Friday, March 19, 2010

Finished Irish Crochet Yoga Mat Bag

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I use an eye pillow? Can you dim the lights? Could you put on that music like last time? I like to wrap myself up in the mat like Dracula. Will you push on my eyes and pull my legs? These are just a few of the questions that I often hear as I complete a 45-minute session as a Yogakids facilitator. Although we have just engaged in a fun and, often, vigorous lesson plan incorporating various themes, such as the rainforest, marine biology, transportation, or a day at the circus or zoo, the children are in anticipation of their favorite part. Shavasana!

As an occupational therapist who has worked in school systems for over 20 years, I had always used yoga poses (or versions of them) as a modality of treatment. My rationale was to build core strength, endurance, and focusing abilities with the children on my caseload. In the last year, I became certified as a Yogakids facilitator (CYKF). As a CYKF, I am finding I am able to expand this modality to its outermost limits. Throughout my training and in my everyday practice, I've worked with a variety of children. Now as a CYKF, my current classes contain typical children as well as children with diverse challenges. A class may hold children with diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), Asperger syndrome, Down syndrome, non-verbal learning disorder, cerebral palsy and others. Many of these children experience anxiety, sensory, attention, and focus issues in the course of daily life. Carrying those "imaginary backpacks filled with negative energy" can cause behavioral, sleep, and emotional responses in their lives.

The Yogakids program is different than just teaching kids' yoga asanas. Its mission is to educate the whole child. Marsha Wenig, the Yogakids founder, has stepped up the "yoga for children" craze to more than just exposure to this ancient art. Yogakids, Inc. is spreading its educational application with a solid basis in Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence's theory. Considering the fact that the child with attention issues seem to prefer kinesthetic, visual, and tactile input, yoga seems to be a likely activity for success. Tapping into movement and proprioceptive (heavy work) activities, literally, helps "feed" the child with the necessary input needed to motor plan, organize, focus, and attend. Lesson plans can carry sensorial input, but it also may eliminate sensory input to provide the child the opportunity to not feel so overwhelmed.

Often children with attention challenges need many accommodations or modifications to access their curriculums in school. Participation in leisure activities in the community or maintenance of social friendships requires a conscious effort to support the child in these pursuits. Yogakids can provide an opportunity for the child to have a noncompetitive, social, physical outlet for energy and stress reduction. The Yogakids class celebrates each child's abilities and knowledge base in a flexible, yet structured, environment. Consider a yoga studio--soft lights, a designated mat for each and every participant as well as a specific plan and amount of time for the class. These are all are contributing factors toward the success of a child with challenges being successful with yoga. As I teach the asanas to the young people in my classes week after week, I notice improvement in the child's ability to follow the breathing patterns and the sequence of the movement flows. Mastery evolves on a myriad of levels, such as following the opening and closing routines, learning and performing the postures, participating in a novel, grasping the exciting, but structured, routine and finally experiencing a warm, wonderful feeling of relaxation at the end of the session through Shavasana.

A few years ago, I heard Dr. Russell Barkley speak of executive skill dysfunction and its relationship to ADD. Often children with this diagnosis need frame working or scaffolding to initiate, sustain, and complete a task. Richard Guare and Peg Dawson, authors of Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents (2004), support this idea stating that adults often become the "frontal lobes" for the child to be successful in their environment. In my practice, executive skills seem to evolve developmentally for all children, from early childhood to adulthood. Caregivers, teachers, or parents find themselves facilitating the child toward organizing himself. Environmental factors can and do affect optimal performance. The executive skill sets that apply to yoga and children seem to fall into the areas of response inhibition, self-regulation and goal directed persistence. As I teach children yoga, I initially notice subtle changes in the first two to three sessions. The children begin to display degrees of self-control (respecting the silence during relaxation), persistence (trying to hold that challenging posture) and self-regulation (waiting for their turn to add to the group discussion or turn taking). The transitional phases of the class become predictable and therefore easier for the child to adjust their behavior and responses.

The final phase of the class is a form of relaxation, commonly known in the yoga world as Shavasana. This has been a consistent favorite for those kids who are challenged with stillness. In my opinion, the first and most important aspect of Shavasana is breathing. Deep, rhythmic inhalations and exhalations are taught throughout the session and are emphasized in the last fifteen minutes. Yogakids, Inc. suggests use of hands or a stuffed animal on the abdomen to help the child regulate breathing patterns. The abdomen rises with inhalation and falls with exhalation. For many children, the challenge of this rhythm mimics how many of them are challenged with acclimating to the rhythms of their lives.

