Sensory processing yoga
Many children and young people on the autism spectrum have difficulties organising, interpreting and processing sensory information in their everyday environments. They may experience being sensory overloaded, resulting in heightened levels of anxiety and stress or they seek out additional sensory information to provide a reaction. Either way their neurological sensory systems are constantly bombarded with sensory information that is difficult for them to process efficiently and effectively.
For many individuals with sensory processing difficulties, occupational therapists devise sensory diets to help individuals to develop their sensory processing skills. Through personalised programmes which involve various vestibular based proprioception (movement and resistance) and tactile (deep pressure and touch) activities, individuals can receive the sensory input they need to help them become focused, organised and calmer throughout the day. Yoga poses and exercises can complement and contribute to these programmes.
The asana, aspect of a yoga practice moves the body in different planes providing enhanced vestibular input supporting balance, coordination, inversions and bilateral integration, whilst the strength and contraction of the muscles to form the postures influences the proprioceptive and tactile sensory systems. The breathing and relaxation exercises in yoga help to calm and focus the mind which has a direct influence on the parasympathetic nervous system and override the sympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system which can often be activated when individuals become over reactive to certain sensory experiences and thus live in a near continual state of fight, flight or freeze.
So what is it about yoga which keeps us coming back onto the mat. Each time we do a downward dog, it feels different, because our bodies are different every day, we become more in tune with sensations and more embodied into our bodies. We stop, we breathe, we feel at one with ourselves and at one with our world. We are so encapsulated into the moment, nothing else seems to matter. We feel peaceful as we relax our minds and bodies. For children and young people with autism this ancient practise is invaluable in supporting their overall well-being and the processing of sensory information.
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