YogAutism, a Madison-based non-profit, has been enhancing the lives of those with autism since 2008. Over-stimulation is common to almost all autism diagnoses, and the techniques we use are specifically designed to calm the nervous system. Teachers work one-on-one with students of all ages. Parents and care-givers also are invited to learn the techniques. We’re privileged to have neuroscientists with the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds (on the UW-Madison campus) measuring results. We are continually seeking new volunteer teachers and new sources of funding so that the gifts of our students will continue to be expressed in the larger community.
Why yoga for people with autism?
YogAutism was designed to meet the challenges of those with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including individuals with Sensory Integration Disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, Pervasive Developmental Disorder, High Functioning Autism and Classic Autism. In addition to the benefits typically associated with yoga – improved strength, flexibility and breathing – the YA routine often provides the following benefits for those with ASD:
- Reduction of pain
- Reduction of aggression
- Reduction of obsessive and self-stimulatory behaviors
- Reduction of anxiety
- More control in regulating anxiety and emotions
- The joy of sharing class with others and making new friends
When someone with ASD can feel more calm and comfortable in his body, with less pain and anxiety, it is easier for him to control his behavior, learn new skills and enjoy social interactions.
Because people with autism have such different sensory experiences, their bodies often get stuck in a ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. The fight, flight or freeze response moves blood from the digestive organs to the skeletal muscles. Digestion is disrupted, heart rate speeds up and breathing becomes shallower. These physical reactions often lead to the emotional state of anxiety.
Yoga helps a student’s body to get out of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, and to feel more relaxed and less anxious. When the body is no longer in the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response, blood returns to the core and the body can do its work of breathing and digestion. Specific yoga poses stimulate the gastro-intestinal tract for better digestion and elimination.
Yoga also facilitates deeper inhaling and exhaling, which calm the nervous system. It builds core strength, which supports deeper respiration and, in the long run, will create a much healthier body. Only when the individual feels more calm and comfortable in his body, can he really work on behavior.
At its core, yoga is meant to deepen spiritual awareness. Many of us who work with people on the autism spectrum believe that our students have untapped spiritual gifts. Yoga is an opportunity for our students to explore their spiritual experience and share it with others.