Monday, February 27, 2017

Yoga Generates Huge Benefits for Children with Autism

So happy to see research and yoga progressing together in this area!

Yoga is growing in popularity in the U.S. as a complementary therapy for children with special needs and autism, with rising numbers of schools and parents participating in innovative programs which are cropping up around the country. Scott Anderson, teacher and founder of YogAutism, mentions on his site that in addition to benefits typically associated with yoga—improved strength and flexibility, and an increasing sense of peace—autistic children also experience a reduction of pain, anxiety, aggression, obsessive behaviors, and self-stimulatory activities. And there's more good news. The children are also having greater success making new friends and regulating emotions.Yoga is growing in popularity in the U.S. as a complementary therapy for children with special needs and autism.Louise Goldberg, author of Yoga Therapy for Children with Autism and Special Needs, also has first-hand experience witnessing the enormous benefits children on the autistic spectrum experience from practicing yoga. In 1981, Goldberg and a colleague were invited to teach a demo class for teachers at a residential hospital for children with severe emotional and behavioral disorders. “We were both fairly new yoga teachers and we just made it up as we went along. But seeing the kids—many of whom were extremely anxious, withdrawn, or angry—let go, for even a moment, was a revelation. We were amazed at how effective yoga was with these children and how much they enjoyed it,” says Goldberg.Children with autism have very different sensory experiences from other people, and these responses often cause their bodies to get stuck in fight, flight, or freeze modes that divert blood from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles. This activity results in disrupted digestion, increased heart rate, and shallower breathing—all of which readily provoke anxiety.“I had a student, a little boy who got very, very anxious if the school bus was late. His mother drove him to school everyday and one day she saw him lying down in the back seat of the car, and she asked him, 'Are you sick?' He responded, 'No, I am relaxing.' The mother said she had never seen him so calm. Practicing his floating on a cloud (shavasana), he was able to self-regulate and calm his emotions,” explains Goldberg.Autism educators often highlight the importance of visualization practices, so Goldberg designed the program Stop and Relax, which uses over 50 cue cards to help children visualize the pose they are supposed to take. Through this visualization, they are able to successfully imitate and model physical actions and postures they would not have been able to previously.“Some of the kids don’t speak—don’t have language—but they can look at a visual cue card and respond. Some children also have trouble engaging, even if they can achieve fluid sentences and can perform motor planning. However, they don’t have the kind of motor planning skills like going from point A to point B to point C. But on seeing the visual cue, somehow it triggers something in their brain and they can replicate it,” she explains.When Goldberg started teaching her specialized yoga classes, she received some resistance from parents and schools, as some people didn’t feel comfortable with the word "yoga."“I think some people around the U.S. were a little bit narrow-minded. Some even thought it was a cult,” she explained. "One thing that I want to impart here is that yoga, as it’s practiced in public schools, is not a religious practice. The postures and breathing exercises, the relaxation techniques and self-regulation tools, can be culled from yoga’s vast well of resources to be implemented in a public school curriculum."Goldberg now uses the name "Creative Relaxation," and takes yoga poses and applies them to challenges that children have in either their school or everyday lives. This program is applicable to all children and ages, as it is just another form of movement involving exercise, mindfulness, and breathing.“The idea is that when we are in a school, we don’t use any Sanskrit names. We don’t call it the prayer pose. We call it the tree pose. Viparita shalabhasana is our Superman pose. I don’t want anyone to feel that it is religious. We don’t do any chanting. When we sing, it’s just generic songs.”Goldberg believes that all children would benefit from yoga practice in school classes. “Ten years ago, when I was teaching in a school, I had a chance to go into all the classes which had a child with autism and I taught the whole group. It wasn’t just the one child that benefited from this. Everyone did,” she explains with a smile.Dr. Judy Willis, who has combined her 15 years as an adult and child neurologist with her teacher education training and years of classroom experience, explains in her book, How Children Learn Best, that children need breaks every 15 minutes. If that time is exceeded, no learning takes place, which leads to frustration for the children and the teacher.Goldberg agrees and believes that yoga provides the perfect antidote. Just holding a pose for a minute, while sitting down or standing next to the desk, and learning can continue without teachers having to discipline the children for the rest of the lesson.In 2012, researchers who investigated another yoga program in the study, "Efficacy of the 'Get Ready to Learn' Yoga Program Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders," (published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy) found that "use of daily classroom-wide yoga interventions have a significant impact on key classroom behaviors among children with ASD."The study, which lasted 16 weeks, divided children into two groups. The first group participated in the morning classroom yoga program, and the second group participated in a standard morning classroom routine. Challenging behaviors were assessed with the standardized measurements of the Aberrant Behavior Checklist and behavior coding both before and after the study period.Researchers concluded that the Get Ready to Learn program "reduces irritability, lethargy, social withdrawal, hyperactivity, and noncompliance in children with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs)," and that incorporating the program into the school day "can maximize academic engagement and optimize classroom time."It is unclear how many children are currently participating in similar programs, but Goldberg states that there are hundreds of teachers who teach thousands of children in the U.S. She likes to refer to the movement as "a snowball effect" that benefits more and more students—and their teachers and parents—over time.“I think that one of the ways to change a culture is to start with the children. In the U.S., we have a terrible problem with bullying.... Mindfulness activities that incorporate breath, like yoga, are perfect ways to create a community which is more compassionate, less competitive, and more self-aware,” says Goldberg.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Kids benefits from yoga