Props are always available to help the child prepare for this phase of the class. Wrapping like Dracula is a trademark intervention from Yogakids, with the child swaddling in a mat. This accommodation provides the tactile input necessary to let go and relax. Other children may opt to wrap themselves in a blanket, curl up in the fetal position, or stretch out on their tummy for comfort. Eye pillows are also popular with those children who are visually distracted. The scent of lavender can be just enough to elicit the relaxation response. Other children who may be sensory sensitive can find scented pillows noxious, needing an unscented pillow to limit their sensory experience. By eliminating the sense of sight, the child may be able to use the other senses to calm their thoughts and bodies. Auditory input can consist of the facilitator's voice leading the class in a visualization; it could be slow, rhythmic music, chanting, or nature noises pervasively infiltrating the relaxation portion of the session. Other props that may facilitate children who have difficulty with visualization are pictures such as beach, desert, or mountain scenes. These facilitate the children to figuratively transport themselves to these locations and imagine themselves in these peaceful places. Younger children enjoy bringing a cuddly toy or favorite blanket to empower them to move into a calming mode.

As an adult, an OT, and a parent, I am often overwhelmed by the boundless energy of many children with ADD and other diagnoses. I've used and continue to use some sensory processing techniques or strategies with success to help certain children. I also use my copy of the book Drive Thru Menus for Stressbusters and Relaxation, published through These brief methods, which may include visualization, imagery, self-control relaxation, rhythmic breathing, and deep breathing, generally require less time to acquire or practice and often represent abbreviated forms of a corresponding deep method. Nevertheless, I too, have been guilty of telling kids to calm down, relax, and chill without finding the right tools to help them perform this feat. From my CYKF experience, I now urge my clients to look at the yoga poses as yet another tool to try to help with self-soothing and self-regulation.

Finally, in my yoga practice, I know how much I look forward to the final relaxation portion of my practice. Curiously, I continue to be amazed by how much the children look forward to the final phase of a session, Shavasana. There is nothing more fulfilling than feeling the energy in the room prior to preparation--the music, the eye pillows, the blanket gathering, the little bodies assuming the corpse poses. Ahh, the sweet silence of Shavasana. I challenge readers to give the Yogakids program a try. Certified facilitators can be found at Yogakids International has also launched a Tools for Schools program, which brings yoga into the classroom, empowering children and teachers to apply these techniques throughout the school day.

James Baldwin's words ring true as Yogakids continues its mission of educating the whole child within the school environment, in their community, and in their family settings. "Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they never have failed to imitate them."

Want to learn a new yoga pose each week? Visit

Tere Bowen-Irish OTR/L has practiced occupational therapy for 29 years in pediatrics and psychiatry. Her primary focus for the past 20 years has been school system delivery for occupational therapy services. Ms. Bowen-Irish works part-time for a public school and has her own private practice, All The Possibilities, operating as Praxis Occupational Therapy and Life Coaching Services. Ms. Bowen-Irish has completed her Intermediate Life Coach Training through Coaches Training Institute in San Raphael, CA. She is a certified Yogakids facilitator (CYKF) through Yogakids Inc. Focus of her private practice is a combination of Life Coaching and OT. She currently provides workshops for parents, health care and school professionals. School emphasis is on prevention and wellness for all school age school children. Topics include inclusion, executive skill use in the classroom, improving attention, strength, fine motor and visual perceptual skills in a school or home setting. Ms. Bowen-Irish also provides personal coaching for those who want to learn new ways of coping with balancing their lives. She has authored a classroom poster system (2004 Therapro Inc.) titled, Drive Through Exercises For Attention and Strength, to be used in classrooms, homes, and clinics for the pediatric population. The Drive Thru Menus for Relaxation and Stress Busting was published in the spring of 2006. Tere can be reached at

By Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L

Source Citation
Bowen-Irish, Tere. "Mom, I can't sit still ... but I can for shavasana ..." The Exceptional Parent Apr. 2007: 36+. Academic OneFile. Web. 19 Mar. 2010.
Document URL

Gale Document Number:A163265034

Disclaimer:This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.

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