I am often asked how speech/language pathologists can benefit from taking a yoga workshop or training. I suppose another way to look at this is, “ How do yoga and mindfulness tools help children attain speech/language goals?” Here are some answers to both questions, no matter how you want to look at them.
- Yoga and mindfulness practices help to calm and organize the nervous system. Our autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches. The sympathetic nervous system revs up the body, empowering us to respond quickly to stress and threats through the fight, flight or freeze response. The parasympathetic system is directed towards relaxation, reflection and repair. We function at our best when we balance these two systems. Most of the children receiving therapeutic intervention, whether it is occupational, physical, or speech therapy, are working with a compromised and disorganized nervous system. Children with special needs are have a sympathetic nervous system bias, leaving this branch of the autonomic nervous system turned ON continually. When this happens, the learning centers of the brain are actually tuned out and shut down. Our primary goal as a human being is to stay alive and take care of any imminent threats. That is why our fight, flight and freeze response is so important to innately have. However, when this switch is ON all the time, little learning can happen. It is when our body and mind are in a relaxed state, when the parasympathetic system can activate, that we have the best potential for learning and and retaining information. Yoga tools help individuals control their own nervous system.
- Speech involves coordination between movement and breath. That is EXACTLY what is practiced through yoga; moving and breathing. We take this simple skill for granted and the kids we work with, can not do it!!! It is very easy to disregard the need to teach such a basic function as how to breathe, let alone, breathe AND move. When I first started teaching yoga to my students, I was shocked to see how unaware, uncoordinated and insufficient their breath was. When I realized this, I started focusing all of my sessions on simply teaching students HOW to breathe. This created a dramatic shift in their function, behavior, regulation and…… spontaneous speech. Without awareness of breath, it is hard to teach a child how to articulate, project, interact, respond, etc.
- We talk on the exhale, pause on the inhale. When speech is taught through yoga, we use specific poses to facilitate the inhalation and alternate poses to facilitate the exhalation. Yoga poses for children all relate to things found in nature. Children love making hissing sounds in their cobra pose, barking in their down dog pose and squeaking like a monkey swinging in the trees. Producing sound becomes meaningful in a fun and engaging way, stress free and encouraging students to be creative.
- Yoga teaches us to stay fully present with a positive perspective so that we can witness the “little miracles” that are actually there ALL the time. As therapists, we are trained to observe, analyze and determine how to help our students progress past the challenges of their diagnosis and improve their overall function. Unfortunately, this often keeps us focused on what is NOT working, which is the negative aspect of their entire being. Now think of the child in your therapy session. Do you think they will function better when they are working with a positively minded and hearted individual, or the therapist that is fixated on all of the DIS parts of ABILITY? We innately know, positivity breeds positive results and negativity yields poor results. What we do not acknowledge however is that the thoughts and feelings we experience while we are with children, can be felt by them pretty intensely and YES, will affect their function. Yoga teaches us how to stay in touch and aware of our own state of being because we shape the therapeutic environment.