Article (and video) available from Healthy Living Reporter

"In this day and age, it seems kids schedules are always full.
"They are going from sport to sport or different extra curricular activities and there is a lot more opportunities for stress these days because kids' schedules are so jam packed,"

While there is no pause button in life, studies show time spent practicing yoga can make a big difference in the life a child.
"When kids are practicing, even just 15 minutes a day of some yoga, they test better, they get along better with their peers, they get along better with their teachers," said Jackie Stewart the owner of Twisted Yoga & Barre Studio.
Stewart first began offering yoga classes to children when people kept calling her asking if she would offer them.  Since then, it's expanded to include both elementary and teen classes.  Teen instructor Paula Jean Frontino began her practice four years ago.
"It sounds so cliche, but overall happiness and just being content with yourself and really being able to handle situations so much more calmly, with so much ease.  I can't even explain all of the great things it has done for me," said Frontino.
Kids classes operate a bit differently than adult classes.  However, the children are still learning the same movements and poses as adults.
"You can kind of have fun with it, you know, tree pose, just relating it to what they can related to.  So, animal poses, just things that they know.  It makes it fun," said Stewart."

Source and video available at

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Monday, February 20, 2017

Lovingkindness Practice

I've just practiced the Loving Kindness Practice during my Valentine's Day class, among kids. It was a fun, interesting exercices. Children could admit it feels great to fill up their heart with love and warm thoughts, even for people they don't care or don't like:-)

"In Lovingkindness Practice, we focus on sending good wishes to ourselves and others. For many people, this practice can generate positive sensations in the heart area. This state can be particularly calming to the limbic system. One simple form of Lovingkindness Practice begins with a few minutes of sending good wishes to ourselves: “May I be happy. May I enjoy happiness.” Then, for a few minutes we send this same wish to a person we’ve very grateful to, while we vividly imagine that person: “May you be happy. May you enjoy happiness.” We stay with this for long enough to generate feelings of generosity and appreciation, within ourselves. Next, we imagine someone we care about, and for a few minutes we wish them happiness. Then, we imagine people we feel “neutral” about, perhaps a neighbor we don’t know, and wish them happiness. Next, we imagine someone for whom we feel some negativity, and wish them happiness. Finally, we send wishes for happiness to all beings in the universe. "

Source: Mindful Schools, Mindfulness and the Brain: Insights from the Work of Daniel Siegel, MD Pam Nicholls, MA

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Spine

A bit of anatomy, and lots of yoga exercices afterwards, as a reward!

Knowing how your spine works is crucial for a safe yoga practice. It is common for many yogis to get injured because our bodies tend to compensate for weak muscle groups, which causes us to “dump” into certain areas or strain ligaments and muscles. For example, in certain yoga poses, if you have weak abdominals, your body will compensate by dumping the pressure into the low back, which in turn will strain – and in some cases injure – your spine.

The spine is the foundation for most, if not all, yoga poses. Learning how the spine functions, along with how to properly protect it, will help prevent future injuries.
The spine is made up of four regions: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), lumbar (lower back), and the sacrococcygeal (sacrum). Each region has its own curvature and vertebrae.

The cervical spine (the neck) is the most mobile part of your spine. It has the most movement, so a common mistake is overuse or over-stretching in this area. Since the cervical spine is the most flexible part of the spine, it is subject to the most injury. Therefore, it is essential to not over-twist or over-bend this area.
The thoracic spine consists of 12 vertebrae, and they attach to the ribs, which protect your heart. This is the least mobile part of the spine, so it is safe and most beneficial to move this area as much as you can, which is challenging since the vertebrae are attached to bone.
The lumbar spine (lower back), like the neck, is also very mobile. It is made up of the lower five vertebrae and it is an area where students tend to dump their body weight, often leading to lower back issues in the future.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of spinal anatomy, let’s apply that to your yoga practice!

1. Locust Pose

2. Urdhva Mukha Svanasana (Upward Facing Dog)
This pose expands the chest and opens the lungs while strengthening the muscles of the spine, arms and shoulders.

4. Dhanurasana (Floor Bow)
This yoga pose is meant to open the chest and stretch the entire front body. Floor Bow helps relieve minor back pain while strengthening the back muscles and improving your posture.

5. Ustrasana (Camel pose)
If you are not comfortable with Floor Bow, Camel pose is a great alternative because the ground supports your legs, making it easier to keep your legs properly spaced. This posture also improves flexibility in your thoracic spine, which is an important goal.

6. Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel pose)
This is a great pose to extend and bend all four regions of the spine, really tying everything together. It opens the entire front body, and extends the back body simultaneously.

It is essential to avoid dumping your weight into your lower back (or lumbar spine). This is vital in 95% of backbends. Most students are very bendy in their lumbar spine, and since there is already a natural curve in this area, the tendency is to overcompensate for other areas in the body that are weak by dumping all the weight into the low back.

It is important to train the muscles around your upper spine to be able to support you in backbends so your body does not naturally dump into the lower spine.

The key principle to keep in mind when going into backbends is to keep the natural curve in your spine. Usually students tend to overarch, over-bend, and dump into the weaker areas. Remember to apply these important tips and cues – they will transform your yoga practice and increase your spine’s overall strength and wellbeing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


So many of my students suffer from sciatica.. Simple explanations below, as well as good, smooth, suitable exercices (after checking with your doctor, and resting of course!)

"What is sciatica?
Sciatica is a condition that causes tenderness/pain anywhere along the sciatic nerve line. And guess what – the sciatic nerve is the longest damn nerve in the body (no wonder it’s such a troublemaker).

The sciatic nerve starts at the lower spinal cord, weaves through the deep layers of the buttocks, down the back of the thigh, along the outer edge of the leg, and all the way into the foot.

As I said, it’s a long nerve – about half the length of your body long!

Your next obvious question should be, what causes sciatica?

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I don’t have any medical certifications, and I’m a fresh out of the oven yoga teacher. I’m wholeheartedly sharing my experience, my pain, and my journey to healing to inspire your journey. Please take what you need from this and leave what you don’t.

That being said, I will shed some light on what I’ve discovered through my journey of sciatica. And trust me, I’ve discovered a lot . . .

Sciatica is caused by two common culprits – the lumbar spine and the piriformis muscle.

If you’re a total anatomy newbie – like I was and still am – let me further explain those two culprits.

The lumbar spine is the lower back area that connects the thoracic spine (middle to upper back) and the sacral spine (the tailbone).

The piriformis is a sneaky muscle located deep within the buttock, it attaches your sacrum to the top of your femur (thigh) bone.

It’s important to understand the difference between these two in order to locate where the pain is originating from and then how to heal this pain.

If the pain is starting from the lumbar spine and aggravating the sciatic nerve here, then you’re dealing with sciatica. But if the pain is starting in the booty area and then aggravating the sciatic nerve, then you’re dealing with piriformis syndrome.

And to make it even more confusing – a lot of people experience both scenarios, both lumbar and piriformis pain (I fall into this category).
 1. Ardha Matsyendrasana (Seated Spinal Twist)

  • Use a blanket underneath your seat to help tilt the pelvis and create length and space in the spine.
  • For the arm placement, I mentioned the elbow versus the hug method. The hug modification is highly recommended for sciatica/piriformis pain. Once you go deeper into the twist with the elbow outside the knee, the pose stretches deeper into the hip and loses the piriformis/sciatic benefits.
2. Supine Figure Four

3. Forward Fold Variation
Note: If your sciatica is derived from a spinal issue, I recommend skipping this posture altogether. Like, don’t even try it, it’s not worth it.

