Yoga benefits for SEN children and their carers
Special Educational Needs
SEN stands for Special Educational Needs. What exactly are these? Well, the UK government provides this definition for parents:
Special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) can affect a child or young person’s ability to learn.
They can affect their:
- behaviour or ability to socialise, for example they struggle to make friends
- reading and writing, for example because they have dyslexia
- ability to understand things
- concentration levels, for example because they have ADHD
- physical ability
Children may be considered to have Special Educational Needs if they have ADHD, Downs Syndrome, Cerebral Palsy, SPD or Autism. However this list is by no means exhaustive and we believe that yoga can benefit ALL children, whatever their educational needs.
Yoga benefits for SEN Children
Yoga (particularly in our classes) is available to all, with no specialist equipment required. It can be adapted for all abilities.
Yoga has many physical benefits, particularly:
- promoting movement
- increasing flexibility
- easing aches/pains & joint stiffness
Breathing and relaxation are an integral part of yoga practice. Children learn to feel calm through yogic breathing (such as bee breath) and relaxation (through deep belly breathing). This kind of breathing has an instant effect, reducing heart rate and blood pressure and relieving anxiety. Of course this is a benefit for carers too.
Yoga is hugely beneficial for developing speech and language skills in a fun way.
Children gain both listening and speaking skills through:
- making animal noises during poses
- understanding positional language (over, under, through etc)
- thematic vocabulary learning (words about the seaside, or forest for example)
- songs, rhythm and repetition
Develop motor skills
Yoga poses and movements help to develop motor skills, improve muscle tone and body awareness. This leads to improved posture, along with better stability & balance.
For children with CP, this improved muscle tone is especially beneficial.
Practice self-regulation & coping strategies
Children can also use yoga to increase their levels of concentration (without being overstimulated). Stretching the whole body in starfish pose for example will stimulate the proprioceptive sense. Activities which activate the proprioceptive sense help us to feel more grounded and less anxious.
These tools for self-regulation & coping strategies are especially useful for SEN children and their carers.
Yoga practice can lead to improved sensory processing & integration. This is because many yoga poses stimulate the proprioceptive sense. Physiotherapists call proprioception the ‘safe sense’. This is because activities which stimulate this sense have an organising effect on the brain.
A yoga class is a safe space for SEN children and their carers. Practicing yoga brings a feeling of accomplishment and achievement. As a consequence, children feel more confident and in control of their bodies and emotions.
Children Inspired by Yoga class benefits for SEN Children
Our Tatty Bumpkin classes offer many benefits for children with special educational needs in addition to the yoga benefits described above.
Here are some specific examples.
Our Tatty Bumpkin doll
Each of our classes follow an adventure with Tatty Bumpkin. Tatty Bumpkin is a doll who is bendy, giggly, clever and strong, but also kind, generous and caring.
Tatty Bumpkin can be a wonderful way to facilitate communication with children who can find this challenging (for example some children with autism or Asberger’s syndrome). Often talking to our Tatty Bumpkin doll is less intimidating than speaking to an adult or to a group. Tatty Bumpkin loves to be hugged by an anxious or non-verbal child.
Regular class structure
Our classes follow a predictable structure. The beginning and end of each class is always the same, with the adventure in the middle being the only part that varies. Children know exactly what to expect when they come to regular Tatty Bumpkin classes. They know how the mats are arranged, how long the class will be and what will happen during the relaxation part. This repetitive and predictable structure is reassuring, especially for children who respond well to routine and dislike change. This can be something which affects children with autism). These children are able to anticipate what is coming next, relieving any anxiety caused by the unknown.
Story-telling & music
Through a combination of story-telling and music, children become motivated to move in our yoga-inspired classes . Children are naturally engaged through songs and narrative and keen to join Tatty Bumpkin’s adventure. Because the children are so involved in Tatty Bumpkin’s story, they have no expectation of being asked to ‘do an exercise’ or particular movement (in the way that traditional physiotherapy might demand). This is particularly beneficial for children with cerebral palsy. With CP, stiff muscles can lead to awkward movements. A fear of anticipated movements may lead to stress, causing muscles to ‘lock’, or seize up, hindering children with CP. In our classes, this anxiety is alleviated by integrating the movements and yoga poses within an adventure, set to music.
An opportunity to have fun & bond together
Our classes provide a safe, calm space for children to have fun and bond with their care-givers, while taking part in the adventure with Tatty Bumpkin. Each session ends with relaxation, which can be done together, allowing parents and children to experience a peaceful moment together.