Yoga for Families

Written by: Jackie Kuhn OTR, RYT

I am middle-aged woman. I am recently a single mom. I have three wonderfully sweet and smart teenage sons with attention deficit disorder. The teacher’s calls come daily. I have more counselors, tutors and therapists than I have friends. I need help. I need something. I don’t know what…

Who would guess that the “something” I needed would be so simple and so basic. SAVE YOURSELF FIRST. I am of no good to my kids or my fellow man unless I put myself first. I can actually unintentionally do great harm. The primary requirement for success is that I give up. Surrender the idea that the world needs me managing it in order for it to keep spinning. Surrender the belief that I alone need to find the key to unlock my kid’s potential. Accept that life has turbulence, and I cannot guarantee a smooth flight in life for my boys. I need to control the things I can—like taking care of me first. That said, I need to practice these ideas on a regular basis, or I grab the controls again and try to fly the plane to my expected destination. Expectations are my attempt to control and fit life into my finite preconceived ideas. To get what I think we “deserve” in life.   I would rather dream. Dreams are what we strive for and aspire to, and the potential is limitless.  

Practicing Self-care and Self-love

So, now that I have hopefully convinced you to really put yourself first, how do you practice self-care and self-love? If you are like me, you are clueless where to begin. I tried shopping, exercising, massage, hot baths, fine wines (had to stop that); you name it! The solution to all of life’s convolutions lies in the sub-title of this article. Breathe!

The answer really does reside in the breath. I started practicing with a Hatha Yoga teacher once a week at the local church community center. The breath leads to self-discovery, Yoga poses (asanas) lead to quieting of the mind and self-connection. That was seven years ago, and since then, Yoga has been a powerful force in my life. It is truly a journey that has brought me many wonderful things including “inner peace” in a complex world.

I often find myself asking, how can something so simple make me feel so good?   I have come to rely on the feelings of well-being, inspiration, energy and excitement I find in my Yoga practice. I am so thankful that I have found Yoga, first and foremost for ME. The healing postures and breath-work provide me with a much needed psychological and physical cleansing. As an OT, I can appreciate the benefits of exercise and stretching. I did not expect to gain tools that I could carry off the mat into life. Stress happens. In my life I can count on it! I need something to keep me together. My mind races with solutions, my body tenses to prepare for bad news, and my spirit is crushed to hear that one more time my son has gotten himself in trouble at school. Yoga, meaning union, brings harmony and balance to the mind, body, and spirit. The definition of “spirit” in Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is the breath of life—a breath or vapor that animates the soul of man. As parents of children with special needs, I think we are prone to become scattered. I constantly hold my breath in anticipation of bad news. We as parents have too many demands pulling our heartstrings in too many directions. The practice of yoga can realign the scattered parts into an integrated whole.   

Why Practice Pranayama?

I have used my breath (Pranayama) to guide me through many sticky situations. Prana (prah-nah) is life energy. Yama (yah-mah) is discipline or regulation. Pranayama is the term used to describe the practice of breathing techniques or expansion of the life force.

The first thing you do when you enter this world is to inhale. Your last act in this life is to exhale. When prana leaves the body, we die.

Here are some good reasons to practice deepening your breath. Nine out of 10 adults in the U.S. are chest breathers-shallow breathing into the chest. In most people, one-third of our lungs is “dead space.” The more you can breath into the full lung, the more oxygen your body will absorb. Deep breathing increases your metabolism (an aid to weight management which is always a plus!), strengthens your immune system, calms and steadies the mind, improves focus and concentration, can lower blood pressure, promotes “inner peace” and feelings of well being.   

 Now You Can Help Your Child

 When you have incorporated the tools of Yoga into your life (and NOT before!), you can share that gift (now place the oxygen mask on your child) with the children you love.   With a calm and steady mind, you can serve as a model for your children. The energy you emanate with regular Pranayama practice will be healthy and balanced. Once you practice stillness, the answers will come more naturally. Since children are open little souls, they will respond positively to the changes in your energy.

Since I began practicing Yoga seven years ago, a PT friend, Ginny Jurken, and I have become certified Yoga instructors. We formed Special Kids Yoga (SKY0) five years ago and began teaching a Yoga class for children with developmental challenges. Our commitment is to honor the inherent wholeness of the child. In addition, Yoga is something the entire family can benefit from. The kids respond naturally to the ancient practice of Yoga.

Ginny and I believe that Yoga, with it’s breath-work, is a beautiful compliment to traditional therapy. We structure the environment and adapt the poses as needed for all levels of ability. One of the major tenets of Yoga is that everyone can participate and practice at their own level. The goals are set by the child for his/her own body. Even a child with very limited mobility can deepen his/her breath.

In addition to the SKY classes we teach in Brookfield, WI, we also teach at the Easter Seals Summer Respite camp at several locations. We receive very positive feedback from the campers and their families! So, think about starting with your family on a path of improved focus, concentration, increased flexibility, strength, balance, breathing capacity, and yes, inner peace and happiness. Take it from me; this is an independent journey that can benefit you and your child for a lifetime.


Reprinted with permission from Exceptional Parent, the family and professional journal for the special needs community. Exceptional Parent is the media Partner of My Child Without Limits.

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