Yoga and Occupational Therapy

There is a natural connection between Occupational Therapy (OT) and yoga. They both accentuate the importance of mind, body and spirit. There are numerous benefits of yoga to complement the skills that kids attend OT to develop. In OT, therapy focuses on developing gross motor skills, fine motor skills, sensory processing, attention and behaviour regulation and social skills. Yoga uses postures, breathing and mindfulness to calm and energize the body. Yoga develops strength, flexibility, bilateral coordination and the ability to ‘cross the midline’ and process sensory information. Yoga fosters imagination whilst also teaching self-regulation, focus and calming of the mind and body.

Yoga is great for strengthening all muscles of the body, particularly core and postural muscles kids need for all areas of life. Developing core and postural muscles will help with maintaining an upright posture for tabletop tasks such as handwriting, cutting and sitting on the floor during school. Strong core and postural muscles are also important for gross motor skills such as running, walking, skipping, playground skills and sport. Certain yoga poses require kids to balance on the palms of their hands which helps strengthen the intrinsic muscles of the hands and arms they use during writing and other fine motor tasks.

‘Crossing the midline’ is the ability to reach across the body to the opposite side with your arms and legs. Crossing the midline is an important skill in development of motor and cognitive skills needed for everyday tasks such as writing, dressing and sports such as hitting a ball with a racket in tennis. Yoga involves many poses that require a child to cross the midline of the body therefore helping in the development of this important skill.

Body awareness or proprioception is the ability to sense the position of body parts in space. Yoga poses help create a familiarity with how a person’s body is orientated without a reliance on the internal ‘visual system of balance’.

Balance in motion (vestibular movement) is the ability to maintain balance and an upright position by sensing their orientation in respect to gravity for example kids having trouble with this would have difficulty with postural control and difficulty moving to a rhythm. Certain yoga poses require the vestibular system to balance and hold the pose.

Planning and ideas or praxis is how we conceptualise, plan and organise movements to complete unfamiliar motor tasks. Yoga encourages ideation and imagination for example they can use animal poses to help visualise the position they need to put their body into thus assisting with developing their ability to plan their motor movements. Yoga positions involve using the body in all kids of ways across different planes of movement.

Yoga is known to help with reducing stress by learning breathing and relaxation techniques which can help kids with anxiety and those who can be hyperactive or overstimulated by an overload of sensory input. There is a need to concentrate to carry out positions therefore increasing children’s listening skills, they will also learn what it feels like to be still and calm.
It teaches the child to be more self-aware of how the mind and body are connected

Yoga is a wonderful way to help a child with their social skills. The environment does not force you to interact with others however certain poses allow for social interaction, allowing a child to join in at their own level of comfort. There are different levels for positions so they can be adapted for kids of all ages and abilities and no position is wrong. Yoga is not a competitive activity rather it is all about improving your own performance. Yoga is a fun activity; kids can also participate in group poses which encourages interaction between each other therefore helping to improve social skills. Children who are shy are also in an environment whereby they are not forced to be vocal and overly interactive with other children. This allows them to interact once they feel more comfortable.

Most kids love to bend and move their bodies in all sorts of directions, yoga is a fantastic way to encourage them to do this in a therapeutic and beneficial way in developing their skills. Here are some fantastic yoga poses that develop the areas of focus kids are working on in Occupational Therapy sessions:

Tree Pose (Vrksasana):

  • Balance;
  • Core strength;
  • Bilateral coordination;
  • Focus and attention;
  • Strengthening lower limbs; and
  • Proprioception / body awareness.

# VARIATION: ‘close the eyes for tree time’ or ‘two trees can hold hands to make a forest’.

Downward dog (Adho mukha svanasana):

  • Balance;
  • Bilateral coordination;
  • Proprioception / body awareness;
  • Strengthening upper limbs; and
  • Stretching.

# VARIATION: turn this pose into ‘walk the dog’.

Mountain pose (Tadasana):

  • Balance;
  • Proprioception / body awareness;
  • Strengthening core and postural muscles; and
  • Focus.

Rock and roll pose (Vajrasana):

  • Vestibular; and
  • Core strength.

Sleeping pose (Sabasana):

  • Deep relaxation; and
  • Improves focus on breathing.

Lunge pose (Anjaneyasana):

  • Core strength;
  • Balance; and
  • Bilateral coordination.

Child’s pose (Balasana):

  • Relieves stress and calms the mind;
  • Allows to feel the sensations of breathing deeply; and
  • Allows for rest.

Extended cat pose (Utthita Marjaryasana):

  • Balance;
  • Midline crossing;
  • Strengthening the core; and
  • Bilateral coordination.

‘Super brain rocket pose’:

  • Effective and fast functioning of the brain;
  • Enhances thinking capacity; and
  • Assists with relieving anxiety issues and reducing stress.

I hope after reading this blog you can see how Yoga in conjunction with OT is a fantastic and fun way to practice and improve the skills kids are working on in OT. Try some of these poses and I’m sure you’ll see the improvements in all areas of development!

Check out ‘Cosmic Kids’ Youtube Channel for fun child friendly yoga adventures that the whole family will love; along with fantastic resources for parents.