoga also teaches children how to increasingly engage more muscles as the class progresses, and how to increasingly slow down muscle movements as the yoga practice heads into resting pose.
- Nervous system control. Yoga increases the tone, or activity, of the Vagus nerve. The Vagus nerve helps to regulate our fight-or-flight (Sympathetic) or rest-digest (Parasympathetic) nervous responses. Yoga teaches children how to flexibly move into and out of each nervous system response so that they are always ready for learning, connection, and growth.
- Experience with action (i.e. verb) concepts. While practicing yoga, children get real life experience with action concepts such as “turn, reach, push, spread, extend, flip, lift,” supporting vocabulary development.
- Experience with spatial (i.e. preposition) concepts. While practicing yoga, children get real life experience with spatial terms such as, “up, down, behind, in front, left, right,” supporting vocabulary development.
- Experience with concepts related to time. While practicing yoga, children get practice with concepts such as “3 breaths” or “hold for 30 seconds.”
- Experience with vocabulary related to breathing. Yoga teaches children how to become aware of their breath. Yoga also teaches children how to control their inhale and exhale, which improves oxygenation in the body and calms/excites the nervous system.
- Repeated exposure to word combinations. While practicing yoga, children get to hear many adult models of word combinations (e.g. “lift arms up,” “spread fingers wide”), supporting grammar development.
- Abstract concepts. Abstract concepts, such as courage, love, truth, authenticity, are concepts that do not have a tangible referent in the world to refer to; rather, the definition is completely formed in the mind. Yoga teaches abstract concepts by using a theme, or heart value, that is discussed throughout the entire yoga practice, supporting a child’s understanding of these abstract terms.
- Decontextualized language. Decontextualized language involves using language to discuss items/events/people that are not in the present moment. For example, discussing what happened the previous day is using decontextualized language. Yoga uses supports decontextualized language by using kids’ imaginations and interweaving a theme throughout class.
- Self-monitoring and awareness. Through yoga, children get to monitor their motor plan to see if it matches the adult model. Yoga teaches children how to become aware of their breath, where their body parts are in space, and the physical space they are practicing in. Self-monitoring involves teaching students how to independently observe whether they are engaging in appropriate behavior at a particular time.
- Divided attention. Many yoga poses involve doing multiple muscle actions simultaneously (e.g. balancing on one leg while moving arms; moving arms while engaging the muscles of speech production). Yoga teaches children how to direct their breath so that they can support each part of a complex pose, improving their divided attention skills.
- Sustained attention. Sustained attention means paying attention to the same idea/concept for an extended period of time. This is an important skill for effective communication. The practice of yoga itself is an exercise for sustained attention, but also, holding various poses for a period of time also helps to improve a child’s sustained attention skills.
- Inhibiting impulses. Some children with special needs have a difficult time stopping an unwanted impulse. Yoga teaches children how to inhibit, or block, an impulse that is not needed in the present moment (e.g. getting off the mat to play with a prop).
- Yoga, especially mini flows, teaches children how to arrange poses in order.
- Transitioning (i.e. changing from activity to another). Transitioning is often very difficult for kids with special needs. Yoga teaches children how to gracefully transition from one pose to the next. Yoga also teaches children how to transition into the yoga space (e.g. removing shoes/socks, setting up the mat, getting settled on the mat) and out of the yoga space (e.g. rolling up the mat, putting the mat away, putting shoes/socks on).
- Respecting personal space and property. Yoga teaches children how to remain in their designated space (the yoga mat) even while distractions might be present in the room. Yoga teaches children how to respect the yoga equipment, as I have each child roll up and clean the yoga mat when the practice is completed.
- Listening skills. Yoga provides an opportunity for children to practice attending to a communication partner both audibly and visually. Through yoga, children get practice following directions from an adult, which can be challenging for some kids with special needs.
- Play and imagination skills. Yoga teaches children how to safely explore their bodies, minds, and hearts on the yoga mat. Yoga stories and themes help to improve children’s imagination skills.
Please browse our list of partners and consultants to find the perfect match for your family’s needs. Feel free to contact us directly.
Our Partners and Consultants
E-RYT 500, RCYT, Yoga Teacher, Certified Grounded Kids Trainer
I have been practicing yoga for over twenty five years and took my very first 200 Yoga Teacher Training in 1999 at Peachtree Yoga Center and have been teaching since.Here is a little secret; during my 200 hour YTT in Hatha Yoga I fell in love with Kundalini Yoga which lead me to take the Kundalini Yoga Teacher certification under the guidance of beloved teacher Mukta Kaur Khalsa. I am a member of Yoga Alliance and the Kundalini Yoga Teachers Association (IKYTA). I earned my 300 hour YTT certification from Bhakti Yogshala in India.
Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Tricia Easley, OTR/L, RYT-200, RCYT
Tricia Easley, OTR/L, RYT-200, RCYT, Certified Grounded Kids Teacher, is the principle investigator for a research study, Using Yoga to Improve Psychosocial and Physical Function in Bone Marrow Transplant Pediatric Patients.
The study is being conducted at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Egleston. The aim of the study is to measure improvements, if any, in physical and psychosocial health in pediatric bone marrow transplants patients when yoga was included to supplement their recovery.
The Co-Investigators are also Grounded Kids teachers.
Jessica Konter, DPT
Tara Hall, OTR/L
Kim Palmer, OTR/L
Rebecca Hayes, DPT
Erin Whitley, MSOT, OTR/L
Erin Richardson has been practicing as an OT in the greater Atlanta area for nearly six years and has worked in various practice settings including inpatient and outpatient pediatric therapy, inpatient and outpatient adult rehab, and within the school system. Over the past 2 years, Erin has explored art and developed her personal yoga practice as a healing medium.
Nicky Altikulac, MS BCBA
Founder and Executive Director of All Kids First
Originally from Turkey, Nicky Altikulac majored in Guidance and Psychological Consultation and received a minor in Education in 1991 at Marmara University in Istanbul. She also received her Master’s Degree in Special Education from Istanbul University. Nicky completed a two year internship with Neurologist; Dr. Bülent Madi, M.D. ( one the 100 best neurologist in Turkey) who is working with children in Autism Spectrum Disorders (Pervasive Developmental Disorders) as well as Mental Retardation/Developmental Disabilities and mental illness.
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