Yoga for Kids: Why Our Fort Myers Occupational Therapists Love It!
Yoga and occupational therapy go hand-in-hand. The word “yoga” literally means “to yoke” or “unite.” As pediatric occupational therapists, we’re often seeking to “unite” children’s physical, cognitive and emotional selves – always treating the whole child, rather than their compartmentalized sets of eyes, ears, legs and hands.
Occupational therapy focuses on the development of:
- Gross motor skills
- Fine motor skills
- Sensory processing
- Behavior regulation
- Social skills
Yoga uses breathing techniques, mindfulness and poses to help a person’s body become calm and energized. It helps to develop:
- Bilateral coordination
- Processing of sensory information
Yoga is also great for helping teach focus, self-regulation and calming the mind and body. It helps foster imagination too. Of course, kids don’t know they’re working on all of this – especially when we’re using fun games and poses and tools like Cosmic Kids Yoga. That’s why our Fort Myers occupational therapists LOVE using yoga in sessions, and encourage parents to do so at home too. Get down on the floor with your child and turn it into family fun time!
Motor Skills and Strength
Yoga is wonderful for helping build strength in all muscles of the body, especially core strength and postural muscles, which are used all the time in everyday life – even for activities you might consider “sedentary,’ such as sitting on the floor at school, handwriting and cutting. Some poses in yoga have kids balancing on their palms, which can help build the muscles in their arms and hands that are used for lots of fine motor skill activities.
This is a skill to which a lot of us don’t give much though, but we use it every day (dressing, writing, playing sports). It’s when you reach across your body to the opposite side with your arms and legs. Lots of kids with disabilities, delays and challenges struggle with crossing midline, so yoga poses can be excellent for helping these kids practice.
As your child’s occupational therapists can explain, proprioception is just a fancy word for “body awareness.” It’s the ability to sense the body’s position and orientation without relying on visual cues. You can learn more about proprioception in one of our recent FOCUS Therapy blogs. Yoga is tremendous with helping kids who struggle with it become more familiar.
Vestibular movement is essentially the ability to maintain balance in motion by sensing one’s orientation with respect to gravity. Kids with vestibular dysfunction struggle with controlling their posture and moving to a rhythm. A wide array of yoga poses require kids to use their vestibular system to balance and hold that pose. We can start of with easier poses for shorter periods of time and work our way up to practice.
Planning and Organizing Movements
Planning and organizing movements – especially with unfamiliar motor tasks – is something with which a lot of our FOCUS kiddos struggle. Yoga encourages not only imagination by ideation. For instance, they can use dog and cat and tree poses to help visualize the sort of position they need to get their body in, which helps them plan those motor movements.
Self-Regulation and Anxiety
Lots of adults turn to yoga to help them lower their stress levels because it focuses heavily on deep, calming breaths. Kids who are hyperactive or who have sensory processing disorders especially can benefit from learning these calming, self-regulation techniques. It helps kids learn how to be more aware of how their body and their minds are connected – and gives them the confidence of knowing THEY are in control of themselves!
Yoga is sometimes thought of as a solitary activity, but it can absolutely bring people together. It’s not competitive. There’s no pressure to do things that are too hard or shame when you can’t. The level of interaction can be adjusted to your child’s comfort level and goals. Kids who are shy or socially awkward have a chance to slowly warm up and feel more comfortable while still being included and engaged in the same activity as those around them. Even parents and siblings doing it alongside their child at home can find opportunities to help kids practice these social skills – and have fun!
Occupational Therapists’ Favorite Yoga Poses for Kids
Kids love yoga because they get to bend and stretch their bodies in all different kinds of directions, and they get to imagine they are something else (tree, bridge, warrior, etc.) while they do it.
Some of our favorite poses we like to use in pediatric occupational therapy (and that you might consider practicing with your kids at home) include:
- Tree pose. Great for core strength, balance, focus/attention, bilateral coordination, body awareness.
- Downward dog. Great for bilateral coordination, strength of arms and hands, stretching, balance.
- Rock and Roll Pose. Great for core strength and vestibular function.
- Mountain pose. Great for focus/attention, balance, proprioception and core/postural muscles strength.
By no means is this list exhaustive. If you’re looking for some more ideas on how to incorporate yoga for kids into your daily routine, our Fort Myers occupational therapists can help!
FOCUS offers pediatric occupational therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.
The Benefits of Yoga in Occupational Therapy, Sept. 24, 2018, University of Southern California Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy