Welcome to The Journey
A news magazine created to connect, inform & inspire
Issue: October 2021, Living, Inspired with IDD
Oct 21, 2021
Carol Pearson

Be still ...

Connect to your breathing ...

Move with intention ...

The ancient practice of yoga has long been known to help people relax, loosen up, and become stronger and more flexible. Yet until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of research around yoga and its benefits for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

That’s why this study published in the International Journal of Yoga is so interesting. According to the researchers, adults with I/DD often show accelerated signs of aging; they wanted to find out if a program of hatha yoga (the most familiar type of yoga to many of us) could help.

In particular, adults with I/DDs are prone to physical decline in sensorimotor skills, coordination, muscular strength, flexibility, and balance in part due to physical inactivity.

What the researchers discovered is encouraging; the report notes “results from this 7-week yoga intervention showed significant improvements in functional fitness related to lower-body strength, upper-body strength, and agility and dynamic balance.”

These findings echo the results of a 2018 study that used hatha yoga as part of Physical Education classes for younger students with I/DD.

According to researcher Micah Joseph, students with I/DD benefited from yoga in much the same way the general population of students did. Benefits included “improved behavior, improved concentration, increased verbal and non-verbal communication skills (eye contact and body posture), and improved self-regulation skills and self-esteem, and students showed higher confidence levels.”

One of the beautiful things about yoga is how it can be easily adapted to each student’s needs. Many older people or those with physical challenges, for example, can benefit from chair yoga, with poses being held while seated. And people with special sensory needs can also benefit, with the right instructor who is aware of what they need.

Jan Lauren Greenfield is a certified E-RYT 200 yoga teacher and the author of 10 Things I Learned Teaching Yoga to Adults with Special Needs.

“Throughout my classes, I experiment with different styles of teaching,” Greenfield writes. “I do this intentionally, with a desire to see which students respond well to which form, and also to share the different options of yoga available to them. Restorative classes [where positions are held for a longer time, with less movement in between] have had particularly positive responses. Large amounts of sequencing can sometimes be too much with adults or children with special needs.”

Other things to take into account are balance issues (Greenfield suggests doing balance poses close to a wall to provide both physical and psychological support), and touch sensitivity.

“I always make adjustments sensitively and even more so with my adult students with special needs,” she writes. “As with any student, it is better to take the time to build trust before launching into hand-on adjustments. I will often move next to students to demonstrate specific adjustments.”

As with any physical activity, check with your loved one’s primary care provider before beginning a yoga practice. And ask if they think yoga might be a good option. The proven benefits for adults (and younger people) with I/DD are compelling!

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