Yoga for Special Needs
Designed by award winning author Jenny Kierstead, founder of Breathing Space Yoga Studios and Yoga in Schools, the Yoga for Special needs program is the result of a one year process, where each lesson was piloted in the Chignecto Regional School Board.
This document draws on the Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory, by including music, mandalas, partner yoga, breathing techniques, asanas and meditation. There are fifteen sequential lesson plans, followed by specialized programs for Down Syndrome, Chair Yoga and Global Developmental Delay. Also found within these pages are inspiring and candid student testimonials and photos.
The objectives of this program were:
Community—to create a safe environment with clear expectations, where students can have fun through movement, social interaction and independence.
Health—through breathing, posture development, body awareness and body/mind integration, students will gain understanding of health promoting practices and habits.
Peace—students will experience an enhanced sense of self esteem, happiness, well‐being and confidence.
This program has provided students with Special Needs with opportunities to participate in a new and challenging healthy activity, of which they always need more.
It is common for teachers and support staff to develop preconceived notions of where these students’ limits are, and we are firm believers in letting them explore their own limits to identify where they stand. Quite frequently we set low expectations and standards for these students, and school then becomes under‐stimulating for them.
In yoga, they learn tools such as deep breathing to help them relax. Yoga gives them time in their day to pull away from their highly stimulating world and to clear their minds.
“We know that anything can send our students into a tailspin—be it the voice in background music or a re‐arrangement of the mats for example. So we work on a pyramid structure, we need to take care of the physical environmental impact first before we can teach skills and expect them to perform academically. It may take some time for a teacher to learn these triggers in order to create a comforting environment for his/her students but consistency is key, as well as sufficient warning when change is coming.
In many situations these students can be seen as burdensome instead of a person with potential and something to offer. A yoga class can offer time for these students to share their opinions. Our job is to make it part of the practice to truly listen to them and honor them as fellow human beings.
What’s most exciting about this new program is the fact it is a practice that our students can continue beyond their high school years. Many of our special needs students move on from high school and become reclusive because of the few community programs available to them. Having had trips to a real yoga studio, they will hopefully feel familiar enough with the practice and the routine that they will continue with yoga far into their adult lives.
I one hundred percent support this program’s continuation and encourage other schools to offer it as well. There is a new dedication to and awareness of health on all levels, on behalf of the students as well as our staff. “
Life Skills Department Head,
Cobequid Educational Centre School Truro, Nova Scotia
Yoga provides a safe and accepting venue where these students can explore and challenge their limits, while developing awareness of the self. This has proven to boost confidence levels, enhance students’ socialization skills and foster inner peace.
The intention to share this modality that enhances physical strength, motor coordination, mental concentration and well being with every student living with special needs. They will have a regular experience of deep peace and joy by touching the place within themselves that is inextricably connected to all of humanity.
What this program offers is the timeless teachings of yoga and meditation, compiled in a unique way to meet the needs of the special child, based on research, first hand experience and student feedback.
“Where there is great love, there is always miracles.” Willa Cather
The following are a few observations of this varied population and suggested yoga remedies:
The majority of students have some form of Kyphosis (rounding of shoulders), possibly due to weak muscle tone in core, low self‐ esteem, genetic postural conditions.
o This program includes gentle backbends such as supported fish, half bridge and reverse table to counter this kyphotic tendency
Many students demonstrated poor posture in the form of forward head carriage where the head is thrust in front of the torso, putting significant strain on the vertebrae in the neck and inhibiting one’s ability breathe deeply.
o Mountain Pose against the wall provides instant feedback for proper alignment and properly supporting the head in Savasana with a low block behind the head or a towel under the neck enhances students’ awareness of their ideal head positioning. Eye exercises strengthen the muscles surrounding the eyes, alleviating the need to squint or lean forward in order to read.
With the exception of Down Syndrome students who tend toward hyper‐flexibility and joint laxity, most exhibit varying degrees of tension through the backside, namely hamstrings and lumbar spine.
o Sun Salutation, and forward bends (with the hips elevated in seated versions) help to relieve tension in muscles and fascial tissue.
For more information on our Yoga for Special Needs, manuals, lesson plans, and training opportunities contact us
For a sample of a lesson plan click here