4. Standing Figure Four

Variation: Use two blocks to help support the posture and find a deeper, yet softer release. The block height can slowly be lowered as the piriformis and hips begin to open. If standing isn’t accessible, go back to the supine version up above.
5. Figure Four with a Roller

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

9 Tips to keep your Balance

Easy tips to stay frozen like a statute in your pose!

"Tree, Eagle, Warrior Three, Extended Hand-to-Big-Toe, Lord of the Dance, Half Moon and Bird of Paradise pose are just a few of many standing balance poses that challenge our focus, stability and strength. This class of poses demands our undivided attention and awareness, but offers an array of amazing benefits including reducing anxiety, building strength in the legs, hips and core, promoting concentration, and encouraging a sense of calm.

It can sometimes feel as if you are using every ounce of concentration so that you don’t wobble and fall over in a standing balance pose. In addition to practicing these poses more regularly and consistently, here are 9 key tips and actions to help you find stability in standing balance poses.

1. Press down through the four corners of your feet.
Strengthen your foundation and standing leg by pressing down through all four corners of your feet to create a solid base. This effectively also helps to distribute the weight evenly to help you maintain balance.

2. Spread your toes.
Fanning your toes out helps to increase the surface area of your base and therefore boosts your stability.

3. Engage your quadriceps by pulling up your kneecaps
When you pull your standing leg’s kneecap up, it has the effect of engaging your quadricep – activating this large muscle helps to better support the weight of the body. If your knees tend to hyperextend, this action can also help to avoid locking the joint.

4. Pull the navel towards the spine to activate your core.
Leverage your core muscles to help maintain your center of gravity – one way to achieve this is to draw your belly button inwards towards your spine.

5. Use your arms.
Ever wonder why tightrope walkers sometimes hold their arms out to their sides? One effect of doing this is lowering the center of gravity and shifting the weight evenly for enhanced balance.

6. Find a gazing point.
Visual input is an important way for the brain to help the body maintain balance, and this is why it often helps to find a stationary gazing point to minimize visual distractions and gain equilibrium.

7. Visualize the pose.
In addition to finding a gazing point, it often helps to picture the pose in your mind so that the brain “knows” what movements are needed to get into and stay in the pose.

8. Keep breathing.
When we concentrate really hard, we often hold our breath. However, by continuing to breathe evenly and steadily we encourage mental stability and focus to balance more effortlessly.

9. Use a wall.
The best way to strengthen the muscles needed to help us stay balanced is to practice the poses consistently. In order to help the body become familiar with the muscle movements needed within the pose, you can practice with your back against the wall or use one hand against the wall for support."

By: Florence Shih

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Yoga Joins UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity

Yoga joins the Unesco...

"In case you needed it, here’s your reminder of how truly remarkable the ancient practice of yoga is. It’s so awesome that it’s now officially considered by UNESCO as an international heritage and treasure!

In a recent session of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Committee for Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Ethiopia, all 24 members unanimously voted to support India’s proposal to add yoga to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The nomination to add yoga to the list was submitted soon after the first official UN-sanctioned International Yoga Day was held in June 21, 2015.
What Does It Mean?
Basically, yoga’s inclusion in the list is another step to making sure the practice and heritage is kept alive as more centuries pass. 
The primary aim in compiling the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity is to raise awareness on the unique cultural contributions and heritages of, and around, the world. Here’s part of the writeup on the UNESCO website:
“Based on unifying the mind with the body and soul to allow for greater mental, spiritual and physical wellbeing, the values of yoga form a major part of the community’s ethos. Yoga consists of a series of poses, meditation, controlled breathing, word chanting and other techniques designed to help individuals build self-realization, ease any suffering they may be experiencing and allow for a state of liberation.”
In addition to international recognition, according to this article, UNESCO may also offer technical or financial support to countries struggling to safeguard the practices and traditions included in the list."

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Holes in the Sidewalk

Open your eyes. Experience life. Learn. 

The following poem, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson, demonstrates resilience as well as possibility. It also helps us see how mindfulness can help us have more choice in how we respond to life. May we all experience more choice as we move forward!


Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Little Moments

“The little things? The little moments? They aren’t little. ”— Jon Kabat Zinn