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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Yoga + Autism = Natural Calm

Jackson was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (autism) in October of 2002, in Fayetteville, NC while Paul was stationed at Ft. Bragg.  He left for Afghanistan 6 weeks later.  I have a very vivid memory of a moment between Caroline and I in the kitchen of our home.  I was loading the dishwasher while Jackson was running around, screaming and destroying the house and Caroline, who was only 14 months at the time, was promptly unloading all the dirty utensils I had just finished putting into the dishwasher.  I turned to her with a dead serious face and said, "if we are going to survive the next year, you have got to help me." Sweet thing looked right back at me, slowly put the forks back into the rack and sat on the floor quietly until I was finished.  I was at my breaking point and we clearly both knew it.  The next day, I ordered a yoga DVD and set off on a journey to learn to manage my stress during this very challenging time in my life.  Now, I am bringing Jackson on that journey with me, hoping that yoga will help him experience the same peacefulness and calm that I have through the simple practice of slowing my body and mind down to focus on the present and leave the worries about the future behind.

As a former gymnast, I was naturally drawn to yoga, in particular, its combination of balance and flexibility.  I had no previous experience with yoga, so I just went online and bought the first DVD that looked approachable to a novice, and what I discovered was, Yoga for Dummies by Sara Ivanhoe.  I absolutely loved it!  It was simple and clear, not too "out-there" from a spiritual perspective.  It slowly built up my confidence and in no time I felt much more peaceful and in control of my anxiety and emotions.  I learned very quickly that I could not let my young children derail my yoga practice time.  They would crawl under and on top of me while I worked out, but I was determined not to give up, so I did most of my early yoga with my eyes closed and this helped both Jackson and Caroline understand that I was not going to give them the attention they were seeking, so they both eventually wandered off and gave me the 20 minutes I needed to do a complete routine.


Overtime, I noticed that Jackson started to randomly do downward dogs and other yoga poses around the house.  He always liked being upside down, so yoga probably made a lot of sense to him from the very beginning.  I found the best DVD for him called, YogaKids ABCs that he must have watched a hundred times.  He memorized every pose within a few days and I eventually had to hide the movie because I was getting so sick of hearing that woman's overly soothing voice sing the alphabet song.   But to this day, he remembers a lot of the poses from that video that I can add to our morning practice and he knows exactly what I am talking about!

As of today, we do Yoga every morning at 8:45 to kick off our "Morning Work" block of instruction.  I used to have it at the end of this segment of time, but it seemed more logical to start off our school day with a calming and focused activity.  We follow up our yoga time with a Bible devotion and then do some outloud reading before finishing up with some quick "Daily Math" and handwriting practice.  All these activities are meant to kick start his brain and body so he is ready for the rest of the day.  It takes us about 45 min to do everything.

Here is our current yoga routine in both pictures and words, I think he really enjoys it and I can tell that he is getting better everyday!

We begin with Jackson setting up both our mats

The first series of poses we do are called "Sun Salutations" and they include the Downward Dog

Each Sun Salutation includes poses like the Warrior 2,  Triangle, Side Angle, Twists, Plank, and Updog

The cobra pose is done in the middle of this "Vinyasa" which the style of Yoga that we do.

We end our Sun Salutations with Child's Pose - a favorite of  his!

Next we do some mat work that includes Cat, Cow, Peacock, Table and other fun poses  

We both enjoy rolling our backs out after all this work!

I try to make sure each yoga session includes some stretching because he is pretty inflexible at this point.

I finish each practice with a balancing pose like Tree or Eagle.  He needs to hold it for 30 sec without falling.  This ensures he settles his mind and mouth long enough to focus.  This more than anything helps create calm for him. 

Traditional closing yoga pose, Namaste: May the light in me salute the light in you.

Jackson always puts both our mats away when we are finished.  Such an awesome helper! 

Homeschooling Jackson has opened up so many new and exciting doors for not just his education, but for all his developmental areas.  Yoga provides him with more than just physical exercise, it helps him connect himself to the world in a way that nothing else can.  It provides him with the framework in which to learn and practice being calm and still.  I enjoy listening to his deep breathing, watching him find his center of balance, and seeing him beam with pride when we say Namaste and he knows he has done something challenging and he has done it well.  Then he typically tackles me and knocks me over because he is a young man now, and no longer my little J-man who used to climb under my downward dog all those years ago at Ft. Bragg.  

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2 comments:

  1. What a great post! My daughter with autism will be 13 next month. She is not flexible at all & you've encouraged me to try yoga with her.

    Blessings to you!

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  2. Ali ~ I'm a friend of Lanneth's from the MBC moms group. I also have a Jackson on the spectrum. He's 11 with an aspergers diagnosis. I'm currently homeschooling my (typical) eldest child as God put the direction to do that on my heart two years ago. My husband and I have been thinking more and more about beginning to homeschool Jack next year as well when he is slated to begin middle school. I'd love to hear more about your experiences and look forward to following your blog.
    Lori

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